Handheld digital technology in the classroom


Today, we all seem to own one or two handheld mobile devices.  It is interesting to note that Bull et al (2002), predicted the advent of every student having a mobile handheld wireless device, and not quite 20 years latter, here we are!  Whether you started your handheld habit years ago with a PDA or Berry or have now moved on to the iTouch, iPad, or iPhone, handheld devices have become part of our popular culture and are here to stay in whatever new form they take.  Due to popular demand for extra functionality, the role of the handheld has changed from simply an organiser to a device for communication, social media, image capture, film recording, music, storage, internet access, information gathering and sharing, etc.  With the advent of the “app”, the functionality of the handheld devices continues to grow.  Even an iTouch can be used in the same way as an iPhone so long as you have an internet connection, which an increasing number of places are supplying via WiFi, including libraries, cafes and fast food outlets.  There seems to be a growing number of apps available for just about anything that you can think of.  Given the ubiquitous nature of handheld devices, a large percentage of today’s youth are now regular users of handheld digital devices and their associated apps.  The question must then be asked, if students are using contemporary handheld technology outside of the classroom, can we use their knowledge in this area to further engage them with classroom learning by giving them agency as experts?

A teacher at our school came to me a few weeks ago and was having difficulty with facilitating her students film making efforts.  The problem appeared to be a misunderstanding of the technology, how it worked and how to fully utilise it. This lack of digital literacy on the part of the teacher created difficulties and made the task more complex that it needed to be, resulting in a negative learning experience.  In this case, students were recording on the digital cameras at school (old technology) using tripods, and others at home were using various types of handheld devices.  The disparity of file and technology types and inability to transfer files between devises easily, created a problem.  In attempting to integrate movie making into the curriculum, in order to bring relevance and agency to the students, a lot of time was lost in trying to solve technological issues.  This reduced the time able to be spent teaching the core educational concepts, skills and understandings
(Derby, 2011), resulting in the technology decreasing, rather that increasing, the effectiveness of the task.  While the teacher was attempting to use technology to augment the learning, her lack of familiarity with it prevented this from occurring.  Having just read, “Creativity in my pocket: No ‘i’ puns here”, by Bruce Derby (2011) in the journal, ‘English in Australia’, I shared his findings with her.  We have a budget like all schools, so of course couldn’t spend any money, so I suggested that she look at using the school iPads and down loading a free film editing app. called “Splice”.   This means that the students will be filming using the iPads and using film editing app on the same device without the need to download the film onto another computer.  Hopefully changing the process (for both the teacher and the students) will eliminate the need to waste time figuring out the technology (Derby, 2011).  An added benefit that the iPads can bring, is their mobility and the student’s familiarity with the use of Apple apps associated with the significant number of Apple mobile handheld device users.

Handheld mobile digital technologies have become embedded into today’s students popular culture and as such, their learning is culturally mediated (Jewitt C. 2010), by the devices, as it is translated from outside into the classroom.  In this way, the teacher, through the process of film production using the handheld iPad technology and the ‘Splice’ film editing app can make the content more relevant to the students by connecting with their out of school experience and providing opportunities for more memorable and authentic learning (Price, 2016).  Through the use of these apps we are not only augmenting the learning experience (Derby, 2011) but engage the students with the learning and in this case through film production we can add to the challenge and enjoyment of the students (Willmot et al, 2012) without getting hung up on learning new technologies.

So in working though a technology problem that was impacting on curriculum delivery, have we found a way to give our students agency where they can be the experts and become involved in the teaching process?


Bull, G., Bull, G., Garofalo, J., & Harris, J. 2002. Grand challenges: Preparing for the technological tipping point. Learning and Leading with Technology, 29(8).

Derby, B. (2011). Creativity in my pocket: No ‘i’ puns here. English in Australia. 46(3) p 98-100

Jewitt, Carey.  2010. Technology, Literacy, Learning, a Multimodal Approach. London: Taylor and Francis.  Accessed: October 23, 2016. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/lib/qut/reader.action?docID=1024732&ppg=19

Patten, B et al. (2006) Designing collaborative, constructionist and contextual applications for handheld devices. Computers & Education, 46(3) p 294–308 Accessed: October 9, 2016. http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/science/article/pii/S0360131505001636

Price, S., Jewitt, C., Sake, M. 2016. Embodied experiences of place: a study of history learning with mobile technologies.  Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 32(4). p 325-359.  Accessed: October 23, 2016. DOI: 10.1111/jcal.12137

Willmot, P., Bramhall, M. Radley, K. (2012)  “Using digital video reporting to inspire and engage students.” Research gate, p. 1-7 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/267363505_Using_digital_video_reporting_to_inspire_and_engage_students  Accessed: August 29, 2016

1 thought on “Handheld digital technology in the classroom

  1. Your blog could not have come at a better time! I’ve just taken over ICT at our school. I have been teaching the children basic computer skills but wanted to move into Video. I was thinking of ways to teach them how to use MOVIE MAKER, but it is clunky and challenging in groups.

    Splice has just saved my teaching brain! I’m going to have a play on it tonight, so I can look at ways to teach and adapt it to my classroom. I also love the autonomy that it brings, where students can do all the steps themselves.

    Although I do have the additional problem of not being able to ‘store’ anything on the iPads as they are shared around the school. So I need to transfer everything off, which takes extra time.

    In my search, I also came across these additional apps for film making that may be useful for you (or your colleague). Interestingly, SPLICE isn’t on there but then it is from 2 years ago… so maybe this blog is already outdated!


    I also want to use handheld devices in the classroom. Some children have IPADS but are not allowed to bring them to school due to the risk of being stolen and we have a ban on phones at school. So the ‘moral panic’ that goes with new technologies also poses challenges to using this updated technology.

    However, the more reading of these topics I do, the more research I have to back me up in the debates with my boss and colleagues about why we may beed to review the policy and procedures that are ‘keeping our students safe’ may also be the very policies and procedures that are keeping them digitally illiterate.


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