Research Paper: Integration of Portable Digital Devices in a QLE


In Technology and Applied Studies (TAS) courses, there is a need to integrate technologies into the learning environment and learning sequences (as dictated by the TAS curriculum). Portable digital devices are an unexplored area in formalised educational research and as a result some teachers are hesitant to adopt and integrate them into their teaching practice.

This paper addresses the question of “How does the use of portable digital devices in Technology and Applied Studies courses positively contribute to a quality learning environment (QLE)?”

The research indicates that  portable digital devices can overall positively contribute to a quality learning environment by supporting the requirements of a QLE to a high standard. While some impacts of the quality learning environment such as Explicit Quality Criteria and Engagement can be seen as subjective, other aspects such as Social Support, Self-Regulation and Student Direction are greatly impacted upon in a positive way (DET Professional Support & Curriculum Directorate, 2003).


Background and Research Aims

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) usage in the classroom is increasing, however that does not mean it is warranted or effective (Deakin Centre for Education and Change, 2003).

With portable digital devices becoming more prevalent in society, it is expected that their usage in education will drastically increase within the next 10 years (Looi, Zhang, So, Chen, & Wong, 2010), some educators are already using them in the classroom(Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Education, 2011). However, portable digital devices are an unexplored area in formalised educational research and as a result, some teachers are hesitant to adopt and integrate them into their teaching practice. With this research, we can help drive technology adoption for classroom teachers and academics. Or alternatively, this research could support the exclusion of portable technology in the classroom.

With many examples of incorrect or poor usage of our currently available technology in education (Moore, 2005), we need to ensure that we are ready to adopt new and unexplored technology. This involves examining the why, how or what in regards to adopting portable digital devices, as the aims of this research hopes to address. Failure to examine these questions could result in poor usage behaviours, “over adoption” or abandonment, (Moore, 2005).

This research aims to:

  1. Identify current available uses for portable electronic technologies in education.
  2. Evaluate how current portable electronic technologies can impact the quality learning environment.
  3. Recommend effective ways of integrating portable digital devices and portable digital technologies in Technology and Applied Studies (TAS) subject areas.

For this research, “Quality Learning Environment” will be scoped to the Quality Teaching dimension in “NSW public schools: A classroom practice guide” and its relative elements (Explicit quality criteria, engagement, high expectations, social support, student’s self-regulation and student direction) (DET Professional Support & Curriculum Directorate, 2003).

Additionally, “Technology and Applied Studies” will refer to the New South Wales, Board of Studies, Design and Technology: Syllabus Years 7 – 10 (Board of Studies, 1991).

Current portable digital device research primarily focuses on theories and frameworks for mobile learning and design and implementation of new learning strategies with portable digital devices (Ng, 2011). While other current research focuses on theoretical based concepts, the aims of this research focuses more on the practical applications and uses for portable digital devices.



This research aims to answer the question, “How does the use of portable digital devices in Technology and Applied Studies (TAS) courses positively contribute to a quality learning environment (QLE)?”.

To achieve this, a selection of different research methods were used for resource collection and analysis. This included: Internet / Twitter searches, books / e-books, online journals and policy documentation. The resources were all chosen due to their relevance to

  1. The Quality Learning Environment.
  2. The generic use of portable digital devices in education.
  3. Its relevance to education.
  4. The date of publication.

Due to the nature of technology evolution, while some resources are around a decade old, if additional information is given in a more recent publication, the new information is weighted heavier in the analysis.

Twitter based searches have proven crucial during the course of the research, as they often link to the most recent articles, publications and websites around the concept of portable digital devices in education from teachers that are using it. Additionally it could be argued that if teachers are already in the process of adopting portable digital technology, that it can be seen as effective in the classroom.

Data analysis will take place by individual examination of each QLE element (as defined by the QT Standards) and relevant associating research. This will then allow assessment to demonstrate how the elements are impacted by the use of portable digital devices.

The limitations of this research revolve around the definition of what constitutes a portable digital device and the devices operating system. While one device might have shown positive results in a classroom, it cannot be said with certainty that it was not mainly due to the operational software and not the hardware composition.



The use of portable digital devices in Technology and Applied Studies overall positively contributes to a quality learning environment by supporting the requirements of a QLE to a high standard. While some impacts of the quality learning environment such as Explicit Quality Criteria and Engagement can be seen as subjective, other aspects such as Social Support, Self-Regulation and Student Direction are greatly impacted upon in a positive way (DET Professional Support & Curriculum Directorate, 2003).

This however is subject to the will of the teacher and staff to “make it work”. Using portable digital devices in a classroom is not a “Band-Aid” fix for a quality learning environment, and will only be a positive learning experience if the support is available.

Below are the findings grouped into each element of the quality learning environment dimension.

2.1 Explicit Quality Criteria

The concept of explicit quality criteria (EQC) relies heavily on the Teacher having prepared tasks correctly, and knowing what constitutes successful demonstration of an outcome (DET Professional Support & Curriculum Directorate, 2003). This means that thecreation of an EQC is not within the scope of a portable digital devices objective. However, portable digital devices enables the teacher to effectively create, display and share this content (Dias, et al., 2008) This can be irrespective of a EQC or could just be another mode to demonstrate it.

Dias, et al. (2008) further states that traditional methods of content delivery such as “Face Time” could be better spent discussing the already digitally delivered content rather than the main method.

2.2 Engagement

Vahey and Crawford (2003) in Cobcroft (2006) state that learners that use handheld / mobile devices demonstrate an increased autonomy in learning. This can also manifest as improved self-direction to find additional ways to use mobile devices, which are beneficial to learning.

Cecilie, M (2011) in Ng (2011) further supports mobile engagement when questioning students who have recently used portable digital devices to support their learning. The students reported an increased work output and an overall improvement in the quality of work produced. Students were also found to be more independent and focused in their work (Cecilie, M (2011) in Ng (2011)).

2.3 High Expectations

Cecilie, M (2011) in Ng (2011) concludes that “mobile learning supports personalised learning by stimulating learners to want to learn”. The student’s willingness to learn is directly related to the concept of participation within the High Expectations critera.

A study conducted by Seppälä & Alamäki (2003) found that portable digital devices in some situations facilitate immediate feedback and recognition to students as they complete work (Seppälä & Alamäki, 2003).

This is further supported in Coulby, Hennessey, Davies & Fuller (2011) where they state that “Mobile assessments allow tutors to review students’ progress remotely, and for students to receive more feedback on a more frequent basis” (Coulby, Hennessey, Davies, & Fuller, 2011).

2.4 Social Support

Looi, Zhang, So, Chen, & Wong (2010) expect that within the next 10 years that mobile technology will support social and ubiquitous learning (in some cases this is already happening) and will extend the ways in which learners interact with each other.

Portable digital devices and students working electronically (which Chang et al. (2006) state need be supported by theories of social learning (Chan, et al., 2006)) will not just enable students to solicit feedback from their class members, but potentially by international students. This is currently practiced in some schools; however, this is usually completed in class time using school computers. The introduction of a portable digital device will enable and facilitate ubiquitous feedback on student work and bridge the gap between working at school and working at home.

2.5 Student’s self-regulation

Zimmerman & Schunk (2011) believe that due to the amount of accessible content via portable digital devices, students can become overwhelmed with information and become distracted easily (Zimmerman & Schunk, 2011).  Zimmerman & Schunk (2011) also states that learners who can “detach” from the “electronic leash” are likely to have greater academic success as digital environments promote a sense of distraction.

2.6 Student direction

The ability to allow students the choice of activities, the time spent on activities or assessment criteria is not dictated by ICT but rather supported by it.

Dias, et al. (2008) states that units of work should be created and shared digitally to create a contextual framework that will emphasise the specific need of the individual learner.


Portable digital devices positively impact the quality learning environment by supporting and facilitating the work of the teacher. A portable digital device will not by itself create a quality learning environment, nor sustain a mediocre learning environment. A portable digital device is a tool, just like a hammer. Only with the correct usage will it be useful, alternatively becomes a weapon when not used correctly (Cobcroft, 2006).

One current use of portable digital devices is the ability to take notes by creating a digital workbook and subsequently sharing the content (Valk, Rashid, & Elder, 2010). This allows content to be index and searchable, allowing for greater ease of reflection and feedback within the class (2.1 Explicit Quality Criteria). Using the concept of content sharing, a portable digital device can also enable a teacher to share work amongst students. The quality of work (dictated by the teacher) could provide examples of completed work to affirm a high quality expectation (2.3 High Expectations).

Another objective of the TAS syllabus states that “Students will develop skills in communicating design ideas and solution” (Board of Studies, 1991). This also can be addressed with the aid of portable digital devices. Different software packages can facilitate the creation, demonstration and sharing of design works from all TAS related classes, i.e Industrial Technology. Examples of this include Google Sketchup (Google, 2012).

With course work being made available through online media, students would inadvertently be given the choice between completing work by hand (using pen / paper) or electronically using their device. However, this would be based upon the teachers ability to accept both varieties of work before you could assume student direction takes place. By giving students the choice to use either, the teacher is supporting one aspect of student direction (2.6 Student Direction).

Additionally, if work is made available electronically, students would have the ability to dictate the pace of the lesson, if no direct teacher intervention is required (further more specific instruction) (2.6 Student Direction) (Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Education, 2011).

Portable digital devices also usually support many different types of documentation, this allows for device based textbooks that can take the place of standard, heavy, expensive textbooks. Digital textbooks allow students to find and consume information faster than before, enabling further information on topics of interest which can help support Student’s self-regulation (2.5 Self-Regulation) (Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Education, 2011).

Digital textbooks can also facilitate student interaction with the content, due to the digital nature of the document, information does not need to be static, instead allowing students to watch videos and interact with other students who are reading the same page. Furthermore, digital textbooks have the potential to develop beyond a “textbook” concept into a standalone application that students could use on non-portable digital devices at home (Gamble & Easingwood, 2001). Digital textbooks will also address the needs of a wider variety of learner types.

Portable digital devices also support ubiquitous learning from a documentation / compliance perspective. With connected devices that students can use outside of class (playground or at home), work that is downloaded, completed or submitted can be electronically date and time stamped. Applications for this could address several areas of HSC based assessment rules such as assessment task issue and required submission dates.

Furthermore, the use of portable digital devices can assist develop the recent concept of a “Flipped Classroom”, where by teacher instruction is given outside of the class and homework is completed in class time, allowing for greater 1:1 teacher engagement(TechSmith, 2012). Portable digital devices would be able to contain all the required information for students to complete a piece of work, then use class time to discuss the work with fellow students / teacher (2.6 Social Support) (Coulby, Hennessey, Davies, & Fuller, 2011). A flipped classroom supported by portable digital devices can also address other areas of a quality learning environment such as student direction (2.6), this would be achieved by allowing students to have greater choice around the work they complete. E.g, multiple ways to demonstrate kitchen safety could be included in a task, but each student needs to only complete “x amount” to be allowed into the kitchen. In a TAS based class there are limitations around this (practical work) however documentation and portfolio requirements can be delivered and submitted outside of the classroom.

Based upon the hammer analogy, portable digital devices can become “weapon” when used incorrectly by the students or teacher. If implementation of a portable digital device based pedagogy is based around the same learning environment as a sans portable digital device environment, you can create a poor teaching and learning environment (Zimmerman & Schunk, 2011). For portable digital devices to work in a quality learning environment, teachers have to understand the changes of information availability to the students. Be open to the concept that more work can be undertaken or completed outside of the classroom, and appreciate that students will still have different ways of completing the same task using the new technology.

Based upon research from Zimmerman & Schunk (2011), they believe that with the amount of accessible content via portable digital devices, students can become overwhelmed with information and become distracted easily. Another aspect of a portable digital device enabled classroom is dealing with this abundance of information available to the students. To address this, teachers need to further educate students about correct usage and correct research skills to find only the highest quality, related information they are searching for (Zimmerman & Schunk, 2011).

The inclusion of a portable digital device in your TAS class will not automatically create a quality-learning environment. Portable digital devices will however positively affect a quality-learning environment by supporting and enabling the work of the teacher to actively address the needs of a quality learning environment. There are currently several key uses for this genre of technology in education, however close consideration has to be given to its usage for every task. When compared directly to the criteria for specific areas of a quality learning environment, a portable digital device contributes positively, however there are several areas that can be found to be highly subjective based upon the personal teaching style, the technical proficiency of the students and the willingness of the school or faculty to support the teacher. Further developments in both hardware and software will see a rise in technology adoption, but further research is required to ensure consistent practicality and effective application.


Further areas for Research

With digital natives being supplied more technology that evolves more often, education has to also reflect this behaviour. In order to achieve this, Academics need to re-evaluate the current understandings of research and pedagogy to include the technology that the students already use. Further research could be spent on supporting the call to reconceptualise the learning process by conducting classroom-based trials with physical devices and appropriate software.



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Chan, T.-W., Roschelle, J., HSI, S., Kinshuk, Sharples, M., Brown, T., et al. (2006). One-To-One Technology-Enhanced Learning: An opportunity for global research collaboration. REsearch and Practice in Technology Enhanced Learning, 1(1), 3-29.

Cobcroft, R. (2006). Literature Review Into Mobile Learning In the University Context. Queensland University of Technology Creative Industries Faculty.

Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Education. (2011). Beyond Textboox: The learning return on investment: Total cost of ownership report. Virginia: Commonwealth of Virginia.

Coulby, C., Hennessey, S., Davies, N., & Fuller, R. (2011). The use of mobile technology for work-based assessment: the student experience. British Journal of Educational Technology, 42(2), 251-265.

Deakin Centre for Education and Change. (2003). Effective Use of Information and COmmunication Technology (ICT) to Enhance Learning for Disadvantaged School Students. Deakin University.

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Dias, A., Jose, C., Keegan, D., Kismihok, G., Mileva, N., Nix, J., et al. (2008). An Introduction to Mobile Learning.

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Looi, C.-K., Zhang, B., So, H.-J., Chen, W., & Wong, L.-H. (2010). Leveraging mobile technology for sustainable seamless learning: a research agenda. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(2), 154-169.

Moore, C. D. (2005). Is ICT being used to its potential to improve teaching and learning across the curriculum. TeacherResearch.Net.

Ng, W. (2011). Mobile Technologies and Handheld Devices for Ibiquitous Learning: Research and Pedagogy. Information Science Reference.

Seppälä, P., & Alamäki, H. (2003). Mobile learning in teacher training. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19, 330-335.

TechSmith. (2012). What is the flipped classroom? Retrieved 5 17, 2012, from Teachers Use Technology to Flip Their CLassrooms:

Valk, J.-H., Rashid, A. T., & Elder, L. (2010, March). Using Mobile Phones to Improve Educational Outcomes: An Analysis of Evidence from Asia. Retrieved March 19, 2012, from The international review of research in open and distance learning:

Zimmerman, B. J., & Schunk, D. H. (2011). Handbook of Self-Regulation of Learning and Performance: Educational Psychology Handbook Series. New York: Routledge.

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