Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair(s)

Edward Reeve


Edward Reeve


Raymond Veon


Gary Stewardson


Victor Lee


Wade Goodridge


The increasingly ubiquitous nature of mobile devices among K-12 students has led many to argue for and against the inclusion of mobile devices in K-12 classrooms. Some have conjectured that access to mobile devices may enable student self-directed learning.

This research used a mixed-method approach to explore the relationships between mobile devices and student achievement and self-directed learning during a Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics (STEM) activity in a middle school Technology and Engineering Education classroom. In this study, 706 students from 18 classes worked in groups of 2-3 to complete an open-ended engineering design challenge. Students completed design portfolios and constructed prototypes. Classes were randomly divided with some receiving access to mobile devices during the study while others did not. Additionally, randomly assigned classes completed the design portfolio electronically while others completed the portfolio on paper. Final student portfolios and products were assessed using adaptive comparative judgment (ACJ). In ACJ, judges view two artifacts (portfolios or products) electronically and choose the better of the two. Repeating this process, a number of times produced a rank-order for the artifacts. The rank order for student portfolios and products represented student achievement. Statistical analyses of student access, portfolio type, student self-directed learning, and student achievement were conducted.

Thirty student interviews and five teacher interviews were conducted and interviewees were asked questions regarding mobile devices, self-directed learning, and their experience during the study. Responses from the interviews were transcribed and coded using causation and thematic coding techniques. The resulting themes from the interviews helped clarify the quantitative findings.

Findings from both the quantitative and qualitative analyses showed that student access to mobile devices was significantly correlated with higher scores on student design portfolios while student achievement on design products was independent of mobile device access. This suggests that mobile devices may improve student achievement in certain types of scenarios but not in others. Student self-directed learning was independent of mobile device access. Students and teachers both commented that mobile devices may be effective at increasing student self-directed learning or achievement but only through proper instruction and demonstration.