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Mobile Learning Can Promote Student Creativity When Done Right

college student studying with smartphone

How can you push students to become more creative? It's not necessarily something that can be taught explicitly; however, it can become an implicit element in the activities you have students do. That was the topic for two researchers who concluded that mobile technology can enhance student learning and creativity if it's used appropriately.

The project, undertaken by Isa Jahnke, associate professor in the University of Missouri College of Education School of Information Science and Learning Technologies, and former doctoral student Julia Liebscher, interviewed 20 instructors in higher education in German-speaking countries and studied their course materials to find out how they were encouraging students to use mobile devices in their courses.

They found that student creativity was most enhanced by professors who allowed their students to work on "self-selected tasks," especially developing novel solutions through creation of learning apps.

In one example, a professor suggested the use of digital apps for history lessons. Students might develop an app to share the history of the Berlin Wall by setting up a tour of the Wall — and in the course of doing that, have to understand why people would want to go there, what there is to see, what it offers, what sources are required to understand the Wall and why some points would be omitted because they don't fit. Undertaking this kind of project, the researchers explained, enhanced the students' creativity and understanding of the content.

Another example was a course covering the topic of bridge construction. The goal for students was to analyze a road bridge and make suggestions for improving it. "We did not want to do it the classic way, with pen, paper and digital camera," the instructor told the researchers. "We wanted to make it a little more innovative and go new ways that, above all, avoid quick fixes and inspire and generate lasting understanding among the students." The instructor set up a media wiki that had an app, allowing students to upload all of their materials. "They went to their bridge with their smartphones, made photos using the [app], and took notes using the app and uploaded them directly to our wiki with this media wiki app," the instructor said. They were able to edit and create their article with the smartphone on site, which included geo coordinates.

The researchers suggested that encouraging student creativity requires the instructors to consider what kind of creativity they want to support in the first place. The project used previous research on seven "facets" of creativity that instructors can identify in student work:

  • Applying reflective learning and critical thinking;
  • Acting in a "self-determined and autonomous way" during learning;
  • Learning by asking questions;
  • Investigating and integrating their "own learning motivations and experiences";
  • Planning and implementing ideas or concepts;
  • Applying "multiple perspectives" and using "tangible products"; and
  • Imagining "completely novel ideas and approaches."

As an example, if the instructor were hoping to integrate the use of outside campus locations (such as using the mobile device to collect data outside the classroom), the first, second and third creativity facets would come into play.

"We need to shift away from purely lecture-based learning where students are just consumers of information, toward a more meaningful learning approach with technology where students are able to come up with creative and novel solutions in a team setting," said Jahnke in a statement about her work. "Creativity will lead to better innovators, entrepreneurs and business owners, but first we need to ask ourselves as educators if we are using technology to put our students in positions to be creative in the first place."

The report on the research was recently published in the March 2020 edition of Computers & Education.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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