Mobile Thinking

With the increasing use of mobile devices in schools, we have been exploring their use with our student teachers. For me, the jury is out on whether the deployment of such devices is the way we should be moving in schools, although as with most things what will make the difference to children’s learning less about which device is use and more about how and why they are used. However, our students need to know how to get the best of the technology they encounter and to use it in a critical way, so this week they have been evaluating the use of both iPads and traditional desktop computers for animation.

An iPad with its integrated camera and the inanimate app provides a straightforward way in to animation. Unfortunately though, by their very nature the iPads move around, which is often the last thing you want to happen to the camera you animate with. When using webcams for animation with children I have often found it useful to tape the camera to the desk to prevent movement; something not possible with a handheld device.

My colleague came up with the ingenious idea of using cheap plastic document holders as stands for the iPads. In several sessions now I have given this setup to groups of primary school children and student teachers and they universally do the same thing. They put the iPad on the stand like a document and are then thrown by the fact the camera is obscured by the plastic stand.

Screen Shot 2013-01-17 at 18.56.07

What really interests me is what happens next. Almost universally, their thinking first turns to how they can fix this within the iPad itself. They fiddle with the software until they find the control to switch to using the front facing camera. One group even tried to contort themselves so they could press the shutter button on the screen to take a photograph without the front facing camera catching their fingers.

With several groups of both children and adults I have had to ask them what they can see on the screen (the plastic), why they can’t see what they want to (the plastic is obscuring the camera), and what they could do to fix this before they come to the conclusion they need to physically move the iPad so the camera hangs off the edge of the stand and they can see what they are animating.Screen Shot 2013-01-17 at 18.56.24

What I find fascinating about this is that almost universally people are approaching this problem by thinking in terms of software, not in terms of the physical interactions the software and the device is having with the ‘real’ world. When using a desktop computer you generally tweak the software or hardware; you don’t pick it up and move it. It doesn’t interact with the world in that way, it provides a contained environment in which you operate rather than being a part of the physical environment in which it is situated. These are mobile devices, but they are not thinking in a mobile paradigm to solve the problem, but in a very ‘desktop’ one

Nor am I, perhaps. Is it inherent in the task of using a mobile device for an animation project to frame the use of such devices in a ‘non-mobile’ way?

This got me thinking, with the increasing use of mobile devices in schools, are we actually designing learning in terms of the capabilities of mobile? Are we encouraging our students to think in terms of mobile use of technology, or do we often just replicate what we would do with other technology, and hence limit our students’ thinking to traditional technology paradigms such as the static desktop machine?

In hindsight it is easy to find the story of this thought process amusing, as did the very students who experience it this afternoon. However, it has happened in front of my eyes so many times as to make me realise that whilst I am aware that mobile is qualitatively different to more established technologies, I am not encouraging my students to think in such a different way. At least not yet…






4 responses to “Mobile Thinking”

  1. Rob O'Brien Avatar
    Rob O’Brien

    Thanks, Oliver, for your thoughts! Good thinking! This will support my Feb seminar: Teaching SEP strategies for Middle School (Literacy & Maths) using Differentiation Apps and ICLT. However, I’m stating from the beginning, that you have to teach literacy and numeracy first,then use technology to enhance / develop deeper literacy skills along with problem solving (for all students – acknowledging all learning abilities).

  2. Mark Cunningham Avatar

    We rolled out 1:1 Android tablets with our S1 (11-12 year olds) last August. As well as apps/web I’ve seen the camera used:

    – to capture Science experiments
    – to capture shape work in Maths (which is then uploaded to blog)
    – in Art to capture a photograph of the user, which is then displayed on the tablet allowing the student to paint a self portrait

    1. oliverquinlan Avatar

      Thanks for sharing this Mark. Using sun devices to capture and document learning in a variety of contexts seems to me to be one of those new ways of thinking about learning that mobile affords.

      Some great examples, and I look forward to reading your blog and finding out more about this project.

  3. […] The start of the year saw me exploring the ideas of cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham which became a key influence on my thinking. I also considered how mobile technology affords not just a more convenient, but a different way of thinking about acti…. […]

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