Technology gifts are no longer simply distracting gadgets under the tree. These tools are being used by schools and libraries to help educate children and transmit information faster than ever before.
According to the results of a survey of 858 B.C. residents by Insights West, adults were most likely to choose a technology gift as their first choice over 12 other gift categories.
A separate survey by the same company shows that teenagers are even more on the tech bandwagon than their elders.
Out of 193 teenagers, aged 12 to 18, that were surveyed, 59 per cent choose a technology gift as their first choice for a Christmas gift.
There are many ways that these devices are permeating our culture and becoming a part of everyday life, and local libraries are currently undergoing a digital makeover.
Kerry France, director of the Fort St. John library, said that with a library card, patrons have access to tens of thousands of e-books and audiobooks through the library’s website.
“As long as you have a free library membership you have access to over 60,000 e-books and audio books through our website. It’s called Overdrive. Those are free to borrow. You can choose your borrowing time. You can keep it for up to a month. At the end of that period it just disappears from your device,” she said.
“We do have e-books available through our website … we just recently got that,” said Pamela Morris, assistant librarian at the Dawson Creek Municipal Library, noting that this service has been very popular.
“We have a lot of people using those. We have up to 17,000 people with Dawson Creek library cards and they just need a card to use the online service.”
Another popular recent addition to the library’s electronic offerings is an app called Zinio. With Zinio library patrons can access over 300 popular magazine titles on their tablets or smart phones, said France.
“Right now I’d have to say that that is probably our most used digital resource is the Zinio,” France said. “These are all very popular magazines. Any big name magazine you could think of.”
The Zinio service is not yet available at the Dawson Creek library.
Libraries aren’t the only places experimenting with the latest generation of mobile gadgets.
Stuart Poyntz PhD, an assistant professor in the communications department at Simon Fraser University, studies children and the media. He said that the touch-based platforms are giving educators new tools to tap their pupils creativity.
“The touch feel of the iPad allows platforms, like for instance garageband, to become a much easier and more comfortable space of interacting for kids that are experimenting with music and music creation for the first time,” Poyntz said.
“Kids become much quicker to be creative with them.”
Poyntz said that schools can avoid perpetuating the digital divide, and in so doing address inequities that may arise out of unequal access to technology amongst students, by creating iPad banks or banks some other brand of handheld device for schools use.
“What used to be the old computer room is now a portable mobile station and it moves around class to class,” Poyntz said.
Jarrod Bell, the technology principal for School District 60, says that three Grade 6 classes in the district are using school-supplied iPads instead of laptops for their wireless writing programs.
The district is also encouraging its teachers and students to use its students’ smartphones in the classroom.
“Some classes are using smartphones to scan quick response or QR codes and do a history timeline, an academic scavenger hunt, or link to an assignment so students can download it on their device,” Bell said.
Bell notes that equity is a special concern of the district, and that some students may not be able to afford these devices. He said that a recent poll of Grade 10s in the district found that 85 per cent of them had a cell phone and 63 per cent had a smartphone.
Christine Todd, assistant principal at Duncan Cran Elementary in Fort St. John, said that the Grade 6 class are given laptops for the year as part of the district’s writing program and that beyond using the computers to write with, Duncan Cran students sometimes use the devices to create movies and podcasts in the classroom.
This type of power enables students to develop our minds to adopt to this new technology. But all this power comes with a downside. Besides the potential for information overload, Smith said that “every smartphone is also a tracking device, recording where you are, who you are talking to and, increasingly (because of apps) what you are doing.”
Some schools in School District 59 are also using this type of technology to expand their students education.
“Right now we use (tablets) to make portfolios. They are documenting their learning in a program called Evernote … The kids will write something and there peers will give them feedback,” said Chris Horton, principal of Tate Creek Elementary School.
Horton said that the decision to purchase iPad labs in School District 59 is school-based. “We’re either using oil and gas donations or some of the PACs (parent advisory council) are paying for them. It depends on the school,” Horton said.
“We have ten (tablets) in one classroom and five in the other,” adding that the total student population at Tate Creek Elementary is just 30.
Smith sees a potential parallel between our increasingly connected society and the Borg, of TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation.
If you’re not familiar with the late 1980s, early ’90s show, the Borg were a fictional group of aliens who lived on a giant cube space ship and stayed in constant, collective contact with each other.
“The Borg individuals were controlled by the collective mind … I think with all these communicating and computing devices we are acquiring the capabilities of the Borg. A real-time, instantaneous collective unconscious,” said Smith, noting that “so far we haven’t adopted the authoritarianism and ‘hive-mind’ aspects” of the Borg, but that as the technology gets more sophisticated, people will have to make sure that they literally don’t become slaves to their gadgets.”