Showcase: Examples of Mobile Technology Used for Teaching and Learning

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With students bringing smartphones and tablets to campus — and expecting to access information and course content via mobile devices — it continues to be urgent for faculty developers and instructional technologists to explore the affordances of these devices and the opportunities for using them to enhance teaching and learning. In our past article, “Piloting Mobile Learning,” we offered a review of how to pursue a pilot project effectively.

Today’s article offers a brief summary of the most critical affordances of mobile devices and a showcase of examples from Boise State University’s mLearning Scholars program. The program is part of the university’s Mobile Learning Initiative, “a multi-year project to identify and support key uses of mobile technology that will impact the ways we teach and learn,” and mLearning Scholars supports two cohorts of faculty in exploring these questions. One cohort consists of faculty making their first forays into mobile learning; the second cohort consists of faculty with some degree of fluency in mobile technologies, who are now addressing very targeted research questions.

We turned to Dale Pike, director of academic technologies at Boise State University and a lead thinker on the adoption of mobile technologies in the classroom. We asked Pike about the affordances he most wanted to direct attention to. He also offered several key examples from the mLearning Scholars program.

Pedagogical Affordances

First, Pike highlighted several capabilities of mobile devices:

  • Rapid information retrieval devices
  • Apps providing GIS-based technologies and “anytime, anywhere access to stored information”
  • The ability to capture and edit multimedia content

“In that confluence of production and consumption of information, you find the most unique affordances of the digital platforms. It’s not that you can’t do these things on other devices, it’s the ease with which you can do them and the convenience of multiple data flows converging in your pocket.”
Dale Pike, Boise State University

When asked to translate these capabilities into affordances, Pike listed these three:

  • Mobile devices allow students to capture data and comment on it in realtime. This is especially useful for a discipline that includes a practicum in which students go out “into the field” to practice and apply their knowledge and skills. In this case, students can capture data or record an experience and comment on it by adding notes or adding a narration.
  • Mobile devices allow students to add richness to the data. The ability to geocode or timestamp information (whether that information is measurements or observations) can help either the learner or the individual assessing the learning activities to discover patterns that would have been harder to identify using past technologies.
  • Mobile devices can be used to accelerate feedback. The ability to send captured and recorded experiences back for review allows for more rapid and informed coaching and mentoring; for example, a student in the school of education can record a session of student teaching and send it to a faculty member. “In the past,” Pike adds, “recording these types of interactions has been impractical in many cases.”

Pike offers three examples to illustrate these affordances.

Example A

Pike cites the example of a music faculty member who issued mobile devices to herself and her students. The students recorded their practice sessions and submitted the recording to the faculty member, who then listened, recorded her feedback, and sent it back.

“The time for feedback was shortened dramatically,” Pike concludes. “In this case, the technology didn’t add something that we weren’t doing already, but it by accelerating the loop-back cycle, it increased the impact of the feedback, as the student was able to improve sooner based on it. This technology also made it possible for the student and the faculty to review the practice session on their own time, rather than limiting that feedback to an event that occurs in a studio room or a classroom.”

Example B

An environmental studies course at Boise State found a number of innovative ways for students to work with environmental data in a more hands-on way using mobile devices:

  • Students used GoogleEarth on their devices to conduct virtual tours of sites, from lava flows and gravel pits to Chernobyl and Fukushima
  • The app “Paint with Time: Climate Change” allowed students compare how locations change over time
  • Outside the classroom, students undertook a geolocation “recycling treasure hunt”
  • Students also recorded site-based videos as part of civic engagement and air quality data graphing projects

Similarly, a geosciences course at Boise State uses the devices to provide the type of hands-on learning activities that are usually conducted in the computer lab. Pike notes, “This changed the way students experienced the content, giving them access to the instructor to ask questions in a way that the traditional lab assignments did not.”

Example C

Third, a construction management course at Boise State used the iPad as a platform for apps that allowed students to:

  • Study and commit to memory terms and definitions using a flashcards app; the mobile device proved portable and accessible, at all hours, to students, and when surveyed about the project, students responded that the flashcards app helped them learn the terms faster and was more convenient than carrying around and checking notes taken during the class;
  • Demonstrate their understanding of construction concepts by creating 3-5 minute videos in which they were tasked with explaining concepts such as the angle of repose and the difference between a steel I-beam and a wide flange as they would explain to other students with no knowledge of construction;
  • Conduct scavenger hunts, in which the students were given a list of construction materials and methods and sent out to locate examples that they then photographed, labeled, and tagged on an interactive Google map.

Read Kirsten Davis’ full report on the use of mobile technologies in her construction management course.

One Caveat

Pike cautions that one of the challenges in leveraging mobile technologies to their full potential for teaching and learning is that while it is so easy to capture data using these devices, “we don’t always have a handle on the ethics of gathering that data.” He notes that it will be critical that faculty piloting mobile projects consider privacy and security considerations.

“Think through worst-case scenarios,” Pike adds. “You are recording student teaching, and the video includes the faces of students. You’re anxious to share the video with your peers for discussion. Step back and think through: Where do you cross the line in terms of privacy?”