Phone farming, reading, writing, listening, speaking, critical thinking and the "gig economy" as an engaging focus of your lessons

Hello colleagues,

You may be familiar with the "gig economy". It's usually characterized by independent drivers for Lyft, Uber and other "ride hailing" services that have replaced taxis in much of the United States and in other countries. Driving for these companies is marketed as being able to set one's own work schedule, and having the flexibility to within minutes change it when needed; being rated by customers on one's performance, and being rewarded by customers who pay attention to performance ratings; an opportunity to meet and chat with people who may be interesting; and perhaps other plusses. Critics point out that these are low-wage jobs without benefits, that some gig economy companies do not treat their employees well, and there is no career pathway. Some drivers choose gigs between having regular, full-time jobs that do have benefits, or to supplement their incomes.

Here's a gig that you may not have heard of, being a "phone farmer". This gig -- entirely legal if you play by the rules -- allows one to set up a bank of low-cost cell phones in a room, for example in your apartment. it requires some supervision of the phones, and a high degree of comfort with cell phone technology but, by contrast, it is not hard work, and doesn't require driving in bad weather.  Phone farmers are paid when their phones log on to websites and "watch" ads. Apparently some phone farmers have fully automated the process and can literally make money while they sleep. Phone farming helps websites build their ad "hits" and thus their reputation with advertisers, and it brings in a little extra income to the phone farmer.

"Netflix thought I was four different people. I was being paid through an app to watch its trailers over and over again, racking up digital points I could eventually trade for Amazon gift cards or real cash. But rather than just use my own phone, I bought four Android devices to churn through the trailers simultaneously, bringing in more money."

"I made a small 'phone farm,' able to fabricate engagement with advertisements and programs from companies like Netflix, as well as video game trailers, celebrity gossip shows, and sports too. No one was really watching the trailers, but Netflix didn't need to know that. The goal was to passively run these phones 24/7, with each collecting a fraction of a penny for each ad they 'watched.' "  Source:

You can read more about America's DIY phone farmers here.

There is a chance that some of your students are ride hail drivers, some may be phone farmers, and some may do hair braiding or nail gigs. Do you know how your adult learners earn money or extra money from the gig economy? Do they know how others in their class earn money? If some are part of the gig economy, why? What do they see as the benefits? What are the challenges or drawbacks? Do they consider any of their gig  jobs in terms of the amount of non-renewable resources it might use? (After reading the "America’s DIY Phone Farmers" article I wondered how much electricity these phone farms might use and if, in addition to an increased electric bill reducing one's profit, anyone doing phone farming had considered the impact on the planet. Are there other ethical issues that those who participate in the gig economy should consider?

How would a gig economy conversation be useful in an ABE, ESL/ESOL or HSE class? It could be a great way to develop arguments for writing or critiquing an essay on the pros and cons of the gig economy in general or about particular gig jobs. The discussion could, for some, be an engaging way to practice English speaking and listening skills. Could some lessons include numeracy or mathematics? How about science? How about social sciences?

Let's hear about your own experience working in the gig economy, your students' experiences, or ways that as a teacher you might use "the gig economy" as a topic for some lessons. Do you see any opportunities for project-based learning, for example for scientifically experimenting, i.e. identifying a question, and collecting and reporting data on one's gig job experiment?

David J. Rosen




I just finished an educational gig.   While for me it was a 'side job,' for others it wasn't, and for some the termination of the job was stressful... 

I also know somebody who started driving for Lyft... and then their car broke down.   Predictable given suddenly they were driving a whole lot more, but they hadn't budgeted for that.   It's "the whole motor is broken" so ... now they're *renting* from Lyft.     I know a friend who has a friend who did that with Uber and ended up going into debt and the car being repossessed.   I pray that Lyft is better but wish I had better advice for them... 

The book _Lower_Ed_   has lots of discussion about how this and the way education is structured keep shifting the burdens and risks onto the folks trying to make a living in the world and away from their employers.