Friday, July 15, 2016

#Ofcom research into people's use of #smartphones: "Smartphone by default"

Another recent (May 2016) report is Smartphone by default, a qualitative research report conducted by ESRO for Ofcom (the UK communications watchdog). It is available in full at It is a high-quality, interesting report which identifies a number of issues relevant to information literacy.
"The fieldwork involved 26 two-hour in-depth interviews in four UK cities: Glasgow, Leeds, London, Belfast and Cardiff. During these interviews, researchers explored the digital behaviour and skills of participants." It was a varied sample, and participants included some who were in vulnerable circumstances (e.g. homeless). One of the selection criteria was that participants should already be using a smartphone routinely ("by default"). The researchers identified "Smartphone by choice" participants who "had selected a smartphone as the most appropriate device for their digital needs, despite potentially easy access to other devices." and "Smartphone by circumstance" participants "who were using their smartphones because their situations (often financial) meant they were unable to access other devices."
The report surfaces both the benefits and the drawbacks of smartphone use. I have used photos of two slides presented by Ofcom's Emily Keaney at the 2nd European Media and Information Literacy Forum (I missed the start of her talk and therefore didn't blog it). She was talking about this research and the 2 slides highlight cons and pros respectively. You will note that Keaney identified a potential new "Digital Divide" for those who mostly just had smartphone access.
There are large benefits, e.g. there are some examples of people running microbusinesses from their smartphone, and vulnerable people who are able to keep in contact with family amidst problematic lives. However, drawbacks are identified.
Because of the size of the device, people find it difficult or impossible to use apps like Word or other to fill in lengthy and important forms. This has implications for their information management, and means that they may save up these kinds of tasks for when they have access to a PC or laptop with a connection (which can be stressful). For those with constrained finances, because of worries about using up data allowances, people may limit the amount of searching and viewing they do, and they will seek out places with free wifi. The report highlights that whilst people have become more aware of privacy and security issues on social media and shopping sites, they don't necessarily think about the security issues around free wifi spots.
In terms of information literacy and information management, the research highlights how people may not be learning skills to do with (for example) typing, or using Word, because they don't get practice in doing it on their smartphone. A number of issues around searching, evaluating and refinding material are identified: because of screensize it is difficult to compare information, people tend to use the same apps, and there are examples of how people can't store material on their devices (with issues of knowing how/where to organise it, and storage limits), and usually don't use bookmarks, so they are having to refind material, or (for example) take a screenshot and store the picure of the web page and its address, or email the screenshot to themselves so they can refind it in their email.
Altogether, a report I will look at in more depth, and recommend to students.
As a researcher, I found the 9 page "Discussion guide" at the end of the report very interesting. It is the interview guide for the researchers, going through the different sessions in the c. 2 hours they spent with participants. I think it is particularly useful for anyone doing research into everyday information literacy (or thinking about "assessment" of citizens' media and information literacy). There is also a 10 page section given the crireia for selecting the sample, and the questionnaire used for screening and selecting participants.

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