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  • 2018mcdowellphd

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The whole world in their hands: an investigation of the influence of mobile technologies on learner engagement of primary school children in outdoor settings

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2018
Number of pages306
Awarding Institution
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This thesis discusses a qualitative investigation into the impact of mobile learning interventions designed to promote learner engagement in primary-aged children working on science topics in outdoor settings, for three cohorts of pupils at a north-of-England primary school.  
Adopting a design-based methodological approach and underpinned by a pragmatist epistemological position, the research responds to calls to address nature deficit disorder (Louv, 2009), drawing on a theoretical framework which combines contemporary learning theories including place-based learning (Zimmerman & Land, 2014), contextualised learning (Rikala & Kankaanranta , 2014), kinaesthetic learning (Pruet et al., 2016), constructionist learning (Papert, 1980; Zimmerman & Land, 2014), experiential learning (Lai, Yang, Chen, Ho & Chan, 2007), child-centred learning (Dewey, 1938) and cross-contextual learning (Nouri, Cerratto-Pargman, Rossitto & Ramberg, 2014), with theorisations around learner engagement (Fredricks, Blumenfeld & Paris, 2004), flow theory (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997), and Digital Capital (Park, 2017).  
Drawing together two research activity streams, a series of mobile learning interventions designed for use in outdoor settings were developed, evaluated and refined over the course of eight research cycles. The discovery-based learning activity stream aimed to encourage learners to explore particular themes within an outdoor setting, while the production-focused learning stream saw learners generate video-clips and eBooks in response to a directed activity. Employing qualitative methods, data were collected from a variety of sources, including video-recorded observations, semi-structured interviews with teachers, focus groups with children and learner-generated digital artefacts, while analysis was conducted using thematic analysis and direct interpretation within a grounded theory approach (Glaser & Strauss, 1967).  
The thesis concludes that appropriately-designed mobile learning interventions in outdoor settings can promote emotional, behavioural and cognitive engagement, leading to an immersive state of flow, and can act as a bridge between technology and the natural environment, while simultaneously addressing the digital disconnect between teachers and technology.