Harnessing mobile technologies in STEM teaching
Australian schools are increasingly implementing ‘bring your own device’ schemes, but what will it mean for learning? Researchers from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences are developing a best practice model for utilising mobile devices in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — to help teachers and students make the most of new technologies.
Peter Aubusson, Sandy Schuck, Matthew Kearney, Theo van Leeuwen, Didar Zowghi, Paul Burke
Arts and Social Sciences, School of Education
Engineering and IT
Australian Research Council Discovery Grant
Australia has one of the highest levels of mobile phone ownership per capita globally; our population of nearly 24 million people has 31 million active mobile phone accounts, according to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
For many of us, mobile devices, including, game consoles and ‘phablets’ (a smartphone with a large screen) as well as smart phones, are becoming an integral part of everyday life. No wonder many Australian schools are taking advantage of the learning possibilities these technologies open up through ‘bring your own device’ to school programs. Now a team of UTS researchers is exploring how to make the most of this opportunity in STEM teaching.
“We want to find out how many teachers actually use mobile devices for teaching, how students use them for learning and what apps are particularly suitable for maths and sciences,” says Professor in the School of Education Sandy Schuck. “We also want to see how mobiles can afford unique learning experiences across a range of different learning spaces.”
Along with Associate Professor Matthew Kearney and Professor Peter Aubusson, Schuck is investigating this mobile disruption, with the aim of establishing a best practice model for using mobile devices for STEM in the classroom.
Funded by a three-year Australian Research Council Discovery Grant, the team is collaborating with colleagues engineering, IT and business, using surveys and case studies to examine innovative practices that teachers across Australia are already employing.
The team has identified two schools, one private and one government, which they believe are exemplary models of teaching with mobile technologies. They will scrutinise those schools’ teaching methods and practices as two case studies.
They are also want to discover the best user interfaces and apps for STEM teaching, and the strengths and weaknesses of other new and emerging apps on the market.
A question the team is frequently asked is whether allowing mobile devices in the classroom will hamper instead of improving learning, and whether children will be more distracted with a mobile in their hand.
“My view is that some kids will get just distracted anyway, whether it’s passing notes or sending texts, and the introduction of technology probably is not going to change that,” says Schuck. “Hopefully good practices with mobiles will enhance the engagement of those students, provoke their thinking and extend their learning.”
Once the team has considered all their survey results, they will develop a model of good practice to support a set of schools, who will then use “an action learning approach” to develop their own sound teaching practices with mobiles.
The researchers plan to hold a national conference to equip teachers across the country with better strategies and tools to teach STEM more effectively.
“There is an urgent need to pass on what we have learned, to enhance other teachers’ practice so STEM education continues to be relevant,” Schuck says. “Ultimately, it’s about building a bright future for Australian innovation in STEM.”
Lexie Flickinger (via Flickr)