Many low-income students use only their phone to get online. What are they missing?

By Crystle Martin, University of California, Irvine 

For many of us, access to the Internet through a variety of means is a given. I can access the Internet through two laptops, a tablet, a smartphone and even both of my game systems, from the comfort of my living room.

However, this access is unequally distributed. Although nine out of 10 low-income families have Internet access at home, most are underconnected: 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 only through their mobile devices 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 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. Thirty-five percent of youth who have mobile-only access look online for information about things they are interested in. But this goes up to 52 percent when young people have access to an Internet-connected computer.

When young people have access to an Internet-supported computer, it facilitates their learning.
leah, CC BY-NC-ND

When young people have their own access to the Internet, they have an opportunity to engage in connected learning – learning that is based on interest, is supported by peers and has the potential to offer better opportunities for the future.

A 2014 paper on the use of digital media as a learning tool highlights how learning around interests can be supported through online resources.

The paper tells the story of Amy, a participant in an online knitting community, Hogwarts at Ravelry, which combines both interest in knitting and the Harry Potter series. Amy finds inspiration in the vast knitting pattern library of the group and receiving support from others in the community. She begins to develop, design and write patterns of her own. And, as a teenager, she begins selling her patterns online.

Amy’s access to a stable Internet connection and her own dedication allowed her to dive deep into the activities of the community. Over time, it allowed her to become more active and engaged in knitting.

Another example of what youth can accomplish 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. She 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 on 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 percent of children with mobile-only access go online daily as compared to 51 percent of those with other Internet access.

How low-income youth get left behind

Mobile-only access to the Internet can create serious barriers for youth who want to access content and educational supports.

As part of my research, I have been conducting workshops in libraries located in low-income communities, using an online coding program that is not yet available on mobile devices. In one of the workshops, students needed to work on projects outside of the sessions.

Because of the limited technology access at home, the librarian held additional open hours so the youth participating in the workshop could work on their projects outside of the workshop hours. A few youth had access to their own computers, but the majority had only mobile access.

Young people who have computer access create may better projects.
Jeff Werner, CC BY-NC-SA

The youth with computer access at home created more complex projects. This was partly because they had more time to develop, modify and problem-solve their projects. But it was also because the coding program was available to only those with computer access. These youth also seemed to develop a deeper interest in coding potentially due to this greater level of exposure.

Need for better understanding

What becomes evident from the data from “Opportunity for all? Technology and learning in low income families” and from the 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.

Amanda Ochsner, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southern California who studies how underrepresented groups of young people engage with games and digital media, argues that when designers and developers take the time to understand young people’s digital lives, they are ultimately able to make better tools. As she said to me:

In offices where the most recent models of laptops, tablets, and iPhones are abundant, it’s far too easy for those of us who develop educational tools and technologies to misjudge the technological realities of the young people the education tools and technologies are designing for.

Just how young people access online, in other words, matters – a lot.The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Reposted under a CC BY-ND 4.0 license.  Read the original article.

Finds and Deals: Kindle Unlimited and Hisense Chromebook

hisense chromeTwo other deals for today:

Amazon is running a special valentine’s Day deal for 25% off the regular price of Kindle Unlimited. There are three choice for the length of membership:

  • 6 Months: $59.94 – Now $44.95
  • 12 Months: $119.88 – Now $89.91
  • 24 Months: $239.76 – Now $179.82

Kindle Unlimited (KU)  offers unlimited reading of over one million titles and thousands of audiobooks.  The deal ends February 13, 2016.KU works on any device, including the free reading app.

On, one of today’s computer deals is a refurbished Hisense C11 11.6″ Chromebook for $89.99. The device features a Rockchip RK3288 Quad-Core, 16GB Internal Storage, 2GB Memory, 802.11ac, Bluetooth, with ChromeOS and even includes an HDMI port. There’s a review from Ars Technica here. This deal ends at 6am on February 12, 2016

Daily Links and Deals: The Dangers of Automated Abuse/DMCA Policies

daily_links_1Lots of interesting links and sales today!

Daily Links for Thursday, February 11, 2016:

The Dangers of Automated Abuse/DMCA Policies (Plagiarism Today) – Great article on one of the most disturb facets of modern copyright enforcement.

US copyright law forces Wikimedia to remove public domain Anne Frank diary (Torrent Freak) – Why the long US copyright term is a problem in a accessing information globally.

Cinemax Is Now Available To Cord Cutters, But Only On Sling TV (Techcrunch) – More and more options are opening up. But is it worth the price?

1,500 Windows 3.1 shareware apps are now free, immortalized on your browser (Ars Technica) – This ispretty cool. I was an avid shareware user back in the day.

The Surgeon Will Skype You Now (Popular Mechanics) Remote controlled surgery – Will it ever become commonplace?

Deals of the Day:

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs  is free today at Amazon and other retailers. And, if you are a Harry Potter fan, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts I & II (Special Rehearsal Edition): The Official Script Book of the Original West End Production is available for pre-order at Amazon and other ebook retailers.

Amazon’s Kindle Daily Deal includes Unlikely Loves: 43 Heartwarming True Stories from the Animal Kingdom by Jennifer S. Holland for $2.99.

Amazon also still has  Kindle and Fire devices on sale  until February 13, 2016.

The Barnes and Noble Nook Daily Find is Siren’s Fury (Storm Siren Trilogy Series #2) by Mary Weber for 99 Cents.  The Romance Daily Find is a non-fiction book, 1001 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married by Monica Leahy for $1.99.

Other special at B & N include 101 NOOK Books Under $2.99,  Great eBook Prices for Kids & Teens under $2.99 and 500 NOOK Books Under $5. In the music department, you can get 40% off Grammy Nominees on CD this week.

Kobo’s Daily Deal is The Mystery Woman by Amanda Quick  (Ladies of Lantern Street series) for $1.99.

There are several promotions going on at Kobo right now. First, there is a Long Weekend Sale with ebooks priced up to 75% off! The selection includes some Spanish language ebooks as welland is runs through Febrary 15, 2016. Also through February 15,there is a  3 romance novels for the price of 2 Valentines sale. And finally, a reminder that the promotion for the Kobo Glo HD e-reader for  just $109.99 with free delivery is ending on February 14, 2016,

iTunes’ Weekly Bestsellers Under $4 includes Chasing Darkness by Robert Crais for $1.99.

(A note on Daily Deals: All prices current at the time of posting and subject to change. Most items marked Daily Deals are good for only the day posted.

Many large promotions have discount pricing that is set by the publisher. This usually means that titles can be found at a discount price across most platforms (with iTunes sometimes being the exception). If you have a favorite retailer you like to patronize, check the title on that website. There is a good chance that they will be matching the sale price.)

Daily Links are interesting links I discover as I go about my online day. The frequency and number of links posted depend upon the daily news. I also post other, different links of interest on Twitter and on the Google Plus eBook Evangelist Page.