Tag: mobile phones

Bad Parenting (or, On The Meditative Nature of Screens)

TL;DR: Screens are enticing, but as parents we should be modelling better behaviours in front of our children than the ‘stare and scroll’.


Last year I wrote a post in response to one by Patrick Rhone entitled Reading books in front of kids is not enough. In the concluding paragraph I wrote:

Sharing is caring. Enthusiasm and curiosity is infectious. Just seeing Daddy read a newspaper or a book means absolutely nothing in and of itself. We need to model the behaviours we want to see. I’m all for encouraging children to read – let’s just not kid ourselves that letting them see us read physical books is enough.

I’m increasingly concerned about the behaviour of parents while using technology (specifically mobile devices) in front of their young children. And before I start to throw stones around this glasshouse, let me say that this is something I struggle with as a parent too.

The reason for not saying anything before now is because I thought it would be a fad: people get new, shiny smartphones and can’t keep their hands off them. But I see it turning into something a bit more worrying and sinister. As someone who works for a technology company that’s started work on creating mobile devices I don’t take this at all lightly.

Today, for example, I went out for breakfast. On a table near me a young couple sat down with their son, who must have been about 18 months old. Without saying anything to him, they pulled out their smartphones and started the ‘stare and scroll’ I’ve seen so often amongst parents recently. Unlike his mother and father, the child was provided with no form of entertainment while they were waiting for breakfast to arrive. Predictably, after five minutes he got down from his chair and started making noise to get the attention he craved. To pacify him, his mother handed over her phone and he started the now-familiar ‘toddler swipe’ through photos.

Parenting is hard. We all know that. But this kind of thing is happening all over the developed world. Catherine Steiner-Adair is a clinical and consulting psychologist who interviewed 1,000 children about the role of screens in their lives. The quotations below by her a taken from a New York Times article:

“Children of all ages — 2, 15, 18, 22 — used the same phrases to talk about how hard it is for them to get their parents’ attention when they need it: sad, angry, mad, frustrated,” she said. They were complaining that their parents were focused on screens, she continued, “like a child’s chorus of all ages, talking about this new sibling rivalry, only it’s not a new member of the family — it’s a new screen, it’s a device.”

Amongst the five web literacies Howard Rheingold identifies is attention literacy. To me, that not only applies to the attention you pay on the web, but also decisions you make about the relative value of the things around you. While it’s absolutely OK to check your social stream in front of children, in their eyes you doing so for a protracted amount of time makes them seem second-best.

Paying more attention to your screen than your child is also dangerous. Although there’s currently no proof of causation, it’s certainly odd that the dawn of smartphones is correlated with a rise in childhood injuries – bucking a longstanding downward trend. This certainly meshes with my experience: the number of parents I’ve seen pushing their kids on the swing in a park with one hand while scrolling through their Facebook feed with the other is staggering.

Finally, it worth saying that neglect isn’t just a physical phenomenon, it’s an emotional one too. I wonder what we’re going to reap as a society in twenty years’ time from what we’re currently collectively sowing?

As parents we can do better than this. We must do better than this.

Image CC BY-SA Paul Boxley

On living in the future

“The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” (William Gibson)

There’s a known problem that (web) designers have, something that they have to consciously go out of their way to correct. The majority of them have large, colour-calibrated monitors displaying more pixels than you can stick a shake at. They use the latest tools and software. They’re aware of colour theory. They follow fashions within their community. This means, unless they’re careful, what they design on their super-high definition displays may look amazing for them but look really crappy on a three year-old beat-up laptop running an outdated operating system and browser.

Almost everyone I interact with on a daily basis lives in the future. They (we) have first world problems related to what are, in essence, luxury goods. They use alpha and beta versions of cutting-edge software and services. They’re looking for the next big thing. And by ‘they’ I include ‘me’ as well.

Let’s use the diffusion of innovation curve as a convenient hypocrisy. We all know it’s not a perfect model, but it serves a purpose here. The blue line represents successive groups of consumers adopting the product, service, etc. and the yellow line represents market share.

Technology adoption curve

Along with most people I know, I’m definitely to the left of that bell curve. But, interestingly, I’ve found myself moving steadily to the right as I get older. Part of this might be a natural drift* but I think there’s more than that. What I’m realising increasingly is that there are perils to shiny shiny educational technology and that sometimes it’s a good idea to be consciously (and perhaps, conspicuously) less shiny.

This year so far I’ve made two small steps in meeting people where they are: I’ve replaced my phone with an older one(!) and have resurrected my Facebook account. This means that, on the one hand, I’m using slightly ‘out of date’ technology and, on the other, I’m spending some of my time seeing the (online) world in the way that ‘most people’ do. It’s all very well having conversations with people who like technology, but often that’s preaching to the choir. To really change things and co-construct a positive future we need to convert people who haven’t yet ‘received the gospel’ (as it were).

So, over the next few months, I’ll be paying attention to my usual information sources – but also trying to participate in conversations and in places that tend towards the middle of the innovation curve. If you’ve got some ideas of (non-technical) places and (non-geeky) people I should be paying attention to, please let me know!

Image CC BY-SA Thomas Duchnicki

* I don’t necessarily agree, but Winston Churchill famously said, “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.”

 

Mobile phone ban? #govephonehome

If you believe that mobile phones aren’t just used by young people for bullying, ‘happy slapping’ and distracting each other from learning, then you need to get involved with this:

http://bit.ly/govephonehome

10 reasons I returned my Dell Streak today.

It had nothing to do with it’s size.

  1. No multitouch. I didn’t realise until it was pointed out in an Android forum that this makes typing a whole lot easier.
  2. Lack of apps I use often. Having to use the National Rail website instead of it’s £4.99 app may seem trivial but it’s important to me. Apps pretty much always come out for the iPhone first because of the huge, standardized, user base.
  3. Lack of accessories. I could walk into almost any shop on the high street and purchase cases, speakers and other accessories for my iPhone 3G. How many cases did I have to choose from for the Dell Streak? One. And that was fugly.
  4. Unintuitive annoyances. Holding down the camera button should bring up the camera app. The device should charge if the power cable’s plugged in – even if it is in ‘aeroplane mode’ whilst I’m asleep.
  5. Email. Having GMail, Exchange and IMAP accounts means 3 different apps on Android. #fail
  6. Position of headphone socket. Why put it on top of the screen? Hold it landscape and the wire gets in the way. Put it in your pocket and it’s sticking out the side. Oh, and the volume up/down switch should do the same thing in landscape and portrait. #confusing
  7. Lack of website support. If you go to popular websites on the iPhone then you get a decent browsing experience because they’ve made sure it’s optimised for that platform. Navigating some websites on the Dell Streak was clunky, despite the lovely Opera web browser I installed.
  8. Apps that don’t work. The number of times I purchased apps only for me to have them refunded within 24 hours was ridiculous. I had to force-close so many I lost count.
  9. Lack of ‘magnifying glass’ function. If you’ve made a mistake in a text, tweet or email you to half-guess where to tap to get the cursor to go into the correct position. There’s no ability to ‘zoom in’. This leads to frustration.
  10. It’s not an iPhone. Close as I was to keeping it, the fact that I was indecisive about it kind of sealed it’s fate. I would have been tied into a 24-month contract with the Dell Streak. And that’s a long time for something you only like very much rather than love!

The Dell Streak is, technically, a wonderful phone, music player and internet device. It’s almost perfect for me. I loved the ‘Rooms’ (virtual desktops) feature and the ability to add widgets to these. Spotify was amazing on the big screen and Google Navigation is better than any Sat-Nav I’ve used. The Shapewriter app made text entry fun and the camera is top-notch.

It’s just that nowadays a phone has to be much more than the sum of it’s parts. And unfortunately the Dell Streak only consists of great parts reasonably well put-together… :-p

Like words in a letter sent, amplified by the distance.

Loupe & lettres

A couple of days ago Vicki Davis wrote a blog post about mobile phones and teenage sleep deprivation. I commented by quoting a Kings of Convenience songs (‘Singing Softly To Me’) that points out how those things or actions not in our immediate vicinity can be romanticized or magnified to seem more important than they actually are:

Things seem so much better when
they’re not part of your close surroundings.
Like words in a letter sent,
amplified by the distance.
Possibilities and sweeter dreams,
sights and sounds calling form far away,
calling from far away.

Productivity is about dealing with the here and now and prioritizing what is important rather than extraneous.

(Image credit: Loupe & lettres by Alain Bechellier @ Flickr)

Towards a forward-thinking Acceptable Use Policy for mobile devices

Enough is enough. I think it was Clay Burrell who (via Twitter) initially pointed me towards this quotation by Gandhi: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Unhappily, teachers in many UK schools (and further afield) are forced into a kind of cognitive dissonance as a result of official mobile phone bans being flouted by almost every student in the school. In fact, it’s more than that. Teachers are made to feel guilty when they encourage students to use the technology they have for learning.

Andrew Field and I had a brief Twitter conversation about this situation recently. As a result, Andrew started a thread on the EffectiveICT.co.uk Forum to discuss the issue. I’d like to bring more people (i.e. YOU) into the discussion, especially if you’ve got any links to good and forward-thinking Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs)! 😀

A brief search for AUPs relating to mobile devices brings up the following problematical example:

Mobile phones must not be used during the college day, including break and lunchtimes. Phones must be switched off during the day. If any student is found using a mobile phone at any time during the college day it will be confiscated until the end of the day

Of course, one can see why this particular college, like many educational institutions, has gone down this road. They’re protecting their own back; it’s the reason why networks often blacklist sites that teachers want to use for perfectly sound pedagogical reasons.

But then, there’s the rub. As Andrew Field pointed out, if the Internet connection’s already filtered, why lock pupils out of wireless networks and the like when they’re using their own devices? He cites using an iPod touch for accessing online content through the wi-fi connection in his department. There’s no reason why I couldn’t do the same – give out the password to students.

A big stumbling block is insurance, I suppose. But then, I’m only supposing. What exactly is the legal situation? Surely if a student damages their mobile phone/MP3 player in school it’s covered by their parents’ home insurance in the same way it would be on their way to and from school? Andrew quotes the following from Halifax insurance:

Personal Belongings
For those items that are normally worn or carried in everyday day life Halifax Home Insurance offer Personal Belongings cover away from the home both in the UK and abroad. This cover complements their unlimited sum insured contents insurance* and provides cover for items such as jewellery, money, credit cards and mobile phones.**

* Inner limits apply to certain areas of contents cover, including; money restrictions, single article & high risk item limits and contents left in the open. High risk items are subject to a £2000 limit per item. Details are available within the policy and schedule.
** Aggregate limits of between £2,500 and £10,000 apply. Individual limits apply to mobile phones, money, credit cards and pedal cycles.

I wonder if there’s anyone reading this who has links with those in the industry who could give a definitive answer?

Becta provide some reasonably helpful (general) advice on the subject, stating that an AUP should not stand alone, but instead be part of a ‘safe ICT learning environment’, including:

  • an infrastructure of whole-school awareness, designated responsibilities, policies and procedures
  • an effective range of technological tools
  • a comprehensive internet safety education programme for the whole school community.

I agree. Unhelpfully, they state that there “are many sample acceptable use policies available, both online and via local authorities, which schools can use as a basis for their own policies” – but then fail to link to any. 🙁

To their credit, however, they have a PDF document from 2006 on E-safety which could provide an excellent platform to spark a discussion within your school. It covers everything from the potential dangers of online access, to the responsibilities for those with various (already extant) roles within the organization. It’s focus, nevertheless, is on prevention of abuse rather than enabling and opening-up as much as possible!

Diagrams are powerful tools when trying to effect change. This one, from the PDF mentioned above, demonstrates a sound (if slightly conservative) process. As technologies change, so must AUPs and, most importantly, the whole organization’s response. ICT lessons, as many teachers of the subject have realised, cannot simply be focused on learning how to use Microsoft Office and the like. They need to prepare students for the 21st century online world.

We need to create responsible users of the Internet and mobile devices. Yes, there are risks. Yes, there might be financial and other costs to the school. But isn’t it worth it in the long run? 🙂

Update:

Liz Kolb replied to this post via Twitter providing a handy link to some AUPs:

I’ve started using Twitter with my pupils…

Twitter birdMy Year 11 (15-16 year old) History groups – the ones who blog, can use a wiki (until Wikispaces became unavailable/unusable through the school network), use Google Apps for Education and on occasion submit YouTube videos instead of essays are now Twittering.

It’s about time: I’ve been talking about doing this for over a year now, and even suggested 3 different ways Twitter could be used in the classroom. So, over at my new (Google Sites-powered) Y11 History revision wiki I’ve shown my pupils (in great detail) how to go about signing up for their own Twitter accounts.

Usually, Twitter’s a fairly open-ended thing, with each user as a node on a (potentially) huge network. ‘The network’ is actually a series of larger and smaller sub-networks which are linked together by ‘bridge’ users. A little like a large wireless network, in fact. :-p

Twitter network (image credit)

But that’s not how I wanted to use Twitter with my students. Not yet, anyway. I had intended to use the promising-looking Edmodo but, after discussions with Jeff O’Hara discovered it wouldn’t be ready until after my Year 11s go on study leave. I need a closed network, at least at first. At the moment – and during this trial period whilst they’re revising for examinations – I want something like the situation exemplified by this image that I included in that blog post last year:

Twitter - Scenario 1

So far, each group has spent one lesson in the ICT suite making sure their @mrbelshaw.co.uk Google Apps for Education accounts work, getting acquainted with the new revision wiki and signing up for Twitter. The test posts from myself to their mobile devices go ahead this week and we shall hopefully iron out any problems next week.

Issues so far:

  • I wanted to have a separate Twitter account for each group. However, as I can only link my mobile phone to one Twitter account this was not a good solution. I’ve therefore been forced to have one account that will be used with both groups.
  • Putting +44 in front of their mobile numbers and missing off the zero caused some problems, even amongst the more able and digitally-literrate pupils who read all my instructions!
  • Network connection issues and Javascript error messages due to school-based problems.

Hopefully this will tie in with a Becta/Historical Association-funded project of which I’m an associate member. More on that and how my pupils get on with Twitter next week! 😀

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