Apps are the foundation of all mobile platforms. The explosion in the use of mobile devices, especially smart phones, is the direct result of two factors. The first factor is the design and manufacture of hand held devices that are small, yet powerful enough to act as mini computers. The second is the design and development of applications that run on these devices that allow users to access information and accomplish tasks on the go. With regards to learning, the discussion around the use of mobile devices has often been around app use and the use of mobile devices as a device of consumption. There are endless learning apps available in app stores that focus on information access or reinforcement of skill through consumption. While using apps specifically, and mobile devices in general, in this way has a place, when we focus the use of mobile devices to develop skills, we need to use mobile devices differently.
The discussion in education circles regarding inquiry based learning and knowledge construction applies when discussing mobile learning. It is only by using mobile devices to collaboratively interact with others, construct knowledge and publish learning that mobile use begins to move to a new and higher level. Using apps on mobile devices to reinforce learning at the end of the learning cycle is not a transformative use of the technology. Transformative use includes using apps to learn and develop new skills at the beginning and throughout the learning process.
It is difficult to provide examples using specific apps due to the various platforms available. However, if we use social networking sites and apps as an example, one can see how mobile devices can be used by students to discuss questions, formulate solutions to inquiries, and to collaborate. It could be discussions using Twitter, collaborating on presentations using Google docs and sharing presenting findings on a blog or wiki. The crucial part is the apps, like devices themselves, are tools to learning thus play a subservient role. We need to focus on expectations and learning skills first and then find apps that support the learning. We should not be getting apps because “it’s a great way to reinforce math skills” but because it “help students develop math skills”. Apps, like devices, need to provide students with the ability to engage in learning in ways that are impossible without them. Apps that replicate flash cards do not support higher level learning. Apps that allow students to communicate, collaborate, share ideas and construct knowledge with others across distances and time do support higher level learning.
What are your thoughts here? What specific examples do you have of apps that support higher level learning?