Connected Classrooms: New literacy practices among upper secondary students in the age of smartphones.
The project investigates upper secondary students’ use of smartphones in the classroom.
As a means of keeping up with digitalisation in society, students in secondary education are equipped with laptops and tablets. Paradoxically, classrooms are digitalised from within concurrent with such investments since most secondary students (98%) have a smartphone with constant internet connection. Because of its handy size and the way it can be seen as an extension of the body, the smartphone is unique in comparison with other mobile digital tools. It opens a window to each students’ private sphere while affording free access to the world via the internet where students write, read, interact and communicate. Even if recent research has shown that students use their phones in the classroom for other purposes than studying, there is little knowledge of the role smartphones play in the new social patterns. The aim is to deepen knowledge of how and for what purposes secondary students use smartphones in the classroom. We explore the pedagogical and social role of smartphones in an educational setting where old and new text practices related to reading, writing and conversing are intertwined.
The use of phones in the classroom is often said to create disciplinary problems and frustration among teachers. Our pilot studies show that students use smartphones in the ‘gaps’ of teaching and that the phone activities rather create peace and quiet in the classroom. Thus, the project also contributes knowledge of the challenges that schools and teachers face in relation to mobile digital tools in the classroom. The starting-point is that understanding is jointly created in social practices, in which the students’ use of smartphones is intertwined with new and more traditional writing practices which include images, films and sound along with letters and numbers. Enhancing understanding of how these practices are shaped and linked to social aspects of the classroom requires investigation methods that can capture this complexity.
A further project aim is therefore to develop methods to study digital practices in the classroom. Our intention is to combine video recordings with other ethnographic methods such as interviews, observations and field notes in four upper secondary classrooms. To identify the specific activities that students engage in via their smartphones, two focus students will be selected in each class. Video recordings will monitor the focus students’ interaction with friends and teachers and how they use and refer to different types of texts (printed text, screen text, images, films, messages. etc.) in school activities and for other purposes. In addition, an app, giving a direct overview and recording screen activities on a computer in an adjacent room, will be downloaded to the focus students’ phones. Contact has been established with teachers and students willing to participate, and the project is planned in close collaboration with a research team at Helsinki University and Åbo Academi University, a team responsible for developing, consulting on and discussing technical, methodological, empirical, analytical and ethical issues.
Since technological possibilities and not least young people’s use of smartphones have changed radically in a few years, this project contributes the knowledge largely missing today of the role of smartphones in classroom interaction and of new digital communication practices The method used, which in parts must be regarded as innovative, contributes to developing methods to study digital literacy practices. In addition, the project results will invite critical reflection on how to address the challenges posed by mobile digital tools in the classroom. Smartphones gain ground not only among Swedish and Finnish students but also around the world. Yet, the field is unresearched. The results of our study will attract attention in Sweden as well as internationally as IT maturity in Sweden and the Nordic countries is a few years ahead of many other countries.
The project is carried out in conjunction with “Textmöten” [The Meeting of Texts] at Helsinki University/Åbo Academi University, project leader, docent Fritjof Sahlström