Bridgette Fincher- Masters in Educational Technology and Leadership. 2006

Terms and Classes

Summer '05

Fall Term '05

 Winter Term '06

Spring/Summer Term '06

Action Research Project


 Cell Phone and IM as Ubiquitous Technology

The assignment was to:

  1. Choose a ubiquitous technology that interests you.  You should have ready access to the technology so that you can use it yourself and you should have access to a group of users, preferably under the age of 25. (This is so they’ve probably grown up with computers and touch tone phones so certain elements will never have been new to them.)
  2. Try out the technology yourself as a new user and reflect on how you learn to use the technology as an individual.  Be sure to blog about this learning process so that you capture what happens at this stage.  What’s your first step in the learning process and why?
  3. Observe the group of knowledgeable users using the technology.  Think about what you see and how this fits, or doesn’t fit, with what you’ve learned about learning.
  4. If possible, ask the users some questions.  Think about what questions you find most interesting. 
  5. Read a book related to the trends in the area of technology you have chosen.  I’ll include a list later as you choose some of your technologies.
  6. Post a web site that summarizes the following:
    1. What you learned when you first experienced the technology
    2. What you observed when you watched the knowledgeable users using the technology
    3. The trends you learned about regarding your technology and learning, from what you read, researched, and observed
    4. Your personal beliefs about the usefulness of this technology as a possible part of more formal learning processes

What you learned when you first experienced the technology? What you observed when you watched the knowledgeable users using the technology? The trends you learned about regarding your technology and learning, from what you read, researched, and observed?

Living both in Japan and in Arkansas, a key common technology was cell phones. One of the things that I had noticed on my trips back to the States was that there was about a two year lag in the technology from what I was used to in Japan to what was happening in the States. While I noticed it, I didn’t stop really to ponder the “why”. In the book, Smart Mobs, I found the answer. Interestingly, there is both a cultural and an economic foundation. Japanese families live packed together until the child is around the age of twenty-five and in a living space of his or her own. Until that time, the parents are HEAVILY invested in knowing exactly what their child is up to, particularly the mothers. Privacy, for all the people in the house, is limited. Hence the popularity of parks, Starbucks and neighborhood restaurants for groups of young adults trying to find some breathing room. (The adults take care of other business in love hotels, a godsend given the paper thin walls and grandma just a step away, for similar reasons.;.>) The use of text messaging to check in with friends without mom knowing, sending pictures back and forth and ringing to set up meeting places is the norm. Secondly, text messages had developed their own grammar, shorthand, and lingo and had seeped into some of the spoken language as well. Due to a fine, safe transportation system in Tokyo, young children make their way over long distances unescorted.  Children in third grade carry family-to-child cells with them as a check in device. When asked to hold up their cell phones, every child in the sixth grade class (120 kids) where I used to teach, did.  DoCoMo, one of the largest retailers of cell phones there, paves the way in addressing all these needs in their marketing and in their development of sophisticated phones. Too, the cost of use is low compared to the services rendered making it an affordable commodity for even people of limited means. 

So, when I went to interview the fifth grade students here at Old Wire, based on previous experience, I anticipated a reduction in kids who had phones as well as a less sophisticated user. For another sample, I also interviewed the kindergarten classes to see their perceptions. For each of the four classes, I asked the same questions. “Who has a cell phone? What is the purpose of a cell? What does a cell phone have on it? If you had a wish list, what would you add? Do you text message?” 

The results were fascinating in the differences. Out of 52 fifth graders, only eight had their own phones, which was around 7%.  These particular phones were of the family plan kind only and the students did not carry them on them at all but left them at home preferring to use the home phone when they needed to contact their friends. Of the kindergarten, none had their own, but many had used their parents. Of that lot of 50 kids, 42 of the parents had cells.   

Interestingly, both the kindergartens and the 5th grade had pretty much the same list when asked what the elements of a cell phone were with the exception of the fifth grade saying there was a microchip inside. I was impressed by how detailed the younger crew was. They knew the phone quite well. Vocabulary and developmental levels made for some fun moments. A young ESOL kiddo came up with, “You know, those things that get held up there.” when describing an antenna. Then, when a few said that cell phones had batteries, I couldn’t resist asking how batteries worked. They said it sent power. Ok, power to what? The phone. And how did it do that? The power. And how did power work…about that time, I could tell they were starting to think, “What is WRONG with this woman. It runs the phone, we told you. That is IT!”  Developmentally, that was the answer and enough was enough! I enjoyed that.  

Again, the lack of sophistication and experience with the technology was apparent when I asked about a wish list of things that should be added to cell phones it the future with both the kindergarten and the fifth grade. Many of the things mentioned were being currently touted on the TV as the newest thing in cell phone features: downloading of videos and small movies, have satellite connections, ring tones that would play as a video played, have an Ipod connected to the phone, download games from the internet. However, there were some practical souls in the 5th grade: make a phone that could float and was water proof, be a hand warmer, burn a mini-CD or down load money like an ATM.  

What are your personal beliefs about the usefulness of this technology as a possible part of more formal learning processes?

For me, the whole concept of what makes ubiquitousness, came into play. What may be catch on in one spot may not in others, or be sustained or may mutate due to different needs. Unlike Japan, my students here do not travel independently, their parents take them places and arrangements are made in advance. Secondly, their friends live close and go to the same school as apposed to being scattered around. When I asked them about IMing, the fifth graders vaguely knew what it was and I received, as I anticipated, blank looks from the younger kids. Of the ones who had their own cells, none texted. None! This was fascinating to me. But, few emailed either. As a communication medium, it had not entered into their consciousness yet but I suspect a few years into middle school there could be the possibility of a shift. One of the things that would be interesting to study, either with older students here or back in Japan, would be to see if there were dialectical changes in the IM shorthand being used in various spots. Also, how do kids discerned when it was appropriate, and in what social context, to use IMing messages in school? They do, but what are is the context? Could it be used when doing researching with people who were in different parts of the building finding information or on a field trip when gathering data. To be useful, a fair number of individuals have to have access…and right at this time, for my current group of students, and for a variety of reasons…that is not an educational option soon to be on their horizon.  


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