Hohti, R., Paakkari, A. & Stenberg, K. (2019) Leaping and dancing with digitality: Exploring human-smartphone-entanglements in classrooms. In: Rautio, P. & Stenvall, E. (Eds.) Children and the Everyday: Arctic Childhoods Matter. Series Children: Global posthumanist perspectives and materialist theories. Springer.
This chapter explores children’s and young people’s engagements and attachments with digitality in Finnish school context. School research (e.g. Simola 2015) has brought out how classroom practice and routine seems to be surprisingly resistant to change to the extent that to an observer’s eyes, much of it looks practically unchanged during decades. However, the fact that smartphones increasingly participate in people’s lives might be one factor that triggers profound changes even inside school walls. We suggest that the relations between humans and their constant digital companions, their smartphones, cannot be reduced to instrumental pedagogical relations, and that to examine them, one needs to attend to complexity and open-endedness. Thus, in the following, we are not so much focusing on pedagogies, in how smartphones should be used to enhance learning, rather, we are curious about the material, bodily, temporal and spatial dimensions at play in situations in which children and young people and their digital devices entangle in schools and beyond.
In talking about young people’s engagements with smartphones, we will particularly emphasise two aspects: firstly, the affective nature these engagements, or as we like to think about them following Haraway (2003), companionships. The processes in which phones become young people’s companions in everyday life are material, embodied, and deeply intimate. In our empirical examples we discuss for example boredom and addiction in relation to this. Secondly, we emphasise the ‘beyond’ perspective, as we see it crucial to take into account that smartphones are making schools less and less disconnected from everyday life outside schools. There is a multidirectional dynamic in the digital engagements, which means that not only students access their phones, and through their phones global flows and networks, but also the phones access their users. Events, ideas, and provocations from outside the traditional realm of education flow into classrooms via students’ phones. The local understandings of education, and of digitalization and technology as part of it, thus necessarily intersect with larger knowledge networks and affective flows as well as the material chains of production. We ask, what could be seen as distinctively Finnish or Nordic in this case? The hyperconnectedness created through the students’ smartphones necessarily disturbs the spatiality and temporality of schools.
Set in freshly fallen snow, the Beyond Technology group met in Aalborg, Denmark in January 2019 to discuss what we observed and worked with over the last 6 months and our plans for the next 6 months. One of the exciting news was that we were joined by Olli Rekonen a Finnish Master student (see also news from Finland). The teams will work together with their classes on the Children’s Manifesto on smartphones – watch this space.
I am a sociology student who is doing his master’s thesis on gender in the context of sixth graders’ relations to their mobile phones. Focus groups with a class of sixth graders and interviews with their current teacher as well as one of their past teachers will make up the main part of my data. Most of the focus groups have already been conducted, and they’ve produced some fruitful information on the complex ways that the mobile phone configures into the everyday lives of children.
It seems clear that data collected by a sociologist and an “outsider” who the students aren’t familiar with differs from that collected by a teacher or another authority figure who the students know. The children have let me in on some interesting information they maybe wouldn’t have disclosed to their teachers or parents.
At times, the students have also taken over the interviewing in the focus groups while I have just listened in. It’s become clear to me that the children have much more knowledge on many of the intricacies of the world of mobile and digital technology than I do. Many dimensions of the students’ “phone world” can only be illuminated by a slang and new vocabulary unknown to older generations. This is exactly why children and youth should be given the freedom to themselves take the lead in discussions on the digital technology of today. A central objective of my thesis is to mediate the voice of the students to those interested in the sociology of mobile phones.
More to come later…
The following activity was part of a 3-day science activity. Preceding this were learning activities to do with sustainable energy production. This time the children were given data loggers (sensors) that measured temperature, light (different kinds), CO2 or voltage. The children hd to use apps to extract the information and log it on their phones or computers. The task was to investigate how to use these school owned data loggers. The children were asked to find out what the software could do and set up an investigation on sustainable energy.
One group tried to investigate the influence of temperature on conductivity of different materials to reduce the loss of energy due to heating.
Another group tried to investigate how much CO2 is absorbed through photosynthesis.
A third group measured the velocity of wind and change of wind speed over time.
Given that they had freedom to explore the sensors and what the software could show them, the children were motivated and curious to explore things and ask their own questions. They felt competent to try things out, evaluate ideas and practice communicating the things they experienced and observed. The technology they were given forced them to think about what other technology they may require to set up a working experiment. Lots of trial and error and excitement!
Following this year’s activities, the Danish class at Sofiendalskole discussed and summarised some of the good and bad things about smartphones. Here are their thoughts:
How we live in a world of smartphones
• People can become addicted to checking their phone.
• Phones can be a problem if you have poor self-control.
• Phones can disrupt your sleep at night.
• One can get bored without one’s phone.
• Smartphones are good to have on long journeys and can provide you with entertainment.
• It is important to be able to receive calls and call if you are injured or sick.
• Younger children should have ‘light’ phones with fewer functionalities.
• For younger children, it might be good if parents lock parts of the smartphone functionalities.
• When you buy a phone, you should consider what functionalities are actually needed.
• The feature called “phone” is not used very much.
• Maybe it is necessary to propose how old you have to be before you get a proper smartphone, perhaps when the child is old enough to use social media – e.g. 13 years for Facebook and 16 for using Snap chat. However, there are probably not many people who in reality would comply with such a rule.
• Parents should teach their children that phones are a tool that can be used for special and important things, including SMS and calls. It is not necessary to learn how to download apps and search on the Internet.
• It may be necessary to supervise younger children when they use apps.
• Parents must determine when a child is ready to get a smartphone and have a talk with their kids about the use of the smartphone.
• How to use a smartphone can be a part of necessary parenting skills.
What we should consider in using smartphones at school
• When you receive messages on your smartphone at school it can interrupt your attention for a considerable amount of time.
• It is a bad idea to take phones away from students because students will think of their phones throughout the day, and make them less concentrated. Students can also forget their phones after school.
• When school tasks are digital, they can be solved anywhere and anytime with a smartphone.
• Smartphones have many useful features such as calculator and camera. There can also be downloaded several apps that are used in teaching.
• It can take pictures of smartboards or tables if you do not have time to write notes.
• Smartphones can be like a Swiss army knife.
• Smartphones contain several sensors that can provide interesting data for learning.
• It would be a good idea to have a group of students –super users of smartphones- who could teach teachers how smartphones could be used for their teaching.
The goal of researchED is to bridge the gap between research and practice in education, with a specific agenda of bringing together teachers, researchers, and policy makers. At the March 2018 event, three member of the Beyond Technology team present their work which relates to the project.
Kathrin spoke of her work with the use of video in educational research. Her presentation dealt with some of the uses of video in research and how to deal with ethics of data that may reveal the identity of research participants.
Eva’s presentation explored how the Comparative Judgment (CJ) method can be used to facilitate formative assessment practices in STEM education.
Andrew spoke about his PhD research which explores the relationship between policy and practice in technology education, and the use of Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) frameworks to explore this relationship.
More information about researchED and these presentations may be found here – https://researched.org.uk/.
For the second time in the Beyond Technology project, we have met now towards the end of the school year to exchange experiences, ideas and think about where to go.
We have discussed ideas to do with affect and digital technology, programming, media consumption, and when at the confluence of on-and offline technologies students can become navigators of their own learning.
The year started with a great get together! After having worked for a few weeks on their investigations to do with astronomy, more specifically ‘rotations and the universe’ the 8th graders at Sofiendalskole presented their projects to their interested parents.
Presentations included one in a stardome, set up in the school’s library.
Topics included how the Earth’s rotation and its relationship to the moon influences the tides.
The parents were paying full attention to each group’s presentation.
We continued the evening with looking back at the achievements of 2017 and our plans for the new year. Parents and students were also asked to review their consent to participate in the project.
Teacher Bjarne Poulsen and researcher Kathrin Otrel-Cass were sharing their plans and the focus of this year being technology use in the classroom.
The plans include:
Video observations of one full study unit over several weeks, and
joint video analysis of selected episodes by students, researchers and teachers.
The evening finished with lots of empty pizza boxes!!
Nordplus project Beyond technology made the front page of Tekniken i skolan #3, a journal for teachers in technology.
Vad använder ungarna egentligen telefonen till? (What do kids do with their phones?) https://liu.se/cetis/nyhetsbrev/2017-3-vad-anvander-tfn.shtml
Link to #3 of Tekniken i skolan https://liu.se/cetis/nyhetsbrev/2017-3.shtml
Tekniken i skolan– edited by Centrum för tekniken i skolan, 4 issues a year. Both e-version and paper version (9000 copies) and is also distributed in paper to every school in Sweden. Issue #3, was also distribute to all delegates at the biannual teacher conference Tekniken i skolan.
You can prescribe to Tekniken i skolan here https://liu.se/cetis/nyhetsbrev/prenumeration.shtml