Disclaimer: While this post presumes the use of a smart phone, and while it is true that not all students own a smart phone, with the current shift toward smart phones, soon, smart phones will be as prevalent as cell phones are today.
When I reflect on what is traditionally thought of as a field trip in a typical K-12 school setting, what often comes to mind is a visit to a location that may have some direct or indirect connection to the unit of study being taught. The vision of students visiting different areas or exhibits with “experts” telling students why this or that is significant dances in my head. Students may walk around with paper and a pencil answering questions based on what they see or what they are told. These sheets are submitted later to the teacher to see if the students were on task. In short, field trips seem to me to be extensions of what happens in the classroom, just somewhere else.
To me this type of learning seems to be inauthentic as this way of organizing field trips seems artificial and top directed. If it is true that students learn by doing and through discovery and exploration, then asking students to fill out question sheets while on a field doesn’t appear to be an effective way to either have students learn or to measure what they have learned. When one is on a field trip, a more authentic way of learning would be allow students to explore the scene rather than to seek out answers to questions.
This is where the mobile phone comes into play. GPS locators found in many of today’s mobile phones allow students to explore their surroundings while also applying mapping skills. More and more Augmented Reality apps such as Wikitude connect GPS enabled and internet abled devices to Wikipedia so students can read up on the significance of a certain area, monument or exhibit while they are on location. With mobile phones being able to connect students to the information that they require when and where they require it, running around with a question sheet appears ineffective in comparison. When it comes to submitting a culminating activity, submitting a sheet where student could have easily copied answers from others doesn’t appear to be an effective indicator of learning or of whether students stayed on task. If, however, student can use their mobile device to take photographs, record voice and video commentary, jot down a few notes and then later submit a presentation or post their findings to a wiki demonstrating their findings and their understanding, then their experience can be captured in a more authentic and developed way.
What happens to students who don’t have these fancy phones? The answer is simply – differentiate. The purpose of learning is to allow students to access learning in ways that work for them. By allowing students to use devices that they already have, we empower them to access the content and to demonstrate their learning in ways that work for them. Those who do not have the devices can still learn using traditional tools. Before we use the criticism that ‘allowing students who have the devices use them places those without the devices at a disadvantage’, we need to think about how restricting the use of those devices from those who have and need them disadvantage students. When differentiating instruction and incorporating the principles of universal design for learning, it only makes sense that we allow students to use whatever tools they have to learn in ways that make sense to them rather than whitewashing learning to try and make it suit all students, which inevitably, it never does.