Enhancing interculturality and sustainability in teacher education through developing new tools and approaches for mobile learning


In the recent decades, there has been a growing international consensus about importance of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) at all educational levels, in different subjects, as well as in formal and informal structures. ESD is actively promoted by teacher education institutions around the world. The area of interculturality is also used to be in focus of international collaboration projects aiming to enhance sustainability in teacher education. However, natural science and mathematics teacher education has traditionally paid lower attention to “soft” parts of subject teaching such as internationalization, intercultural and critical competencies which are closely relate to 21st century skills (Bellanca & Brandt, 2010) then that of social sciences. Our previous research (Popov, Sturesson, 2015) shows that interculturality is not yet part of the Swedish science education mindscape. Moreover, current pandemic situation changed dramatically preconditions for physical meetings as well as for student and staff mobility especially outside EU-states area.

The rapidly expanding mobile learning (m-learning) that employs handheld technology is a powerful international trend (Yildiz, et al. 2020).  Our smartphones are packed with internal sensors that can measure sound, light, acceleration, magnetic field strength, etc. (see below app Sensors). The smartphones' sensors are reliable and accurate enough to permit good measurements.

This paper presents theoretical foundations and practical solutions demonstrating how smartphones and use of modern mobile applications can assist teacher education in fulfilling goals of sustainable development. In particular, focus is on mobile learning (m-learning) collaboration in geographically distributed and culturally diverse settings.

Sensors App
Figure 1. Internal sensors


m-learning, smartphones, science education, sustainability, socio-cultural frames

Research question

The presentation provides some finding of an on-going seed project “Promoting Internationalisation of Science Teacher Education through Mobile Learning” developed in collaboration between science and mathematics teacher training institutions in Sweden and Russia. The project is partially funded by the Swedish Institute. Following research questions were raised in the project:

What potential could be identified in using smartphones in science and mathematics teaching for promoting sustainability and development?

How does cultural context affect ESD innovations embedded in this context?

What are the obstacles for achieving multiplying effects of the innovations?

Main methods

Working from the perspective that interculturality and sustainability are socially constructed practices, the research issues raised in this study dictated a need to use a qualitative approach. Qualitative research seeks to understand things in context as socially located and historically developed phenomena (Silverman, 2003). Data was collected through the analysis of literature (media sources), teaching of designed cases and their evaluation, as well as narratives of the project members at the partner institutions.

Narratives focused on the collegial and individual experiences and opinions about socio-cultural frames and technological factors affecting curriculum development in the local context. Students involved in the project conducted fieldwork and provided their reflections about existing m-learning experiences and potential for innovation.

Data collection and sharing was conducted mainly through remote mode using digital platforms for communication, because of the current pandemic situation. However, teacher students involved in this project made their fieldwork in real physical mode (see an example below).

Figure 2. Fieldwork example
Figure 2. Fieldwork example

Main results

Baseline study provided information about existing practices of teaching with help of handheld technology at the partner institutions and in a broader educational context. We could state that the level of technological affordance is similar in both countries, available gadgets and apps provide multiple but scarcely exploited pedagogical opportunities.

The “design” component of the project focused on development of a didactical approach for teaching sustainability using m-learning. We developed authentic practical activities, for example concerning energy transformations and conservation, to be conducted in-lab and outdoors so-called learning cases or m-learning tasks. The first outcomes of the project are already available in our national academic and professional media (see e.g  Popov,  Baryshnikov,  Milinskiy (2021a, b).

The results show that future teachers have skills and interest in using and acquiring new m-technology in the context of cross-cultural collaboration, but they feel more insecure about how these tools can be used in their daily teaching activities in schools. Many municipalities impose restrictions on use of cellphones in the classroom. Policy, theory and curriculum practice need to be further developed at the national and local levels to accommodate the use of smartphones in education. The process of negotiation and resolving existing tensions and contradictions concerning educational value of smartphones as seen by the main actors in the field (see below) is rather latent, but our findings indicate – these issues need to be proactively addressed.

Figure 3. Main actors in the field
Figure 3. Main actors in the field

Main conclusion

The curriculum frames in the partner teacher training institutions appear to be more flexible and welcoming m-learning innovations than the corresponding frame factors in the local school systems.

We could already see indications that adding the systemic use of m-technologies in international collaborative settings can allow students a deeper understanding of local and global issues and the relationship between science, culture and nature.

Further, we could also register improved group dynamics and engagement with new technology when solving problems and video-reporting results during an international collaboration.

There is a need of further research to be conducted analysing how existing curriculum frames and policies can impact and allow accommodation of suggested m-learning approaches for promoting ESD in different educational contexts on sustainable basis.


  1. Bellanca, J., & Brandt, R. (Eds.). (2010). 21st century skills: Rethinking how students learn. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
  2. Popov, O., Baryshnikov, S., Milinskiy, A. (2021a). Att studera energiomvandlingar med hjälp av en smarttelefon. LMNT-nytt. En medlemstidning i nationell ämnesförening för lärare i matematik, naturvetenskap och teknik.
  3. Popov, O., Baryshnikov, S., Milinskiy, A. (2021b). Developing tools for mobile learning to enhance science teachers’ professional competence. FFPIO. Amur State University. Blagoveshchensk.
  4. Popov, O., Sturesson, E. (2015) Facing pedagogical challenge to meet unaccompanied minor immigrants in the Swedish school system. Problems of Education in the 21st Century, 22 (64), 66–74
  5. Silverman, D. (2010).  Doing qualitative research. SAGE Publications Ltd.
  6. Yildiz, G., et al. (2020) Research trends in mobile learning. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning (IRRODL). V.21, n. 3, 176-196.


Oleg Popov, Ph.D.  Assoc. Professor, Docent Department of Science and Mathematics Education

Umeå University, Umeå, SWEDEN, oleg.popov@umu.se

Last modified: 2021-10-19