Mobile Technology in High Schools; Surprise! 48% of Students Never or Rarely Use Libraries

I was asked to talk to a class of Grade 10 students at Belmont Secondary School on how to effectively use mobile technology (smart phones & iPod Touches for example) for their home work and research. Here’s the handout I gave the students.  In preparation for the class the teacher offered to conduct a short survey for me (and emailed me a summary of the results) so I could get a feel for the following:

  1. What mobile technologies they own.
  2. What technologies they currently use for homework and research.
  3. How frequently they use school or public libraries for homework and research.

The survey was conducted in December 2010 by 6 classes at Belmont Secondary School, consisting of 143 students in grades 10, 11 and 12. This sample represents about 10% of the student population. Some students owned multiple devices (here is a summary of the survey data).

For a technologist working in a university library, the results were very interesting.  Let’s start with the devices the students own.

First of all I should note that 92% of students own some sort of cell phone.  33% of all students own a smart phone like an iPhone or Blackberry, and 59% of all students own phones that do not have a data plan.  Data plans are still quite expensive in Canada, and typically cost $30 a month or more.  While I think more students will own smart phones in the future, the cost of data plans will need to come down significantly if we are going to see smart phone ownership catch up to iPod Touch ownership.  On the other hand, if free wi-fi was available to students in their schools, the research and pedagogical related utility of iPod Touch like devices would be much higher, and the desirability of a smart phone with a data plan would be lower. An iPod Touch like device without a connection to the internet is simply a music and gaming device.

69% of students own an iPod touch. With the introduction of cameras on iPod Touches this fall, the device becomes much more capable from academic and productivity perspectives.  The ability to take pictures enables users to more fully use apps and services like Evernote, Google Goggles & Facetime video conferencing. As well, QR Code reading becomes a possibility with device sporting a camera in free wi-fi areas.  Currently 48% of students either have a smart phone with a camera, or an iPod Touch with a camera.  This number will climb to over 80% in the next two years as iPod Touch like devices with cameras become more wide spread.

When asked whether they used a computer to do homework or research on a daily or weekly basis, 86% said yes. Only 5% said that they never used computers for home work or research.  43% of students reported using a smart phone or iPod Touch for doing home work or research on a daily or weekly basis.  20% never use mobile devices for home work or research.  Lastly 35% of students use libraries on a daily or weekly basis for home work or research.  31% report never using libraries, and another 17% use libraries on only a monthly basis. That’s at total of 48% of students who rarely or never use libraries for research.

Resources used for Research or Homework on a Daily or Weekly Basis

Given the convenience of accessing reference materials on the Internet, as well as the breadth of resources only a key word search away, it isn’t surprising that the majority of students use computers so often for research. Once these students reach university or college, many of them will need to be re-introduced to the library, and shown the wealth of high quality peer reviewed electronic resources that are only available via the university library website.

One related question which I should have included in the student  survey was how many students read eBooks as opposed to print books.  Based on a show of hands in a class of about 30 grade 10 students, I’d estimate that about 25% of them have read ebooks on devices ranging from a Kobo reader to iPod Touches.  Almost all of the books read had been purchased.  Libraries and vendors need to quickly settle on standards that will allow their patrons to read library licensed eBooks on their personal readers.  This should be relatively easy to do with iOS and Android based devices, but less so on Kindle and Kobo hardware for example.  This potential problem needs to be communicated to patrons so that they are not unpleasantly surprised when, as I suspect will happen in the next 1 or 2 years, they cannot use their Kindle or Kobo eBook readers that they purchased for Christmas to read library eBooks.

One comment

  1. This is very interesting. I am especially interested in how schools are starting to move towards ebooks in libraries. This kind of data will surely be an important part of those programs.

Leave a Reply