This overview of options and considerations for mobile learning is provided by Academic Technologies. Academic Technologies can help faculty identify and use teaching and learning apps and tools. To schedule a consultation, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (607) 255-9760.
Mobile devices can form an engaging platform for teaching and learning, with the potential to expand the realm of the classroom. Functionality and context are key considerations when selecting from the myriad of mobile-enabled web sites and applications.
Like a Swiss army knife, mobile devices and their apps can provide utility and flexibility in a compact, portable package. Among the options available are:
- GPS and other location-based functionality
- Video, audio, and still image capture
- Mobile networking and collaboration
- The ability to bridge to other tools and data
- Scanning and data logging in the field
- Visual and audio recognition
- Screen readers, slow keys, text to speak, and other accessibility features
The portability and convenience provided by mobile devices enables instantaneous, contextual observations in the field or whenever spontaneous learning opportunities arise. Collecting information outside the classroom can help students hone observation and collaboration skills, reinforce topic relevancy, or provide opportunities to emulate an expert system through use of the apps.
GPS-based apps for mapping, geo-blogging, and geo-tagging are especially powerful in this regard, because they enable direct linking of observations to specific times and locations. The ability to capture, reference, and share data, multimedia, and ideas within a spatial or temporal context helps students identify broader trends and relationships, foster discussion, and develop conceptual thinking.
For example, Cornell research teams at Shoals Marine Laboratory use smart phones to share images, sounds, and other observations while conducting explorations from multiple locations on Appledore Island. The Shoals Web App provides convenient access to field guides, tides and marine weather, and will soon include a data entry portal, GPS mapping module, and other research tools.
Mobile devices and apps are particularly useful for bridging to other tools, software, or data or information repositories. Electronic field guides leverage the capabilities of smart mobile devices to enhance and expand observation. Using simple apps, a mobile device can become a data logger, bar code or QR code scanner, graphing calculator, virtual flash card deck, polling device, or even a digital napkin sketch.
Leafsnap, developed by researchers from Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution, employs visual recognition software to enable identification of tree species from photographs of their leaves.
Apps can also enable graphical views of data or provide tools for sharing media or information stored in proprietary collections or formats that would normally require specialized software to access. For example, the BirdsEye app developed by Birds in the Hand, LLC, of Virginia, includes content drawn from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and Kenn Kaufman, renowned birder and author of the Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America.
Apps can also emulate and introduce complex technologies and methodologies, such as when a choreographer at Reed College in Oregon teamed up with a programmer to develop an app that allows dancers to easily read and write intricate choreography scorings. The app is based on a standard notation system using software that would normally be prohibitively costly and complex to students.
Considerations for Incorporating Mobile Tools in the Classroom
Students need to be aware of issues pertaining to copyright, permissions, security, and sensitivity of information and data. Developing awareness of these issues can provide an excellent foundation for ongoing scholarship and collaboration.
Availability of mobile devices and apps can vary by platform. Not all students have the same devices, and some students may not own a mobile device. In such cases, providing an opportunity to borrow a device such as a tablet may be an option.
Accessibility is also a factor to consider. Many current generation mobile devices and apps are designed to help learners with visual and hearing challenges or accommodate different learning styles. Look for features such as:
- Screen magnification and VoiceOver
- Alternative user interface
- Mouse keys for non-mouse users, Slow Keys, Sticky Keys
- Text to speech capability
Finding Apps for Teaching and Learning
There are multiple strategies for targeting the most relevant apps for teaching and learning. Searching the app stores using field-specific keywords can help narrow down the offerings. Check if vendors of frequently used software or reference material also provide mobile versions and applications such as viewers or data entry tools.
Many universities and institutions offer educational or research applications and tools. Connecting directly with faculty, students, and practitioners in one’s field can be an excellent resource as well.
When used effectively, mobile-enabled web sites and applications have the potential to engage learners, reinforce best practice, and change the context of the classroom.