The Design and Application of the Digital Backpack

Summer, 2010

Source: Journal of Research on Technology in Education Vol. 42, Iss. 4; p. 339-359. (Summer 2010).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this study, the authors introduce the digital backpack as a means for creating a rich learning experience for students of multiple ages.
The digital backpack is mobile technology in a backpack that have three core components, including foundational technology, modular technology, and instructional support material. The digital backpack was developed to provide a mobile, flexible, efficient, and scalable design that supports a variety of learners and learning experiences.

Development, design, and refinement of the digital backpack are grounded in the theoretical framework of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). The UDL framework provides multiple solutions that support student learning. The key to UDL is to proactively design for diverse students needs (CAST, 2008). By design, this framework also encourages a focus on flexibility to provide for known as well as unknown student, curricular, or instructional variables.
The authors exemplify the development and use of digital backpack in a case presentation that followed a Design-Based Research (DBR) model.

The Case Context

The authors established a collaborative design team comprised of personnel from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (Freedom Center), Apple Inc., and the University of Cincinnati.
Following the DBR protocol, the authors established a theoretical foundation, developed tightly controlled data-collection and analysis systems, and defined measureable performance outcomes for stop points. Student teams produce a five- to six-minute digital movie on the theme of freedom. This design led to three DBR cycles. Throughout the three cycles of DBR, the team focused on the following questions:
* What equipment, environmental, and instructional factors contributed to the outcome of the design cycle?
* Should the factors be modified to obtain the desired outcome, and if so, how?

Participants for Cycle 1 included seven upper-level high school students from a rural school district with a stated focus on technology. The three male and four female students had all been previously enrolled in a technology and media course at the school and had made digital movies with various editing tools, including the one used in the backpack.

Participants in Cycles 2 and 3 were from the same urban high school.
The Cycle 2 participants included 14 students in 1 1th grade; all were African-American and included six males and eight females. The students had previous experience with the process of moviemaking, hardware, and software and were familiar with storyboarding and other preproduction activities. Cycle 3 involved 14 ninth grade students. Thirteen of the students were African- American and one was white; ten were female and four were male; and one student had an identified learning disability. These students had no school-based experience with digital moviemaking, hardware, or software.


The findings show that the digital backpack provides a structure for districts and teachers to proactively plan how to they can support diverse learners in a project-based learning environment.
The use of the digital backpack encouraged students to take ownership of what and why they were learning, provided a platform for creating an authentic integrated curricular experience, and mediated the range of technology experiences found in many classrooms.
In addition, it was found that the students with the least amount of technology experience were able to complete the project in the most efficient fashion. It can be concluded that many variables likely played a role in this finding. A couple of variables that likely contributed to this finding were the GUI changes to the movie editing software and the greater focus on scaffolding within the instructional design process. The success of the initial digital backpack, as well as other designs, has shown that a strong focus on a scaffolded instructional design is important to engaging all learners.

The authors believe this simple design structure provides a targeted yet flexible and scalable solution for districts and individual teachers to thoughtfully enhance instruction in various learning environments.

Center of Applied Special Technology (CAST). (2008). Universal design for learning guidelines version 1.0. Wakefield, MA: Author.

Updated: Mar. 09, 2011