This research focused on investigating the impact of mobile technologies on educational contexts. We established two main objectives:  the first focused on testing the didactical features of a mobile learning environment (we used  the MoULe system); the second concentrated on the methodological aspects of the project and on evaluating the efficacy of the learning models designed.
The testing methodology was originally designed in two identical cycles involving six high schools in Palermo and each lasting for a four month period. The first took place from February to May 2007 and the second from December 2007 to April 2008.
Each testing cycle was designed in two phases: firstly, we tested the prototype with the teachers and then with both students and teachers. In the first phase, after introducing the methodologies and technologies of mobile learning, we encouraged the teachers to design the learning activities and the itinerary for the second phase involving students. Specifically, we asked them to develop a concept map at each school, in order to formally describe the learning paths to be followed by the students. The teachers reacted very favourably to this proposal, especially those with most expertise; in fact, the teachers highlighted the benefits of using concept maps to better specify and clarify the educational objectives to be achieved by students. In addition, they appreciated the opportunity to have practical and tangible results at the end of the design phase, and to share these results with colleagues and students at the starting point for the rest of the activities. We selected the CmapTool to support this process. Finally, the teachers used the MoULe environment, both through desktop computers and smartphones.
While the first phase with the teachers followed a more methodological approach to mobile learning, the second phase was more practical. The students started learning about the main functionalities of the MoULe system and getting used to the mobile devices. Then the teachers explained the outside learning activity they had designed in the first phase which varied according to the type of school. Finally, the students carried out the learning task in the classroom and on site. At the end of the testing phase the students worked collaboratively to produce a hypermedia artifact about the sites they had visited.

Details of the first cycle

The first cycle was held in spring 2007, and fifteen teachers of different subjects from five secondary schools in Palermo followed the first phase as described above.
Then, in the second phase, we involved eighty students and twelve teachers from two secondary schools, one specializing in pedagogical subjects and the other in tourism. Two fourth year classes were selected from each school. The students from the pedagogical school followed a “historical street markets” itinerary, while the students from the tourism school followed a “baroque age” itinerary. The testing was organized as follows: first, for each school we arranged a plenary meeting with the two classes, then each class participated in four testing sessions, two of them carried out in the classroom and two on site. A final plenary meeting was held after the testing sessions. The aim of the preliminary meeting was to explain the project guidelines and the MoULe functionalities to the students. We asked the students to fill in two questionnaires. The first was to find out about the technical background of the students, while the second was a sociometric test to investigate the relationships between the students in each class, in order to create workgroups for the testing stage. Next, each class was asked to take part in four test sessions, two in the laboratory and two on site. The class in the laboratory used desktop computers connected to the Internet, while the other class went on site and used handheld devices with wireless connections. In alternating sessions the roles of the two classes were inverted. These sessions were held on different days for each school both for organizational and logistic reasons, and because the schools followed different itineraries. In particular, the school specializing in pedagogical subjects, alternated a study of the anthropological aspects of Palermo’s street markets with a survey of their neighbourhoods with particular analysis of the relationships between people and their environment. Instead, the school specializing in tourism had a different objective for each session. First, they studied the external aspects of some examples of Baroque architecture in their context, then they analyzed the internal features of the same buildings. In the third session, they focused on the tourist services in the same areas (such as hotels, bars, restaurants), and finally in the last session, they gathered information about other interesting points of interest near the area they visited.

On site activities

In the on site experience we provided students with smartphones with GPS aerials, used to localize the activities performed by the students. In particular, we used two different hardware models in order to evaluate the system functionality independently of the resources employed. The Internet connection was provided by a national provider using GPRS technology. Students were divided into pairs and each pair member used the PDA alternately to perform learning activities on site. A teacher and/or a CNR researcher accompanied each pair of students.
The on site sessions took place as follows:

  1. Students, teachers and CNR researchers met at an arranged meeting-point in the historical area of the city.
  2. Students were divided into pairs or small groups and teachers assigned the tasks to perform on the itinerary.
  3. Students visited the points of interest (POIs) according to their learning path. They used the MoULe system to locate the POIs, to communicate with the students from the other class who were testing the prototype in the school laboratory, to take multimedia notes and to edit learning contents.
  4. Students returned to the initial meeting-point.


In the classroom laboratory

While one class was on site, the students from the other class accessed the MoULe system through the desktop computers in the school laboratory. In this way the two classes participated in the same virtual environment. The students on site cooperated with the students in the laboratory sharing information, asking each other questions and working collaboratively in order to create learning contents as defined by the teachers. In particular, students with desktop computers connected to the MoULe through the Moodle Learning Management System, and they used the following tools:

  • communication tools to request extra information (through  multimedia notes) from the students on site, or to provide specific information to the students on site;
  • a specialized search engine to search for learning material specifically filtered according to the point of interest;
  • a wiki style collaborative document creation tool, to create the learning hypermedia of the learning path;
  • a visualization tool to show the geographical positions of the students in order to coordinate their on site activities.

All the test activities on site and in the laboratory were supported and supervised by teachers and CNR researchers.
At the end of the test sessions we organized a final meeting to present the test results and students were asked to fill in two questionnaires, one to evaluate the learning experience and the other was again a sociometric test to evaluate the effects of the MoULe system on the social relationships between the students.
In this first cycle, the students produced two hypermedia depending on their school. One was a tourist guide to Baroque in Palermo in Italian, English and French and the other was about the street markets in Palermo. Both are available, with authorized access, at

Details of the second cycle

In winter 2007 we carried out the second testing cycle. This involved new actors (students and teachers). In particular, we tested the mobile learning with 14 teachers from 3 secondary schools in the first phase and with only 34 students in the second phase. We involved less than half the number of students with respect to the first cycle to address some of the issues observed in the previous experience. The students were also from two secondary schools, but this time one school specialized in economics and the other in tourism. This time only one fourth year class was selected from each school. We divided the class in half in order to create two groups. The two groups worked in the same way as the two classes in the first cycle. Thus, they alternated between on site and classroom laboratory activities. This time each student working on site had a smartphone so we could observe his/her learning path more clearly.
Otherwise the second cycle was exactly the same as the first.