Robert Rieger and Geraldine Gay
Interactive Media Group, Department of Communication, Cornell University
Our research explores the pedagogical, technical, and evaluative issues surrounding the use of a new generation of hand-held, highly portable computers for teaching in the natural sciences. A primary goal is to develop pilot curricula that bring multimedia resources to the outdoor laboratory. Prototypes are being developed for data retrieval and input. It is hypothesized that learners will flourish in situations that provide an opportunity to test skills and theories in the "just-in-time" and "nomadic" field context in which they are used. Can computers enrich the outdoor, field experience by supporting team collaboration for students and teaching staff. This paper sets the background for the mobile computing research project we have initiated, and describes two prototype field applications developed for mobile learning environments.
Keywords --mobile computing, handhelds, situated learning, field study, PDA's, probes
As information technologies reshape classrooms and other learning environments, students and educators have become more comfortable with accessing and sharing electronic information. While many educators rely on desktop technologies, textbooks, libraries, and lectures as principal curricular sources, teachers in the natural and biological sciences have often added important outdoor field investigations to their repertoire. Their students usually find this hands- on aspect critical to understanding the subject matter. For example, students of plant biology are frequently attracted to the discipline because of the opportunities it offers to leave the lecture room to explore and learn in field environments.
While field learning cannot be adequately replicated using advanced multimedia technologies, the computer's prowess at information organizing and retrieval can be taken to the field to support learning. Rather than replacing the field experience, new technologies can enhance field work making it pedagogically rewarding. This paper reports on efforts to facilitate the synergy of technology and situated study.
Powerful new hardware and software capable of supporting mobile computing offer new options. Hand-held computers are approximately one- fourth the size of a laptop computer. Some models receive user input from a scaled-down keyboard, while others rely on an electronic pen and incorporate handwriting recognition. For years the misfit younger sibling of the hardware and software community, hand-held computers (sometimes called personal digital assistants) have come of age ( Kleinrock, 1997).
Microsoft recently released Windows- CE, an operating system designed for powerful mobile computing applications based on the popular Windows 95. Many major hardware and software vendors are lining up to support this market. For example, RadioMail Wireless Internet Service gives Windows-CE users a constant link and seamless communication between hand-held PC's, desktops and the Internet. The new Apple MessagePad 2000 includes a fast 166 megahertz processor, has ample storage capacity, wireless capabilities and a web browser for searching the Internet. Knowledge Revolution has introduced eProbe, a mobile, computer-based laboratory that connects to a hand-held computer and allows students to collect and visually analyze scientific data.
Much has been written about the value of teaching science in ways that are authentic and engaging to students as they inquire and collaborate with others. According to Soloway ( 1996) today's students are not mastering concepts or applying their classroom knowledge, and there is a disconnection between what goes on in school and what goes on outside the classroom. Soloway proposes helping learners