Which mobile tools do pupils really use?

This blog post is based on the research I have been doing over the last year for my Masters dissertation (and explains the long gap since my last blog post!)

I was researching ‘Pupil perspectives on mobile learning’ and worked with two schools – one where all pupils had a mobile device supplied by the school Academy M) and a second where mobile devices were not allowed (Academy A). I asked all pupils whether they used mobile devices to help with their learning. From those who replied ‘yes’, I went on to ask them (via a questionnaire) which features of their mobile devices they used to support their learning.

what do pupils use

(Data collected December 2012)

The Internet was the most widely used tool. When asked about this, the most frequent response was that it was used for ‘research’. For most pupils, this meant that they would ‘google’ something and then read the results. However, there was little understanding of how to verify any findings or examine sources. The Internet was also used to access resources such as ‘You Tube’, the school ‘VLE’ (Virtual Learning Environment) and even email (via webmail), so it is difficult to classify as it serves many purposes.

The camera was used to take photographs of classroom activities (such as Science experiments), the board (when the teacher had written things that the pupils did not have time to copy down or when their homework was written on it), items outside the classroom that the pupils wanted to use in school projects, and photographs or videos of other pupils when they were learning (e.g. drama / sport).

Email was used to communicate with other pupils and with teachers. Pupils at the Mobile Academy communicated regularly with their teachers and often outside school hours. Teachers said that this had helped them to build relationships with the pupils and pupils said that it supported their homework.

You Tube / Videos: Many of the pupils surveyed and subsequently interviewed talked about how they use video for learning – some to the exclusion of reading or because they find reading hard. You Tube would often be the first port of call in researching a new topic, ahead of reading or searching the internet for text-based articles.

Apps: Pupils actually found it hard to define an ‘app’. For them, everything on their mobile devices was an ‘app’, whether it was the email app, the you tube app, the browser app or a specific learning app. Subject-specific learning apps did not feature heavily in the things used by pupils to help learning. They could all name generic apps, such as Keynote, Safari and Pages, but no one was able to give me the name of an app that had helped them to learn something in a subject area.

VLE / iTunesU: The focus here was on structures that the schools used to support learning. iTUnesU was quite heavily used by pupils at Academy M as their lessons and homework were structured around iTUnesU files. The VLE at the other school (Academy A) was not specifically promoted for use on mobile devices.

Alarm Clock: Most pupils used their devices as alarm clocks. Most did not have another alarm. This tells us 2 things – 1) they have their devices in their bedrooms overnight and 2) they use the devices for organisational purposes.

E-reader: Pupils at Academy M were doing a lot of their reading on their devices. They were encouraged to use iBooks and many found the search facilities available in e-books enhanced their ability to study a text. This had not been explicitly discussed at Academy A and pupils were not, in general, making use of their own devices for reading.

Calendar: Most pupils only use their mobile devices as a calendar, with few maintaining a paper diary. One pupil said that he did all his organising on it and the fact that he was not allowed to use it in school was ‘weird’.

Podcasts: Used by pupils at Academy M but little used by those at Academy A. Pupils do enjoy making their own and sharing with friends rather than using commercial ones, although they will search for and download podcasts that are directly relevant to their schoolwork.

Text Messages: Pupils love to text and using either their phones or iMessage, they are regularly in contact by text, and not just about social things – they are also using it to organise learning events with their peers. Checking on homework, arranging to meet to work together or asking questions are a normal part of pupils’ lives.

Telephone: Most of the pupils at Academy A were using devices which were their mobile phones. They used them for phone calls, but also creatively, making use of Skype or Facetime to share homework that they could show whilst discussing it. Pupils at Academy M did not have a phone facility on their devices and also did not contact each other much in the evenings. This was probably cultural rather than related to the devices.

Social Networking: Again, a divide between the schools. Pupils at Academy A used a lot of social networking. They also experienced more problems with bullying. However, they did also use the social networks constructively for learning. Pupils at Academy M did not have a culture of social networking and tended to stick to email for communication with peers.

Record sound: The ability to record sound was a features that pupils were using for music and language-learning. Although not used widely, it was mentioned by pupils at both schools. Pupils were keen on the idea of creating their own content.

Based on the data collected, I have organised the tools that pupils use into the following groups:

student mobile tools

What is striking is the diversity of activities, which can be carried out using a single device. Not even 5 years ago, we would have had to carry or use several devices to carry out the same tasks. Whilst this provides a fantastic opportunity for learning activities, it also carries with it the risk of distraction. This research only looked at learning, so I have not adding ‘social games’ onto the chart. Overall, when asked, 70% of pupils at BOTH schools felt that using mobile devices in the classroom would be beneficial. The 30% who did not think it would be a good idea said that the devices would be distracting and would not help them to learn.


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