Mobile phones in inquiry-based learning


Mobile devices ownership is growing very fast lately. More and more youngsters nowadays use smartphones or tablets in their everyday activities: they make phone calls, send messages, browse the internet, have access to social media, take photos or use special purpose mobile apps. Why not use mobile devices in education as well? Researchers have shown that, if appropriately used, mobile technology can enhance educational experiences in and outside the classroom. Mobile learning is a new trend in technology studies, as mobile devices can be used to facilitate learning at any place and any time. Furthermore, it can support schooling activities that take place in a real-life context and provides flexible, adaptive and personalized learning according to the pupils needs.

New learning and teaching practices can be facilitated through mobile devices. Some examples are:

  • Context-aware learning in real life contexts such as museums, field parks, science centers etc.
  • Interactive and collaborative learning through social networks
  • Lifelong learning in educational scenarios outside the boundaries of a classroom
  • Reception of feedback from learners during a lecture through polling techniques

A relevant and modern pedagogical approach that can be supported with mobile technologies is inquiry-based learning. In inquiry–based learning, students, with the help of a facilitator, make hypotheses and formulate questions, find resources and process information and finally make conclusions and suggestions on a certain topic. In other words, they make their own journey to knowledge acquisition in authentic environments. Researchers have shown that mobile-assisted inquiry–based STEM learning, compared to traditional science learning, improves students’ participation and learning achievements as well.

In line with the above educational approach, we have implemented a pilot mobile-assisted inquiry-based science learning activity and evaluated students’ attitudes and engagement. Twenty students (12 girls and 8 boys, average 16 years old) from a rural upper secondary school in Greece, have been asked to use their mobile phones during a field trip in the botanic garden, in order to get guidance and assistance in the exploration of the observed plant species. Students’ participation was on a voluntarily basis and the appropriate consent forms were signed in advance by their parents.

The learning scenario was part of an environmental project. An introductory class with information about the different plants preceded the learning activity in the botanic gardens. During the visit in the botanic garden, the system guided the students to observe the plants and asked them questions about plants’ appearance, its properties and other characteristics. The students were asked to answer the questions and they were also given the appropriate feedback. After the activity, the students were able to self-report their opinions on it. Most of them (91%) indicated that they enjoyed the activity and found it interesting and motivating, confirming previous research.

Mobile-assisted inquiry-based learning seems to offer a promising alternative to STEM teaching and learning and educators and policy makers should take this finding into consideration. We plan to further exploit students perceptions about mobile inquiry in future similar learning activities.

Article written by: Stavros Nikou, Scientix Deputy Ambassador

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