Most of our classrooms of today do not differ much from those of the 19th century, “chalk and talk, as well as desk and texts” (Roschelle et al. 2000: 76) are still the primary structure of classroom lessons as they were back then. But yet, as explained by Roschelle et al. (2000), today’s curricula, together with societal demands, expects students to learn and know a lot more than previous generations. With time, technology increases rapidly and becomes more ubitquitous.
Mobile devices have become an integral part of the 21st century student. From cell phones to mp3 players, digital cameras to mobile tablets. These are their tools that is like “extentions to their brain” (Prensky 2005: 10) that they use in their everyday lives. Educating students without these tools is like educating a doctor whithout a scalpel. The use of mobile technology to facilitate learning is slowly starting to emerge as an area of its own and refered to as m-learning.
This review will be looking at what research has been done in the literature regarding the use and integration of mobile devices in the educational system.
The chosen research topic is part of an existing research project where Android mobile tablets are distributed to schools with mathematics content on. The purpose of my research will be to evaluate the usefulness of the mobipads in supporting mathematics learning in classrooms. This research topic falls into the broad area of mobile learning (m-learning).
Outside of schools, new technology such as mobile devices is changing the way we find information, how we learn and even how we are entertained, but, although our education institutes are aware of these happenings outside of schools, they still prohibit the use of mobile phones and other mobile devices (Squire 2009: 73). It is inevitable that technology, but especially mobile devices, needs to be integrated into the schooling system which leaves us with the question: How can mobile devices be integrated into our learning institues to be perceived useful by both educators and learners?
Main Research Question
As stated is Section 2, I will be conducting research within an existing project which aims to suggest one way to address the problem as stated in Section 3. My main research question then will be: Are mobile devices such as Android mobile tablets a useful tool to support the learning of mathematics in classrooms?
Background to Topic
“Digital natives” is what students of today are called according to Prensky (2005: 8), because they grew up and live in the digital world of today (Franklin & Peng, 2008: 69). Consequently they are very familier with all types of mobile devices as they use it in their everyday lives in numerous day-to-day activities.
When mobile devices (excluding mobile phones) first made their appearance, they were referred to as handheld computers and where merely just “stripped down versions of their more complex desktop predecessors” (Squire, 2009: 71). Squire (2009) further explains that researchers began to study mobile devices more in depth to find out what makes it unique and how it can be utilized. ‘Anytime/anywhere’ is the most unique characteristic of mobile devices.
Mobile learning (m-learning) is a phenomenon that is rapidly evolving as more and more people rely on their mobile devices to provide them with needed information at any time and any location. According to Chang, Sheu and Chan (2003: 337) m-learning consits of three necessary elements: “the mobile learning device; the communication infrastructure and a learning activity.” Huang and Lin (2007:585) defines mobile learning as activities in which people use mobile devices such as cellphones, personal digital assistants (PDA), mobile tablets (mobipads), etc. to facilitate learning, studying or teaching of any kind. Ting (2005) goes further by stating that mobile learning is not aimed at replacing the traditional classroom learning system, but it provides an additional way to get learning content and to embed learning into the daily lives of people. Huang & Lin (2007) cunducted research in the user acceptance of m-learning. Their reseach findings suggest that individuals perceive m-learning as omnipresent and easy to use and with the mobility it offers, m-learning is regared as a very useful by students.
Mathematics has always been known as a ‘problem’ subject that students underachieves in and struggles to understand. Rubin (1999: 3) argues that it is due to the fact that mathematics is often viewed as an ‘abstract’ topic, filled with symbols and invisible concepts. He continues to argue that the lack of dynamic and visual illustrations of the maths concepts, makes it all the more difficult to understand, especially for the 21st century student that is more visual orientated. According to Rubin (1999: 3), technology can help to create dynamic visual images. Franklin and Peng (2008) did just that. They distrubuted iPod Touch mobile devices in an eighth grade math class where the students created math videos to explain difficult math concepts to their fellow students. Some of the students responded by saying that in order to be able to create proper videos, it required them to think harder and longer about the mathematics concepts and that they realized how hard it is to explain maths to others. Swan, van ‘t Hooft and Kratcoski (2005: 100) supports Franklin and Peng’s (2008) findings by stating that the use of mobile devices can support personalized and collaborative learning.
Swan et al. (2005) provided a sample of students with mobile computing devices to take home with them. Their results shows that these devices were not only used inside the formal environment of school, but also infomrally outside of school boundries to facilitate learning. This can be partly explained by the fact that students having a mobile device in hand feels like second nature to students of the contemporary age, it keeps them busy and entertained. Swan et al. (2005: 100) found that students were more motivated and engaged in more learning activites which resulted in students being more productive. Students using mobile technologies to collaboratively perform problem-solving activities, proves to have a positive influence on their level of understanding of the processes and content (Klopfer, Yoon & Rivas 2004: 348). In their research case study, Franklin and Peng (2008: 78) found that using technology even helped special education students to better understand the concepts of the mathematics and kept them interested in the content of the work for longer.
As previously discussed, the current generation of students grow up constantly exposed to technology and thus are more technology literate than those students of a decade ago (Swan et al. 2005). Keeping in mind the increasing use of mobile gaming devices and video gaming consoles, Squire (2009) investigated how the use of mobile devices ousite of the school environment impacts learning and education. Squire (2009: 72) argues that although the utilization of mobile devices in formal schooling environments are coming around slowly, there already is a big emerging market for gaming companies to develop games for learning. Nintendo’s Brain Age product and More Brain Training advertising campaigns and UbiSoft’s My Spanish Coach is a few examples the Squire (2009:72) mentions were one can see that more gaming companies are developing educational games that facilitates some sort of learning.
Squire collaborated with Klopfer in (Klopfer & Squire, 2008) to investigate the use of augmented reality (AR) games for learning purposes in educational institutes. AR games were developed on the concept that students are players within virtual worlds that are created by the game based on real worlds, and move around, interact and respond to simulated activities (Squire, 2009: 73). Squire (2009: 73) explains further that while students move through this virtual version of a real world, they get access to news clips, historical photographs and other multimedia data relevant to the specific place they are in within the game. Squire (2008: 73) found that through this kind of learning, students develop a tendency to ask deeper questions in problem-solving situations.
More reseach done by Klopfer and Squire (2008: 6) brought to light that there are numerous entertainment and educational applications for mobile devices that only enhances these devices’ teaching potential. All of these apllications are developed with the chatacteristics of mobile technology in mind that includes portibility, connectivity and individuality. These entertainment and educational application offers features like real-time data on a wide range of subjects, immediate feedback on questions and aswers and facilitation of group work by students.
Through the literature, it is becoming evident that educators are starting to believe that they can use the unique facilities that mobile devices offers to keep students engaged and more easily distribute the coursework and content to them (Franklin & Peng, 2008: 71).
Schools of thinking emerging from literature
In the literature it comes across that the general school of thinking falls within an interpretivism paradigm which, according to Oats (2006: 291), is used to understand the social context of something. The use of mobile devices is by itself of social nature because it is used to communicate with others, work collaboratively with others and to entertain. When one studies the use of mobile devices, the use of data gathering methods like interviews, questionnaires and diary studies or journal studies are used were the learners are asked to analyse themselves in terms of their own thought and learning experiences (Pachler et al. 2010: 71) with regards to using these mobile devices. This goes together with observations that the researcher does in the natural environment where the mobile technology are being utilized. This kind of research is usually done over a time period, to be able to get a more holistic view of the specific phenomenon. The case study research strategy allowed Franklin and Peng (2008) to give an indepth discussion of the utilization of iPod Touch mobile devices in two middle schools. Klopfer and Squire (2008) conducted a series of discriptive case studies to learn what the user’s experiences were of learning through augmented reality games and found it to be a strategy that gets user data quickly and leeds to a rich and detailed description thereof. They gathered their data through participant observaton, unstructured interviewsTo research the use of mobile tablets in a classroom environment for learning mathematics, I will be following the above school of thinking as I think it is most relevant.
Many studies do follow the more scientific methods by making use of experiments that they implement in the field to determine the effect of the implementation of the mobile devices. Scanlon, Jones and Waycot (2005:7) refers to an experiment done on a sample of secondary school students. Each student was given a Pocketbook and were instructed to do a few activites with it. Questionairs served as a pre- and post-intervention measurement. A simmular research structure was followed by Klopfer et al. (2004). Rivera (n.d.) conducted a quasi-experiment with a control group and treatment group to test the effects of integrating technology such as skype to communicate with educators and online interactive white boards for online tutoring sessions. Rivera used the course exams as a measuring instrument as well as the amount of times the students accessed the online help site for the course. Observing the two control groups in their classroom environment and online was another gata gathering method that she utilized.
Sometimes authors combine different research strategies to best suit their research objectives. Huang and Lin (2007) made use of an online survey as a means of gathering data which they then statistically analysed to be able to prove or disprove hypothesis. When authors follow a more scientific school of thinking, generally the data is statistically analised to answer their research questions and draw conclusions from.
The following are challenges that have been identified by the literature regarding the use of mobile devices for educational purposes in classrooms:
Lack of technical support. During their research Franklin and Peng (2008:75) that “the need for quality technical support is critical”. Challenges that they came accros was the provision of wireless technology without an expert to set it up. Although, the teacher had to contact the principle everytime a website that the students needed to work on, got blocked. It is not uncommon that schools are provided with technology to use in their classrooms, but without the necessary technical support and expertise. This can place a big damper on the idea that technology in classrooms is a fun experience and rather easy to use.
The scarcity of recharging stations for the mobile devices. Providing facilities for roughly 40 students per class is a primary challenge (Franklin & Peng, 2008: 76) that cannot be avoided when wanting to introduce mobile devices into classrooms.
Technology skills of educator. Educators of the classes where the mobile devices are implemented, first needs to develop and learn the necessary technology skills to operate the mobile devices (Franklin & Peng, 2008). This will be a challenge especially when the educator is of an older generation that did not necessarily grow up with technology and was not previously exposed to a lot of technology. Roschelle et al. (2000: 90) argues that technology support for teachers is often overlooked easily.
The curriculum needs rethinking. Squire (2009: 73) expresses difficulties of trying to integrate the mobile media devices into the traditional schooling structure. Franklin and Peng (2008: 76) argues that presenting subjects like maths visually and with the use of technology, is a foreign concept for most educators in schools.
The school’s capacity to change. Roschelle et al. (2000: 91) argues the some schools are more reluctant at accepting the use of technology into their classrooms and curriculum. They still view the use of mobile devices for learning as ‘foreign’ and ‘unknown’ and therefore prefer to hold on to their current schooling structure.
The following opportunities for further research in the field of m-learning and mobile devices in education that have been identified by the literature:
Huang and Lin (2007: 586) states that not much empirical research has been done on on mobile learning from the perspective of the learner. They argue that m-learning can only be improved if the behaviour, experiences and acceptance of the user of m-learning is studied.
According to Squire (2009: 70) there has been little research done on to study and understand the impact of mobile media on learning where the mobile device is used outside of formal structures and in student’s own time. This is supported by Scanlon et al. (2005: 2) when he identifies that there is a need for research on the learning of science on mobile devices in an informal setting.
Roschelle et al. (2000: 76) states that further case study research is needed to identify ways to use mobile technology that will support learning most effectively and the successful implementation thereof.
More case study research is needed to investigate and better understand the aspects of people’s daily lives where they use mobile devices (Scanlon et al. 2005) and how m-learning relates to that.
The use of mobile devices for educational purposes in classrooms as an m-learning tool offers several advantages and opportunities for the students as well as their society:
Students can share the knowledge on the mobile devices with their peers in collaborative activities and with other friends or family at home. This opportunity was revealed when Franklin & Peng (2008: 77) saw students sharing their earphones with someone else so both can whatch the educational videos on the iPod Touch.
Students are provided with the opportunities of “anytime/anywhere learning” (Squire 2009: 71). Scanlon et al. (2005: 6) supports this by stating that due to the fact that mobile devices are rather affordable and provide portability, accessibility and immediacy, students can get “what they need, when they need it” (Staudt & Hsi, 1999 In Scanlon et al. 2005: 6) and not be bound by their physical location.
Students do not just learn about the subject presented by the mobile device, but they also learn how to use the technology, as some students do not have the technology at home and thus not the opportunity of learning about it otherwise (Franklin & Peng 2008). This is valuable to the student’s development and crucial skills to have in their future.
Roschelle et al. (2000: 88) identify a few advantages that doing mathematics on technology devices have for the students: (1) students can explore different ways of solving problems by because they can change and manipulate mathematical notations quickly and then (2) receive immediate feedback on the correctness of their notion and (3) students can make more sence out of the maths contect by either associating mathematical concepts to data from the real world or simulations thereof.
From the research it is clear that both researcher and educators have noticed the fast growing phenomenon that is m-learning through mobile devices. It is slowly but surely redesigning the ‘chalk talk’ and ‘desk and texts’ structure of our classrooms. Numerous studies have been done by researchers, some even collaborated with educators, to examine the presence, effects and uses of mobile devices in schools that facilitate learning in both formal and informal settings.
Mobile devices offer some unique opportunities:
Learning is no longer dependent on the location of the learner, but rather, anyone with a mobile device and the needed wireless connection can learn anything, anywhere and anytime.
Knowledge can be shared a lot easier and promotes collaborative learning.
Users of the device do not just learn about the content on it, but also about the technology they are working with.
The different uses of mobile devices in people’s everyday lives.
Because the use of mobile devices in schools is still relatively new, there are some challenges that were identified through literature:
Lack of technical support with problems and queries in the classes where mobile devices are being used.
The scarcity of recharging stations for the mobile devices in classrooms.
Educators need to develop or update their technology skills before they can facilitate a class where the devices are used.
The education curriculum needs to be revised in order to facilitate the use of mobile devices and utilize it to its full potential.
Some schools still view the use of mobile devices for learning as ‘foreign’ and ‘unknown’ and therefore they are reluctant to change.
It is sure that, by time, these challenges will be overcome more easily. Drawn from the research, it can be said with certainty that the use of mobile technology in education institutes is the way of the future, but a lot more research is needed on how to utilize it successfully to provide the youth with quality education that will allow them to strive in the world. By researching the effectiveness of using mobile tablets (mobipads) in classrooms as a tool for learning mathematics, will contribute to the m-learning body of knowledge in a much needed way.
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