Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

The Intersection of Mobile Media and Place-Based Learning

ARISAugmented Reality and Interactive Storytelling (ARIS) is an open source authoring platform that enables users to create place-based or narrative gaming activities designed for teaching and learning. Augmented reality enhances an indirect or direct view of reality through computer-generated sensory input, as opposed to rendering a “virtual” reality. Using GPS and QR Codes, ARIS players experience a hybrid world of virtual interactive characters, items, and media placed in physical space. It is one of the two projects had been supported by Pearson Foundation which is dedicated to funding solutions that emphasize community partnerships and collaborative design in the context of using mobile media as a tool.

Why ARIS and Place-Based Learning?

In the paper : ARIS: An open source platform for developing mobile learning experiences, David J. Gagnon told the story of this project from the beginning. Some key ideas are:

The Importance of Media

The value of exploring new media and technology, such as mobile devices and video games, in pursuit of learning about better curricular design, is of grave importance. Not only are new medias such as Internet enabled mobile devices, social networking, micro-blogging and video sharing seeing steady adoption increases among students but the nature of those medias, possibly more than the content, inform the way those students and society at large think.

Open Curriculum and Democratic Education

This attribute of commercial curriculum is stark contrast
to OER’s key tenant that education can be improved by harnessing the collective wisdom of a community of practice and reflection (Liyoshi and Kumar, 2008). Gabriella Coleman (2004) drives the point home, stating that free and open source software, which provided the original inspiration to, and shares many attributes with OER (OECD, 2007), has the power to be politically agnostic.

Games as a Promising Educational Media

While the promise of OER and democratic production of curriculum is compelling, the advantages of new media go far beyond its methods for production and distribution, enabling new forms of interaction and experience that would be otherwise unattainable. For example, the ability for the reader to influence the choices of the main character in a “Choose your adventure” book fundamentally shifts the ways in which the narrative is experienced. The reader has become a participant, co-designing experiences and characters with the original author as they make choices that have consequences. Video games are, by their very nature, built around this kind of interaction and participation. Video games also allow students to take on new identities and abilities beyond their own expertise.

Feedback is one of the most significant activities a teacher can engage in order to improve student achievement (Hattie, 2004) but any delay in providing feedback diminishes its value for learning (Hattie, 2004; Bangert-Drowns, Kulik, Kulik & Morgan, 1991). As games are designed systems of cause and effect relationships, they provide a unique opportunity to produce realtime as well as reflective feedback based on player activity (Pfotenhauer, In Press).

Mobile as a Promising Technology to Combine Play, Place and Production

Mobile media and augmented reality has a unique ability to unite the advantages of educational video games with place-based learning (Squire et al., 2007).

What is the difference between place-conscious and place-based education? What does it mean to be critical about place? 

(from Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison Mobile Learning Incubator reading group)

“Place” has a wide set of meanings in these readings.

On one end of a continuum we see place as a gateway to experiential/embodied learning about all subjects. The creek at the local pond teaches about biology and the neighborhood baseball field demonstrates physics. This view of place gives Dewey’s laboratory school it’s edge, and leads to all forms of situated learning practice.

In the middle of the continuum, we start to understand Smith and Sobel’s take on the role of place in a community; place is shared. With this perspective of place, it is impossible to separate a location from a community. To really be part of a place, not only means to learn from it (e.g. its history, values, vocabulary, art), but also to begin to take part in its creation. One of Smith and Sobel’s core convictions seems to be that young people should be taught how to become contributors to their communities.

On the far end, Gruenewald introduces unapologetic locative social criticism. He begs us to ponder questions such as: Who holds the most power over the use of a place? Who benefits from a place being understood a certain way? What systems are influencing the design of a place? In this view, not only does the place hold meaning and student’s become agents, but the systems of power are explicitly examined. Gruenewald also asks us to analyze the elements of the community that need to be preserved, transformed, restored and created.

ARIS game

How might ARIS-based experiences be used to support and/or spark critical place-based inquiries?

Recreating a narrative

For instance, one of the potential dangers we have in implementing learner design activities that use primary sources and create place-based media is that the sources themselves typically only offer one perspective. History is often told by the group that holds the power to tell it. Rather than abandon these activities altogether, perhaps we can encourage learners to become more critical of the documented narrative to avoid unquestionably recreating and reinforcing the narrative in power.

Create happenings

ARIS has great potential for creating situations with the intent of changing the way people interact. Whether learners engage with a multitude of perspectives in the design of the game/activity or are encouraged to be critical about the very construction of the game itself as part of the overall experience, there are many opportunities to include hooks to think about values and power structures around place. Creating happenings that prompt students to see a place or space with a different lens is a step in the right direction.

There are more to explore on their site : . Dozens of artists, educators, game designers and story tellers are making ARIS games right now! If you have an iPhone or iPod touch, you can download ARIS to your device and start playing some of their demo games. Or even use the authoring tool to make your own games. It’s open and free. It’s the kind of affordable game-based learning which goes far beyond just “edutainment”.


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  1. OER in the Mobile Era | Classroom Aid

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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