For many of us, access to the Internet through a variety of means is a given. I can gain access through two laptops, a tablet, a smartphone and even both of my game systems, all from the comfort of my living room.
However, this access is unequally distributed. Although reports state nine out of 10 low-income families have Internet access at home, most are under-connected: that is, they have “mobile-only” access – they are able to connect to the Internet only through a smart device, such as a tablet or a smartphone.
A recent report, “Opportunity for all? Technology and learning in low-income families,” shows that one-quarter of those earning below the median income and one-third of those living below poverty level accessed the Internet only through their mobile devices.
This leads to limited access: A third of families with mobile-only access quickly hit the data limits on their mobile phone plans and about a quarter have their phone service cut off for lack of payment.
So what impact does this type of access have on youth learning?
What changes with a computer connection?
My research has explored underserved youth’s use of technology to discover and participate in content related to their interests. Having access only through their mobile devices means that low-income families and youth do not have the same access to the Internet as those with other Internet connections.
One-fifth of families who access the Internet the mobile-only say too many family members have to share one device. This means that the amount of time each individual has to access the Internet is limited. This can be a serious barrier to learning for young people. It can limit their access to resources to complete their homework, as well as create barriers for other learning. While 35% of youth with mobile-only access look online for information about things they are interested in, for young people with a computer connection this jumps to 52%.
An example of youth accomplishment online comes from my 2014 research on a professional wrestling fan community, a set of forums where professional wrestling fans get together virtually to discuss the many facets of professional wrestling.
Maria, a professional wrestling fan, seeks out an online community because she lacks local support for her interest. Through her participation, she realizes her deep enjoyment of writing. The carries this back into her English class and the school newspaper. This eventually leads her to take creative writing as a second degree in college.
Maria spent hours on her computer carefully crafting her narratives while participating in the forum. With a mobile-only access, she would not have had the amount of time online, or the amount of bandwidth, required for this work. This is supported by the fact that only 31% of children with mobile-only access go online daily as compared to 51% of those with other Internet access.
How low-income family youth get left behind
Mobile-only access the Internet can create serious barriers for youth who want to access content and educational supports. Also, there are some online programs that are not yet available on mobile devices.
Need for better understanding
What becomes evident is data from “Opportunity for all? Technology and learning in low-income families” and from examples from research is that having access to the Internet only through a phone can have an impact on young people’s access to learning opportunities.
Designers, educators and researchers need to be aware and continually create more equity through mindful decision-making.
Just how young people access online, in other words, matters – a lot.
Read Article (Crystle Martin | theconversation.com | 02/11/2016)
Marketing for mobile devices should also be mindful of this youth learning issue, the marketing slogan that includes “a mobile device will replace a computer” is baseless and highly improbable. Personally, I view such statements as “misleading”.
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