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Nicholas Jones

Lights, Camera, Learn

Posted by Nicholas Jones May 3, 2019

I get excited about mobile learning because it opens up possibilities inside the classroom and outside the classroom. I believe that mobile devices, when used strategically with clear boundaries, can operate on all four levels of the SAMR technology model. I want to share two examples of mobile learning that have inspired me.


Teaching Optics


I have invested some time into the research on videoconferencing tools. Most of the time, that research is merely trying to prove that videoconferencing and distance learning are as effective as in-person instruction (short answer: it is). However, one researcher's work explored a fascinating way to implement mobile videoconferencing in a face-to-face teaching environment. Researchers Ting, Tai, Tseng, and Tsai published their paper Innovative Use of Mobile Video Conferencing in Face-to-Face Collaborative Science Learning: The Case of Reflection in Optics in 2018 where they examined using mobile devices to teach middle schoolers about the physical properties of light.


Typically we look for ways to incorporate hands-on learning to get students engaged, especially if we can get them to personally experience the principles we're covering. Optics has a unique problem, though. The way you perceive light being warped, reflected, and refracted by different surfaces is entirely contingent upon where you are standing in relation to the light source and the surface. The moment you move, the interaction changes. For a young child, this is difficult to explain. All they know is that this is what the light looks right now, which is different from how it looked a minute ago.


So, the researchers setup the optics lesson to center around videoconferencing. Students would partner up, mobile devices in hand, and would assume different positions around the light/glass/surface assemblage. Then, they would videoconference each other and point their cameras at the setup. This allowed students to see that the same setup could produce two radically different optic effects based on your position around the activity. Mobile devices enabled a lesson in a way that would not physically be possible otherwise.


Augmented Reality


Apps like Aurasma incorporate augmented reality into regular lessons without requiring radical changes to the lesson structure. Here's an example I found compelling: students were given coloring sheets that depicted all the components of a cell. Once students finished coloring the illustration, they could point a tablet at the drawing and an app would turn the drawing into a 3-dimensional diagram. The trick is that the app would pull the students' coloring and map it onto the 3-d object. If Suzy painted her mitochondria orange, she saw orange. If Timmy painted one of his mitochondria pink and another green, he'd see pink and green. This is so much more powerful than a standard diagram. It provides students the opportunity to organically and independently identify the various components of a cell without having to worry about the technical names. Then, students can learn the proper names for different components using a model that they themselves participated in creating.


Can mobile devices be distracting in a classroom? Sure. Does that mean we should ignore them? I hope these two applications show why the answer is "no." When used with purpose and limits, mobile devices can enrich learning.

Nicholas Jones

Mobile Method Man

Posted by Nicholas Jones May 2, 2017

Mobile learning represents an interesting case study of the kinds of problems we will encounter with educational technology in general. It's technology that is old enough to be widespread, but still new enough to not be ubiquitous or firmly integrated with praxis. We think its cool, but we're not sure what to do with it yet. What I'm most curious about is what sets mobile technology apart from other tools available to educators. What can mobile learning do that other things can't? Here's what I came up with:


Mobile is... 


  1. Mobile — Literally, learners can get up and move around with a mobile device; its easier for learners to take their assignments into the world and make them interactive. They can have your guidance available while they are engaging with the work in a way that's unique to them. I think of an engineering class where students have to document types of mechanical advantage they can see in their neighborhood, or a project where students try to extrapolate the quantity of materials used to construct a building based on external observation. 
  2. Immediate — Learners can interact on-the-fly with your content, or quickly provide fresh feedback. Imagine a psychology class where students recorded brief interviews in public. Perhaps your assignment could be to live tweet a cultural event. Although solemn, dry academic writing can have a purpose, it really doesn't provide insight into how students are actively working there way through a problem; its necessarily summative. The immediacy of mobile learning can encourage a level of frankness not easily accessed in a traditional classroom environment.
  3. Extensible — If you are able to ensure access to a mobile device (probably a smart phone) to everyone in your class, you have a solid platform for trying out new processes/technology without investing much in the way of additional resources. You could try out an augmented reality activity using something like Quiver to have them activate convergent and divergent thinking. New tools are just a download away.


I'd love to hear how you have incorporated mobile learning into your lessons, or if there are things you've found that are only possible through mobile learning. Of course I also love juicy drama, so I'm up for when your mobile plans fell apart, too.  Thanks for reading!

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