Taking It Mobile
6.24.09 | Spotlight blog reporter Cindy Richards covered the meeting and reports back on one issue raised during the daylong discussion: how mobile media can enhance learning and the current hurdles to gaining a foothold in classrooms.
Mobile media, such as cell phones and handheld devices, can engage youth in a variety of educational pursuits. For example:
- RE:Activism teaches history and civics by requiring players to answer questions about historic acts of civil disobedience, such as the Stonewall riots that launched the gay rights movement. The questions can only be answered at the site of that event. Players text the answer and get a return text that gives them the clue to their next activity.
- The Palmagotchi—developed for a Palm OS handhelds—is based on the evolutionary story of Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos Islands and requires students to keep virtual birds alive by learning about which flowers they can eat and understanding the genetics involved in mating to create new birds more likely to survive the hazards of the game.
At the core of this interest in mobile media is the belief that learning happens everywhere, anytime, in school and out. (See grantee Brigid Barron’s map of where learning happens with digital media). Mobile media expand the opportunities to amplify skills learned in school, or to build new skills in afterschool programs or other activities.
In fact, mobile media are likely to find their fit more quickly in out-of-school settings, given the hurdles they face at the classroom door.
Hurdle 1: Cells phones—a key device for delivering mobile media—are often barred from classrooms. Before they were allowed to bring mobile devices into a Milwaukee school, researchers had to turn off the web connectivity and disable the mics on the phones, Ironically, this occurred at the same time the City of Milwaukee was investing in free WiFi in part to support education.
Hurdle 2. Schools need to keep students in the classroom. In a game MacArthur grantee Kurt Squire and colleagues developed to teach students about water quality, the designers had to limit the learning activity to that which could be accomplished within the confines of the school. The game initially required students to gather water quality data from nearby Lake Michigan.
Hurdle 3. The effectiveness of mobile media is hard to document. Asking youth to keep activity diaries—a common research method for assessing effectiveness—is burdensome for students and requires them to remember small details easily forgotten by the end of the day. Interviews can result in different answers about cell phone use, depending on whether you ask a parent, a teacher, or the teen.
The Nokia Research Center is developing a possible solution that records everything the user does on a cell phone and uploads it to the web. It can be used in conjunction with a diary tool developed at Stanford University that allows participants to send a photo or text a quick comment to a service they can access later to remember what was going on at that moment. That project is open source: http://code.google.com/p/4l8r/
Despite the hurdles, research is moving forward. Kurt Squire and colleagues at The Mobile Media Learning Project, for example, are creating class activities using mobile media. See More Than Just Talk for more on their work. Their website is here.
The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop released a study in January outlining a national mobile learning strategy, and urging the Obama administration to make new investments in digital learning technologies and teacher training.
Finally, mobile media continues to grow as a tool helping youth engage in their communities. See, for example, a 2008 HASTAC winner, Nairobi-based Mobile Movement. HASTAC, with support from the MacArthur Foundation, sponsors the annual Digital Media and Learning competition.
For more on the digital media and learning convenings being hosted by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, go here.
Photo by: Seann Dikkers
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