Smart Phones to Smart Students

The following post has been developed from a presentation given at CSUED 2013 which you can find the slides here

Mobile devices are the perfect technology to deploy for authentic performance assessment. Their ubiquity and versatility provide a viable tool for use across student cohorts and discipline areas. This post provides an overview of the possibilities and will go through how the technology can be used to improve the authenticity and effectiveness of assessment.

Technological Evolution

Digital technology has been evolving at a rapid rate and we have all seen and experienced significant and substantive change. This evolution is perhaps best summed up in this quote:

It took just seventy years to get from a device the size of a two-story building to a device that fits in your pocket. Seventy years to build a browsable, searchable archive of information, accessible globally. Seventy years between a time when research and data was locked up in books, available to only a privileged few, and a time when information and communication could be obtained by everyone, everywhere. – Karen McGrane

That’s an amazing feat! Now there’s plenty of astounding data, graphs and charts about the rise of mobile technology, but this image of the two papal announcements perfectly illustrates just how common a part of our lives mobile now is.

How mobile has become part of our lives

What is really interesting about the changes bought about by mobile technology though isn’t a story about numbers – its a story about culture and how our lives have changed because of the technology we have access to.

Assessment in the Mobile Age

If we look at the last couple of decades technology it’s becoming increasingly clear that we are moving from an period dominated by the Personal Computer to that of the Mobile Computer – from the PC Age to the Mobile Age. This shift represents a really interesting changing in the affordances that the technology allows.

The table below illustrates this change comparing some of the fundamental shifts that have occurred in this space.

PC Age Mobile Age
situated location mobile
static environment dynamic
slow speed of change rapid
separate technology embedded
formal structure organic
low level of convenience high
abstracted authenticity situated
centralised resources distributed

So in this environment its about time we re-think assessment and look at how mobile can play a part as it becomes the dominant technology we interface with.

Mobile Opportunities

According to Telstra’s third annual Smartphone Index (October 2013), smartphone penetration in Australia has doubled since 2010, reaching 72% of total mobile phone users (up from 36% in 2010), and it continues to grow. What we are seeing is a ubiquitous technology that can as operate as a platform for new ideas around assessment.

But why make the move?

  • Relevant – assessment can be situated rather than simulated.
  • Convenient & Flexible – assessment can occur anywhere, anytime.
  • Learner Controlled – students can take the initiative and direct their own studies.
  • Socially Connected – assessment is opened to new channels of communication.
  • Reflective – mobile allows effortless recording of authentic learning as a portfolio.

Mobile lets you Record the World

What mobile technology simplifies is the creation of artefacts – videos, photos and text – that record the world they in habit and what occurs in it. It opens the door to different types of assessment that were difficult or impossible to facilitate previously – particularly for distance, online or workplace learning.

Some examples could include:

  • Presentation – to assess the students ability to communicate. This could include students presenting in different and authentic formats such as a Lecture, VivaVoce or Pitch.
  • Demonstration – students can display practical skills and processes for assessment.
  • Role Play – students can be assessed on their ability demonstrate the application of practice to theoretical or hypothetical situations.
  • Artistic Performance – students can display and capture their creative talents.
  • Self Reflection – students can use video as a medium to develop a diary or journal.
  • Evidence Gathering – students use video to record external evidence.
  • Interview – students gather primary source information
  • Resource Development – develop a how-to or guide as a publishable object.
  • Case Study – students develop a recording for use as a case study
  • Story Telling – students create a narrative. Students use video as the medium to develop and deliver a story.

Structuring Assessment

Assessments can be structured to promote specific types of pedagogies and learning outcomes. Some models would include:

  • Record and Submit – Students submit their recorded performance.
  • Record and Reflect – Students record themselves and provide self assessment.
  • Record and Share – Students record their performance for peer-assessment.
  • Record and Evaluate – students use video to record evidence which they then use to evaluate.
  • Record, Critique, Repeat – The first recording provides a basis for formative assessment from which the student uses feedback to improve.


There are always issues around the adoption of new technology and practices. So from the outset there are a number related to mobile right from the outset.

While the mobile device are accessible by so many of our student it’s important to note that university infrastructure and systems to support them may not be there. To support this change and transition it often means having a dependancy on 3rd party services. Video services like Vimeo & YouTube allow content to be uploaded directly from a device but depend on students having an associated account and setting appropriate viewing and privacy privileges.

While we are heading towards ubiquity of devices it is important not to assume saturation and have plan to ensure equity. The other key point related to access isn’t in devices – but connection. Don’t assume that your students will have unlimited access to high speed wireless. Many will rely on 3G or older networks and have strict data allowances.

Technology getting in the way
It’s important to note what you are assessing. Most often it is not the students proficiency in the use of technology but the product they create. Ensure that you provide your students some technical support or a facility to ask and share information with each other. You can’t mark a student down for poor audio if you don’t build that into the assessment or include it in the content.


Using mobile device to create and develop stories is one of the best ways to incorporate technology, theory and pedagogy into an assessment that is authentic and meaningful to the student. My favourite example of this is the Cherbourg MoJo project. This trailer shows the students in their element, the technology they used and what’s possible.

You can find out more about this project on their website or by watching this fantastic documentary about the project.

A similar project is North of Sixty which used mobile journalism to record the stories of living above the 60º parallel.

I’m the Innovation Technology Officer here at CSU where I make, think, help, support, train and advise on technology in Education.

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