The effects of M-learning within GCSE geography : can mobile technology enhance the quality of pupils' learning?

  • Ryan Owen Butler

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Over the last ten years the application of m-leaming has increased within educational settings worldwide. Through everyday exposure to mobile technologies young people are rapidly becoming ‘digital natives’ (Prensky, 2001), making this technology something schools cannot afford to ignore (Sharpies, 2007; Becta, 2009a). However, the current position within schools does not support the notion that teachers are keeping pace with technological advances (Bauer and Kenton, 2005; Ofsted, 2009) and most schools are not grounded in young peoples’ everyday technological experiences (Bauer and Kenton, 2005). The use of mobile technologies within schools, particularly secondary schools, is still in its infancy (Rogers, 2003; Beetham and Sharpe, 2007; Ofsted, 2009); it is not yet mainstream and as yet relatively few projects have been conducted considering the impact of mobile technology on learning (Keegan, 2005; Kukulska-Hulme and Traxler, 2005).

M-learning offers teachers the opportunity to work outside the constraints of the classroom environment providing pupils with personalised, up-to-date learning on demand; however vigilance is key as participation in m-leaming does not automatically transform pupils into ‘learning natives’ (Passey, 2009). It is essential that the effects of m-leaming are investigated further, which was the focus of this inquiry, to enable teachers to effectively integrate this new technology into existing pedagogy.

The goal of this small-scale action research inquiry was to expose GCSE Geography pupils to two location-aware (mediascape) mobile technology activities. The creation and delivery of each activity has been discussed, analysed and evaluated through the lens of Activity Theory. The effects of m-learning have been derived from qualitative data collection methods such as: interviews, observation journals from participants, key documentation, storyboards and pilot sessions. Quantitative data has also been used in the form of standardised assessments, predicted GCSE Yell is grades and quiz scores. The data obtained from these collection methods has been analysed and interpreted based on three key questions, which stem from the aim of the inquiry. These questions are:-

Does m-learning facilitate independent and/or collaborative learning?
Does m-learning support problem-solving?
Can mobile technology enhance performance in GCSE Geography?

The advantages and limitations associated with using mobile technology have been presented and discussed in terms of affective and cognitive findings. After weighing up the advantages and limitations, this action research inquiry has discovered that sufficient evidence exists to assert that m-leaming can enhance pupils’ learning experience. If embraced and embedded into the curriculum m-learning can become more than an idealistic dream moving beyond the ‘early adopters’ (Rogers, 2003) into mainstream education. This inquiry discovered that pupils were motivated and inspired by mobile technology, their self- confidence and self-esteem was inflated and learning was made more fun and enjoyable, interesting and exciting. Mobile technology helped to elevate pupils’ expectations and personalise their learning. In addition m-learning incorporated a range of multimedia ensuring it catered for a variety of learners. The inclusion of mobile technology made lessons active and participatory as opposed to teacher-led with pupils as merely recipients of information. M-learning also extended not only geographical knowledge but History and ICT knowledge and expertise. In support of Prensky’s (2001) notion of ‘digital natives’ m- learning tapped into the pupils’ technological culture and presented them with opportunities to lead, work independently or collaboratively and provide them with a mechanism to help solve problems. Performance was enhanced during the course of the m-leaming tasks and reluctant learners were also included through the incorporation of mobile technology.

The inquiry also discovered that m-leaming can have limitations. Teachers should be cautious when using mobile technology that the task(s) or the creation phase does not become too burdensome on the pupils. If this occurs or the primary focus is the technology and not the subject content then m-learning may potentially become boring or time- consuming, suffer from technological glitches or pose resource and creation concerns for pupils. Weather conditions, subject content and the format of any intended collaboration, when using mobile technology, were also seen as areas requiring careful consideration to minimise any negative impacts on learning.

In terms of the future, the inquiry found that whilst there may be occasional concerns about using mobile technology or how frequently to use it there was an acceptance that m- learning will have a future role to play, not just in GCSE Geography but other subjects too. To this end the inquiry concludes with recommendations for interested groups and individuals to help embedded m-learning into GCSE Geography.
Date of AwardDec 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorPamela Cowan (Supervisor) & Colette Murphy (Supervisor)

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