Tag: mobile technology

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.


Mobile Learning Technologies

This article looks at learning with Mobile Technologies. Whilst it is possible to create a list of mobile devices, they are changing every day and it is better to look at their characteristics. Typically, they are small, portable, connect wirelessly to the internet, capable of managing multimedia (audio and video) and may have additional functionality, such as a camera or the ability to run ‘applications’. However, Kukulska-Hulme & Traxler (2007) point out that simply looking at the devices is ‘constraining and technocentric’. The key thing to examine is ‘the underlying learner experience and …how mobile learning differs from other forms of education’. (Kukulska-Hulme & Traxler, 2007, p. 181)

Secondary schools are taking a keen interest in the use of mobile technologies as pilot studies have indicated that there may be ‘considerable pedagogic potential’ (Kukulska-Hulme & Traxler, 2007, p. 181). Indeed, a term that has emerged in the last couple of years is BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), defined as ‘bringing [one’s] own mobile devices… into the workplace for use and connectivity’ (Webopedia, 2011) Increasingly, schools are realising that the technology held in their pupils’ hands can be of benefit rather than being disruptive. Some schools are encouraging and even supplying the technology. But why?

The reason must lay with the functionality of these devices. ‘These technologies offer unique possibilities to design for learning that are unlike any afforded by other e-learning technologies’ explain Kukulska-Hulme and Traxler (2007, p.183) They go on to say that they are capable of supporting designs for learning which are ‘personalized, situated and authentic’. Let us explore these further.

Learning that is personalised ‘delivers learning to each learner when and where they want it’ (p.184). There may be a misconception that learning with mobile devices is about learning on the move but the more important understanding is that the device is with the learner – whilst in the classroom, on the bus or at home. It is fully accessible at all times, with the content that the learner wants to use.

Learning that is ‘situated’ delivers learning in a context that is directly relevant to the learner. There are some very useful applications in the Secondary school. Pupils can collect data and information from outside the classroom. For example, pupils can video and replay action for Sport, collect digital photos of realia for Art, record real interviews from people for History or English.

This leads neatly to the third area which is that learning should be ‘authentic’, that it ‘involves real-world problems and projects that are relevant and interesting to the learner’.  (Kukulska-Hulme & Traxler, 2007, p. 185)  School can seem to be removed from the real world but the increasing connection pupils can have with the outside world through mobile devices can bring a validity to work which may otherwise seem dry and irrelevant.

In researching this piece of work, I have realised the full scope of what will become a revolution in the way we teach and learn. Whilst predicting the future is rarely possible, it is almost certain that learners will make increasing use of mobile technologies and, ‘in the future, the success of learning and teaching with mobile technologies will be measured by how seamlessly it weaves itself into our daily lives, with the greatest success paradoxically occurring at the point where we don’t recognise it as learning at all.’ (Futurelab, 2004).


Futurelab. (2004). Report 11: Literature Review in Mobile Technologies and Learning. Birmingham: Futurelab.

Kukulska-Hulme, A., & Traxler, J. (2007). Designing for Mobile and Wireless Learning. In H. Beetham, & R. Sharpe, Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age (pp. 180-192). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Webopedia. (2011, December 17). BYOD – Bring your own Device. Retrieved December 17, 2011, from Webopedia: http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/B/BYOD.html