Schooling the Mobile Generation: The Future for Schools in the Mobile-Networked Society
Author(s): Neil SelwynSource: British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Apr., 2003), pp. 131-144Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.Stable URL: .Accessed: 17/11/2014 05:58Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact .Taylor & Francis, Ltd. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to British Journalof Sociology of Education.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Nov 2014 05:58:25 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
BritishJ ournalo f Sociologoyf EducationV, ol.2 4, No. 2, 2003 CarfaPxu blishing
IF Taylor & Francis Group
Schoolintgh eM obileG eneratiotnh:e f uturefo r schoolsin the
mobile-networksoecdi ety
NEIL SELWYN, CardiffU niversityS,c hoolo f SocialS ciencesU, K
ABSTRACTM obilet echnologsieusc ha sp almtopc omputearns dm obilete lephonreesp resean tn ewb reed
of technologicianln ovation-offerineags iera ndq uickearc cesst o informatioann dc ommunicatioonn a n
'anytimae,n ywherbe'a sis.T hesen etworkasr es eent o leadt o temporaaln ds patialr e-definitioonfsy oung
people'sli ves,w ithn otionso f timea nds pacec entredar oundth ei ndividuarla therth ans hareds ocietal
normso r expectationSsu. chc hangesa re nowp romptinsgo mee ducationalisttos p redictt hat mobile
technologiwesil l radicallcyh angset udentsa,n dt hereforthe en atureo f schoolas nds choolingS.e t against
a lacko f considereadc ademidce batet,h ep resenpt apero ffersa detailedco nsideratioonf t het heoretical
andp racticailm plicationosf mobilete chnologiseusc ha s phonesa ndh andhelcdo mputeorsn schoolsa nd
schoolinbgy contrastintgh ef ixed'n atureo f schoolsa gainst' mobilet'e chnologiferse'e ingu p of thek ey
symbolfiocr mso fp owero f informatioann dc ommunicatiAonft.e rc onsiderinthge s trengthasn dl imitations
of botht hesev iewpointtsh, isp apert heno utlineas frameworfkor f uturer esearcahn d discussioinn this
The past two decades have seen a rapid increase in the use of information and
communications technology (ICT) in society, led by the mainstream emergence of
personal computers, the internet and digital television. A convergence of these media has
prompted some authors to argue that we are now living in a fast shrinking 'network
society' with myriad multimedia connections (for example, Castells, 1996; van Dijk,
1999). Yet, while there have been significant increases in the use of ICT in business and
domestic settings, the school has remained relatively impervious to the 'information
revolution', with a series of technologies such as radio, television and the computer failing
to be adopted and used within school settings on a widespread and sustained basis
(Cuban, 1986, 2001). Schools, up until now, have proved peculiarity resilient to
technological change.
However, schools' resistance to the use of 'fixed' technologies such as personal
computers and televisions is now being challenged by the growing ownership and use of
'mobile' technologies, most notably the mobile telephone. Indeed, after a slow diffusion
ISSN 0142-5692 (print)/ISSN 1465-3346 (online)/03/020131-14 ? 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/0142569032000052533
This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Nov 2014 05:58:25 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
132 N. Selwyn
during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the mobile phone has boomed recently in
ownership and use. There are now more mobile phones in the world than personal
computers, with global sales exceeding one billion (Beckett, 2000). UK sales have
burgeoned over the past 5 years, with around three-quarters of the adult population
currently connected to a mobile phone network. Significantly, mobile telephones are also
proving to be a young person's phenomenon. It is now estimated that up to nine in 10
UK secondary school students have a mobile phone, and mobile telephony has become
one of the largest areas of consumption for the 10-16 years age group (Guardian, 2001).
Telecommunications companies are now actively targeting the 'youth' market with
low-tariff 'starter' and 'pay-as-you-go' financial arrangements, designer accessories,
ranges of options to customise the appearance of phones as well as a wealth of
downloadable games (Norris, 2001).
It would unwise for educationalists to dismiss the rise of mobile telephony as a passing
'fad' or affectation of youth culture and fashion. Instead, the mobile phone epitomises a
significant technological shift as ICTs rapidly converge into highly mobile and individualised
artefacts. With the impending convergence of mobile telephony and internet
technology, mobile phones are beginning to offer ready email and access to information
via the world-wide web. In this way, new generations of mobile phones should now be
seen as powerful multimedia technology platforms that young people are able to
experience constant and independent access to. Alongside other emerging mobile
technologies such as palmtop computers, the mobile telephone represents a new breed
of ICT-offering access to information and communication on an 'anytime, anywhere'
Yet the highly significant coupling of young people and mobile technologies has not
been well received in educational quarters. Alongside well-publicised health scares has
been a steady stream of confusion, conflicting advice and moral panic within the media,
government departments and the educational community. Debates over the rights of
schools to regulate and control students' use of mobile phones during school hours still
rage amidst high-profile court cases and ambiguous government guidance (for example,
Charter, 2000). Concerns over rising levels of youth crime relating to mobile technologies
also proliferate, as well as more spurious issues such as cheating in examinations and
truancy. Put simply, schools and the wider educational community have been caught up
in dealing with the minutae of student ownership of mobile phones without fully
considering the wider implications of such mobile technologies.
For some academic commentators, this muddled response from the educational
community in reacting to and accommodating young people's use of mobile technologies
has been seized upon as tangible evidence that the 'techno-social' nature of the
student/school interface is fundamentally altering, leaving schools unable to understand
and relate effectively with the present-day 'mobile generation' of students. For example,
from Holmes and Russell's perspective:
The personalisation, mobility and global reach associated with ICT uses are
implicated in an emerging new paradigm. Failure to recognise this will leave
parents and educators facing each other over a technological gap; and no
amount of innovation within the terms and forms of traditional institutional
reforms in education can begin to address this gap. This is because of the fact
that even when adolescents are not actually engaged in ICT use, it nevertheless
frames their lives, whether they are in a classroom or engaged in face-to-face
interaction. (1999, p. 77)
This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Nov 2014 05:58:25 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Schoolingt he Mobile Generation 133
Yet such reaction can also be seen as short-sighted, echoing a long line of futurist
educational discourse about new technologies irrevocably changing students and rendering
the school obsolete. Indeed, from Seymour Papert to Bill Gates, many esteemed
commentators have made similar (and largely unsubstantiated) claims about earlier
technologies based on little more than personal experience, political conviction and
wistful utopianism. The question, therefore, presents itself as to what substantial basis is
there for us to assume that mobile technologies will be any different? Set against a lack
of considered academic debate in this area, this paper presents a more detailed
consideration of the theoretical and practical implications of mobile technologies such as
phones and handheld computers on schools and schooling by comparing the 'fixed'
nature of schools and the apparently empowering nature of 'mobile' technologies. After
considering caveats to both these viewpoints, the paper then suggests a framework for
future research and discussion in this area.
Characteristics of 'Fixed' Schools and Schooling
To conceptualise the educational implications of new mobile technologies, we first need
to consider the 'fixed' nature of schools as they have developed in Western society over
the past century--in particular, the way in which schools are fundamentally based
around institutional relations of power and domination. In this respect, one of the most
persuasive and useful accounts can be found in the work of Michel Foucault, who
examined nineteenth-century schools, along with prisons, asylums and hospitals, as
microcosms of the principles of power, domination and normalisation that permeate
society as a whole. From this perspective, the school can be seen as an institution of
surveillance and control in which the bodies of students are disciplined through
regimentation in time and space. In particular, the management and control exercised
over students is achieved through 'normalisation', which creates a form of homogeneity
through categorisation and differentiation of students. This process that takes place in
school 'compares, differentiates, hierarchies, homogenises, excludes. In short, it normalises'
(Foucault, 1977, p. 183).
Foucault's analysis of Victorian schooling, for the large part, still holds true today.
Schools as social institutions continue to be based around a range of disciplinary relations
leading to the normalisation of knowledge and the normalisation of human subjects (in
particular, students). In terms of the normalisation of knowledge, for example, the
content and form of the curriculum as embodied knowledge is tightly controlled, even in
these days of curriculum 'entitlement' and 'choice'. As Harris summarises:
Learning is restrictive in the sense that students' development is not liberating
but rather constructed in a highly ordered and differentiated way-rather than
being in control of the process students are 'subjects' on the receiving end.
(1994, p. 65)
Foucault's description of schools' normalisation of students as subjects is equally as
relevant, continuing to manifest itself throughout present-day educational organisations.
For example, as Mitchell observes, students continue to experience schools through
highly ordered regimes and routines of time, space and mobility:
The demand that [educational institutions] typically make is to be 'in residence'-
to be part of the spatially defined community. And these communities
enforce, as well, strict compliance with academic timetables, classroom schedules
and calendars. (199, p. 67)
This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Nov 2014 05:58:25 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
134 N. Selwyn
From this perspective, the school is a prime example of a site where disciplinary power
is employed through 'dividing practices' such as testing, examining, streaming and the
use of desirable identities such as being a 'good worker' or a 'able student'. Students'
behaviour is therefore defined and normalised through microtechnologies of physical and
ideological control, leaving them, in Foucauldian terms, as 'docile bodies' who are able
to contribute to the productive patterns of schools and, it follows, capitalist society. This
leaves the student as:
the obedient subject, the individual subjected to habits, rules, orders; an
authority that is exercised continually around him and upon him and which he
must allow to function automatically in him. (Foucault 1977, p. 227)
This conceptualisation of schools of sites of normalisation and domination provides us
with a powerful framework for understanding schools' assimilation and relationship with
technology. As already hinted at, the integration of ICT into schools to date has been
inconsistent with schools proving remarkably 'resistant' to technological change. This has
led some authors to observe that technology is constantly fighting a battle against
pre-existing educational cultures; occasionally succeeding, but generally failing to be
effectively adopted (for example, Goodson & Mangan, 1995). This viewpoint echoes
Eraut's (1991, p. 37) resigned conclusion that, 'the insertion of a computer rarely affects
either the curriculum or normal classroom practice: its use is assimilated to existing
pedagogic assumptions'. Put simply, sociologists of education are coming to the conclusion
that the organisation of schools (in terms of space, power and interaction) is too
rigid, hierarchical and bureaucratised to 'fit' easily with ICTs (Hodas, 1996; Kerr, 1996).
This apparent organisational resistance to technology fits neatly with the Foucauldian
notion of the school as a rigid technology of control assimilating information technologies
as yet another disciplinary regime. This can be seen, for example, in the highly visible
gatekeeping that has grown up around information technology in schools, with schools
carefully regulating and controlling access and use of ICTs. The ways in which ICTs
such as computers and the internet are organised and regulated in schools has altered
little since the early days of the single 'school computer' on a trolley. It remains the case
that schools' use of ICT is centred around and controlled by a small clique of staff (from
the lone ICT co-ordinator in the primary school to the ICT 'team' of technicians and
teachers in the secondary school), privileged physical locations (such as Information
Technology 'labs' or 'learning resource centres') and overt and covert regulations of
use-all of which act as powerful 'technological gatekeepers' (Pettigrew, 1973). Thus
unlike other organisations, schools have not seen ICT prompt even a superficial
decentralisation of power and control-or even a shift in the location of centralised
power. The idealised notion of ICTs leading to the 're-negotiation of professional
knowledge, discourses and practices within organisations' (Bloomfield & Coombs, 1992,
p. 461) has certainly not occurred within the school to date.
Characteristics of the 'Mobile Generation'
Against this little changing picture of the 'fixed' school with its normalised students and
technologies comes the challenge of mobile technologies and, more importantly, the
students who are now bringing such technologies into schools. To understand the
implications of this shift, we must first consider the nature of what can be termed as this
'mobile generation' of students--in particular, the changes being seen in young people's
lives in general as a result of using mobile technologies. Indeed, the ability to connect to
This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Nov 2014 05:58:25 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Schoolingt he Mobile Generation 135
communication and information networks while unfettered by the need to be at a fixed
location is seen by many commentators to fundamentally change the potential and
'reach' of young people's relationships with information technologies. Maenpaa (2001),
for example, suggests a range of social implications, including the intensification and
expansion of interaction, the blending of work and leisure, autonomous life management
and the development of common but asynchronous rhythms of life among users. If we
examine these issues in relation to young people, then the potential social significance of
technologies such as the mobile phone quickly becomes apparent.
The Intensificationan d Expansiono f Interactionw ith People and Information
The most immediate social effect of mobile telecommunications technologies is their
ability to increase the intensity and widen the scope of interaction. The traditional
barriers to interaction (i.e. distance, space and time) assume a different (in)significance
when interaction is carried out via non-fixed, personal technologies capable of synchronous
and a-synchronous communication. As Roos reasons, this provides mobile
technology users with a 'connectedness' that most previously did not enjoy:
The mobile phone allows for almost complete mobility with simultaneous
availability, i.e. the person is in actual reality highly mobile and virtually fixed.
This allows for simultaneous existence in the same person both modern,
dynamic being-on-the-move person and a very traditional, fixed, non-dynamic
open communication which used to be completely incompatible. When this is
combined with constant connectedness to the Internet one can really talk of
being in the centre of a web, operating a communications centre wherever one
is. (2001, p. 10)
As Roos intimates, with mobile technologies such as the mobile phone, this web is based
around a connectedness to both people and information. In terms of facilitating an
increased connectedness to people, mobile telecommunications technologies have led to
a wider range of interactions with a wider range of people for a wider range of reasons.
One burgeoning use of mobile telephony is non-essential communication, seen by some
commentators as a form of 'social grooming', with young people in particular using
mobile telephones and messaging services for a variety of social interactions-often for
ostensibly trivial but socially significant purposes (Eldridge & Grinter, 2001). Conversely,
in terms of gaining access to information, the latest generations of mobile phones
alongside palmtop and laptop computers all offer ready access to the world-wide web as
well as informal networks of information from other users. Although many of the
limitations of the world-wide web are not overcome in mobile form (such is the quality
and quantity of useful information that the user is able to access), individuals are afforded
a qualitatively (if not quantitatively) different relationship with online information. Free
from the shackles of a 'fixed' connection, users can, in theory, more easily obtain
information as and when they want it.
The Blurringo f the ConventionaWl ork/LeisureO pposition
This ability to communicate and access information on an 'anytime, anyplace' basis also
has temporal and spatial implications for the way that young people conduct their lives.
Of interest here, for example, is the potential of mobile technologies to overcome the
This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Nov 2014 05:58:25 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
136 N. Selwyn
'alienation of time' and thereby allow users to make optimum use of their time-not
waiting, queuing and consuming services passively. As Roos again argues:
[Mobile technologies] make possible a much more efficient time use, being able
to fill the otherwise 'wasted' waiting times by work or social contacts. It also
frees people to combine [different] activities ... Thus, for most users, a mobile
telephone is a working tool which greatly facilitates and increases efficiency.
(1993, p. 447)
The potential of mobile technologies to allow flexible work and social arrangements and
to combine previously mutually exclusive ways of life can be seen as a fundamental
advantage. This individual efficiency is seen by some as contributing to a growing
disregard among the mobile generation for previously shared conventions of time in
society--in particular, the traditional differentiation of 'work' and 'leisure'. Commentators
have been speculating over the past two decades how new media may be
contributing to a shift away from the Protestant work ethic towards an expressive work
ethic or even non-work ethic, which 'may have taken over, particularly with younger
people who are also said to be more sceptical and questioning of authority' (Halloran,
1986, p. 48). Now, for some, the ability to use mobile technologies to work and play on
a increasingly flexible basis is leading to such an erosion of the Protestant work ethic into
a 'networked ethic' with an optimisation and flexible organisation of time, which leads
to a blurring of the boundaries of 'work' time and 'play' time (Himanen, 2001).
The Developmenot f a Commonb ut AsynchronouRs hythmo f Life Among Users
These points are expanded in Maenpia's (2001) observation that mobile telecommunications
technologies are leading to the development of a common but asynchronous
rhythm of life among users, where time becomes both more intense and more important.
Manuel Castells (1996) refers to this as 'timeless time', where time is compressed and
sometimes denied altogether in the 24-hour network society. As Townsend continues, the
flexibility and re-scheduling of time is therefore a key feature for users of mobile
telecommunications technologies:
time becomes a commodity that is bought, sold, and traded over the phone.
The old schedule of minutes, hours, days and weeks becomes shattered into a
constant stream of negotiations, reconfigurations and rescheduling. One can be
interrupted or interrupt friends and colleagues at any time. Individuals live in
this phonespace-they can never let it go, because it is their primary link to the
temporally, spatially fragmented network of friends and colleagues they have
constructed for themselves. (2000, p. 9)
This idea of a common rhythm of life can be extended into the notion that mobile
telecommunications technologies also afford a commonality of identity to users. This
argument is illustrated by Taylor and Harper's (2001) study of young people who used
mobile telephony, and in particular text-messaging, to foster and maintain a sense of
collectively and connectedness with their peers while deliberately differentiating themselves
from family and other 'adult' relations. This is also apparent in the symbolic role(s)
that mobile phones play in youth culture and the formation of youth identities. As Taylor
and Harper (2001, p. 2) conclude, 'in short the collaborative forms of interaction with
the device appear to both functionally and symbolically cement the durability of social
relationships in local communities [of young people]'.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Nov 2014 05:58:25 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Schoolingt he Mobile Generation 137
A Means of AutonomouLs ife Management
These first three points all draw upon the potential of mobile telecommunications
technologies to give users an increased autonomy and even control over their lives. There
is, for example, a strong notion of the increased security offered by mobile communications
technology both for the user and their 'significant others'. Of course, as Townsend
(2000) notes, a constant connectedness to others can be as constraining as empowering
for young people-especially where parents and other 'significant' adults are concerned.
Nevertheless, mobile technologies offer a medium through which young people can at
least negotiate control over their lives:
One interesting micro change with macro effects is the communication
between parents and children (or for that matter between children themselves).
Previously one might have been somewhere and then called parents to ask for
permission to stay longer, overnight, etc. The answer was 'yes' or 'no' and that
was that. The mobile phone enables a much more flexible negotiation process
and creates new kinds of exchanges between children and parents. (Roos, 2001,
p. 5)
This idea of empowerment is also apparent in young people's use of mobile technologies
to privatise their activities and, therefore, gain autonomous control of their day-to-day
lives. Text-messaging in particular has proved to be incredibly popular with young
people, due both to immediate issues of finance and longer-term issues of privacy.
Indeed, Taylor and Harper (2001) found their sample of UK school children to only use
voice conversations when making calls to adult family members as opposed to almost
exclusively text-messaging their peers. Cooper et al. (2000) describe this private nature
of mobile phone use as being ensconced in a private 'bubble' connected to a virtual other
at the end of the phone. This privacy is obviously increased if the communication is
asynchronous and non-verbal, as in the case of text-messaging.
Possible Implications of 'Fixed' Schools and 'Mobile' Technologies
From these brief points it is clear that mobile telecommunications technologies such as
the mobile phone have potentially significant implications for the ways in which young
people live their lives. In theory, at least, mobile technologies offer easier and quicker
conduits to information and people; 'plugging' young people into larger and more
instantaneous information networks than they could previously access. In some cases this
could lead to an increased independence and control, in other cases it could lead to
increased dependence on others. These networks are also seen to lead to temporal and
spatial re-definition-in particular, a blurring of public and private spaces and 'work'
and 'leisure', with notions of time and space centred around the individual rather than
shared societal norms or expectations.
The implications of all these facets of 'mobile life' have obvious significant implications
for the 'fixed' school. In the first instance, mobile technologies represent technological
artefacts that schools do not always physically own, and therefore a technology that
schools have difficulty in physically controlling. The mobile generation of students no
longer need the school to physically facilitate their use of ICT, whether in terms of
technological support and guidance or even in basic terms of physical connections to
electricity and telecommunications networks. In a physical sense, therefore, schools play
little part in students' use of mobile technologies. As hinted at earlier, this leaves schools
This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Nov 2014 05:58:25 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
138 N. Selwyn
with recourse only to regulative control over students' use of mobile technologies-but
as private (and often surreptitious) technologies owned by students, this is by no means
This lack of physical control leaves schools 'open' to the impact of mobile technologies
as never before. In particular, this has significant implications for (i) schools' normalisation
of students as subjects, and (ii) schools' normalisation of knowledge. On the one
hand, mobile technologies are at odds with schools' rigid control of students through
temporal, spatial and other social disciplinary practices. As we have discussed, power in
schools is primarily manifested in institutional relations and disciplinary practices that are
rooted in the colonisation of all social spaces and practices. Indeed, for Foucault (1979,
p. 141), 'discipline proceeds from the distribution of individuals in space ... and
sometimes requires enclosure, the specification of a place heterogeneous to all others and
closed in upon itself. Crucially, then, mobile technologies allow students as subjects to
disrupt the totalising web of self-regulation and normalisation by allowing students access
to 'online' spaces and practices outside of the schools' jurisdiction and regulative
For example, unlike the organisation of the 'offline' school, the 'online' space
accessible through mobile technologies tends to be anti-hierarchical, in terms of time,
space, identity and access to information (Jordon, 1999). Mobile technologies therefore
present fully blown challenges for schools in terms of conventional notions of public and
private space and time (Kopomaa, 1999). In terms of the intensification and expansion
of interaction with people that mobile technologies afford, students' interactions are no
longer confined to within the four walls of the classroom or the confines of the
playground. Mobile technologies such as the phone allow students to seek solace from the
highly 'congested social environment' that is the school (Silberman, 1971) and create the
space needed to exert some autonomy over what happens to them. Research is already
beginning to highlight the emergence of technologically mediated student collectives in
the classroom (Vestby, 2001), with notion of 'working in a group' taking on a decidedly
new meaning for students. Similarly, the potential of mobile technologies to allow for
more efficient use of time, provides different options for the student in a lesson they may
be finding less than engaging. Students used to a more autonomous and less formally
structured use of their time outside of school may soon resent the imposition that the
rigid timetabling of schools represents. Moreover, access to mobile technologies provides
students with a range of strategies and options to resist, while presenting schools with a
'crisis of boundaries' (Holmes & Russell, 1999).
To date, these tensions have perhaps been most apparent for schools in the 'autonomous
life management' of the mobile technology user-in particular, the newly
established connection throughout the school day between students and their parents.
For some, the mobile phone 'satisfies the genuine need' of 'mothers who want to be
always there for their children' (Roos, 1993), thus displacing the traditional role of the
school and teacher as in loco parentis. While some commentators welcome the return to
traditional family values (for example, Halloran, 1986, p. 50), schools are proving to be
less receptive, often perceiving mobile phones as 'electronic apron strings' and 'part of
the no-risk cocoon that parents construct around their children' (Lightfoot, 2000, p. 6).
Herein lies the crux of the 'clash' between schools and mobile technologies. Whereas
some see mobile phones as offering parents an 'effective remedy' against the 'simple
control' of the school (Roos, 2001), for schools mobile technologies disrupt the traditional
notion of 'partnership' between schools and parents that is usually carried out according
to the schools' terms and ideology--with schools continuing to 'manage' parents who
This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Nov 2014 05:58:25 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Schooling the Mobile Generation 139
now see themselves more 'entitled' to some control over the schooling of their child
(Crozier, 1998).
Yet, just as significant a clash is the challenge that mobile technologies present to
schools' normalisation of knowledge and information. Authors such as Pierre Levy (1997)
argue that new networked media have at once expanded and enhanced knowledge. Set
against the pre-networked age where access to knowledge was rigidly controlled and
linearly distributed, mobile access to unhierarchical structures of information such as the
world-wide web has created a new 'knowledge space' that is fluid and open. The ease
with which information can be accessed has therefore enhanced people's relationship
with knowledge. The traditional notion of the student/subject as passive consumer of
information and knowledge in school is replaced by autonomous, dynamic and freeroaming
individuals forming harmonious communities and intelligent collectives of
learners unfettered by constraints of time or distance. Thus, for some authors, these new
technologies offer children a new socio-technological relationship with informationaffording
students an increased autonomy in how they learn, seclusion in where they learn
and control over what they learn, having profound implications for the traditional
learning environment of the school:
A learning situation is also a social situation that traditionally has been based
on power/dependency. This is a relational concept since power in one person
must of necessity be based on another's dependency. ICT affects the basis of
the teacher's power, i.e. possession and transfer of knowledge. As pupils
acquire knowledge from many other source than teacher and textbook, their
dependency on teachers and teachers' opportunity to exert control may wane.
(Vestby, 2001, p. 3)
This 'freeing' up of knowledge is fundamentally at odds with the tightly controlled and
defined notion of 'curriculum' set up to limit what is considered as 'knowledge and
knowing' (Young, 1971). Conversely, the role of the school and the teacher is altered to
'facilitate' or 'animate' such learning rather than to control and provide access to limited
chunks of knowledge. Thus, as Robins explains, educational institutions such as schools
are an old and now superseded space:
in which vested interests sought, and could achieve, control over the ordered
totality of knowledge. In the new condition of disorder, or 'knowledge flux',
there can no longer be any such totalising perspective or centralised mastery
over the global domain of knowledge. (1999, p. 18)
Considering the Future for Schools in the 'Mobile Age'
To return to the question posed at the beginning of this paper, we are now in a position
to consider what practical implications mobile technologies may have for schools and
schooling in the near future. To date, educational thinking has been polarised between
practitioner caution and academic exaggeration. For example, from an educational
practice point of view, the response of many schools has been to try to accommodate
mobile technologies within the existing structure of the school and, it is hoped, normalise
mobile technologies as has previously been done with 'immobile' ICTs such as the
personal computer. At present, schools are adopting one of two strategies: either wholly
resisting mobile technologies such as the mobile phone through prohibiting their use on
school premises and during school time; or attempting to accommodate mobile technologies
by allowing limited and restricted usage during free time, and attempting to teach
This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Nov 2014 05:58:25 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
140 N. Selwyn
students forms of 'mobile etiquette' and responsible ownership (Roos, 2001). In both
these forms, educational practice has not progressed beyond attempting to replicate
schools' ability to take control of fixed ICTs and shape them into reinforcing existing
patterns of disciplinary power.
However, for many academic commentators, the dichotomy of 'mobile' life and 'fixed'
school life is seen to be irreconcilable--both in terms of students' social lives and
academic lives while in school. This has prompted technologists and futurologists to now
argue that the school must yield to mobile technologies or else face 'a legitimacy crisis
with kids' and a further dis-aggregation of the 'tribes' of adults and young people due to
their failure to adapt to consumer media culture (Green & Bigum, 1993; Kenway &
Bullen, 2001). For some futurologists, this scenario ultimately points to the complete
dismantling and abolition of the school system and the 'end of education' as we know
it (for example, Papert, 1980; Perelman, 1992). For some, then, mobile technologies look
set to achieve this scenario where previous technologies failed.
Although this radical enthusiasm for 'the school without walls' persists in some
quarters, the attention of the majority of futuristically inclined commentators has latterly
tempered towards arguing for a radical overhaul of schools-maintaining the notion of
'the school' as institution but radically altering its structure and organisation. This has led
to calls for the physical, organisational and cultural re-structuring of schools as social
institutions. Spatially, for example, schools have long been seen as needing re-designing
to accommodate networked ways of working, reflecting the need for what Mitchell terms
'recombinant architecture':
Network connections quickly create new ways of sharing knowledge and
enacting practices and so force changes in the characters of teaching spaces ...
School and university libraries become less like document warehouses and
dispensaries and more like online information-brokering services ... Any place
where a student or faculty member may want to sit and work-an auditorium
seat, library carrel, desk, dorm room or office-needs a laptop hookup point.
(1995, pp. 69-70)
Similarly, from an organisational point of view, authors have argued that schools need
to embrace a fluid, networked structure rather than the linear, hierarchical structure of
old. It has long been argued that schools have failed to look beyond the resourcing
implications of new technologies and react to the structural implications. Authors such
as Thomas (1986) have bemoaned schools' apparent unwillingness to allow students and
teachers to work autonomously outside of the constraints of the 'large industrial
organisation' that is the Victorian factory model of the school. Thus, authors such as
Hawkins (1993, p. 31) argue for a complete re-organisation of schools and schooling:
'challenging many assumptions about an effective educational process'. This is seen to
involve re-thinking the nature of time (e.g. more flexible scheduling), re-thinking the
nature of space (e.g. differently organised space promoting private and group work),
re-thinking relationships (between staff, students, administrators and parents) and, most
crucially, re-thinking knowledge:
... with a view of knowledge as a network of ideas, information, interpretation
that must be exercised and revised as an alive and interconnected body
through sustained exchange with others. (Hawkins, 1993, p. 33)
Yet all these current practitioner and academic viewpoints are nothing new-replicating
well-established positions over educational change and innovation. Hoyle (1971), for
example, sketched out a similar set of responses to educational change and innovation,
This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Nov 2014 05:58:25 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Schooling the Mobile Generation 141
which he characterised as either: (i) modifying the system; (ii) transforming the system;
or (iii) abolishing the system.
There is therefore a pressing need for educational research to move these viewpoints
on and begin to address the empirical and theoretical realities of schools and mobile
technologies. Crucially, as we have seen in this paper, the relationship between schools
and technologies is two-way; schools have an impact on ICTs just as much as ICTs have
an impact on schools. Thus, future debate and inquiry should be rooted in the
perspective that mobile technologies, as the fixed technologies before them, are socially
shaped and interpretatively flexible (Mackay, 1997). This approach recognises that
technologies are not merely purchased and passively used, but are discursively (and often
materially) constructed by actors at all stages of their production and consumption; from
initial designers to end-users. Thus, as Woolgar (1996) reasons, applying this approach
in an educational setting frames an examination of the processes of construction and use
of technology, as producers and consumers begin to make sense of what technology is for
and what it can do. Researchers should therefore begin to examine how students' use of
mobile technology is inherently shaped by myriad social, cultural, political and economic
processes both inside and outside of the school (Williams & Edge, 1996).
Above all, in adopting this approach there remains a definite need for realism-a
quality often absent from much discussion of education and technology. For example,
there is a tendency for authors to get over-enthusiastic about a permanently connected
'mobile society' while overlooking the fact that, although such media have permeated a
majority of the population, their use in day-to-day life is not all encompassing (for
example, Nilsson et al., 2001). For example, 77% of mobile phone users aged under 16
years use their phone for less than 15 minutes a day (Guardian, 2001). Similarly, as Roos
(2001) points out, issues of control and constant availability can be over-emphasised as,
ultimately, the user dictates whether or not the mobile phone is switched on.
Questions therefore need to be asked about both the extent and the causalities of the
'mobile revolution'. For example, we know little about the extent and nature of students'
ownership of mobile phones and their subsequent use both inside and outside of school
Are patterns of mobile phone ownership and use among students reflecting wider
established patterns of technology access (socio-economic status, gender, ethnicity,
rural/urban location)? Under what circumstances and for what purposes are students
using mobile phones in schools, and how does this compare with their outside-school
use? Similarly, we know little about the role(s) that mobile telephones play in students'
social and academic lives. For example, what is the symbolic as well as functional
significance of mobile phones within student cultures? How are mobile phones affecting
the shaping of student identity among both mobile phone 'haves' and 'have-nots'? How
is mobile phone ownership and use altering student notions of the physical and regulative
boundaries of power and control within the school? Above all, there is a need to
challenge, and not be seduced by, the theoretical allure of what Golding (2000) terms
the 'fallacy of the post-modern subject'.
We also need to know more about the dynamics of the student/school/outside-school
relationship as mediated through mobile technologies. For example, how are schools
responding to integration of mobile phones into student cultures and the potential
erosion of traditional boundaries of schools' 'technological' control? To what extent is
there a 'thinning out' and reduction of institutional power and influence due to the
lessening importance for human activity of physical association with place and the
resulting 'time-space compression'. Similarly, questions need to be asked about the effect
of parents, households and other outside-school influences in mediating students' owner-
This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Nov 2014 05:58:25 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
142 N. Selwyn
ship and use of mobile phones For example, what roles are parents playing in students'
mobile phone use-both as initial purchasers and in sustaining on-going operational
costs? What control are parents then exerting over students' use of mobile phones, and
how are parents now 'using' students' mobile phones as means to contact/track students?
What role is the 'moral economy' of the household playing in students' use of mobile
phones (Silverstone & Hirsch, 1992)? What other outside-school factors are mediating
students' ownership and use of mobile phones?
Finally, there are a set of wider 'macro-level' questions to also take into consideration.
As Robins (1999) argues, futurist accounts of new media and education run the risk of
overlooking the mundane, problematic and distinctly familiar nature of learning in the
'networked' society. Rather than representing a clean break with the modernist past, the
extra-terrestrial space of mobile communications is merely a continuation of global
capitalism-where the corporate ideology of globalisation still dominates. Thus, a final
set of questions need to be asked of 'private' and commercial interests on mobile
technologies and education. For example, we know little about mobile phone companies'
roles in, and responses to, the increasing consumption of mobile phones among the
student population. How are mobile phone manufacturers actively constructing the
teenage user of mobile phones through product design and development? How are both
mobile phone manufacturers and network providers actively constructing the teenage
user of mobile phones through marketing and promotion? What steps are companies
taking to regulate young people's use of mobile phones?
If we can adopt these multiple perspectives, then we can begin to unpack the
fundamental philosophical questions that mobile technologies raise about the future of
schooling. It seems unlikely that schools will be able to continue their past patterns of
resistance and assimilation against ICTs given the difficulty of exerting the same levels
of physical, social or ideological control and regulation over mobile technologies. The
mobile technology user is no longer the same docile body that the fixed technology user
was, and it would seen sensible to suggest that schools should be reconstructed to
facilitate and take advantage of the 'technologically connected student'. Yet, while mobile
technologies do have fundamental implications for communication and information, it
would be naive to see such technologies leading to a complete 'meltdown' of the school
system. As Kerr (1996, p. 7) observes, 'those who suggest that schools as institutions will
soon "wither away" are unaware of the historical flexibility of schools as organisations,
and of the strong social pressures that militate for preservation of the existing institutional
structure'. How this next wave of technological development pans out in schools will
form a central area of inquiry for sociologists of education during the next decade-it is
essential that we approach it from an objective and informed perspective.
CorrespondencNe:e il Selwyn, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, Glamorgan
Building, King Edward VII Avenue, Cardiff CF10 3WT, UK; email: selwynnc@
BECKETAT. ,( 2000)T he wholew orldi n his hand, Guardia4nt,h February2 000, p. 2.
BLOOMFIEBL. &D ,C OOMBRS., ( 1992)I nformatiotne chnologyc,o ntroal ndp owerJ, ournaolf ManagemSetnutd ies,
29(4), pp. 459-484.
CASTELLSM, . (1996) The Rise of the Network Society (London, Blackwell).
CHARTERD, . (2000)M obilep honeh ealtha lertf or schools,T heT imes2, 7th Augustp, . 8.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Nov 2014 05:58:25 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Schoolintgh eM obileG eneration 143
COOPERG, ., GREENN, ., HARPERR, . & MURTAGHG, . (2000) Mobile Society? Technology, Distance and
Presence, Paper presented to the VirtuaSl ociety?G etR eal! ConferencAes, hridge, Kent, May.
CROZIERG, . (1998) Parents and schools: partnership or surveillance?,J ournalo f EducationaPlo licy, 13(1), pp.
CUBANL, . (1986) Teacherasn d Machinest:h e classroomus e of technologsyin ce1 920 (New York, Teachers College
CUBANL, . (2001) Oversoladn d Underusedco: mputerins thec lassroom(C ambridge,M A, MIT Press).
ELDRIDGME,. & GRINTERR,. (2001) Studying text messaging in teenagers. Paper presented to the CHI 2001
Conferenocne HumanF actorsin ComputinSgy stemsS, eattle, WA, April.
ERAUTM, . (1991) TheI nformatioSno ciety(L ondon, Cassell).
FOUCAULTM, . (1977) Disciplinea nd Punish:t he birtho f thep rison( Harmondsworth,P enguin).
FOUCAULMT,. (1979) TheH istoryo f SexualityV ol.1 : an introductio(Hn armondsworth,P enguin).
GOLDING, P. (2000) Forthcoming features: information and communications technologies and the sociology of
the future, Sociology3,4 (1), pp. 165-184.
GOODSONI,. & MANGANJ., (1995) Subject cultures and the introduction of classroom computers, British
EducationaRl esearcJho urnal,2 1(5), pp. 613-628.
GREENB, . & BIGUMC, . (1993) Aliens in the classroom, AustraliaJno urnalo f Education3,7 (2), pp. 119-141.
GUARDIA(N2 001) 9 in 10 children have a mobile phone, The Guardian2,9 th June, p. 6.
HALLORAJN. ,( 1986) The social implications of technological innovations in communication, in: M. TRABER
(Ed.) TheM yth of theI nformatioRne volutio(nL ondon, Sage).
HARRIS,S . (1994) Entitled to what? control and autonomy in school, InternationSatlu diesin Sociologoyf Education,
4(1), pp. 57-76.
HAWKINS,J(1. 993) Technology and the organisationo f schooling, Communicatioonf tsh eA CM, 36(5), pp. 30-35.
HIMANENP,. (2001) TheH ackerE thica nd the Spirito f theI nformatioAng e (London, Vintage).
HODAS, S. (1996) Technological refusal and the organisational culture of schools, in: R. KLING (Ed.)
Computerisataionnd Controvervsayl uec onflictasn d socialc hoices(2 nd edn) (San Diego, CA, Academic Press).
HOLMESD,. & RUSSELLG,. (1999) Adolescent CIT use: paradigms hiftsf or educational and culturalp ractices?,
BritishJ ournalo f Sociologoyf Education2, 0(1), pp. 69-78.
HOYLE, E. (1971) Problemosf CurriculuImnn ovatioInI : a theoreticoavl erview(B letchley, Open University).
JORDONT, . (1999) Cyberpow(eLro ndon, Routledge).
KENWAY,J. & BULLENE,. (2001) Globalisingt he young in the age of desire. Paper presented at the Travelling
PolicyL ocalS pacesC onferencKe,e ele University,J une.
KERRS, . (1996) Toward a sociology of educational technology, in: D. JONASSE(NE d.) Handboookf Researchon
EducationaCl ommunicatioannsd Technolog(yN ew York, Macmillan).
KOPOMATA., (1999) Speakingm obile: intensifiede verydayl ife, condensed city. Paper presented to Citiesi n the
GlobalI nformatioSno cietyC onferencUe,n iversity of Newcastle, November.
LEvY,P . (1997) CollectivIen telligenc(eN ew York, Plenum).
LIGHTFOOTE, . (2000) Mobiles make children dependent on parents, TheD aily Telegraph2,7 th December, p. 6.
MACKAYH, . (1997) Consumptioann dE verydaLy ife (London, Sage).
MAENPAA, P. (2001) Mobile communication as a way of urban life, in: A. WARDE & G.JUKKA (Eds) Ordinary
Consumptio(Lno ndon, Harwood).
MITCHELWL,. (1995) Cityo f Bits (Cambridge,M A, MIT Press).
NILSSON,A ., NULDeNU, . & OLSSOND, . (2001) Mobile media, Convergen7ce(1, ), pp. 34-38.
NORRIS, A. (2001) Teenage kicks, The Guardian--OnlinMe obilesS upplemen1t3, th December, p. 4.
PAPERT,S . (1980) Mindstorm(nNnesw York, Basic Books).
PERELMANL, . (1992) SchoolsO ut( New York, Morrow).
PETTIGREAW. , (1973) TheP oliticso f OrganisationDael cisionM aking( London, Tavistock).
ROBINSK, . (1999) New media and knowledge, New Media & Society1, (1), pp. 18-24.
Roos,J.P. (1993) 300,000 yuppies? Mobile phones in Finland, TelecommunicatiPoonlsic y, 17(6), pp. 446-456.
Roos,J.P. (2001) Postmodernitya nd mobile communications.P aper presented to the 5th EuropeaSno ciological
AssociatioCn onferencUe,n iversity of Helsinki, Finland, August.
SILBERMANM, . (1971) TheE xperiencoef Schoolin(gN ew York, Holt, Rinehart & Winston).
SILVERSTONER, . & HIRSCH, E. (1992) ConsumingT echnologies( London, Routledge).
TAYLOR, A. & HARPER, R. (2001) Talking activity: young people and mobile phones. Paper presented to CHI
2001 Conferenceo n Human Factors in ComputingS ystems, Seattle, WA, April.
THOMAS, G. (1986) Education, technology and the third wave, Oxford Review of Education, 12(3), pp. 223-231.
TOWNSEND, A. (2000) Life in the real-time city, Journal of Urban Technology, 7(2), pp. 85-104.
VAN DIJK, J. (1999) The Network Society (London, Sage).
This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Nov 2014 05:58:25 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
144 N. Selwyn
VESTBY, G. (2001) Technology and transformation of social roles and social relationships in schools. Paper
presented to the 5th EuropeanS ociologicAals sociatioCn onferenceU, niversity of Helsinki, Finland, August.
WILLIAMRS., & EDGED, . (1996) The social shaping of technology, in: W. H. DUTTON( Ed.) Informatioann d
CommunicatiTonec hnologi(eOs xford, Oxford University Press).
WOOLGARS,. (1996) Technologies as cultural artefacts, in: W. DUTTON (Ed.) Informatioann d Communication
Technologi(eOs xford, Oxford University Press).
YOUNGM, . (1971) Knowledgaen d Contro(lB asingstoke,M acmillan).
This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Nov 2014 05:58:25 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions