Does Smartphone Technology Really Make Us Smarter?

Participation in a research project with Nottingham Trent University’s Psychology Department was a real eye opener this week. Focused around the use of smartphone technology, the study threw up some really interesting points of discussion (and moments of self-realisation for me) relating to our relationship with our mobile phones.


Not big on the whole selfie thing!

Already very aware of the extent to which I rely on my phone as a means of communicating with my family (we only have a land-line as it came with the TV package), maintaining and developing my professional network. I use Twitter a lot for both professional and personal relationships, as well as staying on top of current affairs. It is probably worth noting that I no longer read a newspaper and consult the BBC, Guardian and Times Higher Education online once a week instead. I keep up with professional practice within my field through Twitter and I do all of this through my phone.

Having been resistant (only until very recently) to linking my email to my phone, as one last bastion or protecting home life from the ever-encroaching slippage of the work-life balance, I do see the benefit of being able to keep on top of the seemingly endless email onslaught – deleting the irrelevant, archiving for reference and acting on the urgent (even if it is outside of work hours). I also see the benefit of being able to use dead time – waiting in line, riding the bus, waiting for others – with productive activity that will save time when I need it most and make sure that I have met the expectations of family as well as work colleagues. That said, from 8am to 8pm, I take 12 quiet hours, when I silence the noise, only allowing close family members and friends to break through. While our mobile phones have the capacity to keep us connected and enables us to work a little smarter when it comes to managing the pressures of demanding workloads, we do need to protect a little time to day dream, outside of the connected world, but then when we are online or using technology to extend our networks, we also need to remember to protect ourselves from attack, protecting our property by avoiding sharing those details in the active prevention against unwittingly giving them up.


The research being conducted had a couple of foci, one of which lay around the use of an app that tests general knowledge against set criteria. With a number of test parameters including the use of a male pixelated-voice and a nurturing and a nurturing female voice, I was surprised with my own prejudices and preferences for the female voice (call me stereotypical!) but then given the nature of the two quizzes, I was reassured to discover that I knew a reasonable amount about fashion and the fashion industry (not past it quite yet then!), and less surprised to discover that I knew nothing about football, but I can live with that (call me a double stereotype)!

With an eye for learning and teaching, and my educational brain in gear, I could see some real value for this application as a tool for students to self-test against set criteria. The quiz requests a response to likert scale-like queries around levels of awareness in relation to each of the statements given. However, this stimulated my own response, which was not measured on the self-test quiz, “I didn’t know that, but I do now!” In terms of learning and teaching this offers up an immense wealth in terms of student self-support in preparation for assessment. With carefully guided questions, this approach could be tailored as a valuable application in the revision of core concepts, ideas and terminology, and would be relevant to the learning experience of all students to become more independent in their studies and self-supporting in their learning journey. It would allow module tutors to highlight and provide additional resource around key topics to allow more room for students in the active approach to learning during taught sessions, but it would also allow students to extend the physical space of the classroom as they take their learning on their phones with them wherever they go – allowing them to time shift their learning to a time and place that suits them (and at no time more relevant that now, when students are working to support themselves through university and in some cases pay their own fees).


So app-based learning and the gamification of knowledge gets a thumbs up from me. However, I can see a real value for the use of this with the elderly and for rehabilitation, for cultural training and assimilation, as well as acting as self-test indicators of professional skill and areas of competence (and also weakness) out in professional practice across any area of professional expertise. As an approach it lends itself readily to a variety of different scenarios and applications. I wish the research team the best of success with this project as I can see its potential for so many uses alongside the primary curriculum and right through to higher education.

With all of the benefits of applications of this type for extending our capacity to learn and delivering learning opportunities as new experiences and within revised time frames, perhaps the most revealing part of the activity for me was the post research debriefing session. Here it was revealed that in addition to the research into the applications themselves, additional research was being conducted into the ease with which we would be willing to share our personal data. I surprised myself with the readiness with which I would lie to protect access to my phone. As a part of the study, we were asked for the password for our mobile phone lock screen. I lied! Going into the study, I was aware that the purpose was to examine smartphone use and to test out some apps. I figured that if they really needed access to my phone, they’d come back and ask me. So I lied, to no consequence. But the debrief was particularly telling as this willingness to reveal personal data was a part of the research. Perhaps not passing with flying colours, and challenging this request from the offset, I had enough nouse to present false data – phew!


This post research activity debrief got me thinking critically about my own relationship with my phone – the realisation that my phone was pretty much always within a 5 metre proximity radius of my person, that I accessorise my phone case to my work station colour scheme, but that the primary decision around the recent purchase of handbag had not been whether I could fit my purse or day-to-day items, instead the deciding factor had been the ease of access with which I could get to my phone. As I prepared to leave the session (£12 richer for my contribution to the research, I should add), I patted myself down to check that I had my phone – the first thought on my mind. And as I entered the lift, I opened my email to see if I could see if there was anything that I could deal with in the 5 minute walk back to the office.

Smarter working, or more sucker me?

Flash forward and technology has the potential to offer us live online updates for our every activity. In a recent Tech Crunch article, Westcott highlights how augmented reality head mounted displays are already in development, allowing Terminator style data scans will appear before our eyes, imprinting on our brains with an immediacy of action that comes with it, and further allowing an increase in the speed with which we can switch from information download to purposeful action.


We are all become cyborgs (but wait, didn’t Donna Haraway already predict that?)!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s