February 27, 2015
The last day at this year’s Mobile Learning Week was a research seminar. The goal of the seminar was to bring together researchers as well as practitioners and policymakers to discuss the types of research that is available and needed around mobile learning, with an eye this year on women and girls. With our longstanding interest and work in mobile learning research, I was excited participate in these discussions and to be part of the closing MLW2015 panel about the intersection of mobiles, women/girls and leadership.
At first glance, these three terms or concepts – mobile devices, women/girls’ empowerment, leadership – may seem to be an odd mix with little apparent commonality. Each is a rich topic in their own right and in many circles, justifies their own dedicated conferences and research. That is why this year’s Mobile Learning Week, as a collaboration between UNESCO and UN-Women, was such a fascinating idea and experience. The big question is where do these three weighty concepts intersect and how can they be leveraged together to yield greater impact for all. With the benefit of hindsight now, it is obvious that through the week’s keynotes, panel discussions, breakout sessions and workshops, the real goal of this year’s event was to uncover this unique intersection. Not an easy task but one that I think was very successfully summarized in this closing panel. I felt honored to be able to share my interpretation of this challenge (and potential solutions) as a panel participant. Here is a short synopsis of some of the remarks I shared on this panel.
As we learn from the annual Speak Up data, while girls and boys have similar perceptions on the value of digital tools and resources, including mobile devices, on their learning, the way they want to use technology can be very different. Girls are particularly interested in using mobiles to connect, create and collaborate with others. Underlying these activities is a deep felt passion to share ideas and to have a voice in local as well as wider range issues that affect their lives. After spending the week with conference representatives from all over the globe, I have a new appreciation for the immense power of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets to enable girls and women to have a voice, a voice that in many parts of the world is not socially or culturally the norm. In that sense, the impact of mobile devices on women and girls is indeed a new sense of empowerment. And while we don’t often think about that in the United States, I think the impact can be similar in many circumstances. Beyond sharing ideas, we also learn from Speak Up that girls like the idea of using their mobile devices to create and share various forms of content. This type of content creation can be to develop skills or to gain feedback from others on their work. Earlier in the week, I learned about an interesting Silicon Valley nonprofit called Technovation (http://www.technovationchallenge.org/home/) that provides a program and competition for girls around mobile app development to solve local problems. This type of activity brings together the idea of skill development with content creation in a way that has high relevancy for girls. Again more empowerment at play!
When I think about the types of skills that girls are acquiring through their use of mobile devices and mobile-enabled content, the concept of developing a next great generation of women leaders comes clearer into focus. When I talk with corporate and university leaders about the types of skills that today’s youth need to acquire to be successful in the new economy and society, the refrain is amazing consistent. The skills that have the highest value include communications, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and computation thinking. These are also the same skills that leadership gurus say are essential for leadership in a global, information-intensive era. As noted earlier, the girls themselves articulate the relationships between their use of mobile devices and the development of these types of skills. Given the need for the development of new skills, and a new attitude about the potential of women and girls to be full participants in leadership roles in work and society, the responsibility of mobile devices in supporting these twin goals cannot be ignored. It simply makes common sense now. So, as we close out this year’s Mobile Learning Week, our new discussions post-2015 should be not about if access to mobile devices is important for women and girls, but rather, what we need to do to position these tools to enable and empower new capabilities and opportunities for all. I look forward to continuing this discussion throughout the year and leveraging what I have learned at this year’s Mobile Learning Week to inform our work at Project Tomorrow.