Emergent Themes in Mobile Learning

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  1 | Page  Emergent themes in Mobile Learning: an analysis of two research studies. This analysis examines two studies conducted on the theme of Mobile Learning (m-learning). Whilst differing in geographical location (Australia/ USA) and schooling systems (private/ state schools), both employ inductive analysis to attempt to conceptualise issues and common themes in the integration of m-learning into the classroom. Amongst individual  findings a set of common themes emerged which require further investigation and specificity in order to address them in teaching practice. The studies are: 1)   Swan, K., Van ‘t Hooft, M., Kratcoski, A., and Unger, D. (2005). Uses and effects of mobile computing devices in K-8 classrooms. In L. Schrum (ed), Considerations on Technology and Teachers: The Best of the  Journal of Research on Technology in Education  pp(67-82). Eugene, Oregon: ISTE 2)   Pegrum,M., Oakley,G., and Faulkner, R. (2013). Schools going mobile: A study of the adoption of mobile handheld technologies in Western Australian independent schools.  Australasian Journal of Educational Technology  , 29(1), 66-81. Retrieved from Article 1 The study engaged in a ‘mixed methods’ analysis of issues affecting the integration of mobile devices in the classroom. The background research identified a number of needs  –   particularly the need for “system atic research to investigate [mobile learning’s] effects” (p68). The data sample was conducted in 2003-2004, a time in which mobile devices such as PDA’s  were beginning to permeate middle class sections of the learning and home environment, but with limited functionality compared to desktop computers. With little research in this area the use of a more pragmatic paradigm was an appropriate approach in investigating initial issues and themes arising from classroom practice. The subject group, although broad in academic ability, gender and age was relatively small at 135 students from two schools across years 3-7 in the US state of Ohio. The small size may not be a full representation of the larger education community, however with m-learning research in its infancy it allowed a number of questions to be raised in regard to its effects on classroom and social learning environments. It also encourages analysis of the directions that further research might explore. Students at the first school spent half a day every day in a “ ubiquitous, technology rich environment ” ( p70), completing a variety of tasks over six weeks. The second school provided a longer study period of six months, but limited the study to science classes. Both  2 | Page  schools allowed the students to take the devices home. This approach reinforced the research theme of gaining a broader view of possible ideas for future study. The report mentioned a number of issues related to the use of the devices within and outside of the classroom, namely physical elements (such as screen size) to pedagogy, curriculum, financial and technical support. Not all of these were actually addressed in the methodology of the study. The key focus was upon “mobile computing devices and [their] effects on student learning” (p69).  The researchers constructed a framework of three generalised questions to guide their research: 1)   How do students use mobile computing devices? 2)   Does the use of mobile computing devices affect students’ motivation to learn and engagement in learning? 3)   Does students’  use of mobile computing devices support learning processes? Initially, these questions appear to lack the depth and specificity expected from academic research models. However with consistent repetition of the phrase “further investigation is needed” it is obvious the study w as designed to discover initial aspects of m-learning that might encourage further research on more specific elements. The researchers were extremely thorough in their data sources. They ‘ triangulated ’  information from lesson plans, usage data, work samples, teacher and student interviews and classroom observations. This provided both quantitative and qualitative representations of students’  usage within and outside of the classroom. The information effectively provides a broad picture of current usage trends for the school, and its potential for valuable learning experiences with mobile devices. The results indicated that use of these devices initiated a tendency to personalise students’ learning. Conve rsely they also encouraged collaborative ‘learning cultures’ via the ‘beaming’ features on the device.  Perhaps the key point made by the authors is the initial ‘novelty effect’ that inspired students to work more productively with an “increased quality of work” (p76) , particularly with word processing tasks. The length of the study was minimal and the authors acknowledged that it is not clear whether motivation levels change over longer periods of time. In fact some teachers indicated that sometimes student s preferred the “more powerful desktop and laptop computers” (p76). It is clear however that initially the new technology increased motivation and engagement with a reciprocal effect on the quality of work produced by students. To answer their third question, the researchers referred to both quantitative and qualitative statements regarding student results and their perceptions of the devices. Clearly there were improvements in spelling and writing particularly with special needs students, however there was a lack of clear connection with theoretical models of learning and  3 | Page  pedagogy. Whilst the overall approach was extremely thorough, they neglected to make connections with the background literature in order to directly address this question. Article 2 The article is a report on phase 1 of a project funded by the Association of Independent Schools of Western Australia entitled; Exploring the Pedagogical Applications of Mobile Technologies for Teaching Literacy  . Whilst referencing background studies on m-learning, the authors acknowledge that “it is still at an experimental stage in most schools” (p66). From this perception it is valid to expect that approaches to research in the field might begin by examining how mobile devices are already being used by staff to support learning. The study effectively integrates its findings via an inductive approach to produce a number of concepts and considerations that should guide future approaches to m-learning in the classroom. With reference to the government ’ s $2.4 billion Digital Education Revolution the researchers are right to emphasise the importance of assessing how effectively these devices support the development of students’ ability   to “investigate, create, communicate with, manage and operate ICTs in s ocially appropriate ways” . Statistics included in the background literature (p67) indicated the Australian public was saturated with mobile devices, and that use of tablets was more than doubling in 2011-2012 with a prediction mobile devices will outnumber computers within the next year. Whilst numbers of schools are attempting to integrate m-learning into their curriculum it appears unclear which devices would be most effective, and if they are in fact being integrated in pedagogically valuable ways. The methodology was constructed within an interpretivist paradigm and included open and theoretical coding of interviews with teaching staff from 10 independent schools (some K-12) in Western Australia. The questions were loosely based around usage, motives, observed benefits, problems, professional development and leadership/ support. Two of the schools conducted “small scale empirical studies” on student performance (p75) which were considered into the findings. The methodology allowed the researchers to analyse emerging trends rather than approach the study with preconceived notions of what teachers should be doing with the technology. In a sense the corresponding key principles and future considerations emerging from the study arose from real teaching experiences. Concurrently it appeared that most teachers clearly had an internal understanding of the issues connected with curriculum and pedagogy. The initial focus for this study was in reference to literacy activities, however the results indicated that teachers and students were naturally using the devices for other pedagogical and organisational tasks. Although not expressly outlined as such there appeared to be 3  4 | Page  areas of exploration that emerged from the interviews: selection of devices, evidence of improvement in learning outcomes, and teacher professional development. In terms of selection of devices , predictably the iPad was the most popular device followed by the iPod touch then some android devices. Smartphones were not often permitted for use by the students, however with the physical limitations of the phone (such as the screen size) it could be assumed that this would be a less popular device. The dominance of the Apple devices however does raise ethical concerns in regards to institutionalised control of the one corporation, as reflected in the opinion of one of the interviewees (p72). It was encouraging to see that some of the schools themselves were engaging in smaller internal empirical studies of their m-learning experiences. This demonstrated a desire to reflect on their teaching practices and individually contribute to the wider study. The results yielded evidence that use of the devices “improved student learning outcomes  on traditional assessments” (p75) , however this may have been linked to the motivational and engagement aspects of the devices (p74) rather than cognitive processes. In some schools there was a marked improvement particularly for students with special needs. Analysis of gender differences in the learning outcomes would have contributed to the overall perspective of the study, however no such data was reported. Amongst issues such as hardware and software problems, lack of technical support, ethical considerations and equity and access, teacher professional development   was cited as a key problem. With respondents communicating a range of attitudes towards the technology, the authors constructed four recommendations in regards to professional development: 1) Bracketed time for PD, 2) A focus on pedagogy ahead of technology in PD 3) Targeted and contextualised PD 4) Building a professional community of practise/ professional development network as a platform for PD The researchers did not offer specific strategies to address all of these recommendations. They did report on strategies that the schools themselves had initiated to enact these recommendations. They also participated in constructing a collaborative wiki called MlearnWA purposed for discussion of the issues amongst participants, but later extended to broader membership.
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