Mobile computing and student-centered learning

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1 Introduction

This wiki explores some of the links between mobile computing and student-centered learning.

James Parsons

Memorial University of Newfoundland

2 Mobile computing

Mobile computing is defined as the application of small, portable, and wireless computing and communication devices (e.g. I-Pods, MP3 Player, PDAs,USB Drives, E-Book Readers, Smart Phones, Ultra-Mobile PCs, Laptop PCs) (Corbell &Corbell, 2007). Mobile devices are personal, portable and multi-functional] (Norris and Soloway, 2008). Mobile technologies provide a more cost effective alternative to one to one laptop ratios or even computer labs and are being suggested as a way of getting past economic constraints and the structural barriers of computer labs (Norris and Soloway, 2008).

3 Student-centered learning

Student-centered learning is defined as learning that is social, engaging and student owned; where students play an active role in directing their own learning (Bender, 2003). Through curiosity students establish personal connections with their learning which makes them active participants rather than passive observers (Willis, 2007). Furthermore, Willis (p.36) states that instruction that includes student initiated questioning offers a balance of emotional and intellectual opportunities that can motivate students and engage them in higher order functions. Student-centered learning environments allow students to monitor their own progress and determine when their learning objectives have been satisfied (Hannafin et al., 2009). In order to successfully establish a student-centered learning environment educators must acknowledge that students have personal learning goals and support students in achieving their goals (Bender, 2003).

4 Mobile computing and learning

In order for optimal learning to occur, learning environments need to provide students with tools and experiences that can connect them to the real world (Burns et al., 1999). According to Haynes and Boyle (as cited in Churchill, 2008) mobile devices increase flexibility and accessibility to learning. Through the use of mobile computing, teachers and students are able to employ computing power without time or location constraints (Liu, 2007). Some mobile devices can act as mobile classrooms (Vess, 2006) and allow learning to be taken out of the traditional classroom and into a variety of alternate settings (Corbell and Valdes-Corbell, 2007). In doing so, these technologies support learning experiences that are collaborative, accessible and integrated with the world (Corbell and Valdes-Corbell, 2007). Students learn to apply skills taught in school to setting that reflect real life experiences. School curriculum gains value as learning becomes useful.

According to Tucker (as cited in French, 2006) current students are master multi-taskers and like to do things on the move. Students’ desire to have anytime and anywhere access to entertainment and education makes the use of mobile technologies in learning a worthwhile consideration (Vess, 2006). Students can often be found using mobile devices in educational context while simultaneously participating in leisure activities (French, 2006). Vess maintains that many mobile technologies do have educational uses in addition to their entertainment applications which can increase their appeal to students.

5 Mobile computing and student-centered learning

While mobile technologies present many positive implications for learning they do not come without challenges. According to Fang (as cited in Liu, 2007), the introduction of innovative technologies into the classroom increases the complexity and unpredictability of instructional and learning situations. Teachers very often have to adjust their usual practices in order to effectively integrate technology (Liu, 2007). Teachers must embrace and learn to use various types of technology in order to maximize student learning (Corbell and Valdes-Corbell, 2007).

According to a comparative case study by Liu (2007), despite implementation of mobile technologies, instructional practices tended to be teacher-centered rather than learner-centered in both the ordinary classroom and when in the wireless environment. Furthermore, Liu suggests that only when teachers have a positive outlook on the use of mobile computing and re-focus their instruction toward being student-centered will implementing mobile technologies act to establish a genuinely student-centered learning environment.

6 Challenges for mobile computing and student-centered learning

Norris and Soloway (2008) suggest that the use of mobile devices enabled learners to establish autonomy, take greater ownership in their learning and subsequently can act to support and enhance student-centered learning environments. Mobile devices allow students to participate in more student-centered activities which can include recording interviews, producing reports and sharing products with other students (French, 2006). Students show higher levels of engagement and demonstrate greater acquired knowledge when using interactive technologies to complete activities (Schrand, 2008). Norris and Soloway (2004) suggest that mobile computing environments are student-centered because they increase independence, responsibility and accountability and result in students establishing a greater sense of ownership in their learning.

The use of mobile computing has the ability to empower students and engage previously disengaged learners. According to a study by Vess (2006), students who used iPods to perfect oral presentations before presenting them to their classmates indicated increased confidence and success. The results of a study by Klopfer et al. (2005) suggest that the use of handheld devices to complete interactive activities will increase student motivation as well as student-directed learning. The use of mobile devices can facilitate more comfortable student-teacher interaction, providing students with opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback without being face to face (Churchill, 2008). Swan et al. (2005) revealed that mobile devices are readily embraced by students and will use them to not only explore personal learning interest but also to overcome personal challenges.

Hawkes and Hategekimana(2009) contend that beyond possible intrinsic benefits, mobile computing also generates greater extrinsic rewards as a result of increased interest and participation by students in learning. A limited quantitative study by Hawkes and Hategkimana suggested that integration of mobile devices for university math students led to improved results compared to their counterparts.

7 References

Bender, B. (2003). Student Centered Learning: A Personal Journal. Educause Center for Applied Research, 2003 (11), 1-12. Retrieved from

Burns, M., Burniske, J., & Dimock, V. (1999) On the Road to Student-Centered Learning. TAP into Learning, 1 (2), 1-8. Retrieved from

Churchill, D. (2008) Learning Objects for Educational Applications via PDA Technology. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 19 (1), 5-20.

Corbell, J. R., & Valdes-Corbell, M.E. (2007) Are you ready for mobile learning? Educause Quarterly, (2), 51-58. Retrieved from

French, D. (2006). iPods: Informative or invasive?. Journal of College Science Teaching, September, 58-59. Retrieved from

Hannafin, M., Hannafin, K. & Gabbitas, B. (2009). Re-examing cognition during student-centered, Web-based learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 57, 767-785.

Hawkes, M. & Hategekimana, C. (2009).Impacts of mobile computing on student Learning in the university: a comparison of course assessment data. Educational Technology Systems, 38(1), 63-74.

Klopfer E., Yoon S. & Perry J. (2005). Using Palm Technology in Participatory Simulations of Complex Systems: A New Take on Ubiquitous and Accessible Mobile Computing. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 14 (3), 285-297.

Liu, T. C. (2007). Teaching in a wireless learning environment: A case study. Educational Technology & Society, 10 (1), 107-123. Retrieved from

Norris, C., & Soloway, E. (2004). Envisioning the handheld centric classroom. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 30(4), 281-294.

Norris, C. & Soloway, E. (2008). Getting Mobile: Handheld computers bring K12 classrooms into the 21st Century. District Administration, July, 21-24. Retrieved from

Schrand, T. (2008). Tapping into active learning and multiple intelligences with interactive multimedia. College Teaching, 56 (2) 78-84.

Swan, K., van 't Hooft M., Kratcoski A & Unger, D. (2005). Uses and Effects of Mobile Computing Devices in K-8 Classrooms. Journal of Research on Technology in Education , 38 (1), 99-112.

Vess, D. (2006). History to Go: Why iTeach with iPods. The History Teacher, 39 (4), 479-492. Retrieved from

Willis, J. (2007) Preserve the Child in Every Learner. Kappa Delta Pi Record, Fall, 33-37. Retrieved from