This chapter presents the perspective of an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) integration specialist on how mobile devices and apps are being used in several Western Australian primary schools to improve students’ literacy across a range of contexts and curriculum areas. In her role, the author is responsible for assisting teachers in Independent sector schools with Technologies, ICT Literacy and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and has worked extensively in helping teachers design rich cross-curricular tasks and programmes that harness a range of digital technologies, including mobile devices. The chapter presents several examples of how teachers in Western Australian Independent schools have used mobile tools across the curriculum in rich tasks, and how this has supported students’ literacy learning. Although this chapter makes specific references to Australian curricular requirements and contexts, it is envisaged that the practical examples and insights presented will be more broadly applicable in helping practitioners use mobile technologies to enhance literacy learning across the curriculum.
Clarke, J. (2018), "Mobile Tools for Literacy Learning across the Curriculum in Primary Schools", Oakley, G. (Ed.) Mobile Technologies in Children’s Language and Literacy, Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 99-118. https://doi.org/10.1108/978-1-78714-879-620181007Download as .RIS
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6.1. Mobile Tools for Literacy Learning through Rich Tasks
Through rich cross-curricular learning activities, many aspects of literacy and the English curriculum area can be developed, including speaking and listening, reading and writing, as well as viewing and the development of multimodal literacies. Generic literacy skills, understandings and practices that are transferable across content areas (Fisher & Frey, 2015), as well as discipline-specific literacy (Beach, 2014), can be fostered through rich cross-disciplinary learning activities – and this endeavour can be supported and enhanced by the use of mobile technologies.
Although it is acknowledged that the term ‘rich task’ is not always used consistently in the literature or in practice, such tasks are generally deemed to be interdisciplinary, contextually authentic, resource-intense, dynamic and generative, student-centred, reflective and collaborative (Aubusson, Burke, Schuck, Kearney, & Frischknecht, 2014; Grabinger, Dunlap, & Duffield, 1997). The term will be used fairly loosely in this chapter to reflect its use by the teachers whose practices are described. It will be demonstrated in this chapter how mobile technologies can successfully be used to facilitate and transform such tasks.
Teachers with whom I work appreciate that engaging in rich tasks can support creativity, design, persistence, problem-solving, explanation, investigation, collaboration, questioning and prediction. Many of these skills are recognised as twenty-first century skills (Scott, 2015), which are considered to be essential for success in today’s workplaces. Furthermore, rich tasks are likely to appeal to students with diverse abilities, interests and learning preferences because they offer a variety of cognitive challenges and ways of participating in learning experiences.
Inherent in such tasks are opportunities for making use of a variety of digital tools – for example, the use of the mobile device’s camera to capture evidence in situ, and the employment of content free or productive apps to collect and record evidence of students’ learning journeys (see Table 6.1 for a list of examples). Limited research has been carried out on mobile technologies and rich tasks in the context of literacy learning in early childhood and primary contexts, and this chapter aims to provide current examples of practice that may inform practitioners and researchers. It is essential that teachers and students have access to the tools they need for engaging in rich tasks, and mobile devices are appropriate tools for many rich learning tasks and are increasingly accessible and popular. This claim will be demonstrated throughout this chapter. In my experience, the popularity among teachers of devices such as iPads can be attributed to features such as portability, size, flexibility of use, ease of access (boot up and log-in), intuitive navigation systems, the availability and affordability of a range of apps and their ability to engage students in learning. Furthermore, mobile devices are relatively easy for students to learn to use, promoting independence and agency in children. I frequently observe students assisting each other before asking teachers for help.
Source: Clarke, J. (2016), Apportunities to shine: Using mobile technologies in classrooms and other amazing places, p. 143.
Mobile devices are becoming prevalent in the home and, although there are still inequities when it comes to access to technology, a large proportion of children in Australia live in homes where there is at least one mobile device. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2018), 91% of connected households in Australia owned a mobile or smart phone during 2016–2017, with 66% of connected households owning a tablet. Ninety seven percent of households in Australia with children under the age of 15 reported having an Internet connection, although rural and remote households were less likely to be connected. These statistics are in line with international trends, where mobile technology ownership has continued to rise, and children are experiencing increased mobile device use in the home. For example, 98% of households in the USA, in 2017, where children in the zero to eight age range resided, had at least one mobile device (Rideout, 2017), and young children (zero to eight) were spending an average of 48 minutes a day on mobile devices. It is acknowledged that there are some countries in the world there is much less access – see Chapter 9, Supporting Children’s Literacy Learning in Low- and Middle-income Countries Through M-learning, by Oakley and Imtinan (2018) in this volume.
In addition to increased access at home, the author’s ongoing discussions with both schools and colleagues in other Independent jurisdictions suggest a rapidly increasing number of Independent sector primary schools in Australia offer 1:1 mobile availability (in various management configurations) from Year 2 upward, and an increasing proportion require, or provide, personally owned or leased devices from Year 4 onwards. Indeed, there is a growing trend internationally for students to be required take their own device from home into the school for learning purposes. Bring your own device models in Hong Kong (Song, 2014), the USA (Clark, 2013) and New Zealand (Falloon, 2015), and many other countries have been discussed in the literature.
6.2. Guiding Principles for Using Mobile Devices in Literacy Learning
While implementing changes in technology use over the last decade, the schools I have worked with have been following various guidelines, informed by research, in an attempt to leverage the best value for the investment made in technology. The recommendations and considerations generated from early research in Independent schools in Western Australia (Oakley, Pegrum, Faulkner & Striepe, 2012) has proven to represent sound advice. Three categories of recommendations – technical, pedagogical and organisational – emerged from this research. It is, however, beyond the scope of this chapter to discuss all of the recommendations.
From my perspective, some of the most interesting and innovative examples of mobile learning used in schools relate to four of Oakley et al.’s (2012) recommendations, which encourage teachers to: include apps that promote the creation of content and higher order thinking skills; take advantage of multimedia tools and multimodal texts; include access to online virtual spaces (extending the notion of ‘the classroom’ by accessing remote experts, excursions, collaborative documents and imaginary worlds), and; include physically mobile activities (e.g. forming different groups, finding quiet or motivating places to work, learning outside, moving around and taking photos, capturing interviews, using Quick Response (QR) codes in various spaces and following GPS trails).
Using mobile devices in such ways can enable what Puentedura referred to as the ‘redefinition’ of learning tasks (Puentedura, 2011), which involves designing technology-infused learning tasks that were previously inconceivable. It can also provide meaningful variety in the contextual use of mobile technologies. The examples of practice provided in this chapter highlight the potential for enhancing literacy across the curriculum using mobile devices such as tablets and mobile phones.
6.3. Some Key Tools to Support Rich Task Processes
A wide range of mobile devices and software (apps) are available to help students generate, represent, capture, organise and share their learning in rich interdisciplinary tasks or projects. For example, multimodal digital journals, portfolios and presentations can be developed. Mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones have camera, audio recording and annotation tools that are particularly useful and efficient for capturing processes and evidence of student learning. Apps for concept mapping, data charting, creating flowcharts, rubrics, timelines, info-graphics and graphic organisers can all help students collect, organise, write, read and communicate their learning (see Table 6.1 e.g. of suitable apps). As many educators realise, available apps vary enormously in quality and have different features. As a response to this, many primary schools tend to have a standard set of ‘tried and trusted’ apps installed on devices that can be used across year levels and subject areas, although it is acknowledged that there is always a need to be trying and evaluating new devices and software so that practices can be updated. Table 6.1 offers examples of a generic process that can be applied to any rich task and example apps that suit each stage of the process. The process starts with getting to know the project and ends with sharing or publication. It is apparent in the ‘Kind of Task’ column of Table 6.1 that most of the activities in the process involve various aspects of literacy – whether it be researching, note-taking, learning new vocabulary, planning and creating multimodal texts, or presenting work to peers.
Two recent examples of products constructed using mobile devices come from Year 3 and 4 classes, at different schools, with whom I worked. Both used the Book Creator (Red Jumper Ltd.) app to create a multimodal ‘learning journal’ (or ‘digital portfolio’) of work. A preloaded template of 10 pages or fewer was used, with set page headings and a sketched storyboard of what was to be done, along with a suggested app, was provided to students for each heading. The template was used to expedite the process and give clarity to a first-time experience with this type of activity, with a view to students designing their own journals in future iterations. Working in pairs, students populated the pages with the required content in any order they preferred. Content included photos of hand-done work, sentence writing, annotated diagrams and maps, recorded video, drawings, timelines, screenshots and word clouds.
The journal of one class was based on classroom history lessons and an excursion, where data were collected, observations made and photos taken at a museum. The journal of the other class was designed to trial the potential for documentation of science work, in this case the topic, Heat. In both cases, it was clear that most of the participating Year 3 and 4 students (with no prior experience) had no difficulties in reading and following the visual instructions, navigating the e-pub app, transferring content created in various apps to the e-pub app (‘app smashing’) or managing their activities. They were engaged and enthusiastic, enjoyed using the new medium, appreciated the independence and responsibility, and appeared to greatly enjoy the freedom of moving around and making their own choices. Through the use of multimodal journals/portfolios that are built using apps on mobile devices, opportunities for enhancements in the ways that teachers assess literacy processes and products, as well as other areas of learning, are noteworthy. Self-assessment among children is also supported. See Figure 6.1 for an example of a Year 3 science journal.
6.4. Mobile Devices, Spaces and Places
Much of the literature on mobile learning refers to the learning benefits associated with moving around, or getting out and about with mobile devices, and learning in meaningful or authentic contexts (Kearney, Schuck, Burden & Aubusson, 2012; Traxler, 2012). Mobile devices can be used to enhance and transform learning in various spaces within the school grounds, such as maths corners, science areas and labs, drama spaces, design workshops, sports fields, art and music studios and language learning centres, among others.
QR codes, scanned with mobile devices, are a popular way for primary school teachers to give students quick access to online texts and resources when they are out and about or working in various spaces around the school. Online resources may include websites, images, video clips, written texts or audio files, the consumption of which can promote literacy learning. In some cases, QR codes may link to websites or services where students need to create texts of various kinds. QR codes can also be used to facilitate information or data sharing, linking users to student-generated works (usually saved on a school website) or public URLs. In addition, they can be used for outdoor trails, games and puzzles, treasure hunts or to encourage community connections and participation. The codes are extremely easy to generate (see, e.g. https://www.qr-code-generator.com/), simple to use and can be made applicable to any learning area. When used outside the school, they can link real places with relevant information in various formats and modes, or perhaps just instructions for what to do at that location. However, devices need an Internet connection, so use is limited to the extent of the WiFi signal, unless devices have cellular connection (and many devices used in primary schools do not).
The next few pages of this chapter describe rich cross-curricular tasks and projects undertaken by several schools where the author played a key role in supporting the integration of mobile devices to augment or transform the learning activities. The examples are presented according to the age group of the students involved.
6.5. Using Augmented Reality to Learn about Animals: Year 2
At a college in the Swan Valley on the outskirts of Perth, an early career classroom teacher worked with an experienced Information and Communications Technology (ICT) mentor teacher to design a rich learning experience as the culmination of a term of classroom studies about animals (Science) and information report writing (English) in a Year 2 classroom. Mobile technologies such as iPods (video capture) and iPads were extensively used during this project.
Initially, students were explicitly taught two different note-taking methods, and how to write information reports. They practised note-taking skills as a class, while watching sample videos of teacher-selected zoo animals. Using iPads, they generated colour-coded mind maps from their notes, after a discussion about advantages of colour coding for categorisation. To do this, they employed the SimpleMind app by XPT Software and Consulting BV. There are similar mind mapping apps that could be used if preferred.
Using the visual prompts in their mind maps, students wrote their own practise information reports, with support from the teacher. Once the process was understood, they were given time to browse animal information and select an animal for their project. To facilitate this, the teachers had located age-appropriate websites and videos about zoo animals and organised these in the Aurasma (an augmented reality (AR) app) editor, a cloud-based video hosting service. Photos of the animals (acting as triggers) opened the websites containing information and animal videos. Students were taught how to use the Aurasma app on their device. The trigger images were spread around the room and students had 20 minutes to view as many videos of animals as they could, before choosing the animal they wished to fully research (Figure 6.2).
In the ensuing lessons, students used the Aurasma app to independently access and read/view the information from the website provided for their chosen animal. They recorded and organised their facts using SimpleMind and wrote an information report (by hand) about their zoo animal using their research. Here, a blend of digital and non-digital was successfully used to promote children’s writing skills. During the zoo excursion, students read their information report aloud, while standing in front of their researched animal. This presentation was video recorded by a partner student, using the camera/video function on iPod touch devices. Once back at school, photos of students (triggers) were linked to their videoed presentations, through the Aurasma hosting platform, to share with parent and peer audiences. This was a successful way for them to ‘publish’ or share their texts.
Students had also been learning about different habitats, animals and shelters. From this knowledge, they then began designing an imaginary animal and repeated the same general writing and reporting process as previously. In Art classes, they drew, painted, sewed and stuffed a soft toy version of their imaginary animal. They then painted a background picture of the environment and made the animal’s shelter out of craft materials. This new report was also presented, video-recorded on iPods and then linked to a ‘trigger’ picture of themselves, pinned to their diorama. Students used the Aurasma app on iPads to view each other’s picture-triggered videos and provided feedback on each presentation using a paper-based template reflection sheet (Two Stars and a Wish). Again, this blend of the digital alongside traditional paper-based activities was in line with recommendations in Oakley et al.’s (2012) report, which was commissioned by AISWA. Parents were also invited into the classroom to view the children’s videos.
Teachers and parents were impressed and enthusiastic about the level of skill and task management exhibited by the Year 2 students. The teacher stated that using the Aurasma app had significantly reduced the time usually taken for students to locate websites, leaving more time for research activities. Information was available for students to access independently and this allowed personalisation in terms of text choice, as well as access to facts online, task ownership, independence and working at an individual pace. The teacher reported that having the class so focused, engaged and working independently gave her, the teacher, more time to work with students who required one-on-one support. It was noted that the students’ preferred method of notetaking was with the SimpleMind app, which enabled them to quickly and neatly categorise information when preparing their report writing. Additionally, the predictive text function and spelling auto-correct in the app assisted weaker spellers.
Student work was assessed by the teacher using checklists and rubrics. The assessable curriculum outcomes from the Australian Curriculum (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2015) for the project were read, gather and record facts from websites in an organised manner (English); write an information report using sentences, an opening statement, a description (headings and paragraphs) and an evaluation (English); present orally, using clear speech, expression and at an audible volume (English); use technology systems to access websites and record videos and manage data, design and create a product using materials (Technologies). Students were able to achieve these literacy outcomes through carrying out authentic research tasks that involved them using their mobile devices and an AR app in a range of places, both inside and outside the school.
6.5.1. Telling Multimodal Tales of Lost Things in a Remote Aboriginal Community: Years 2 to 6
In a small, remote Kimberley Region community school, the teachers endeavour to ensure strong connection to the local indigenous language, land and culture. The predominant local languages in Aboriginal community are Gija and Kimberley Kriol. Proactive and participatory community members (Aboriginal Education Workers) formally support teachers to ensure that community and cultural connection is ongoing. They consistently model two-way (in English + local language) strategies (Malcolm, 1995), for example, by translating some popular children’s picture books into bi-lingual multimodal texts for students to read and enjoy (for school use only). Students have also created talking, self-illustrated e-books in the three languages, giving them opportunities to write narratives based on local culture and share knowledge on important topics, such as fire. Students in this school frequently use digital devices both at desks and in a mobile, flexible way. They enjoy moving while working, learning outdoors and working in groups. The teachers at the school acknowledge that mobility is an important factor of engagement. One of the affordances of multimodality is the opportunity for second language learners to represent personal identity, or contribute their ideas, using more familiar and accessible communication strategies. Together with written words, multimodal representation can significantly enrich personal communication and digital devices increase the options and opportunities for doing so.
This project was designed to blend English (which has three strands in the Australian Curriculum – literacy, language and literature) with digital literacy and design technologies. Students from Year 2 to Year 6 read, viewed and discussed print and animated (video) versions of the picture book, The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan (2000). Both texts were used to explore aspects of the English curriculum, including story mapping, plot development, descriptive vocabulary and characterisation. The younger students drew (by hand) their own imaginary versions of a ‘lost thing’ that had arrived in their community and wrote sentences about its characteristics. They used tablets to photograph the drawings and also some places in the school grounds. Using the Puppet Pals (a 2D animation app by Polished Play LLC) app on their tablets, they cropped their pictures and used them as two-dimensional animated characters against photos of their local scenery, while speaking and recording a self-generated narrative. Even these younger students used the app without difficulty and most were not shy to narrate their story, and teachers reported that several students sang their animated story. Students were quite particular about finding ‘just the right’ background for their animations and most re-recorded their animated stories several times, without prompting, to improve them.
The 123D (Autodesk Inc.) modelling app was used with the older students to create 3D models of their character. The students had not worked with 3D design before but managed to create a character, with varying degrees of detail. With assistance, the digital models were exported for 3D printing by the teacher. The intention was to use these for future oral language, narrative activities, stop-motion animation and/or board game design.
Teachers noted that levels of engagement were high, as was students’ sense of ownership over their own creations (animations and 3D modelling). Plenty of productive talk resulted, including the use of newly introduced technical vocabulary. Students code-switched between English and their local language during this talk, productively using (speaking and singing in) both languages. The teachers suggested that an extension/enhancement activity would be to audio record in both languages or animate some cut-out words (vocabulary) to be part of the story. Through this activity, children practised their speaking and listening, a fundamental aspect of literacy.
6.5.2. Our Giant Fantastic Interactive Map: Blending Technology and Nature-based Learning: Years 3 to 4
This small Independent school in regional Western Australia promotes nature-based learning and community connection throughout all year levels. The purpose of the project being described in this chapter was to teach curriculum content, maintain a focus on student-centred learning, deepen the Year 3-4 students’ understanding of local environment and Noongar culture, strengthen a sense of community and include the use of various technologies, both inside and outside the classroom (thus addressing curriculum expectations for ICT literacy). The students learnt about local animal life, ecosystems, history and culture, both inside and outside the classroom.
The shared class goal was for each student to study a local animal and its habitat (particularly cultural aspects of the habitat), write a science report on the animal, use the report as the basis of a video documentary, create a detailed and artistic still-life drawing of the animal (using taxidermy specimens from the local museum) and use these as Aurasma triggers for their documentaries, placing them on a giant student-generated map of the local area. Ultimately, QR codes were to be placed in wifi accessible outdoor areas to create an interactive ‘local knowledge tour’ using the student-generated content.
Students used tablets, laptops and digital cameras to collect, capture and edit their media. The teacher was inspired to adapt an existing idea into a more mobile AR activity to ‘redefine’ (Puentedura, 2011) her design of this classroom science report activity and investigate how m-learning could support and enhance a nature-based educational philosophy. She planned for her students to investigate local examples of science and history curriculum content, both in the classroom and in the outdoors environment, using tablets and digital cameras. Students were required to undertake active, collaborative tasks such as measuring distances and collecting numerical data outdoors, then scale the data and create a giant interactive map. The teacher aimed to involve parents and grandparents, who would bring their own device, bridging a generation gap and opening up conversations in a creative, authentic manner.
This Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) project had links across every subject area and general capability and it included the peer mentoring, buddy activities and community contribution important to the school. Technology (digital camera, tablet and laptop) facilitated differentiation for cognitive levels, intelligences, various learning styles, communication methods and inclusivity (specifically via spell check and a text-to-speech apps for certain students). The activity included features such as student-led learning, tackling real-world problems, team work, self-management, responsibility, independence, risk-taking and contextual situated learning.
Traditional literacy activities were incorporated in the project – reading for research and enjoyment, note-taking, learning and spelling new vocabulary, listening and comprehending during explicit instruction, explaining, describing, listing, investigating, considering the validity of information sources, writing and following instructions, creating multimedia presentations (print, video, images and audio) and scriptwriting. There was also an emphasis on visual texts – video, photos, diagrams and annotations, drawing, mapping, timelines and learning basic principles of good design. Students developed their skills using various mobile apps (similar to those in Table 6.1) as well as traditional learning materials. Individual choices were made about tools to complete activities, supporting the teaching/learning philosophy and a personalised approach. The emphasis of the inclusion of m-learning was to give the students flexibility to explore various simple ways to use technology tools for learning outdoors – a working model for colleagues of how natural and curriculum-mandated technological resources could be blended.
Activities involving collaboration included peer mentoring (social literacy and empathy), ‘walking and talking’ with purpose (while trail hiking), negotiating project management and establishing rules for shared responsibility regarding safety in the outdoors. Students engaged in cultural conversations with a Noongar Elder who assisted them in naming and identifying landmarks of historical and cultural significance. Numeracy content included collecting/recording data (measurements to create visual texts) and transposing/scaling up a small map to create their giant map (Figure 6.3).
Students took the responsibilities and the challenges inherent in this rich task seriously, motivated by the promise of creating an interactive product for their authentic audience and an enthusiasm for using technology. The teacher noted that the quality of the student work, and student participation was generally outstanding. Students had no problem taking responsibility for independent task management (especially using mobile devices outdoors and in groups) as this has always been part of the class culture, according to the teacher. The responses from students included: ‘I love doing work outside because it doesn’t feel like working but you learn a lot’, and, ‘You notice things you have never seen before because the teacher shows you how to look properly’.
6.5.3. Historical Discovery: A Contemporary Journey to Acknowledge the Past: Year 4
This project with Year 4 students was undertaken by an early career teacher in a Perth metropolitan school that favours inquiry-based approaches to learning. The school promotes a strong sense of identity, culture and participation in community. The goal was for students to create a QR code trail, incorporating research about school and community history that they had undertaken as a way of publishing and sharing their research. Using QR codes that they had generated using a QR generator, students were able to publish their historical information in the multimedia app format of their choice (although all chose webpages) and this would create the accessible content for the interactive QR code trail. The project incorporated note-taking, interviews, discussion and formal letter and instruction list writing. Students used Popplet, a brainstorming app (by Notion), Puppet Pals and iMovie, a video editing app (by Apple), Scan QR Code and Barcode Reader to read QR codes (QR Code City) and the device camera. They also carried out Internet research (on community history) using the iPad. Finally, they embedded their multimedia texts into student-designed webpages on the school’s internal wiki site. The rich task was designed as an extended challenge for able students in 40 minute blocks over several weeks.
The students used a range of historical sources in their project, including: face-to-face interviews with community members; Google Earth (Google) satellite view ‘historical imagery slider tool’ to highlight past geographical locations of the school; the camera for capturing evidence from school archives; and the Internet for researching the history of prominent families in the community (matching the names on school buildings). By modelling each step of the process first, the teacher developed the project as a hands-on learning journey. This also provided an opportunity for her to consider and discuss any barriers to success and negotiate problem-solving strategies with the students. An example that arose was negotiating the use of shared devices. Another was meeting the needs of a large and varied viewing audience, including having the students’ research work checked by the school principal (involvement of a significant other). The teacher also needed to negotiate/collaborate with other staff members who were sharing the devices, as well as the librarian/archivist and the IT manager. The class teacher sought and received contributions of information, anecdotes and assistance from parents and other community members to help students complete the research and noted that it ended up being a real community effort.
Once the research, scripting and multimedia text production parts of the project had been completed, the group collaborated to design posters containing simple instructions on how to access the information they had linked to the QR codes. These instructions were disseminated at a school assembly, through the school newsletter and via student-generated posters located next to the QR codes that were displayed on project-related buildings throughout the school, so that audiences could find and access them.
The teacher was satisfied that her good preparation had paid dividends. To make the project work, she had needed to learn about QR codes. It had also been necessary to collaborate with technical support staff to have student websites hosted within the existing infrastructure. To make it manageable for the students, she had split the large project into small segments. Given that the project had a strong well-planned framework, she had been confident to transfer decision-making and responsibility to the students, facilitating and guiding where necessary, giving students a degree of agency. Engagement was sustained despite the project involving research (sometimes considered ‘boring’ by the age-group). The collaborative tasks meant that students were able to use their strengths in group tasks. A range of literacy and ICT skills were extensively used in context. Previous practise/play with the apps and device functions had allowed the students to concentrate on their goals rather than becoming anxious about or being distracted by new technology. Smaller skill building projects had been a useful place to start, such as creating a simple Popplet brainstorm about a classroom topic.
6.5.4 An Augmented Reality Trail by the Swan River: Years 6 to 10
A particular advantage of the situational use of QR codes, location-specific GPS triggers (e.g. using tools such as FreshAiR or ARIS) or image-triggers (using tools such as Aurasma by Aurasma Inc.) is that they can allow students to use their physical senses to learn in context.
Modelled on Dunleavy, Dede, and Mitchell (2009) studies of students and their use of an immersive AR app, middle school classes (ages 12–15), a handful of Independent sector schools in WA trialled the use of the FreshAiR (MoGo Mobile) location-aware (GPS trigger) AR app. I chose one location (by the Swan River in Perth) and created an AR trail in the FreshAiR editor cloud. Both natural and constructed points of interest in this location were plentiful and diverse, opening a huge number of possibilities for location pins (GPS markers). These locations were GPS ‘pinned’ and appropriate multimedia content or instructions (for taking water samples, photographs, recording information and so on) was linked through the FreshAiR editor to each pin. This content primarily involved the students reading, viewing and listening for various purposes. For each class, the trail was tweaked (pins/content hidden or made visible) according to the topic that best suited their studies. Classes chose options from history, art, science, sports, Indigenous culture, biology, geography, built environment and politics.
Students brought along their personal smartphones to follow the trail. Those without cellular connection or data download were responsible for gathering other data (such as photos, audio recordings or keeping notes) on their devices. Students proved to be capable of navigating the GPS points, working enthusiastically in groups and collaborating well. They accessed and engaged with a great deal of multimodal text (through devices) and behaved responsibly.
In terms of challenges, it was found that viewing screens in the Australian sun created difficulties, local noise made some audio hard to hear, inbuilt GPS in phones varied in accuracy and battery life was an issue. The content (number of locations and amount of information to consume at each location point) was found to be excessive for some students (risking cognitive overload) and more reflection time was needed (‘stop, look and listen’) so that students could really take advantage of what the environment and the linked information had to offer. Several classes have since successfully built their own trails.
The example earlier, which was carried out by slightly older students, has been included in this chapter because upper primary students (e.g. Year 6) would certainly have been capable of doing this activity. However, at the time of the trial in 2015, the number of primary aged students with cellular, data enabled smartphones were not sufficient to make the activity viable. The FreshAiR app now works on the iPad, which is very popular in primary schools, and portable WiFi has become more reliable. Furthermore, a greater number of Year 6 students now own smartphones with suitable features. It would be appropriate to trial this with primary classes in the future.
6.5.5. Taking a New Way Home: Testing a Pathway to Independence in Learning: Year 6
The purpose of this project with Year 6 students was to introduce them to a new method for engaging in reading/viewing, studying and practising grammar, as well as developing empathy and social conscience through critical examination of a picture book text. The development of a prototype e-pub template text (scaffolded for independent, self-paced learning) was a collaborative effort by AISWA English and ICT Literacy consultants. It was first tried in a Year 6 classroom in regional Carnarvon in Western Australia.
The picture book studied was Way Home by Hathorn and Rogers (1994), which is a story, written in blank verse, about a homeless boy who befriends a stray cat. The content was informed by the requirements of the Australian Curriculum: English syllabus. The overarching concepts of home, homelessness, community, comfort, friendship, familiarity and compassion were included. This was the pastoral context of the learning, addressing aspects of Humanities and Social Science (HASS), Health and Physical Education, Religious Education and community awareness in this school.
An e-book template scaffolded with page headings, activity instructions on each page (deleted once addressed), video links and language strand activities was preloaded onto each student’s tablet within the Creative Book Builder app (Tiger Ng). At that time, students were not familiar with the CBB app or with the concept of ‘app smashing’ (combining a variety of apps to achieve a larger goal, see Table 6.1). They had limited experience with using the technology for activities other than Internet searches, taking photos and skill and drill type games. They were asked to try to complete the various activities with as little teacher input as possible to determine how well they could self-manage. Some of the activities included in the e-book were extensions of explicit whole class teaching and others were new.
The apps and activities were selected from the kinds listed in Table 6.1. The English concepts studied were text analysis, narrative development, contractions, syllables, figurative language, adjectives and adverbs, symbolism, quotation marks, vectors, persuasive text, parables as teaching texts, framing, visual literacy, code switching, note-taking, dot points, literacy with comic and documentary texts, sequencing, new vocabulary, sentence structures, capitalisation, reading numerical (statistical) texts, justification, explanation, speaking and oral presentation skills.
Ethical considerations around authorship, intellectual property and copyright needed to be an explicit part of whole class discussion. While students referred to a full class set of purchased copies of the print text, the activities required them to photograph pages and reproduce, annotate and remix the text in a digital format in their e-pubs. Although these would not be published in a public arena, the potential ethical and legal issues needed discussion.
Creative Book Builder was chosen as the main authoring app instead of other popular, more intuitive e-pub or e-portfolio apps (such as Book Creator, Book Writer or OneNote) because of the particular range of tools it offered. The idea was to ascertain how much difficulty students of this age (typically aged around 11) might have in reading and negotiating more complex menu systems and tool types. It was found that this perceived complexity posed no problem for the students, despite them being novices with this app. Peer collaboration sorted out any issues.
The teacher was particularly impressed by the students’ commitment to this rich task. He suggested that the scaffolds and the 1:1 scenario supported a significant level of independence and ownership and maintained student interest by offering diverse ways of working, opportunities for peer collaboration and the use of engaging tools to complete fairly standard classroom tasks. The template e-pub (and hybrids that use other apps such as Microsoft’s OneNote) has since been trialled in various classes from Years 6 to 12 in independent schools around Western Australia, and teachers of all year levels have commented on the increased and sustained engagement and particularly on the output exhibited by less academic students who may have shorter concentration spans. These teachers reflected that students responded well to their perceived learning freedom- to be allowed to consult with their classmates and complete learning tasks in a context-based interesting, practical, flexible, personally empowered more and less teacher-directed way. This feedback suggests that the teacher was successful in introducing a degree of personalisation, authenticity and collaboration (Kearney et al.,2012) into the learning tasks. This enriched their literacy learning more and allowed them to practise and develop the literacy skills described above in collaborative and authentic contexts than might otherwise have been possible.
6.6. Concluding Comments
When curriculum content, pedagogy and technology are deeply understood by the teacher and activities are well planned, even younger students find rich, complex tasks using mobile devices such as tablets surprisingly manageable. In the examples of practice presented in this chapter, the teachers effectively capitalised on the resources they had available – environmental, community and digital – and designed rich learning tasks that developed students’ literacy skills and used mobile devices, particularly tablets, productively and purposefully within the context of various areas of the curriculum. Large, collaborative projects were broken into manageable chunks and planned thoroughly enough to avoid foreseeable problems, and teachers improvised where necessary to take advantage of incidental learning and manage unforeseen logistical issues. The obvious enthusiasm the teachers had for the projects (and topic area) was contagious.
Designing rich tasks is not easy. The risk of diminishing important subject-specific content by not providing necessary explicit teaching time should be acknowledged. The skill and time required on the part of the teacher to blend and build content into rich cohesive tasks that present open-ended challenges, authenticity and relevance and promote engagement and agency, is considerable. Deep knowledge of the curriculum and a range of tools (digital and non-digital), strategies and scaffolds are needed. The teacher must be able to plan for, and tease out, any formative and summative assessment and reporting requirements from the mix. Time for the activity has to be found and the abilities and interests of different students need to be considered. Resources need to be collected and managed. However, in return for the investment in time and effort in planning, the rewards can be significant.
From their research, Aubusson et al. (2014, p. 220) describe the ‘intellectual strategies students acquire in the process’ as a perceived and valuable outcome of rich projects involving technologies (in their case, Interactive Whiteboards). Results of their study suggest that teachers ‘have strong alignments with rich task pedagogy’ (p. 228) and are indeed willing to tackle logistical and attitudinal barriers about using technology, and put effort into planning rich tasks, when they expect the students will enjoy the work, be engaged and learn more than they would otherwise.
Mobile devices are “compact, go-anywhere, affordable multi-function tools with customised functionality, personal relevance, contextual learning opportunities, connectivity to people and information – plus the access to a full range of multimodal multimedia-rich texts for communication” (Clarke, 2016, p. 6). From my observations in classrooms and personal involvement with professional learning delivery and action research projects as a jurisdiction technologies consultant, I am convinced that the general level of teacher competence and confidence with digital technologies (and specifically mobile devices in primary years) has significantly grown, particularly over the last five years. An emphasis on process and project management in two new Technologies subjects of the Australian Curriculum, as well as a surge of interest in integrated STEM/STEAM content-related projects, augers well for appropriate, purposeful and practical application of literacy skills in a contextually relevant, technology-rich environment. As learning environments diversify and transitions between them become increasingly seamless, literacy and educational technology maintain their strong and critical synergy.
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- Introduction: Mobile Technologies in Language and Literacy Practice and Learning in Preschool and Primary School Children
- Chapter 1 Young Children’s Imaginative Play and Dynamic Literacy Practices in the Digital Age
- Chapter 2 A Gallery of Practices – Mobile Learning, Language, Literacy and the Arts (K-6)
- Chapter 3 Introducing Coding as a Literacy on Mobile Devices in the Early Years
- Chapter 4 Digital Storytelling as a Pedagogy to Develop Literacy and Twenty-first Century Competencies in a Singapore Primary School: Teachers as Designers
- Chapter 5 Mobile Devices and Multimodal Textual Practices
- Chapter 6 Mobile Tools for Literacy Learning across the Curriculum in Primary Schools
- Chapter 7 Mobilising Critical Literacies: Text Production in Children’s Hands
- Chapter 8 Personalised Learning with Digital Technologies at Home and School: Where is Children’s Agency?
- Chapter 9 Supporting Children’s Literacy Learning in Low- and Middle-income Countries through M-learning