Office of Technology Transfer – University of Michigan

Zydeco Inquiry Mobile App

Technology #5657

A Mobile Device to support Cross-Context Inquiry in Formal and Informal Settings

Although many agree that classroom work is enhanced with learning experiences outside the classroom, such as field trips, teachers seldom successfully integrate the free-choice exploration of field trips with the structured teaching and learning found in the classroom. For example, many try to incorporate worksheets with open-ended questions, in an effort to encourage students to express their own ideas and observations about key concepts in the curriculum. Although this has been more successful that closed questions only focused on data collection, learning experiences are not always easily documented and may act to distract students from fully experiencing activities outside the classroom.

There are several technological approaches that currently exist to bridge the gap between learning in the classroom and learning in the field. First, BioKIDS is a handheld device that enables students to identify organisms, and collect data in the schoolyard, for later analysis in the classrooms. Second, The Myartspace handheld program enables visitors of a museum to create their own photo gallery and audio notes to later access and build presentations. Third, The Ambient Wood project uses just-in-time information, location-aware prompts, and multiple ways of collecting information to help guide student inquiries in a particular outdoor space. There remains a need for a device that can enable students to engage in the inquiry process by planning investigations, collecting multimedia data in the field or classroom, and then using their own and peers data, on a tablet or website, to construct evidence-based scientific explanations.

Zydeco: A Mobile “Nomadic Inquiry” System

While field trips help to engage students and harness their interests and motivation, students are unlikely to engage in cognitive inquiry and make conceptual connections to the classroom curriculum, without the structure found in the classroom. Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed Zydeco, an iOS (Apple iPhones) mobile device that integrates with a network web server to support nomadic inquiry, or inquiry that takes place on-the-go. Zydeco enables students to begin their inquiry in the classroom by defining questions to investigate and creating organizational and structural categories that they can use to meaningfully collect and “tag” evidence. For example, students visiting a museum would be able to follow a line of inquiry in their classroom before the museum visit, collect and analyze in-museum scaffolded data, and evaluate work upon returning to the classroom. Collected data can be uploaded to a web server that students can access, using the current prototype, Flickr®. Students can then organize and synthesize their data and observations to present their findings. Here, Zydeco transforms the relationship between the museum and the classroom by creating new, multimodal ways of integrating learning and inquiry.


  • New software to pursue science investigations in multiple locations
  • Data collection, organization, and retrieval
  • Enable data collection from the field
  • Support evidence-based scientific investigations
  • Outreach and education


  • Data collection, organization, and retrieval are designed to support novices
  • Facilitates inquiry learning
  • Can be used inside or outside the classroom
  • Interactive and Collaborative