Place-based Learning in Folklore

In summer and Fall of 2012, I was thrilled to be involved in the Situated Learning Award by the Engage program at UW–Madison. I got to assist three instructors in creating and implementing mobile-based Situated Learning activities for their courses. This post examines a case where the instructor (Tim Frandy) used the ARIS platform (ARIS, 2012) on mobile devices and light augmented reality to supplement in-class activities and investigate place.

The activity was designed for the third and fourth week of class. Students self-organized into groups of five, and were given one iPad (with an unlimited data plan) per group. In the first two weeks, they had an overview of the themes of the course, and were tasked with identifying those themes as depicted on campus in a place, a piece of folk art, and two stories (interviews) of a significant campus event for a student. They were given two-and-a-half weeks to use an ARIS ( activity on the iPad to document and geotag these things, and to tag them with 1) the folklore theme they address. 2) their class rank (freshman ,sophomore, etc.), and 3) their username. They also were asked to comment on two others’ notes, and to visit the location of at least one peer’s note. Analyzed data includes student in-game notes and comments, post-activity reflective essays, and instructor interview. Themes were collated and validated using intercoder reliability (Kurasaki 2000).

Scaling experiences through the Web Notebook

As a server-based GPS game, every movement and decision by players are logged. To scale and share individual experiences to class ones, ARIS maps out notes in the Web Notebook, where they are grouped and displayed according to tags or contributors. The web notebook allowed for reflection on notes after the three-week activity.

In the web Notebook, nearby notes are clustered together. When clicked, the map zooms to the boundaries of the notes within the cluster.

Notes can be clicked on and viewed so students can revisit their own and others’ notes for reflection.


Students found the assignment engaging because it forced them to think about and identify course concepts that were visible in familiar places — their own campus and daily lives.

Student: “The ARIS project was one of the most engaging projects I have taken on so far in college. It managed to keep me interested by providing a set of guidelines that had to be followed while still keeping it open enough to include what interested you.”

They benefited from sharing what they noticed with their peers, and from seeing and and commenting on what their classmates had geotagged. The sharing resulted in their seeing more examples of course content tied concretely to places on campus that they encounter daily.

Student: “Freshmen tend to choose residence halls or places of academics or business. Upperclassmen tend to choose places that are not associated with the University such as a public park maybe. I think this is because the older you get, the more likely you are to live off campus.”

All was not perfect though: students and instructors/TAs reported a great deal of frustration with the technical aspects of the assignment — specifically, in uploading large videos via the cellular data system.

Student: “We sometimes struggled to get things posted to the game seemingly from glitches, and sometimes struggled to access the game itself, but considering this was the first run through with students, on the whole it went quite smoothly.”

Course Concepts

The instructor and Teaching Assistants confirmed that student field notes demonstrated a good understanding of course concepts and themes, effectively applied. In their reflective essays, students further demonstrated expanded understanding of course concepts gained from peers’ notes.

Student: “The group who interviewed the State Street drummer expected to hear about why he drums on the street, but instead received a history lesson about the Uribai people. A large part of folklore is communication and interpretation. When the interviewer asked the man about himself, he may have interpreted that to mean they were asking about him and his people. It seems that he strongly values his cultural background and that his identity spreads much further than himself as an individual.”

The sharing of examples also allowed students to aggregate recurring themes.

Student: “One of the biggest recurring themes I found when going through the notes from the other teams in the game was the self-representation of student life. Not only how students represent themselves here on campus by what they do, how they act and things like that, but also what that says about the students and how it exemplifies certain values that we are proud to hold ourselves to here on campus.”

Collaboration and Community Building

Beyond course concepts, the instructor and students felt class collaboration and community was enhanced. In the notes, this was evidenced by comments students left each other (image above). The instructor also reported an increase in class community, which he attributed to the mobile situated learning activity:

Instructor: “By using an ARIS game at the beginning of the semester, students were forced to engage in collaborative problem solving from the start of the course.  I noticed after the game was done, students were less likely to see themselves as individuals in a classroom, and more as a community of students with the common aims of learning together and from each other”

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