Using mobile learning in free-choice educational settings to enhance ecological literacy

Funding year: 
2 years
University of Waikato
Cross sector
Project start date: 
January 2017
Project end date: 
March 2019
Principal investigator(s): 
Chris Eames, University of Waikato and Claudio Aguayo, Auckland University of Technology
Research team members: 
Jessica Hanlon (Ahuroa School); Tim Haggitt and Angela Rapson (Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre); Nick Shears (Institute of Marine Science, University of Auckland), Thom Cochrane (Auckland University of Technology)
Research partners: 
Ahuroa School, Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre and Institute of Marine Science, University of Auckland, Auckland University of Technology


Project description

This study investigated how education outside the classroom (EOTC) learning experiences can be designed to incorporate mobile technologies to enhance student development of marine ecological literacy. It involved designing a Mixed Reality intervention based on a BYOD (bring your own device) framework for use by a class of senior primary students, their teacher and their parents before, during and after a visit to Goat Island and the Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre.


This study had the following aims:

  • To examine the ecoliteracy outcomes in one classroom of a primary school from a unit on marine reserves incorporating an EOTC learning activity prior to a mobile learning intervention. It would provide a baseline on possible ecoliteracy achievement without a focus on mobile learning;
  • To examine how the research team construct a BYOD (bring your own device) mobile learning framework, and work together in a collaborative online research forum, i.e. the Research into Ecoliteracy Enhancement Forum (REEF), involving the school teacher and the Discovery Centre educator as the practitioner partners of the research, a marine scientist as advisor, a mobile learning designer, and the researchers as facilitators;
  • To examine what elements and design principles the online research forum REEF recommend for a BYOD framework for mobile learning to inform a teaching unit incorporating a visit to a BYOD free-choice learning setting;
  • To examine whether the Mixed Reality  intervention informed by the BYOD framework with the second cycle of teaching the same marine reserves unit, and post-EOTC online reinforcement activities, can bring about enhanced ecoliteracy outcomes for students and their parents.

Why is this research important?

An understanding of how mobile technology can be integrated into the teaching and learning of science and sustainability education that incorporates EOTC learning contexts is of strategic importance to education in New Zealand. Mobile learning tools, affordances and experiences can be shaped to offer ideal conditions for EOTC. Promoting knowledge and favourable attitudes towards science and socio-ecological sustainability, through the use of technology and experiences of place, can contribute to the achievement of success for all learners and their ability to contribute to the wellbeing of New Zealand.

What we did

We developed an educational intervention based on mobile learning that engaged a class of primary students, their teacher and their parents in developing marine ecological literacy. We first examined ecoliteracy outcomes from a unit on marine reserves prior to any mobile learning intervention. Outcomes from this phase informed the development of a BYOD (bring your own device) framework by an online research forum of partners (REEF). Using a design-based research methodology, we then tested the BYOD mobile learning framework in practice during the second cycle of teaching the same marine reserves unit and focused on student and parent learning before, during, and after their visit to a free-choice learning setting. Data were gathered through pre and post questionnaires, observations, interviews and digital interactions to analyse the experiences of students and parents during the visit, the co-construction process around mobile learning, and the learning outcomes from the intervention as a whole. Data analysis was structured around a socio-cultural activity theory analytical framework. Quantitative data were processed using SPSS software to produce descriptive statistics. Qualitative data were thematically analysed against the BYOD framework. The research team collaborated in the analysis the findings to derive conclusions from the study.

Our partners

This study involved a partnership between experienced science and sustainability education researchers, a teacher at a primary school, a class of senior primary students at that school and their parents, educators at the Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre, a marine scientist as advisor, a digital development team and an educational technology advisor. The teacher and educators, with the support of the research team, co-constructed an intervention to trial with the class of students using mobile devices for learning. The mobile learning designer provided expertise in mobile platforms and the researchers guided data gathering and analysis.

What we found

A purposely designed mobile learning framework was key to informing the development of a Mixed Reality (MR) intervention, which created an immersion continuum (between real and digital) for students, from snorkeling in a marine reserve to Augmented Reality games and a Virtual Reality experience.

The MR intervention highly engaged students in learning through a self-directed (heutagogical) approach which enabled learning connections to be made between the marine reserve and associated visitor centre, and the classroom after the visit. Training in heutagogy using mobile tools is important to maximise learning and teaching outcomes for students, teachers and EOTC educators.

Evidence suggests that knowledge and attitude development occurred for students, and there was subsequent adoption of environmentally-friendly behaviour related to plastic pollution, which appeared to be connected to learning through the MR intervention.

Contact details

Dr Chris Eames                                                      Dr Claudio Aguayo
TEMS, University of Waikato                                CfLAT, Auckland University of Technology
Private Bag 3015, Hamilton                                 56 Wakefiled St, Auckland 1010                             
07 838 4357                                                            09 921999 ext.  8315