How to Design a Mathematical Learning App Suitable for Children: The Myth of Digital Natives

How to Design a Mathematical Learning App Suitable for Children: The Myth of Digital Natives

Elke Höfler (University of Graz, Austria), Gerald Geier (Graz University of Technology, Austria) and Claudia Zimmermann (University of Graz, Austria)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1692-7.ch008
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This paper examines the main considerations that influenced the development and implementation of an educational application created for elementary school children, with the aim of helping them to practice long divisions. In addition to discussing design principles for technologies that are suitable for children, the authors take a closer look at the framework for designing and using digital applications in the classroom. The most important aspects in this regard include the institutional setting of the Austrian school system and the myth of digital natives, as well as the Mobile Seamless Learning and Adaptive Learning approaches. The lack of basic digital infrastructure in Austrian elementary schools, the fact that not every child younger than ten years owns or has access to mobile devices and the resulting problematic implementation of Mobile Seamless Learning settings and BYOD strategies in schools ask for more flexible learning applications. The divisiontrainer designed by Geier (2015) is presented as a good practice example that takes the identified challenges into account.
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When referring to the digital era, digital immigrants and digital natives are two key words often used to describe the different generations depending on their media literacy. Digital immigrants are the early adopters, autodidacts or technology savvy people who learnt to use digital and mobile devices to organize their private and professional lives as well as learning processes, whereas nowadays’ children are said to be digital natives, who use digital and mobile devices with a matter-of-course receptiveness. This younger generation is also called generation Y, generation Z or millennials. All these terms refer to different groupings within a generation that is believed to be born into a mobile or digital world, where life without digital or mobile devices is hard to imagine. However, it is a rarely mentioned fact that the ongoing digitalization also results in a latent digital divide (Drossel & Eickelmann, 2014; ECDL foundation, 2015) and media discontinuities as not every child has a (mobile) device of their own and is able consume learning resources, e.g. learning games, e-books and learning applications, at school and at home on the same device (Eickelmann, Vennemann & Aßmann, 2013; MPFS, 2015). In some areas, and usually in a rather theoretical instead of a practical way, society has already adopted to this new situation, for example by developing appropriate learning models like the mobile (seamless) learning model (Wong, 2012; Wong & Looi, 2011).

Whether we believe in the divide between digital natives and digital immigrants or not (Bennett et al., 2008; Koutropoulos, 2011; Rikhye, Cook & Berge, 2009), Prensky (2001) notes that today’s “students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach.” Prensky is said to be the first user of the term digital natives (contrasting to N-gen[eration] or D-gen[eration]). The following paper is trying to show that:

  • 1.

    The use of the term digital natives is shortsighted and only focuses on a segment of the current younger generation of pupils and students, and that

  • 2.

    Prensky’s observation is true, in that our students are indeed different than those the educational system was built for.

A short analysis of the media use of younger children in Austria (Edugroup, 2014; Pfarrhofer, 2014) and Germany (MPFS, 2015) and a look at the educational system in Austria will be shown to verify Prensky’s observation, as well as illustrate the digital divide and the media discontinuities pupils and teachers have to face in their everyday (learning) life. The curriculum for elementary schools in Austria requires teachers to foster and train so-called digital literacies or 21st century skills (Partnership for 21st century learning, 2015), in an educational environment that often does not allow them to do so. Even though smartphones are part of the younger generation’s everyday life, their use is restricted and often prohibited in Austrian schools (Aigner, 2014; Babnik et al., 2013; Edugroup, 2014). This paper will also describe the main considerations which, after an in-depth framework analysis, led to the creation of an app designed to help pupils in elementary school practice long division. Both content-related and formal (i.e. design-related) considerations will be addressed.

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