Mobile learning is the use of portable, electronic devices to facilitate education in informal or semi-structured settings.
Our goal is to design and implement an infrastructure for mobile learning applications specific to K-12 engineering education outside of the classroom. By using user-centered design methods, we will gain insight into the needs of students, teachers, and parents that will aid us in the design process.
Mobile devices such as modern cell phones, smart phones and PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) have the potential to provide K-12 students and teachers with access to learning resources un-tethered from the constraints of traditional school infrastructures; as yet, this potential is poorly understood. With nearly 85% of a student's time spent outside of the classroom, there is abundant opportunity to transform daily events into meaningful learning opportunities that contribute to and complement a student's overall education. Our research focuses on the opportunities provided by mobile devices to enhance engineering education at the elementary level. At this stage, students learn the fundamental building blocks of engineering through math, science and technology learning. During these early years, engineering education often consists of real world observations of scientific principles, best experienced outside of the traditional school setting. Out-of-classroom experiences can offer students information learning opportunities to engage in the discovery of scientific phenomena, to use their inquiry skills, and to participate in active discourse with peers.
We employed a user-centered approach using qualitative research methods in order to first understand the needs and values of students, educators, and parents. We collected data through teacher interviews, student workshops, and observations of children at local science activities. This data was analyzed to extract key findings, interesting observations, and underlying needs. The needs that we extracted were sorted into groups so that we were ultimately able to identify twelve need themes that were relevant to students, educators, and parents. Using the identified needs, we were able to make design recommendations and come up with design principles for a mobile learning infrastructure.
Current Work We have developed and tested a number of prototypes using PDAs and smart phones. The most recent prototype, Green Hat, uses a combination of virtual reality and Google maps. Mobile augmented reality (AR) is becoming apopular way to learn about the environment and objects in the physical world.Yet little is known about what aspects of a mobile AR interface enhance studentlearning and engagement with the physical world. Building on interviews with experts and formative studies on how mobile learners navigate physical space using different types of interfaces (digital maps, paper documents, AR interfaces) we have designed, built, and evaluated the GreenHat mobile AR application to help students learn about biodiversity and sustainability issues in their natural environment. Using an interactive location-sensitive map, AR view, and video on a smart phone, GreenHat simulates how experts go about making observations in the field and encourages students to actively observe their environment. Our evaluation of the GreenHat mobile AR prototypes suggests that AR is good at inviting learners to take a closer look at the physical site, more so than a digital map on the same smart phone. We present the iterative design process of our prototypes, the results from our evaluation studies, and discuss the implications for mobile learning tools design