Teaching and Learning with Digital and Mobile Media

image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/danzen/105653250/in/photostream/

I was recently asked to create two “one-pagers” for a special project I had been involved in with Detroit Public Television. I was asked to write these documents as companions to the short video I helped create for a Fractions for 4th Grade App created by Study by APP. The idea was to create a digital learning tool that was brief, engaging, and incorporated a lot of visual elements, along with the typical multiple choice review questions. While the project ultimately didn’t go anywhere due to a lack of funding, it was quite an interesting experience (I got to work with some really amazingly talented video and television people), and I got to hold several bars of chocolate long enough until they were melted all over my fingers (only one way to clean that off, yum!).

I tried to condense both papers into one, and while they have a bit of a disjointed flow (bullet points can do that), I had a lot of fun writing them, and even got a chance to interview one of Brian Bennett’s Honors Biology classes about how their they and their teachers use digital media to enhance the learning process. Special thanks to him and his students for helping me sort out my thoughts on the subject. The first one-pager revolved around tips for teachers on employing and creating digital media learning resources, while the second one-pager was aimed at parents, to help them support learning at home using mobile devices. As with most of my writing, there’s always room for improvement, and I’m sure other educators have a lot more to add to these points.

Teaching and Learning with Digital Media

Bringing digital media into the classroom is not something new, but has rapidly evolved in the last 10 years of education with the advent of social media, mobile devices, apps, and a host of other ways to access digital interactive content. The following list is a short collection of strategies to employ, and pitfalls to look out for when using digital media in the 21st Century classroom. Please take note that many of the strategies are employable even without the use of media, as many instructional strategies are universal in nature.

Instructional Strategies to Employ with Digital Media

  • Model the thinking process out loud – When using any type of media or interactive in the classroom it can be tempting to simply let the media tell the story. Sometimes the students still need the scaffolding of hearing the teacher “think out loud” as they process what’s being seen.
  • Play with a purpose – When introducing new interactive media make sure to give the students time to play. Outline a few expectations or goals you’d like them to achieve during “play” time, but don’t be too rigid. Allow guided exploration.
  • Avoid digital lectures – The lecture model does not always work as well in the digital learning space as it does in a traditional classroom. Students may suffer “lag time” between when they can ask the teacher about conceptual questions. Creating or finding short pieces of content can often be better than longer pieces of material if students are on the go or mostly using mobile devices.
  • Choice – The power of digital media and interactives comes from the ability of learners to move at their own pace, skip around to find the information they need, and chose when and how to consume learning material. Make sure to give students a few choices of media or resources if possible, or at the very least try to extend the material with open-ended questions that gives them the chance to explore and reflect.

Tips & Tricks When Creating or Employing Digital Media

  • Publish in an open space – Whenever possible, publish or use resources that are available in as public a place as possible to make it easier for students to access content. Posting materials or resources behind logins can be cumbersome for students to access.
  • Audio is key! – The quality of your video can vary depending on the camera being used, but if your audio is low quality and difficult to hear, the entire project will suffer. Make sure to have a good microphone, or re-record the audio in post-production.
  • Put yourself and students in the spotlight – Students will respond much better to video and media that’s been produced and stars their very own teacher and peers. If they have an existing relationship with the people making the digital content, the authenticity helps drive engagement.
  • Interact and Visualize! – The power of digital media is that it can be visual, aural, and interactive. Rely on text when necessary, but focus on the visual aspect of the medium.

Supporting Your Child’s Learning with Mobile Media

Mobile devices have come a long way in the last decade. Most are now always connected to the Internet, allow for two-way interactive communication, and serve as our primary means of how we interact with and make sense of the rest of the world. The following list is comprised of strategies and suggestions that you can employ to help support your child’s learning with mobile media.

  • Load up on digital content before a new topic or unit of study – If you can look at your student’s syllabus or assignments ahead of time for a class they’re taking, try to load up their mobile device with podcasts, videos, and other digital media that pertain to the topic coming up. You now have a digital handheld library of content that serves as a good starting point for reference.
  • Small “infobytes” can be just as helpful as longer content – Often all learner’s need are small pieces of information to help support their learning. Having longer pieces of media in the form of audio lectures and videos can be helpful, but often with a mobile device you just want a few minutes worth of an explanation or demonstration of a topic.
  • Capture learning moments all around you – A lot of learning takes place in the real world, away from the classroom. Many mobile devices have cameras and microphones built right in, so you can capture audio, still images, or video whenever you come across a “teachable” moment. Students can use it later for studying, sharing with their classmates, or just as a valuable reminder of application of their learning in the real world.
  • Play a little – When approaching the end of a unit or learning objective, students have much more to rely on when it comes to reviewing. Audio podcasts, videos, and apps are helpful, but increasingly games and other “play based” forms of review on websites and in mobile apps are playing a role in learning. Allow time for your child to play games and simulations related to the content on their mobile devices.
  • Know when to put the device down – Although mobile devices are everywhere, don’t let them dictate every aspect of learning. Sometimes it’s good to put down the devices, get your hands dirty, or communicate with others face to face. Make sure to balance time spent “plugged in” with time spent communicating and interacting with others without the mobile device.


  1. Imparting education via technology and using technology as a “means” in education is indeed makes the learning experience much more interesting for students

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