Education has changed a great deal over the past century already, and it’s changing even now, as new technologies shape the way we communicate and share information.
A century and a half ago, education was only for a select demographic—wealthy and male. Since then, it’s grown ever more egalitarian.
A quarter century ago, students still typed papers on typewriters.
Twenty years ago, students still relied on the library over the internet for research.
And now? Mobile culture is changing education, as it’s changing nearly every other aspect of our social, personal, and professional lives. Education is evolving under the influence of a mobile, always connected, always on, culture.
The short answer is “yes”, but the longer answer is obviously more complicated. There are many ways in which access to mobile devices and constant connectedness are positives in terms of education. There are also some downsides.
Students have more access to more detailed information, anywhere and everywhere, than they ever have in the past. Their ability to research a topic doesn’t stop at the encyclopaedia, nor at the library. Well-vetted and in depth information is available at their literal fingertips on every topic imaginable.
In light of this access to information, students—and instructors—question whether the traditional skills of memorization by rote are necessary. Is education keeping up with the times by evolving to reflect this information access?
Of course, being able to distinguish which information is valuable and which isn’t is also important. For every helpful, educational website, there are hundreds that contain poor research, misleading students, or even deliberately seeking to deceive. As mobile culture becomes more prevalent, we will likely see a shift away from students being taught to memorize information.
Instead, students will be taught—at far younger ages than they are now, and more thoroughly—how to evaluate and analyse sources. Once a skill mainly required for students in university, being able to vet a source oneself is something that every child should begin learning right alongside the ability to read.
Mobility means that we’re connected all the time, everywhere. Initially, of course, mobile devices and such were kept out of the classroom. Cell phones needed to be turned off or kept in a locker, and the only tablet or laptop in the room might be the instructor’s. But today, as the educational uses of mobile devices become clearer, it’s also become more clear that we can’t lock them out of the classroom forever. In fact, many schools now issue students a laptop or tablet.
Students can replace heavy books with a slim tablet, can Skype with a language partner for conversation practice, and can delve into interesting details related to the lesson with Google.
They can also be distracted by notifications, texts, games that lack substance, and social media. They can also be bullied, or engage in bullying, from the safety of anonymity. None of these behaviours are new, precisely. Mobile culture didn’t teach children how to bully, or goof off, or pass notes in class. But it has made all of these things easier to do and harder to completely escape.
One of the skills that mobile culture will undoubtedly value, and one which our educational system will need to stress is the ability to focus and hone one’s own ability to pay attention. As with learning to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources, students today will need to learn this skill younger and more thoroughly than before.
There are far more distractions in a mobile culture, and they’re only increasing.
One of the most exciting things about the constant connectivity offered by mobile culture is the ability to collaborate with others, anywhere and anytime. Students that want to join a study group don’t need to negotiate transportation with their parents; they just need a group messaging app. Collaborating on projects is simple—and doesn’t require tying up a landline phone, either (not that most households need them these days!).
Entire classes can collaborate with classrooms across the globe, to learn about other cultures and teach others about their own. No one needs a “pen pal” when they can simply video chat with their friend in another country from a tablet.
There are many, many ways in which mobile technology helps us communicate and collaborate with one another, and many ways in which constant connectivity can foster connections between people.
Mobile culture can also make people feel disconnected from one another, however, and this will be an issue to be faced in education as well. When a lecture can be sent as a podcast, tests and quizzes can be graded automatically, and the student can simply Google an answer rather than ask their instructor or a fellow student for help, relationships are lost.
The ability to take a university class from the comfort of your couch is undoubtedly good. It’s great that people whose schedules or location would never otherwise permit them the opportunity to do so now have that opportunity. But is something being lost when students never sit in class and have a lively discussion in person? Don’t see the faces of their classmates, or get to know their names?
Managing interpersonal relationships is changing a great deal due to mobile culture, and instructors will need to find new ways to connect with students on a human level, and to encourage them to connect with one another.
Mobile culture isn’t going anywhere. However much we complain about dependence on devices, about social media instead of socializing in person, or information on a screen instead of information from a book, it’s here to stay. The powerful technology behind our emerging mobile culture has the potential to shape education, and it will. Many of those changes will be positive. However, we must be vigilant about the negative impact of mobile culture on education as well, and work to counteract and correct whenever necessary.