we observed the phones and app being used in Kew over two days – really interesting
what struck me was how situated the use of the app was and i have tried to pull out a few thoughts on that
1. the question of how the app was viewed by the PGCE students and the school students in relation to the work of teaching was crucial in how it was used – that is the degree to which it was viewed as a ‘tool’ in its own right or a ‘tool’ linked to and embedded in the task;
2. The way the task was related pedagogically to the space we were in – how the link between the field work site – in this case Kew – and the classroom and the students home (in terms of homework) was a strong influence on the use of the app: where would analysis and thinking work take place? what is the value of thinking in situ? in a sense what is field work became a question – is it just a matter of collection, experience? this impacted on how the app was used and which features came to the fore of its use
3. the context of use – individual, in pairs, as small groups – shaped what we saw being done with the app – what potentials for collaborative work, and prompting of discussion took place; and who had control of the phone – the teacher, the student?
4. the content focus of the tasks strongly shaped the use of the app and phone, notably the degree to which the tasks were framed by the teachers in relation to geo-spatial thinking – without this pedagogic framing the potential to miss links and make connections was apparrent – so often the focus appeared to become on particualr plants rather than the contexts that connect them, we wondered if there is some way to ‘push’ this prompting of the geo-spatial more strongly in the design of the app – a difficult thing to balance with customising and a flexible design
5. we saw a range of uses of the app, for instance:
– students looking with the camera – that is the use of the camera made them look in more detail at a specimen – and reviewing photos on the spot made them see different things than with their eye (like textures), several students took multiple photos and did not review them.
– teachers used short video clips (e.g. a carnivorous plant eating a frog!) enabling the students to engage with information in situ that supplemented the text labels
– the video function on the phone was used to interview and generate questions among small groups – this involved a degree of rehearsal and therefore discussion and reflection in situ
– the use of QR codes to link web-based data to the plant being viewed (e.g. real-time info on prices of coffee and banana plants)
6. perhaps people’s familiarity with some functions and practices – notably video and camera- with their phones also shaped their interaction with the app – specially with limited familiarisation with all its features? we certainly noted that the app legitimised the students getting out their phones and engaging with the environment at kew visually.this sense of student ownership and exploration was of interest to us – the phone seemed to ‘free’ students from the teacher a little -generating student questions to some extent – and thereby opening up and placing new demands on the teacher in the interaction
7. teacher style appeared key in how the app and phones were made use of – notably teacher questioning style, their relationhip to the production of knowledge that is whether they saw knowledge as produced by teachers, students, experts, the ‘crowd’ appeared to impact on the way the app was used and inserted into interaction. we saw a range of pedagogic styles and thus a range of uses. so while some PGCE teachers directed the student use of the app and phone, others took student photos as a point of interest and exploration
In summary the day has given us a lot of data (video and notes) – and seeing it used ‘in the wild’ with all the tensions of time, management of the task outcome and student interest and behaviour – this will now be analysed to inform the next configuration of the app
Overall I enjoyed using the app with the visiting children, and feel it helped to engage students and increase their interest in the tasks. If nothing else, students seemed to enjoy the novelty of using mobile phones in a school-like setting (albeit during a school trip at Kew). Certain features (such as being able to show YouTube clips relevant to the task in hand) were extremely useful, and i think helped the teaching immensely.
There are a few things I would change were I to use the app/phones again. Firstly, I would ‘train’ the students how to use the app/phones in the classroom, before the start of the trip. Our time for each task was limited and so spending time showing the kids what to do detracted from the tasks themselves. Secondly, due the very nature of a smart phone, it didn’t seem to work too well with just one or two phones per group. Ideally each student should have a phone, or one between two would probably work as well, but no less of a ratio. Thirdly, wireless coverage in the PoW conservatory was patchy, and so certain parts of the app (map, YouTube videos) were somewhat ropey.
However, it should be noted that given this app is a prototype, and this was the first time the app was used in ‘the wild’, it went much more smoothly than it could have! It was a promising start, and I would be interested in using this kind of technology in my future teaching.
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