Use of technology in low socio economic areas

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In this research project I aim to investigate the use of technology by young people in low socio-economic areas. I want to find out what they use technology for, for the research I am going to focus 'technology' on laptops/PC, games consoles and mobile phones. I am also going to look at any correlations surrounding the amount of ICT use at home and the attainment of the students. The findings from this research project I hope will help to develop learning and teaching resources aimed for use with students that are affected by not having access to technology at home.

In doing this I hope to draw on comparisons with Media and Cultural Studies research.

I want to find out what the main uses of technology are; I want to find out if there is a correlation between the use of technology and the attainment of the students, I want to find out if there is anything that can be done to improve learning of students that perhaps don't have access to a computer and the Internet at home.

To find this out I will be asking two different focus groups a variety of questions surrounding their use of technology and I will observe them undertaking basic tasks surrounding animation and video editing.

Within this critical account of a research project I shall firstly discuss the context of the research as it was conducted and discuss my reasons for choosing this area of research. I will provide an overview of the methodology, I will then analyse my key findings.

I have chosen my topic for a number of reasons but the main reason being, working for a City Learning Centre we have a lot dealing with students from all stages of education, KS1 through to KS5. Whilst working with these students it became apparent that the majority of the students that I worked with were from low socio-economic areas and as such I wanted to see what if any impact technology has on them, I also wanted to draw on the correlation between the use of technology and academic standing.

As at City Learning Centre we have a large amount of dealing with providing computer equipment to students and running government initiatives that provide school children with access to a computer at home. We have supplied over 2000 laptops through two different schemes computers for pupils and the recent Home Access Scheme.

The impact of technology, specifically digital technology has been widely research by BECTA, BECTA's report into the impact of digital technology on learning has outlined that there is an impact, the main impact being that there is a far lower rate of truancy in KS4 for students that have a computer at home. In fact the BECTA report quotes that there is an associated 5.8% reduction in the likely hood of truancy. (Underwood, 2009)

Motivation

The motivation for this research projects stems from being involved and working with students from a low socio economic background. I am particularly interested in how through the use and access to technology students' motivation and achievements could be increased, through the use of technology driven activities in lessons.

In a recent study of surrounding the area of the use of technology to aid learning in secondary education, the number of students' homes without computers or internet links was found to be a significant minority. (Lewin, 2003). However other studies have found significantly worse situations according to the research only one third of households in Wales have access to computers with only thirteen percent also having Internet access (Godard, 2000). The use and access of the Internet at home is divided along socio economic lines, 52% of the UK uses the internet regularly, and the amount of use in low income groups is low. Those that regularly use the Internet 82% are high earners and only 10% are low earners. (Rogers, 2003).

I want to use the findings from this research project to help enhance the teaching and delivery of animation based courses. Too often it is assumed that because we live in a digital age all students will have access to a computer with the Internet at home. I want to develop learning aids for students that are affected by the 'digital divide'. I want to see how much of an impact on the learning of students is caused by the assumption that they are familiar with the technology used within the classroom.

Context

The two focus groups were formed with the help of the SLT at the schools. Parental consent was provided for all the students that took part in the study.

I had limited number of students for my research project; I had a total of 20 students from two different stages of education, focusing on students in their last year of primary school and students in their final year of secondary school. The research was conducted over a two day period, day one was making observations of how students worked using unfamiliar computers and software, day two used for the focus groups, each focus group lasted approximately one hour.

The focus of my research was to see what digital technology if any students used at home and making correlations from this to their confidence within the classroom when presented with new and unfamiliar technology.

The resources for the observation were;

Apple iMacs capable of running Window XP and Apple OSX

Websites

Software packages such as iMovie, Pro Animate and the Microsoft Office Suite

Focus Group One

Focus group one consists of 10 students (5 girls and 5 boys) from Year 6, aged 10 and 11 at Maybury Primary school in the East part of Hull. This primary school is within an area that has low employment.

Focus Group Two

Focus group 2 consists of 10 students (5 girls and 5 boys) from year 11, aged 15 and 16 Archbishop Sentamu Academy, this school has recently gained academy status. This school is also situated in the East of Hull.

Students in both of these focus groups come from the area surrounding the school, this area has a high demographic of people who do not work and whom do not have any formal qualifications.

Observation

The students chosen for the focus groups were also partaking in classes within the CLC, these students were observed in what they were doing, the older group was completing the NCFE animation course and the younger group was completing a workshop making a stop frame animation.

Both of the focus groups used the same software and had the same input of how to use the software. Students in both groups were given the freedom to select their own theme for the animation and source their own props.

These students were shown examples of previously completed animations using the Macs. The Software used by both groups was Pro Animate and iMovie.

Research Methods

I used a mixed methodology which included;

Focus Groups

Observations, Participant Observations

These methods were backed up through the use of a research diary which allowed a reflective process which ensured that the research which had been conducted could be drawn on as a basis for future decisions surrounding lesson plans and schemes of work.

Analysis of results

Focus Groups

Out of the focus group it became apparent that most of the computer use was at home, the KS4 group had all been loaned a Samsung Netbook from school, however the majority of their use was on personal laptops this was mainly due to the netbook having restrictions on them such as preventing any installation of software, students found that this prevented them from setting up iTunes for their iPods which they deemed as being an important use of their computer.

The majority of the KS2 group had been given a laptop through the Government Home Access Scheme; this scheme also gave the mobile internet for a year and a large amount of educational software.

The typical use of a computer is for emailing, MSN/Skype, social networking sites such as Facebook, also a large amount of YouTube viewing and the playing of free online games (flash games).

From the discussions it became apparent although the overall use of a computer is higher in girls in the KS4 group the use of online gaming through consoles was considerably higher in the boys in the KS4 group.

There were a higher number of boys that used YouTube in the KS4 focus groups, the boys tended to use YouTube to research games such as Call of Duty, whereas when the girls used YouTube they tended to use it for music streaming.

The KS2 focus group don't use YouTube as frequently however there was no real difference in the type of use between the girls and boys, they both tended to use it for music streaming.

Social networking had a significantly higher use amongst the KS4 group this was mainly due to parental restrictions preventing the younger group having profiles for social networking sites such as Facebook.

The majority of the KS2 group expressed a desire to have a Facebook profile however restrictions that are made by Facebook and parents prevented this. Facebook prevents anyone under the age of 13 having a profile; this is restricted based on date of birth. However saying this one of the students in the KS2 group did admit to having a profile without parental knowledge and they did this by changing their date of birth. Two other students had Facebook accounts that have been set up by their parents and parents have access to login credentials so that they can monitor what is going on.

The KS4 group had mainly completely unsupervised access to the home computer/laptop/PS3 whereas the KS2 group tended to have some restrictions set up. This tended to be in the form of parental controls on the computer rather than strict supervision. Most of the KS2 group isn't able to download anything nor are they able to access certain websites, without parental consent.

The use of mobile phones was mainly to send text messages and keep up with social networking sites such as twitter and Facebook. It came from the focus group that the KS4 group use their mobile phones to check their Facebook profiles on average of 10 times during the school day. They felt that this was important so that they could keep in touch with friends. The majority of the KS2 group did not have mobile phones with access to the internet; they did however have phones that are capable of calling and texting. The majority of them had been given these mobile phones for safety and allowing parents to contact them when they are out with friends.

All students from both focus groups have access to computers throughout the school day including lunch and break times however, what became apparent from the focus group is unless it is an ICT lesson the students tend not to use any of the school ICT facilities.

In both focus groups all of students voiced that they thought that they know more than their parents about using technology, particularly computers and mobile phones.

The KS4 group had almost completely unsupervised and unrestricted access to a computer, laptop or mobile phone. The KS2 group have some restrictions put in place but mainly had unsupervised access.

It also came from the focus group that the KS2 group was more aware of matters surrounding E-Safety. The KS2 group explained that they have posters in ICT rooms and the library at school and that once a term they have an assembly to remind them of issues surrounding using the internet and computers. The majority of the KS4 groups had never heard the term E-Safety.

Neither group had been spoken to by a parent or guardian regarding staying safe on the computer/internet.

The key points that can be drawn from the focus groups are as follows;

All of the students in both focus groups had access to a computer at home

All students in both focus groups had access to the Internet

The majority of computer access was unsupervised

The use of a computer varied; boys tended to use it more for YouTube and the girls tended to use it more for social Networking

Girls in KS4 have a higher use of computers compared to the boys

The amount of use in KS2 was about equal, the boys claiming to use it slightly more.

KS4 group had mobile phones with multiple functionality i.e. the internet, Facebook

KS2 group had mobile phones with limited functionality; they could just send text messages and make phone calls

The KS4 group had unrestricted access to the internet

The KS2 had a higher amount of restrictions placed on them

Both groups claimed to have a greater knowledge than their parent or guardians

The KS2 group were aware of E - Safety

The majority of the KS4 group had never heard the term

Observations

Both of the focus groups were also attending animation courses being put on by the CLC, observations were made.

Focus Group One Observations

This was the first time that this group of students had ever used an Apple Mac, Pro Animate and iMovie.

The group was shown the basics of using Pro Animate, how to capture a frame, how to save and how to share with iMovie.

The students then started to create their props, what became immediately apparent was how creative these students were, they didn't seem to see any limitations with the software.

These students opened a new document without any further instruction and they began animating. Students needed to be reminded to save their work on a regular basis.

This group did not seem to have any apprehensions over using a new operating system or a new piece of software, the animated using Pro Animate with little assistance and instructions.

An observation that these students weren't afraid to see what the different options did without guidance, they made decisions about how they would use the cameras.

The students worked at a fast pace animating 60 seconds of animation within three hours. Once the animating has been completed the students shared their work with iMovie for editing.

The students were then given a demonstration of how to use iMovie, they were shown how to split clips, add titles, transitions and simple preset video effects.

The students confidently cut their animations up so that they had the required length of animation; this was set at 60 seconds. Having not been shown some students, (three boys) found how to speed up and slow down clips. These boys then showed the other in the group how to do this. They were confident when explaining to their peers how to change the speed.

The girls worked independently however they did not explore the software as much as the boys did. The boy felt confident with seeing what the software had to offer.

Focus Group Two Observations

As with the KS2 group this was the first time that these students had used an Apple Mac, Pro Animate and iMovie.

This group was also given a short demonstration on how to use the software.

This group struggled with creating a new project and saving it, this had to be demonstrated to the full group again. The full groups appeared to be apprehensive about using a new piece of software, they all didn't work particularly independently they needed to be guided and instructed with each small task. They also needed to be reminded to save their work regularly.

The levels of creativity varied drastically within this group the girls seemed to be very limited with their ideas whereas the boys tended to be more creative. The boys however did need to be reminded that this wasn't professional animation or editing software and they wouldn't be able to edit in CGI explosions etc.

The girls felt confident to help each other when they weren't sure how to do something, however they were reluctant to help the boys.

This group were shown how to use iMovie, they were shown the same tools as the KS2 group, however the task of splitting the clips and adding them to the timeline had to be shown again to 75% of the group.

The students were reluctant to see what was available in the menus and other options; they tended to stick with what they had been shown.

The girls worked quietly not asked for help whereas the boys wanted help frequently. The animations produced by the boys used a wider variety of techniques and tools, whereas the girls produced work that met the criteria but they did not explore further.

Comparing my research project and Media and Cultural Studies Research

The processes involved in social research can and will connect you to others, it does not "exist in a bubble, hermetically sealed off" (Bryman, 2008) research in whatever form may take part of a wider process "different visions of how social reality should be studied" and/or "connecting with wider social scientific enterprise...collected in relation to something...a burning social problem or, more usually a theory" (ibid). This explained by Bryman argues for context awareness in social research.

A large proportion of my research was gathered by participant observations, the research project in which I undertook meant that I was technically covertly taking notes, the advantages of this for myself was that I did not need to seek permission to enter the classroom. Participant observation has a many advantages "...it would provide a kind of 'descriptive context' in setting the scene" (Hammersley, 1993)as discussed by Hammersley using participant observations allows the context in which the research has been undertaken to be portrayed. Participant observations "....can also be used to complement your interviews or group discussions."(ibid)

However there are many disadvantages to this type of researching such as; "the problem taking notes" (Bryman, 2008). Taking of notes during a research project is hugely important however this can pose problems such as being identified as an observer and therefore the reliability of the research not being as accurate as it should be. Ditton 1997 suffered similar issues in the research on 'fiddling' in bakeries. He started off writing covertly, in a bathroom and eventually after suspicion was risen he began to write more openly, shying away from questions relating to what he was writing. The correlations from Ditton to my own personal research are very similar, initially I would observe something that I felt was significant, I would take myself off to my office and jot down the notes, however this became increasingly difficult when students questioned why I was coming and going from their classroom. Therefore I decided to set up my laptop and under the guise of writing a lesson plan for a different group of students I continued to take notes.

Throughout the research that I used qualitative and quantitative research methods, this enabled me to get the most all round research covering all the aspects that I wanted. I wanted to observe the students without their knowledge, so I could make note of where their strengths and weaknesses lay with the use of the technology and I wanted them to answer some questions relating to their use of technology and how they found using the technology in the classrooms. I needed to do this to enable me to draw conclusions based around the own personal use of technology and how they performed in class.

When working with young people ethics has a large impact on the research that can actually be carried out. Ethics in social research as stated by Seiber is 'the application of a system of moral principles to prevent harming or wronging others, to promote the good, to be respectful, and to be fair' (Sieber, 1993).

My research project and Media and Cultural Studies used variety of triangulated methods and because it offered one of the best ways of representation and a valid set if data. The research process extends past the limits of our own work this allows our own work to become comparable with other research.

Whilst reflecting on my own research project I was able to draw on similarities between my own research and other research in the Media and Cultural Studies area. The reflective processes are forcing researchers to look for weakness in the methods and look for weaknesses in the arguments; this is because we know that others will be critically looking at our research in that way.

Undertaking research in the Media and Cultural Studies area is difficult as the audiences/people/users are ever altering, the world in which they live changes, 'peoples' beliefs, interests, hobbies, relationships, and values. Everything that is being researched is in a state of change.

When undertaking social research with young people there are many pitfalls, when carrying out the research with young people it can be hard to actually listen to what the young people are saying, "Research on the lives of children and adolescents has traditionally neglected the views and voices of the young people themselves." (Hazel, 1995). In comparison my own research project I have listened to the young people, I have ensured that what they say is portrayed in the research.

Conclusion

In reflecting on my own personal research project and Media and Cultural Studies research I have seen how many of the techniques that I have used are the same, they also raise many of the same issues.

The research project that I chose to look at covered a much broader spectrum that I initially thought it would, this research project began by looking at the uses of technology by young people from low socio-economic backgrounds. However, the results were far wider than this, the finding of this research project could go as far as to look at how gender affects the use of technology, how age has an impact. The scope that I used was too wide and not specific enough to allow me to draw an accurate conclusion to the question that I posed, however it has posed some other interesting questions that could be the basis of future research.

Throughout this research project I have come across numerous problems, I had issues with being a covert observer, this I managed to overcome. However one of the main problems that I had was that I lost the focus to some extent of what I was trying to find out, an outcome of this was that I found out a lot of interesting information, although not all that relevant to my actual research project.

To progress from the research that I have carried out and the conclusions that I have drawn I would like to look at perhaps more gender specific research, perhaps looking at how the uses of technology change depending on gender, I would also narrow down what I mean by technology and specifically look at the use of computers with access to the Internet. I would not venture into the vast world of technology as a whole.

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