Using Mobile Technologies effectively in your teaching and learning

Dr Nigel Calder, University of Waikato
Associate Professor

Using mobile technologies

Are you concerned about the possibility of another Covid-19 lockdown? Are you wondering how to incorporate mobile technologies, such as tablets, smartphones and laptops, into your teaching and learning? Mobile technologies allow the user to capture authentic data in their everyday worlds and have the potential for combining visual, interactive activities in the learning, while evoking language and critical thinking. Mobile technologies can be used effectively with other pedagogical media, including concrete manipulatives and social entities.

While there are aspects that might relate to specific curriculum areas, some general apps and elements of using mobile technologies (MT), such as augmented reality, Explain Everything, and screen casting, are transferable across more than just the curriculum context that they are situated in. In this blog, I explain some recent research findings about mobile technology research and discuss how they can foster creativity.

Recent mobile technology (MT) research

Recent research has been published in a new book which reports on a range of studies and ideas for using mobile technologies in the teaching and learning of maths. The book, Using Mobile Technologies in the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics, draws on international research in this area, and includes work from Canada; Italy; UK; Australia; USA; Cyprus; Sweden as well as two New Zealand studies. One NZ study on the use of apps in primary schools looked at a broad range of creative apps and how students used them for collaborative problem solving. The other was on using “Show and Tell” apps in primary schools, with the students making screen casts to explain the processes they used to give insights into their mathematical thinking.

The book also includes some analysis and principles to apply when selecting apps, the use of some particular apps, such as TouchCounts, Minecraft, and A.L.E.X., and includes pedagogical approaches that work well with mobile technology use. The research published here has attracted a lot of interest and attention and is among the top used publications on SpringerLink that concern one or more of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including the Goals: Quality Education through Increased Access and Create Job Opportunities for Youth, also through the increased access to opportunities and learning through mobile technologies. This powerful United Nations video clip released in September 2020 presents a special, first of its kind film, on the UN’s 75th anniversary to mark five years since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Apps that foster creativity

A really interesting finding from this research about using MT in teaching and learning was the examination of the ways that MT can influence student engagement, cognition, collaboration and attitudes, through reshaping the learning experiences across a diverse range of year levels and contexts. While there is frequently a focus in schools and in the media on consumable apps where students follow a set task at a specified level, more recently the focus has shifted to apps that foster creativity, that enable students to create visual, dynamic representations of mathematical situations. (See Professor Patricia Moyer-Packenham’s work with young children’s learning performance when using apps, and also, the role of haptic and visual affordances when children use touch screens when learning, and Lange and Meany’s study about young children’s play and apps usage).

While the use of digital technologies can enhance learning, the role of the teacher is crucial. For example, this study explored how the affordances of digital technologies made a learning experience different from when using pencil-and-paper technology. Key affordances and differences included:

  • simultaneous linking (the way an app can connect multiple representations and allow users to interact with these, e.g. in the use of different maths manipulatives within an app)
  • focused constraint (the ability for an app to focus students’ attention on a particular mathematical idea).
  • creative variation (the range of possible approaches that an app opens up)
  • dynamic and haptic affordances (the unique possibilities of the touch-based, responsive interface of an app or device).

However, while the affordances of MTs are certainly important, the study concluded that the teacher’s pedagogical approach was also highly influential in the learning. Indeed, I have also found this in my previous research where I observed 10-year old students using Scratch for coding. Scratch is a free-to-use graphical programming environment that provides opportunities for creative problem solving and can facilitate mathematical thinking.

Motivating reluctant teenagers

The use of MT and apps has been successful in motivating reluctant teenage learners with their learning in literacy and numeracy. Mobile technologies have also enriched opportunities for students confined to doing their learning in Health Schools through their capacity to address issues of engaging students in mathematical learning when they are recovering from significant health issues. Associated work across a range of curriculum context investigates why people visit and occupy various apps, including those we use for everyday living and recreation. As reported in this work

“With the growth and increased sophistication of virtual realities and artificial intelligence, we need to understand the nature of the educational engagement within these spaces. We also need to understand this mutually influential engagement between the user and these digital spaces, and be vigilant as to who might be exerting the most influential control”.

Calder & Otrel-Cass (2020, p.1).

Using mobile technologies effectively

Whether we agree or not with the current emphasis societies across the world place on the use of digital technologies such as smart phones, the cat is out of the bag, and we certainly use them in our everyday lives. Aspects related to equity are becoming less of an issue as people in developing countries now have easy access to wifi and phones. Hence, we need to consider how we use mobile technologies effectively in the learning process in conjunction with other pedagogical media. This is crucial more so than ever in this fast changing Covid world. Just imagine – with google virtual reality glasses now costing only about $15, there is endless potential for using virtual reality when students can’t attend school or move about freely.

Dr Nigel Calder is an Associate Professor at the University of Waikato, Tauranga. He has taught in both primary and secondary schools. His research interests are predominantly in the use of digital technologies in mathematics education. His present and recent research projects explore the influence of apps on primary-school and adolescent reluctant learners and how mathematical thinking emerges through student-centred inquiry learning in secondary schools. Nigel recently was invited to give lectures on using mobile technologies to learn at: Cambridge, Berkeley and UCL Universities and as part of the TeachNZ STEM lecture series in India. He wrote the book: Processing Mathematics through Digital Technologies: The Primary Years and has published numerous resources (including Figure It Out books), book chapters and journal articles.

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