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Improving the usability of a mobile inquiry-based learning technology for children : a comparative study in the Netherlands and the Brazilian Amazon

Soares Ferreira, S. (2017) Improving the usability of a mobile inquiry-based learning technology for children : a comparative study in the Netherlands and the Brazilian Amazon.

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Abstract:Inquiry-based mobile learning technologies can help children all over the world to enhance their critical thinking and to ask critical questions. However, used without minimal guidance, these technologies may fail in achieving their goal. Previous studies have advocated the incorporation of instructional features in these technologies to better support students’ cognitive processes, such as prompts, cues, and goal-lists. However, these instructions may enhance cognitive load, or they are perceived as too restrictive. In order to amplify the understandings of how to support a mobile inquiry-based learning platform for children, especially from poor areas in developing countries, this study investigated, designed and evaluated a new instructional feature for SMILE (Stanford Mobile Inquiry- based Learning Environment). This new feature, named Puzzle Model, is based on Bloom’s taxonomy and encompasses question starters designed as puzzle pieces from which students need to form the beginning of questions and complete them with their own words. The research featured an interactive usability method and had three main phases: exploratory, prototyping, and evaluation. The usability test was done in two elementary schools. One was located in the Brazilian Amazon, and, as a matter of comparison, the other school was located in a medium-size city in the Netherlands. The students from the Amazon were from a remote village and had no prior experience using digital technologies at school, differently from the students from the Netherlands. A 2x2 factorial experiment was conducted in order to assess students’ effectiveness and efficiency in creating questions with the Puzzle Model, in comparison to its basic version. Also, a focus group was administered to assess students’ perceived satisfaction, after the experiment. In total, 40 students from both schools participated. Results suggested that the Puzzle Model was effective for all students in the experimental group regardless of their location. Similarly, it was efficient for all the students in the experimental group. However, it was more efficient for the students of the Netherlands. Lastly, the results from the focus groups suggested that, in general, students from both experimental groups were satisfied using the Puzzle Model. Nevertheless, students from the Netherlands reported a higher level of satisfaction, since they mentioned fewer difficulties in operating the system, in comparison to the students from the Amazon who reported more digital skills-related problems. In sum, the results revealed that the Puzzle Model is usable for children from the Amazon and from the Netherlands, with a higher usability for the Dutch students due to their familiarity with digital technologies. As a contribution, this study provides students and teachers with a tool that has the potential to facilitate and gradually improve their inquiry process via the “puzzle question starters”. For future studies, it is advisable to measure children’s digital skills and investigate whether this may have an impact on their perceived satisfaction, efficiency, and effectiveness. For the latter, studies including a paper prototype of the Puzzle Model would be ideal. Keywords: usability, inquiry-based learning, mobile technologies, critical thinking, indigenous people, sustainable development
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:05 communication studies
Programme:Communication Studies MSc (60713)
Awards:Student Research Grant funded by Studiekring Voor Technische Informatie en Communicatie (STIC)
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