Journal of Science Education and Technology

, Volume 27, Issue 5, pp 385–403 | Cite as

Using Smartphones as Experimental Tools—Effects on Interest, Curiosity, and Learning in Physics Education

  • Katrin HochbergEmail author
  • Jochen Kuhn
  • Andreas Müller


Smartphones as experimental tools (SETs) offer inspiring possibilities for science education, as their built-in sensors allow many different measurements, but until now, there has been little research that studies this approach. Due to current interest in their development, it seems necessary to provide empirical evidence about potential effects of SETs by a well-controlled study. For the present investigation, experiments were developed that use the smartphones’ acceleration sensors to investigate an important topic of classical mechanics (pendulum). A quasi-experimental repeated-measurement design, consisting of an experimental group using SETs (smartphone group, SG, NSG = 87) and a control group working with traditional experimental tools (CG, NCG = 67), was used to study the effects on interest, curiosity, and learning achievement. Moreover, various control variables were taken into account. With multiple-regression analyses and ANCOVA, we found significantly higher levels of interest in the SG (small to medium effect size). Pupils that were less interested at the beginning of the study profited most from implementing SETs. Moreover, the SG showed higher levels of topic-specific curiosity (small effect size). No differences were found for learning achievement. This means that the often-supposed cognitive disadvantage of distracting learners with technological devices did not lead to reduced learning, whereas interest and curiosity were apparently fostered. Moreover, the study contributes evidence that could reduce potential concerns related to classroom use of smartphones and similar devices (increased cognitive load, mere novelty effect). In sum, the study presents encouraging results for the under-researched topic of SET use in science classrooms.


Smartphones Technology-based activities Secondary education Physics education Interest Curiosity 



Generous financial support by the “Wilfried-und-Ingrid-Kuhn-Stiftung” for the doctoral thesis of Katrin Hochberg is gratefully acknowledged. The current paper is based largely on this thesis.


This study was funded by the “Wilfried-und-Ingrid-Kuhn-Stiftung”.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of Interest

Katrin Hochberg declares that she has no conflict of interest. Jochen Kuhn declares that he has no conflict of interest. Andreas Müller declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10956_2018_9731_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (12 mb)
Online Resource 1 (PDF 12302 kb)
10956_2018_9731_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (127 kb)
Online Resource 2 (PDF 127 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Physics/Physics Education Research GroupUniversity of KaiserslauternKaiserslauternGermany
  2. 2.Faculty of Sciences/Physics Section and Institute of Teacher Education, Pavillon d’Uni Mail (IUFE)University of GenevaGenevaSwitzerland

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