Integration of Mobile Technology into K-12 Outdoors Experiential Education:
Practical Application for H2O (Headwaters to Ocean) by
Rudolph Rosen, Ph.D.
Research Professor, Texas State University, River Systems Institute
For many K-12 teachers, the computer has become a familiar tool. No longer seen as a mysterious “black box” of science and engineering wonder, computers are now used in virtually every aspect of classroom instruction. This evolution of use took about two decades, but today most K-12 teachers have a general or advanced understanding of how to integrate use of standard computer software applications into lesson plans and homework assignments for students. Typical applications in use include the following: word processing (e.g., Word), spreadsheets (e.g., Excel), and Photo editing (e.g., Photoshop). Teachers and students have even become adapt at building website pages and posting videos on line through easy-to-use web interfaces such as Facebook and YouTube.
Outdoors experiential education and new technology
Computers are powerful tools for education in the classroom, but students can benefit from experiential educational opportunities beyond the classroom. For example, studies show that students learn best about the role of water in supporting life and industry on Earth when instruction is taken outside to water locations, such as along bayfronts, lakes, and streams. What role can computers play in such locations?
Until recently, use of computers outside was unwieldy, involving expensive and relatively delicate laptop computers, limiting practical use by K-12 teachers. However, today’s mobile technology, characterized by smartphones and pads allow for ready portability and ease of use anywhere. They are rapidly becoming inexpensive, readily available and can be protected by form-fitting cases to allow for rugged outdoor use, even in wet conditions.
Demystifying mobile technology for educators
Consider the abstract complexity of using a “mouse” to manipulate “objects” on a computer screen versus pointing to objects and dragging items around a screen with your finger. Those who became accustomed to a mouse were amazed by the simplicity of using a finger instead, but the youth of today see no wonder in pointing to a screen and having objects come and go.
Use of computers has become more intuitive, with technologies building, one on the other. As with the much greater intuitive simplicity of using a finger instead of a mouse, today’s smart mobile devices are much less complicated to use than computers.
If an educator can build educational content on a computer, that content can generally be easily transferred to a mobile device, thus demystifying use of new mobile technology in education. The new devices take content built by predecessor devices readily, as the true power of the new technology is based, not on what resides therein, but on their ability to readily access content that resides beyond the device itself.
Simple use of the new mobile technology to display educational content
Mobile devices are not so much computers that create material as they are devices that access material content created and stored elsewhere. Of course, the devices are computers in their own right, and they can be used to create materials, and store materials, and can be programmed to display complicated interfaces. However, all of that complexity adds little to the basic and underlying operating premise of the devices, which is to allow users quick and ready access to a world of information that lies well beyond the confines of the little handheld device.
And, it is using the device to access media stored elsewhere, as opposed to creating it therein, that will allow educators to readily use mobile devices without the two-decades-long learning curve it took them to integrate regular computers into classroom use. Teachers can create the education content for the new devices on the same computers teachers now use in their classroom instruction. The only new trick for teachers will be to learn how to transfer the educational content they create to a place where it can be accessed by the new mobile devices. That is simply done by uploading the material onto a server accessible via an internet connection and providing the content an internet address (URL). This can be done using a dedicated server or even more simply by adding the educational file (print copy, video, sound file, etc.) to a website (thus using the website host’s server). The materials need not be formatted as a web page, so no added programming is required. Of course educational materials themselves my be made complex, so any initial complexity may require a more complex interface between the “host” location and the mobile device, but for a simple video, text file, interactive quiz, game, photo, music, or links to other internet locations, the process is no more complex than dragging and dropping a file from one place to another.
Accessing educational material via mobile device
Websites (or web-accessible servers) provide a remote point of access to an enormous amount of content for mobile devices. It is access to this wealth of media through internet connections that make the small, lightweight mobile devices so popular. For mobile smartphones, internet access is called “data” access and is usually an extra cost beyond mobile phone service (these data and phone service costs are likely to merge over time). Smart phones can also access the internet through Wi-Fi connects, which add no cost to phone operation as internet access costs are associated with the Wi-Fi itself. Mobile pads access data in two ways: 1) through a data plan carried through a contract with a mobile internet carrier, generally associated with phone services, and 2) through Wi-Fi.
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H2O (Headwaters to Ocean) is a cooperative project sponsored by the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University and funding partner, the Ewing Halsell Foundation which supports the project H2O. H2O is an experiential, technology-enhanced education program focused on water, from headwaters to the ocean (https://www.water-texas.org)