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: 
Nik Massey (Ahuroa School); Marea Neill (Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre); Nick Shears (Institute of Marine Science, University of Auckland)
Research partners: 
Ahuroa School, Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre and Leigh Marine Lab, University of Auckland


Project description

This study investigates how free-choice learning experiences can be designed to incorporate mobile technologies to enhance student development of marine ecological literacy. It involves designing an intervention based on mobile learning 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 has the following aims:

  • To examine the ecoliteracy outcomes in one classroom of a primary school from a unit on marine reserves incorporating a free-choice learning activity prior to any mobile learning intervention. It will 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) 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 mobile learning intervention informed by the BYOD framework with the second cycle of teaching the same marine reserves unit, and post-visit 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 free-choice 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 free-choice learning. Promoting knowledge and favourable attitudes towards science and socio-ecological sustainability, through the use of technology and experiences of place, will contribute to the achievement of success for all learners and their ability to contribute to the wellbeing of New Zealand.

What we plan to do

We plan to develop an educational intervention based on mobile learning that will engage a class of primary students, their teacher and their parents in developing marine ecological literacy. We will first examine ecoliteracy outcomes from a unit on marine reserves prior to any mobile learning intervention. Outcomes will inform the development of a BYOD (bring your own device) framework by an online research forum (REEF). We will test the BYOD framework in practice during the second cycle of teaching the same marine reserves unit and will focus on student and parent learning before, during, and after their visit to a free-choice learning setting. Data will be 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 will be structured around a socio-cultural activity theory analytical framework. Quantitative data will be processed using SPSS software to produce descriptive statistics. Qualitative data will be processed following La Pelle’s (2004) qualitative data analysis method for thematic analysis. The research team will then co-analyse the findings to derive conclusions from the study.

Our partners

This study involves 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, an educator at the Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre, a marine scientist as advisor, and a mobile learning designer. The teacher and educator, with support of the research team, will co-construct an intervention to trial with the class of students who have access to mobile devices for learning. The mobile learning designer will provide expertise in mobile platforms and the researchers will guide data gathering and analysis.

Contact details

Dr Chirs 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