[Guest post from Jonathan Grove – Director of Design Research, School]
Would it surprise you to discover that the use of smartphones is positively encouraged in Mexico City’s school system?
It certainly surprised me.
The open acceptance of smartphones and mobile learning in the Mexican classroom was one of the many insights I gathered from my recent inspiring (and tiring!) week of field research in ‘El D. F.’ (Ciudad De México).
My name’s Jonathan Grove, and I am Director of Design Research for the school division of McGraw-Hill Education.
My role is to help the company build better digital tools for learners, their teachers, parents and administrators by discovering more about what they do, what they think and what they need.
Sometimes that work involves creating large-scale surveys, sometimes it involves quietly observing teachers and learners in school and sometimes myself or members of my team will sit with participants and explore their thoughts and feelings through conversation and the process of creating things together. This last activity was the driver for my trip to Mexico City where I participated in a series of fascinating interviews and other activities with education professionals, groups of high-school learners and their parents.
These interviews were ‘in-context’ which means that we talked to participants in their homes or places of work about their views on and use of mobile devices for work, learning and leisure.
Interviews were conducted in Mexican Spanish to ensure accuracy, and I developed a good relationship with Martin my interpreter who often had to work ‘out of sight’ in family kitchens, offices and dining rooms. He did an incredible job of translating the sessions into English, which was even more impressive when you consider that we were sometimes working with high-energy groups of teenagers who hardly seemed to pause for breath.
Occasionally he’d get a little bored and combine his interpreting with some acting – his ’17 year old girl goes hysterical with friends’ was probably worthy of an Oscar (although he only had an audience of one – me).
In between these sessions we spent a lot of time in a van crawling through the City’s notorious traffic, but there was always something to see that informed the team’s viewpoint on tech usage. For example:
- our driver relied on Google Maps to navigate the chaotic network of streets
- public wi-fi spots are commonplace and their number is growing
- my driver from the airport took a Facetime call while we sat in traffic
- if I checked for a wi-fi connection at traffic lights there would usually be many, many domestic wi-fi spots.
All of this, in combination with the interviews, helped us shape the view that connectivity for education, work and leisure is critically important to the populace of Cuidad de México.
Unfortunately, in addition to a thriving culture the city has something of a reputation for poverty, smog and crime. The atmosphere was quite tense as the new government was trying to get a grip on corruption and implement structural reform. Teachers, who I don’t generally associate with violent action, were burning effigies in the street the day before I arrived.
Nevertheless, the people we met were generous, welcoming, and believed in the power of educational technology to change their lives and to shape the future prosperity of Mexico.
This was a truly inspiring trip to connect and work with my international colleagues.