Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Informal Participation in Science in the UK: Identification, Location and Mobility with iSpot

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Informal Participation in Science in the UK: Identification, Location and Mobility with iSpot

Article excerpt


This paper discusses informal science learning in mobile contexts, and the theoretical framing and development processes used in the creation of iSpot ( It analyses two projects related to iSpot-iSpot Local, and iSpot Mobile--which have developed particular approaches to the support of informal participation in science.

Mobile learning

Informal participation in science is being recognized as an important way of developing science learning both for children and adults (see e.g., Bell et al., 2009). Informal learning (see Trinder et al., 2008) has become an important area of interest for education researchers in recent years. Livingstone (2001) has documented the informal learning opportunities used by adults and the issues which arise in studying such settings. Mobile learning has particular properties that have potential for productive activity in informal science settings, particularly outside traditional educational settings. Sharples et al. (2009) define mobile learning as "the processes (personal and public) of coming to know through exploration and conversation across multiple contexts, amongst people and interactive technologies" (p. 5). Sharples provides some examples of this process including MyArtspace where school pupils use mobile phones to support learning on fieldtrips to museums. In particular, mobile technologies provide new opportunities for learners to engage with science learning. Dierking et al. (2003) have a view of learning as a cumulative process involving connections and reinforcement among a variety of learning experiences and describe informal science education as "science learning which is strongly socioculturally mediated and occurs across a wide range of physical contexts" (p. 109).

Here we discuss the impact of participation in informal science settings where mobility is an asset. The National Science Foundation describe informal learning as follows:

"Informal learning happens throughout people's lives in a highly personalized manner based on their particular needs, interests, and past experiences. This type of multi-faceted learning is voluntary, self-directed, and often mediated within a social context ...; it provides an experiential base and motivation for further activity and subsequent learning." (NSF, 2006, Section I, Introduction.)

Increasingly it is recognised that mobile technology can play a part in Citizen Science activities (discussed further below). See e.g., Robson (2012) describing the use of mobile phones in CreekWatch.

It is important to emphasise with Sharples et al. (2009) that in mobile learning what is mobile is the learner. This is important for the topic of this paper: mobile learning of science in informal settings. In the iSpot case studies which follow, the learner is always mobile, sometimes accessing a website from a field location, sometimes using a mobile device but always engaged in location-based learning. Mobile learning in science settings has been studied both in formal and informal settings. There are a range of relevant studies in formal learning (e.g., Littleton, Scanlon, & Sharples, 2012; Chen, Kao, Yu, & Sheu, 2004) but fewer in informal settings. Early examples of studies which demonstrate the potential of mobile learning in informal science settings include that of Clough (2009). She describes developing mobile support for nature trails, and researching the use of mobile technology with GPS in the geocaching community. It is a challenge for learning scientists to develop and study learning in such completely informal settings.

Approach to development, theoretical framing of the design and methodological challenges

In this section we set out the development of the design of the iSpot project. A core group (Jonathan Silvertown, Martin Harvey, Richard Greenwood and Doug Clow) led the creation of iSpot, the iSpot website, and generated its initial design by informal discussion, based on the expertise they brought to the project, which included field biology, citizen science, online learning, and software development. …

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