Collaborative Technology For Young Children's Outdoor Education

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Children participating in classroom field trips learn first hand in an authentic context. However, activities during these trips are often limited to observation and data collection. Children synthesize their knowledge later, in classroom discussions and in the collaborative construction of a representational artifact. But the classroom is removed from the authentic context in which the knowledge was gained. My research investigated how mobile technology can bridge this gap by supporting and encouraging young children (grades K-4) to collaboratively construct knowledge artifacts, while simultaneously exploring open, educational environments. Three key elements are addressed; creating a concrete connection between digital information and the real world, supporting awareness of collaborative opportunities in an open environment, and promoting face-to-face collaboration.

This dissertation details the conception, design, implementation, and evaluation of the Tangible Flags technology; a tangible interface that is developmentally appropriate for children (grades K-4) to embed and access digital information through their physical environment and multi-user tools that support collaboration in open environments. Tangible Flags are simple for children to attach to the environment and promote an awareness of artifact creation and exploration activities because they are visually apparent. An interface that provides an awareness of changes to digital artifacts and enables concurrent and remote access to these artifacts further enhances collaboration.

Two studies were conducted to evaluate the concepts of Tangible Flags. A case study was conducted in an authentic outdoor learning environment, a National Park. A second study compares children's use of the Tangible Flags technology to a roughly equivalent paper system. Quantitative and qualitative analysis indicates that children using Tangible Flags participated in more asynchronous collaborative activity and were more engaged than those who did not. It also showed that awareness of peer activity combined with remote and concurrent access to digital artifacts resulted in increased face-to-face collaborative activity and examines the impact of artifact awareness and access on children's focus on the environment. These contributions will be useful to educators, designers of educational environments and researchers in the field of children's educational technology.