The Opportune Moment

Gagnon (2010) writes, “The discussion of learning environments and mobile media grants educators an opportunity to adopt methods of situated, contextual, just-in-time, participatory, and personalized learning.” Mobile learning has the potential to capitalize on the teachable moment, or the opportune moment.

I think the place-based learning Gagnon describes is one of the most exciting possibilities of mobile/geolocation technology. The “situated documentary” Dow Day allows the user to experience a part of history, the protests against the Dow Chemical Company at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The “documentary” is really a mobile game that puts the user at the scene of the action, experiencing parts of history as s/he moves around the actual location where historical events took place. The Spanish-learning game Mentira is an even more fascinating use of place-based learning–what better way to learn Spanish in a real and useful way than in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood! Enis (2013) mentions the tour London—A City Through Time. Foote (2010) describes SCVNGR, an app that goes beyond Foursquare in providing provide quests or challenges to the user. Mathews (2013) and Russell (2013) describe Google’s Field Trip app that can push content based on location. Hey, field trip!

Mission trip 027

Last week I went on a 5th grade field trip to the Mission District in San Francisco. We went there for a walking tour of the murals of the Mission. After exploring this week’s module, I thought the Mission murals would be a fantastic subject for place-based learning. There are two main alleys with large concentrations of murals, but there are murals, large and small, throughout the Mission, and many decorated surfaces. The murals are often full of symbolism of all types—religious, cultural, political. As an example, here are some shots of a mural decrying the gentrification of the Mission—the older residents being harassed by police on the left, the newer rich elite on the right, and above them, the skull symbolism coupled with symbols for banks and mortgage brokers who profit from everything.

Mission trip 061Mission trip 060

Place-based learning could direct viewers’ attention to small details that convey meaning. For example, in the gentrification mural above, one of the boys being stopped by the police has Skittles sticking out of and falling from his pocket, reminiscent of Trayvon Martin, a compelling symbolic detail added to the scene.

Mission trip 072

The murals are also dynamic works of art, changing over time. One of the more well-known murals is After The Storm by Tina Wolfe, which was painted to commemorate Hurricane Katrina. In its original form it looked like this:

Time wore away some of the decoupage pictures on the mural, and the artist came back to it later, so that when we saw it, it looked like this:

Mission trip 058

The color changes and added pictures and leaves represent life returning to the area devastated by Katrina. Place-based learning could educate readers about how murals change over time, and the meaning of those changes.

We came across one mural as it was being painted, in response to a police shooting that occurred only days before:

Mission trip 105

Some form of user input or curation of murals could keep a place-based learning app current and represent many local voices.

As it turns out, there was a SCVNGR game that provided a tour of the Mission murals. Too bad it was a temporary promotional event for a city guide. It would be nice to see a more permanent “exhibit” allowing people to learn about the rich but always changing art in this fascinating neighborhood.


Enis, M. (2013, February 12). Mobile evolution: How apps are adapting to a new device ecosystem [Web log post]. The Digital Shift. Library Journal. Retrieved from

Foote, A. (2010, October 20). Four geolocation trends to watch [Web log post]. Edelman Digital. Retrieved from

Gagnon, D. (2010, September 22). Mobile learning environments [Web log post]. EDUCAUSE review online. Retrieved from

Russell, B. (2013, March 7). App of the week: Google’s Field Trip will help you discover your city’s hidden gems. [Web log post]. Technobuffalo. Retrieved from:




About mollificence

library student, writer, mom, Kindle addict View all posts by mollificence

11 responses to “The Opportune Moment

  • Stephenie Springer

    This would be a great idea. There are so many things to learn and discover in cities and towns of all sizes and it would be nice for libraries to encourage the discovery of those things. I’ve lived in San Francisco for almost four years now and I have not REALLY seen the murals in the Mission! There are so many things to see and learn and I wish I was taking more advantage of it. And it’s a great opportunity for libraries to show their value as cultural centers for their communities.

  • Judy

    I agree, it’s a great idea, but historically, libraries aren’t the best at letting users know what it is we have to offer. Imagine how cool it would be if Google would actually work WITH libraries…

  • Michael Stephens

    This is a brilliant idea. I often argue for libraries to focus on the things that makes them most unique – one of which is the uniqueness of the community that surrounds it. Your example of the mission murals is a perfect “hyperlocal” project.

  • Tammi Bozich

    I love the way you describe the “situated documentary.” I never really enjoyed history related classes throughout my education because it seemed so remote and unrelated to my life. Using a mobile game that allows me to experience history as if I was a part of it would definitely make me more likely to learn something and to gain a better perspective on the past. Absolutely love the video clip you used too! Love Pirates of the Caribbean~ 🙂

    • Molly McKinney

      @tbozich Thanks Tammi! I have always loved history, but I had the benefit of an amazing history teacher in high school–she made us live it! (We held a medieval feast as part of class, a Welsh Eisteddfod, a French banquet in the court of the Sun King…we had She’s the best teacher I’ve ever had. Er, second best (Hi @michael! 🙂 )

      Anyway, my point being, she is a good example of how subjects can be made transformative and exciting, not just a dry recitation of obsolete facts. Apps have a lot of potential for making things come alive in this way that doesn’t depend on quite so much effort–or at least, though it takes effort to make the app, it is transferable to a large group with minimal effort after the initial work has been done.

  • Madeleine Pressley

    This is so interesting! I love the opportunities mobile learning presents, like place-based and teachable moments, that you describe with your examples.

  • Director’s Brief: Augmented Reality | Mollificence

    […] Murals field trip,” an idea that occurred to me and was inspired by Module 10. Here is my earlier blog posting about the Mission Murals and mobile […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: