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Smart Phones and Academic Research

For academics, smartphone cameras can be used to gather and document information during field research, augment presentations, and connect to a wider audience through the myriad of communities online. Scholars in fields as different as clinical medicine and art are using smartphone technology to not only aid in research but also to share their findings with people who would not otherwise be engaged with their academic research. We’ve put together a list of some examples below.

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(Photo from Flicker Creative Commons)

Anthropology
Pelckmans, Lotte. (2009). Phoning anthropologists: the Mobile Phone’s reshaping of anthropological research,” in Mobile phones: The new talking drums of everyday Africa, 23-49.

Pelckmans addresses the new methodological options of the phone as a multiple tool (visual, archiving, recording, broadcasting) and its potential as a research assistant.

Art
Baker, C., Schleser, M., & Molga, K. (2009). Aesthetics of mobile media art. Journal of Media Practice, 10(2-3), 2-3.

In this article, three London-based creative practitioners examine the new emerging possibilities of mobile media in the domain of art and media practice. The three practice-based research projects reflect their diverse backgrounds and perspectives within the emerging field of mobile media, in an effort to define the new genre of mobile media art aesthetics. Despite the different approaches towards working with mobile media, a shared original aesthetic emerges specific to the mobile phone. The article focuses on the pixilated, low-resolution mobile screen aesthetic, interface, production processes and uses, made possible by the mobile phone, revealing their contribution to the field of screen media in the decade of HD. Within the collaborative examination of the work, the authors attempt to define an emerging category of Mobile Media Art.

Clinical Medicine
Jayaraman, C., Kennedy, P., Dutu, G., & Lawrenson, R. (2008). Use of mobile phone cameras for after-hours triage in primary care. Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, 14(5), 271-274.

Mobile phone images might be useful in after-hours triage of primary care. We conducted a study to identify population access to mobile phone cameras and to assess the clinical usefulness of mobile phone cameras. The survey was conducted among 480 patients attending two rural New Zealand practices. There were significantly more Maori owners compared to non-Maori (P = 0.002). Age was a significant factor influencing the ownership of mobile phones. We also conducted a clinical quiz among health professionals to assess how the provision of images on a mobile phone and on CD-ROM (to simulate the image that would be seen if email was used to transmit the images) influenced diagnostic confidence. Ten photographable clinical conditions were used to quiz 30 health professionals who were randomized into three groups of 10 each on diagnostic confidence. Images were found to significantly increase diagnostic confidence in all cases except one. It appears that mobile phone cameras are generally acceptable to patients and likely to be of practical use to rural practitioners in a range of clinical scenarios. 

Early Childhood Education
Plowman, L., & Stevenson, O. (2012). Using mobile phone diaries to explore children’s everyday lives. Childhood, 19(4), 539-553.

This article describes a novel approach to experience sampling as a response to the challenges of researching the everyday lives of young children at home. Parents from 11 families used mobile phones to send the research team combined picture and text messages to provide ‘experience snapshots’ of their child’s activities six times on each of three separate days. The article describes how the method aligns with an ecocultural approach, illustrates the variation in children’s experiences and provides sufficient detail for researchers to adapt the method for the purposes of collecting data in other contexts. The article summarizes the benefits and shortcomings from the perspectives of families and researchers. 

Education
Beddall-Hill, N. L., Jabbar, A., & Al Shehri, S. (2011). Social mobile devices as tools for qualitative research in education: iPhones and iPads in ethnography, interviewing, and design-based research. Journal of the Research Center for Educational Technology, 7(1), 67-89.

This paper’s focus is on the development of research methodologies to investigate learning in higher education. These methodologies have made use of Social Mobile Devices (SMD) for data collection, a relativity new concept in qualitative research. The paper provides examples of practice linked with discussions from the Learning Without Frontiers Conference 2011 (LWF 2011) around the constraints, affordances, and ethical issues inherent in the use of SMDs for research. While the researchers used Apple iPhones and Apple iPads, this should not limit the applicability of the paper to other devices. It is hoped that this paper will aid the development of these tools for research purposes in the future through wider discussion, use, and dissemination. Technological development of SMDs continues unabated, hence developing methodologies around their use is an important task that will enable researchers to take advantage of the future applications they provide, whilst being aware of their impact upon the research process.

Geography
Wells, K. (2011). The strength of weak ties: the social networks of young separated asylum seekers and refugees in London. Children’s Geographies, 9(3-4), 319-329.

This paper is about the social networks of young unaccompanied asylum seekers and refugees in London. It discusses the findings of a 12-month qualitative study using photo elicitation interviews with eight young refugees to explore their social networks. The analysis points to the potential of social networks to provide emotional and material support for young refugees and discusses the extent to which social capital flows through these networks. It explores the importance of place and gender in shaping their entry into and formation of these networks. It concludes that the formation of weak ties particularly to institutional actors is important in providing young refugees with access to material and cultural resources. 

Geology
Weng, Y. H., Sun, F. S., & Grigsby, J. D. (2012). GeoTools: An android phone application in geology. Computers & Geosciences.

GeoTools is an Android application that can carry out several tasks essential in geological field studies. By employing the accelerometer in the Android phone, the application turns the handset into a pocket transit compass by which users can measure directions, strike and dip of a bedding plane, or trend and plunge of a fold. The application integrates functionalities of photo taking, videotaping, audio recording, and note writing with GPS coordinates to track the location at which each datum was taken. A time-stamped file name is shared by the various types of data taken at the same location. Data collected at different locations are named in a chronological sequence. At the end of each set of operations, GeoTools also automatically generates an XML file to summarize the characteristics of data being collected corresponding to a specific location. In this way, GeoTools allows geologists to use a multimedia approach to document their field observations with a clear data organization scheme in one handy gadget. 

Globalization
Reading, A. (2009). Mobile witnessing: ethics and the camera phone in the ‘war on terror’. Globalizations, 6(1), 61-76.

Some of the first images rapidly circulated globally in news media of the London Bombings on 7 July 2005 were taken by non-journalists using mobile camera phones. This paper explores some of the ethical issues raised by mobile phone witnessing in the ‘war on terror’. The article uses a performative approach to witnessing in which mobile testimony is seen in terms of performances and speech acts between different parties, including mute witnesses, the survivor witness and the witness(es) to the survivor (s). The approach enables us to see the significance of global mobilities and mobilizations in relation to ethics and mobile witnessing, rather than focusing only the ethics associated with the discrete mobile witness image itself. The article examines some of the global virtual traces and data trajectories on the World Wide Web associated with a mobile camera phone image taken by a witness survivor, Adam Stacey in the 7 July 2005 London Bombings. This suggests that mobile witnessing involves a fluid and travelling involvement in data capture, data sharing, and receipt, through global networks mobilized through multiple mobilities. Mobile witnessing has trajectories across and moments of emplacement between the self and the other, the individual and the group, the private and the public, the citizen and the professional journalist, the living body and the machine. In traversing the ordinary and the extraordinary, speech and speechlessness, mobile witnessing can involve engagement beyond mere spectatorship, establishing new ways of recording events in the ‘war on terror’.

History
Cox, R. J. (2007). Machines in the archives: Technology and the coming transformation of archival reference. First Monday, 12(11).

Technology is transforming the way in which researchers gain access to archives, not only in the choices archivists make about their uses of technology but in the portable technologies researchers bring with them to the archives. This essay reviews the implications of electronic mail, instant messaging and chat, digital reference services, Web sites, scanners, digital cameras, folksonomies, and various adaptive technologies in facilitating archival access. The new machines represent greater, even unprecedented, opportunities for archivists to support one of the main elements of their professional mission, namely, getting archival records used.

Smart phones are also being used in historical, archival research.  Here is a recent article from the NYT.

Information & Library Science
Boyer, D. (2010). From Internet to iPhone: providing mobile geographic access to Philadelphia’s historic photographs and other special collections. The Reference Librarian, 52(1-2), 47-56.

PhillyHistory.org contains more than 95,000 map and photographic records from the City of Philadelphia Department of Records and other local institutions, searchable and viewable by geographic location and other criteria. The Department of Records further expanded public access capabilities through the release of PhillyHistory.org optimized for smartphones, enabling users to view historic photos of a location as they stroll the streets of Philadelphia. PhillyHistory.org serves as a case study for how libraries can use mobile technologies to increase access to their special collections and provide learning opportunities that transcend the traditional web site.

Languages
Gromik, N. A. (2012). Cell phone video recording feature as a language learning tool: A case study. Computers & Education, 58(1), 223-230.

This paper reports on a case study conducted at a Japanese national university. Nine participants used the video recording feature on their cell phones to produce weekly video productions. The task required that participants produce one 30-second video on a teacher-selected topic. Observations revealed the process of video creation with a cell phone. The weekly video performances indicated that students were able to increase the number of words they spoke in one monologue. The surveys indicated that participants believed that using the cell phone video recording feature was a useful activity. However, they did not believe that such a task was transferable to other courses. The discussion emphasizes that, due to technological advances, educators need to understand the benefits and challenges of integrating cell phone devices as learning tools in their classrooms. In addition, whereas in the past researchers focused on reading and writing skills, this article reveals that it is now possible to use the video recording feature to evaluate learners’ speaking skills.

Anzai, Y. (2013, March). Mobile Photo Note-taking to Support EFL Learning. In Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (Vol. 2013, No. 1, pp. 2012-2020).

We take photos to reinforce our memory in our daily life. However, it is not so common to take photos in language classrooms, in spite of the fact that mobile phones are a device almost all students have, and taking photos with mobile phones is also a common activity. So, in this study, we explore the effect of mobile photo note-taking, which may have a significant impact on how we learn. An EFL instruction was developed based on the dual coding theory (DCT) framework. There are scarcely any studies which have examined mobile photo note-taking to verify the dual-coding theory. The study found that mobile photo note-taking has positive effects on EFL learning, particularly in memorizing and retaining English vocabulary. The author concludes with a call for further study to identify the cause of the positive effects.

Nutrition
Rollo, M. E., Ash, S., Lyons-Wall, P., & Russell, A. (2011). Trial of a mobile phone method for recording dietary intake in adults with type 2 diabetes: evaluation and implications for future applications. Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, 17(6), 318-323.

We evaluated a mobile phone application (Nutricam) for recording dietary intake. It allowed users to capture a photograph of food items before consumption and store a voice recording to explain the contents of the photograph. This information was then sent to a website where it was analysed by a dietitian. Ten adults with type 2 diabetes (BMI 24.1–47.9 kg/m2)recorded their intake over a three-day period using both Nutricam and a written food diary. Compared to the food diary, energy intake was under-recorded by 649 kJ (SD 810) using the mobile phone method. However, there was no trend in the difference between dietary assessment methods at levels of low or high energy intake. All subjects reported that the mobile phone system was easy to use. Six subjects found that the time taken to record using Nutricam was shorter than recording using the written diary, while two reported that it was about the same. The level of detail provided in the voice recording and food items obscured in photographs reduced the quality of the mobile phone records. Although some modifications to the mobile phone method will be necessary to improve the accuracy of self-reported intake, the system was considered an acceptable alternative to written records and has the potential to be used by adults with type 2 diabetes for monitoring dietary intake by a dietitian.

Kikunaga, Shigeshi, et al. (2007). The application of a handheld personal digital assistant with camera and mobile phone card (Wellnavi) to the general population in a dietary survey. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, 53(2), 109-116.

This study was carried out to examine first, the validity of a new dietary assessment method, a handheld personal digital assistant with camera and mobile phone card (Wellnavi), in comparison with a weighed diet record as a reference method and second, the relation between obesity and underreporting in the Wellnavi method in 27 men and 48 women volunteers aged 30-67 y from the general population. On the validity, there were significant correlations (0.32-0.75) between the daily nutrient intakes measured by the Wellnavi method and the weighed diet record method in all the subjects except for some nutrients such as iron, magnesium and vitamin E. Results similar to those from the group of all the subjects were obtained in the men’s group and the women’s group. In all the subjects and the men’s group and the women’s group, the differences in the daily nutrient intakes between the two dietary assessment methods were statistically significant.

Sociology
Winddance Twine, F. (2006). Visual ethnography and racial theory: Family photographs as archives of interracial intimacies. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 29(3), 487-511.

I propose a model for employing photograph-elicitation interviews in longitudinal ethnographic research on race and intimacy by drawing upon research that I conducted among British interracial families between 1995 and 2003. I evaluate my use of family photographs in photo-elicitation interviews as a methodological tool, a source of primary data and as evidence for theory. I used photo-interviews as a collaborative methodological tool to clarify and challenge theories that I had developed to explain how white birth mothers of African-descent children negotiate their “racial profiles” in public and private arenas. I analyse a case study of one transracial mother who strategically employed family photographs to project respectable “presentations” of her interracial familial life.

An undergraduate sociology student named Amanda Hills “spent six weeks showing adolescent girls how to use iPhones to record and edit videos about their lives.”
See a report about this work here.

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Inspired by this cutting edge work and want to learn more about ways to incorporate smartphone cameras into your own work? You may want to take one of these workshops on Smart Photos with Smart Phones” on Wednesday, July 24 (register here) and Thursday, August 8 (register here). The workshops are offered by JustPublics@365 in collaboration with the CUNY J-School.

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