Location-based learning is rapidly becoming one of the most pervasive uses of mobile devices. While early experiments with location-based media have focused on marketing and advertising, we are starting to see educational applications emerge. Location-based learning takes advantage of the ability of mobile devices to know where they are located and deliver information that is time- and place-relevant. There is a considerable amount of work that must be done in this area before it becomes mainstream for teaching and learning, but the potential advantages are great: from basic uses such as guided historical tours to more complex applications for mapping, fieldwork, and immersive activities, location-based learning holds promise for just- in-time learning tied to a student’s physical location.
The rise of mobile Internet devices equipped with geolocation capability is opening the door to a host of applications that take advantage of the user’s physical location. Contextual data about the place one finds oneself, from historical, photographic, or videographic information to the location of points of interest or nearby friends, is easy to acquire using tools that run on mobiles and other small, location- aware devices. The information can be conveyed to the user in a number of ways: as audio, images, video, or text; overlaid on maps or on photographs of the location; or superimposed on a live view of the area. Location-based information is very easy to access using common mobile devices, and it is becoming easier to create and distribute, as well.
The technologies that support location-based learning — geolocation, data visualisation, mobile devices, wireless internet — are already established, and a multitude of social and consumer applications already exist. Using simple online tools, digital resources can be easily connected with physical locations and objects. Creating a virtual walking tour that can be accessed via mobiles is already trivial, and more sophisticated applications are appearing day by day.
Using Mscape, users can create mediascapes (http://www.mscapers.com/what-is-a-mediascape) of places they visit, including annotated material in a variety of media. Other viewers access the mediascape when they visit the same location, following the original user’s walking tour and sharing his or her perspective. TransFormat’s TransGo system (http://www.location-based-media.de) is designed for developers rather than end-users, but it too enables rapid development of location-based applications using GPS, RFID, network triangulation, and other technologies.
Social uses of location-based media are common. Initial applications took the form of services for locating trusted friends and colleagues, or listing where people in your network were at a given time. Now, however, location-based applications are being used to facilitate serendipitous connections between people with common interests who do not yet know one another. Applications like Loopt (http:// www.loopt.com) and Brightkite (http://brightkite.com) show nearby friends, places of interest, and people who might be worth meeting, based on the user’s physical location and activities. Yelp (http://www.yelp.com) allows mobile users in the United States to search for nearby restaurants and businesses and displays community reviews to assist in making a decision about which to visit. Woices (http://woices.com) offers an interesting twist on the walking-tour concept; users capture ambient sounds at different points along their path, creating a “listening walk” that conveys the audible flavour of a particular spot.
We are starting to see uses for location-based media that hint at its developing potential for education. The collaborative project Red Centre Way Memes (http://redcentreway.blogspot.com) seeks to create a location-based tourist guide to inform visitors about the points of interest along the 430 km Red Centre Way loop in Central Australia. Podcasts, songs, video clips, images, text, and animations, are provided at points of interest, along with maps of the area. At the same time, the project is geotagging data captured in the field for the purpose of providing it to government agencies and others who can use the information to populate maps, track changes over time, and so on. Educational games — including alternate reality games, scavenger hunts, and others — also make use of location-based media to engage and assist players as they move through the physical world.
Relevance for Teaching, Learning, and Creative Enquiry
As an educational tool, location-based learning offers the promise of just-in-time content delivery, giving students access to data that is clearly tied with what they are seeing and experiencing at the moment. Since the technologies that facilitate location-based learning support both access and production of information, learners have a key opportunity to create content as well as receive it. Students can make notes of their perceptions, document objects or wildlife, record local sounds, and develop their own location-based projects to share with others.
Many institutions are already using location-based media to provide incoming and prospective students with campus tours and introductions to the library, museum, and other campus features. Students simply use mobile phones to access information linked to their precise location on campus. Students can also access bus schedules, special event guides, and other features based on their location. Students doing fieldwork can acquire information in a variety of media about the site they are visiting, reinforcing the connection between the physical world and historical, cultural, or environmental events. Using tools like WikiMe (http://www.whatsoniphone.com/reviews/wikime-review), an application for the iPhone that accesses relevant Wikipedia articles for a specific location using the GPS in a mobile device, students can find information about their physical location or research other places using postal codes.
Other applications for location-based learning make use of the GPS data itself, rather than using the mobile’s location to find related media. A schoolteacher in Cedar City, Utah uses location-based learning to teach math concepts. His students use GPS-enabled mobile devices to calculate area and perimeter, slope, and more in outdoor locations. In Victoria, British Columbia, a naturalist leads whale-watching tours and uses mobiles to record sightings, tracking the animals over time. These location-based learning experiences represent some of the initial applications. As the technology continues to develop, we will see more complex uses emerge.
A sampling of applications of location-based learning across disciplines includes the following:
- Archaeology. In the field, students can photograph sites as they work, creating a composite photographic map of an area with geotagged data. Future visitors can use the information to see exactly where objects were found. With Flickr’s mobile site, iPhone and Android users can also see other photos taken near their current location.
- Environmental Studies. Location-aware devices can track and map levels of carbon monoxide in city streets. Additionally, students in the field can record the location of heavy areas of litter or pollution and the quality of local bodies of water. With tools like Widenoise for the iPhone, students can measure noise levels and send the data to maps, creating a picture of noise pollution.
- Medicine. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin are distributing location-aware asthma inhalers that track where and when patients use them through a secure, online mapping system. It is hoped this information will enable patients and physicians to better manage the disease and advance research on what triggers asthma attacks.
Location-Based Learning in Practice
The following links provide examples of location- based learning in educational settings.
Compass and Camera Used in Innovative Location-Based Apps for G1
(Jose Fermoso, Wired, 11 February 2009.) This article describes two location-aware applications that overlay information about locations, events, and points of interest onto the image seen through the phone’s camera.
Enkin for Android
Enkin combines GPS, orientation sensors, 3D graphics, live video, and web services into a navigation system for mobile devices that bridges the gap between reality and traditional maps. Annotations are overlaid on a live view, street view or 3D map.
Glympse is an application that allows a user to specify a brief time during which his or her location is trackable to certain contacts. Glympse can be used as a safety feature while attending parties or one-time meetings, or it can help colleagues who are meeting face-to- face for the first time.
Take a picture of your street to find clubs, restaurants, theatres, and more. Layar displays geo-specific, digital information over the image from your mobile’s camera.
Location-aware System Projects
Researchers at the University of South Florida are investigating the uses of location-aware technology for public emergency alert systems, assistive applications for disabled persons using public transit, and research into commuter traffic patterns.
For Further Reading
The following articles and resources are recommended for those who wish to learn more about location-based learning.
7 Things You Should Know About Location-Aware Applications
(ELI, EDUCAUSE, 16 March 2009.) A thorough primer, this article outlines and explains the many facets of location-based media. Specific examples of location-aware applications in higher education are discussed.
Coming Soon: A New Web — it’s Global, Mobile, and as Transformative as the World Wide Web
(Rahul Sonnad, Huffington Post, 11 June 2009.) Combining mobile devices with geolocation introduces a new way of interacting with old technology. The author emphasises the social uses of web browsing and location awareness via mobiles.
Google Latitude on Your iPhone
(Marc Wilson, The Official Google Blog, 23 July 2009.) Google offers an optional feature that uses the GPS on a mobile phone to allow one’s location to be tracked on a Google map.
(A. Michael Berman, Sue M. Lewis, and Anthony Conto, EDUCAUSE, November 2008.) This white paper provides information about location-aware technologies and how they are currently being implemented in higher education.
Location-Based Technologies for Learning
(Steve Benford, Emerging Technologies for Learning, November 2008.) This white paper discusses innovative research projects and explores the educational possibilities of location-based media.
The State of Location-Based Social Networking on The iPhone
(Mark Hendrickson, TechCrunch, 28 September 2008.) This article reviews several location-based applications available for the Apple iPhone.
Delicious: Location-Based Learning
(Australia–New Zealand Horizon Advisory Board and Friends, 2009.) Follow this link to find resources tagged for this topic and this edition of the Horizon Report, including the ones listed here. To add to this list, simply tag resources with “hz09au” and “locationmedia” when you save them to Delicious.
Posted by NMC on September 23, 2009