N. 28, Spring 2016

Table of contentsAuthor index



Special issue on Mobile learning and Special Education - guest editorial



• Introduction


Mobile learning represents one of the most promising frontiers of current educational technologies [1]. Mobile learning here can be defined as 'learning across multiple contexts, through social and content interactions, using personal electronic devices” [2]. The widespread distribution of mobile devices, the increasing accessibility of the related infrastructures, and the heterogeneity of apps available on platforms like GooglePlay and AppleStore have nurtured a healthy environment for the use of mobile applications in teaching and learning.


There have been numerous studies that have attempted to further explore the potential of mobile technology as situated, subjective, dynamic and cooperation-facilitator tool [3-6]. Used in both formal and informal settings [7] smartphones and mobile devices can provide opportunities to reconsider and reformulate traditional learning, supporting learning with authenticity and context awareness [8]. Finally, their improved usability [9] and online features make them instruments with a relevant impact in terms of diffusion, accessibility and participation.


We, as researchers, designers, scholars and educators, are called to carefully consider these tools for both their potential advantages as well as their risks.  For instance, research continues to evolve with studies aimed a further understanding of mobile learning from usability [10-12] to learning analytics [13]. However, other studies have demonstrated that key components must be in place for teaching and learning to benefit.  Although geolocation of information might sound intrinsically appealing, learning with such tools often requires orientation and a focused planning to obtain desired learning outputs [14,15].


As researchers, we also have the responsibility of examining tools and technologies and their impact on all learners, both in general education and in special education.  Here we  are defining special education as “specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, including: (i) Instruction conducted in the classroom, in the home, in hospitals and institutions, and in other settings; and (ii) Instruction in physical education” (20 U.S.C. 1401(29)). This challenging frame concerns every type of disability--physical as well as mental, from autism to speech/language and hearing impairments, representing a cornerstone of the so-called inclusive learning [16].


Mobile learning has tremendous potential in supporting a diverse range subjects within special education for at least three main reasons. First, it allows and promotes the use of multi-sensorial inputs able to overcome possible problems of communication—potentially improving comprehension. Second, the personalized support offered by mobile technology is especially important for children who require individualized attention and instruction. Third, the cooperative dimension that mobile devices can provide through is an emerging, positive trend in disability studies [17,18].


These possibilities have been met with the development of a variety of learning platforms like Picaa [19], Mobile Mood Diary [20], LookTel (2012) and Map-Mate [21]. There are also a variety of apps created for those with disabilities (e.g. Proloquo2Go or ISpectrum Color Blind Assistant). In our own work (partially funded by a corporate gift from AT&T), we have created a database to catalog the multitude of apps (http://spedapps.kent.edu). 


Paradoxically, despite such a richness of existing tools and apps, research on special education and mobile learning is minimal.  The research landscape is not bare.  For instance, there has been significant  work completed on Universal Design for Learning [22]. And, others have completed research overviews [23] case study-based models, and design suggestions [24-26].


Research exists but it is sparse.  And, while some learning needs and disabilities have been addressed (e.g., autism and dyslexia; [27]), others remain quite ignored by researchers (e.g., mental retardation, alimentary diseases like Prader-Willi syndrome, socio-cultural bias, etc.). Moreover, topics within usability [28] and participative design toward targets with disabilities are still overlooked according to Human Center Design core features (e.g., [29,30]). Unsurprisingly, the current Mobile Web Accessibility Guidelines still present several obstacles for individuals with disabilities [31]. Finally, we are missing deep studies about when and how mobile apps can be used for specific types of learning needs. 


• Special issue articles


Much in light of these concerns, the special issue on Mobile Learning and Special Education was created to gain learning from researchers, developers and educators on these important topics.  The overarching objective was to have a substantial contribution in our understanding of special education and mobile learning. The special issue features five articles. 


  • · Ilaria Mariani and Davide Spallazzo depict four location-based mobile games, which proved to be effective activators of reflection about special needs in their designing and testing phases.  Accordingly, the authors provide useful insights for developing mobile experiences focused on disabilities and similar conditions.
  • · In the literature review on mobile technology training in teacher preparation conducted by Lindsey Balderaz and Kara Rosenblatt, being hesitant to implement mobile technology into higher education and an insufficient preparation of special education pre-service teachers were found to be critical problems.  They suggest the future research needs to focus on pedagogical factors and criteria of assessment.
  • · Constance Beecher and Jay Buzhardt describe an iterative design-based research project for an app aimed to increase parent engagement.  Their article discusses specific features requisite to improve the effectiveness of a mobile intervention. 
  • · Kara Dawson, Pavlo Antonenko, Shilpa Sahay, and Linda Lombardino shed light on the use of the word dyslexia by mobile publishers. They discover that the majority of publishers do not intentionally design with dyslexics in mind. Therefore, the authors ask for more collaborations between dyslexia experts and programmers; they also provide resource repositories and evaluation rubrics to assist users.
  • · Finally, Christopher J. Rivera, Iffat Jabeen, and Lee L. Mason successfully staged a computer-based video intervention based on Apple iBooks for teaching literacy skills to a student with moderate intellectual disability. The procedure can be easily replicated and personalized because of its simplicity and accessibility.


We appreciate the work of these authors and their continued contribution to such an important issue.  We hope these insights will help developers, researchers, and practitioners as they build mobile interventions. We conclude with a call to all researchers to continue to explore and deepen our understanding of the relationship between mobile learning and special education.


Enrico Gandolfi, Richard E. Ferdig, Peña Bedesem, Cheng-Chang Lu

Kent State University


Acknowledgments: the guest editors are very grateful to the reviewers for their support to this special issue.




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2. Crompton, H.: A historical overview of mobile learning: Toward learner-centered education. In Berge, Z. L., and Muilenburg, L Y. (Eds.). Handbook of mobile learning. Florence, KY: Routledge (2013).


3. Gkatzidou, V., Green, S., Pearson, E., and Perrin, F.O.: Widgets to support disabled learners: A challenge to participatory inclusive design. In OZCHI'11, Canberra, Australia, 130-139  (2011).

4. Jones, A. C., Scanlon, E., and Clough G: Mobile learning: Two case studies of supporting inquiry learning in informal and semiformal settings. Computers & Education, 61, 21-32 (2013).

5. Wu W.H., Wu, Y. C. J., Chen, C. Y., Kao, H. Y., Lin, C. H., and Huang, S. H.: Review of trends from mobile learning studies: A meta-analysis. Computers & Education, 59(2), 817–827 (2012).


6. Pereira, O. R. E., and Rodrigues, J. J. P. C.: Survey and analysis of current mobile learning applications and technologies. ACM Comput. Surv., 46(2),1-35 (2013).


7. Paradise, R., and Rogoff, B.: Side-by Side: Learning by Observing and Pitching. Journal of the Society for Psychology and Anthropology, 37(1), 102-138 (2009).


8. Walker, H.: Evaluating the effectiveness of apps for mobile devices. Journal Of Special Education Technology, 26(4), 59-63 (2010).


9. Harrison, R., Flood D., and Duce, D.: Usability of mobile applications: literature review and rationale for a new usability model.  Journal of Interaction Science, 1(1), 1-16 (2013).


10. Cota, C. X. C., Díaz, A. I. M., and Duque, M. Á. R.: Developing a Framework to Evaluate Usability in m-Learning Systems: Mapping Study and Proposal. In. TEEM '14, Salamanca, Spain,  357-364 (2014).


11. Benachour, P., Crane, L. and Coulton, P.: Investigating user experiences with spatial and temporal context-aware applications to support mobile virtual learning environments. International Journal of Mobile Learning and Organisation, 6(1), 38-51 (2012).


12. Martin, S., Diaz, G., Plaza, I., Ruiz, E., Castro, M., and Peire J.: State of the art of frameworks and middleware for facilitating mobile and ubiquitous learning development.  The Journal of Systems and Software, 84(11),  1883–1891 (2011).


13. Fulantelli, G., Taibi, D., and Arrigo, M.: A Semantic approach to Mobile Learning Analytics. In: TEEM'13, Salamanca, Spain,  287-292 (2013).


14. UNESCO: Mobile Learning Week Report (MLW). Paris, France: United Nations - Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2011).


15. UNESCO: Policy guidelines for mobile learning. Paris, France: United Nations - Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2013).


16. Walker, L., and Logan, A.: Using digital technologies to promote inclusive practices in education. Bristol, UK: Futurelab (2009).


17. Kärnä, E., Nuutinen, J., Pihlainen-Bednarik, K., and Vellonen, V.: Designing Technologies with Children with Special Needs: Children in the Centre (CiC) Framework. In: IDC 2010, Barcelona, Spain, 218-221 (2010).


18. Fage, C., Pommereau, L., Consel, C., Balland, É., and Sauzéon, H.: Tablet-Based Activity Schedule for Children with Autism in Mainstream Environment. In: ASSETS’14, Rochester, NY, USA, 1-9 (2014).


19. Fernández-López, A., Rodríguez-Fórtiz, M. J., Rodríguez-Almendros, M. L., and Martínez-Segura, M. J.: Mobile learning technology based on iOS devices to support students with special education needs. Computers & Education, 61, 77–90 (2013).


20. Matthews, M., Doherty, G., Sharry, J., and Fitzpatrick, C.: Mobile Phone Mood Charting for Adolescents. In: British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 36(2) (2008).


21. Brown, D. J. Brown, McHugh, D., Standen, P., Evett, L., Shopland N., and Battersby S.: Designing location-based learning experiences for people with intellectual disabilities and additional sensory impairments. Computers & Education, 56(1), 11-20 (2011).


22. CAST: Universal design for learning guidelines. Retrieved from: http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines (2011).


23. Kagohara, D. M., van der Meer, L., Ramdoss, S., O’Reilly, M. F., Lancioni, G. E., Davis, T. N., Rispoli, M., Lang, R., Marschik, P. B., Sutherland, D., Green V. A., and Sigafoos, J.: Using iPods1 and iPads1 in teaching programs for individuals with developmental disabilities: A systematic review. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 34, 179-191 (2013).


24. Cantón, P., González, Á., Mariscal, G., and Ruiz, C.: Applying New Interaction Paradigms to the Education of Children with Special Educational Needs. In: ICCHP 2012, Linz, Austria, 65-72(2010).


25. McNaughton, D., and Light, J.: The iPad and Mobile Technology Revolution: Benefits and Challenges for Individuals who require Augmentative and Alternative Communication.  Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 29(2), 107-116 (2013).


26. Puccini, A. M., Puccini, M., and Chang, A.: Acquiring educational access for neurodiverse learners through multisensory design principles. In: IDC '13, New York, NY, USA, 455-458  (2013).


27. Allegra, M., Arrigo, M., Dal Grande, V., Denaro, P., La Guardia, D., Ottaviano, S., and Todaro, G. (Eds)  Mobile Learning for Visually Impaired People. Rome, Italy: CNR (2012).


28. Nielsen, J. Usability 101: Introduction to Usability. Retrieved from: http://www.nngroup.com/articles/usability-101-introduction-to-usability (2012).


29. Greenbaum, J., and Kyng, M. (Eds.): Design at work - Cooperative design of computer Systems. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum (1991).


30.  Berge, Z. L., and Muilenburg, L. Y. (Eds.): Handbook of mobile learning. Florence: Routledge (2013).


31.  Clegg-Vinell, R., Bailey, C., and Gkatzidou, V.: Investigating the Appropriateness and Relevance of Mobile Web Accessibility Guidelines. In: W4A '14, Seoul, Republic of Korea, 1-4 (2014).