1511 January 2015

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of pivotal importance to the researchers in both EFL/ESL fields. Seppälä and Alamäki (2003), ... father wants to buy Galaxy Note for me as a gift. Thanks teacher".

International Journal of mobile-mediated learning and their perceptions of using mobile technology to support their learning and teaching. Foreign Language Teaching

Reza Reyhani1, Mojtaba Maghsoudi2

in the Islamic World www.FLTJ.org

Vol. 3, No. 1 (2015), 14-21

ISSN 2382-9893

Unpeeling the Onion: Iranian EFL Learners and Their Perception toward Mobile Learning Farrokhlagha Heidari1, Yazdan Choubsaz2

ARTICLE INFO

ABSTRACT

Article history: Received 05 December 2014 Revised 27 January 2015 Accepted 18 February 2015 Published 27 February 2015

Technology offers new possibilities to provide effective teaching and learning. One of the most current technologies that has ignited substantial interest by educators is mobile technology. Mobile devices are becoming more powerful and taking over tasks that would normally be done on traditional PCs or laptops. Meanwhile, researchers have started to investigate the way mobile technology can be implemented in the educational environment. Despite the interest, current studies into mobile learning are mainly small scale trials, most of which focusing on teachers and educators' perceptions toward mobile learning. Addressing this gap in literature, the present study was developed to draw on language learners' perceptions toward using mobile learning to see how their perceptions would or would not change before and after a mobile-mediated EFL learning course. To serve this aim, a questionnaire developed by Mac Callum (2011) was used among a group of randomly selected intermediate male EFL learners. The learners' responses analyzed by means of a paired-sample t-test indicated that there was a statistically significant difference in learners' perceptions before and after a course on mobile learning. Therefore, the authors argue that the study can pave the way for researchers to delve deeper into the area of MALL.

Keywords: Mobile Technology Mobile Assisted Language Learning Learners' Perception

Introduction Since 2005, the worldwide rise of mobile devices, social media and learning that is facilitated by new mobile and social technologies has grown exponentially (Johnson, Levine, Smith, & Stone, 2010). With the recent rise of new educational forms (both instructional and technological), new research is emerging to study the effect and dynamics of these new technologies and ways of instruction. One can hardly deny the huge number of journals, national and international conferences, workshops and finally syllabi that have mobile assisted learning as one of their core components. But this is not the whole story. Learners' enthusiasm and zeal toward utilizing mobile devices in classrooms brought the idea of examining these new technologies in the context of Iran. Since mobile devices have always been looked at as distractors in educational milieus, this study tried to pave the way for a realistic view of mobile-mediated learning. Perhaps a scientific look which is based on doing viable research can open up new ways in the implementation of mobile assisted language learning in Iranian English as a Foreign Language (EFL) context. As far as utilizing mobile phones as learning tools is concerned, instructors and learners' perception and attitude toward mobile-mediated learning is an issue that needs some level of attention. That's why there are scholars that draw on the significance of learners' perception toward mobile-mediated learning. Seppä lä and Alamä ki (2003) highlighted teacher trainees' positive attitudes toward the use of mobile technology for learning purposes and delivering digital pictures by using Short Message Service (SMS). The researchers stressed that mobile-mediated learning is a remarkable area of research which necessitates more attention and exploration. Mac Callum (2011) elaborated on students and educators' learning and teaching-related beliefs and attitudes, their intentions to adopt

1Assistant

Professor of TEFL, University of Sistan and Baluchestan, Iran. in TEFL, University of Sistan and Baluchestan, Iran. (Corresponding Author’s email: [email protected]) © 2015 The Authors.

2MA

The point is, generally speaking, the implementation of mobile assisted language learning is not an option for Iranian EFL instructors. Besides, most of the papers and activities in the literature draw on instructors' perceptions and attitudes toward mobile-mediated learning. However, little attention has been given to learners' perception toward mobile-mediated learning in particular. Consequently, the main purpose of this study was to delve into Iranian EFL learners' perceptions toward mobile-mediated learning to observe the probable positive or negative aspects. Whatever these aspects may be, by looking at this small-scale mobile learning practice, we can get a closer understanding of learners' mobile-mediated learning experiences and perception and design innovative learning projects which are highly situated, personal, collaborative and long term. Review of Literature In the words of Kitchenham (2011), although mobilemediated instruction is considered as an exciting technological development, it is vital to recognize that technical advances do not automatically generate educational outcomes. That is, if wireless handheld devices like mobile phones are to contribute the provision of blended and mobile-mediated learning in the educational environments, significant attention must be paid to their respective configurations. One potentially useful strategy for interrogating this potential matching is to identify and analyze the ways in which students currently perceive and think about wireless technologies, i.e. their perception toward handheld devices. Fujimoto (2012, p. 169) [email protected] learner' perception toward handheld devices as:" their use of mobile phones for private, educational and language learning purposes in everyday life." If those students see these devices as helping to blend their synchronous and asynchronous learning without being tied to predetermined physical locations, and are already using the devices in that way, educational milieus have a strong foundation for building on student ownership and technological capability. If by contrast students regard the devices as being predominantly for private use and as disconnected from their 14

studies, universities, private or even state institutes might wish to explore whether such an attitudinal gap can and should be bridged. Except the perceptions and attitudes of learners toward mobile-mediated learning, its implementation in the educational environment is of paramount importance. Using Motallebzadeh, Beh-Afarin, and Daliry Rad's (2011) words, given the fact that technology is central to mobile-mediated learning activities, one should bear in mind that they should be developed in advance, and should be tested regularly on different devices. The design of mobile activities is critical when one wants to use it as a tool combined with other pedagogies to achieve certain learning outcomes. Activities or content for mobile devices should be delivered either in small chunks or in summarized notes, and should not be used to deliver large amounts of information. Students should rather use their laptops or desktops to view larger amounts of information (Koszalka & Ntloedibe-Kuswani, 2010). According to KukulskaHulme and Shield (2008), some of the possible Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL) activities for low-tech, low cost mobile devices include text-messaging, recording audio or video, taking pictures, and downloading foreign language MP3 files to archive or listen to at a later stage. This ease of use and the significance of EFL learners' perception regarding using text-messaging was the main rationale behind using this technology as a means of teaching phrasal verbs in the current study. As was mentioned earlier, the focus was on learners' perceptions toward this mobile-mediated course before and after implementing it. With regards to SMS and the content used, a study done by Kennedy and Levy (2008) found that students did not find SMSs including words that have never been taught before particularly useful. Messages that amuse or arouse curiosity or had a combination of vocabulary knowledge and strategic thinking were some of the interesting and more enjoyable SMSs and content preferred by students. Considering the Iranian context, Motallebzadeh and Ganjali (2011) examined the effects of SMSs on 40 Iranian EFL learners' performance on vocabulary retention and reading comprehension. The result showed that mobile phone users outperformed the control group with regard to both vocabulary and reading comprehension scores. In another trial, drawing on the preliminaries of MALL and parallel with the investigation of the impacts of L2 learners' visual and verbal abilities and gender on EFL learning, the study by Khazaie, Ketabi, Hayati, and Tafazoli (2013) intended to develop a server-based delivery of learning materials to cell phone regarding L2 learners' characteristics. The @indings were generally consistent with the dual coding theory in that the addition of written or pictorial annotation could help in facilitating learning. In the same vein, Khabiri and Khatibi (2013) explored mobile-enabled resources available to Iranian EFL learners and elaborated that mobile devices are enabling users to create resources for teaching purposes, write blogs to keep their friends up-to-date with events, take and distribute photos and videos and make and take notes and recordings. Uses within Iranian context suggest evolving social and cultural practices that may result from patterns of use among friends, family, colleagues and teachers. Some of the experiments where SMSs were used include texting students to inform them of schedule changes, notices, examination dates, marks, etc. and also where it was used to guide, prompt and support the students in learning (Garner, Francis, & Wales, 2002). The study done by Rau, Gao, and Wu (2008) found that communicating through SMS with the instructor alleviated the perceived pressure of feeling embarrassed when seeking help in learning. "When the student received an SMS from the instructor, he/she may feel being cared for, and a type of bonding with the instructor and classroom activities, was said to have been felt" (Rau et al., 2008, p. 11). What was also found was that an SMS might be a

more effective tool for building bridges between learners and instructors than e-mails or an online forum, but that it is an inadequate tool with which to deliver rich content such as lecture notes or exercises. The fact that large amounts of information have to be sent as multiple SMSs can be some sort of inconvenience to learners, and hence SMSs are more effective when small amounts of information are sent. In another study by Alemi, Anani Sarab and Lari (2012), where they investigated successful learning of academic word list via MALL, the results of the delayed post-test showed that SMS had more significant effect on vocabulary retention compared to using dictionary, and the experimental group outperformed the control group. The results also included pedagogical implication for language instructors, in that they can use SMS as a useful way to help their students to retain vocabularies in their long-term memory. Confirming the effectiveness of SMS, Cavus and Ibrahim (2007) believe that "there have been applications in the teaching of literature for the use of SMS (text messaging) in education" (p. 80). By the same token, Kennedy and Levy (2008) report on a study where SMSs have been used by beginners to learn Italian. The study's findings suggest that the students found the overall experience positive, but that a substantial number of the participants felt dissatisfied with the frequency of the messages they received. Another finding was that amongst the sample of messages that were evaluated, what "the students ranked as most interesting or enjoyable tended to coincide with those scoring lowest on usefulness by the teacher" (Kennedy & Levy, 2008, p. 327). The implication of this is that the most useful content would be ignored by the students due to lack of interest. The solution would thus be to try and make the messages which contain the most useful content more interesting (Kennedy & Levy, 2008). According to Traxler (2005), earlier work like that done by Stone, Alsop, Briggs, and Tompsett, (2002), Garner et al. (2002) and Stone and Briggs (2002), all suggest that students would prefer SMS and e-mail as ways to receive up-to-date information, instead of websites or notice boards. According to their findings, students will welcome SMS texts that are perceived as timely, appropriate and personalized. The studies done by the authors show that SMSs can be used to provide support, motivation and continuity. They can also be used to provide alerts and reminders, to deliver bite-size content, introductions, and revision tips, and to give study guidance when needed. In keeping with the study done by Kennedy and Levy (2008), and in accordance with a study done by Mosavi Miangah and Nezarat (2012), regarding the SMS content, students' preferences were for messages on grammar, vocabulary, news, literature and administration, with grammar being the topic on which they primarily wanted to receive messages. In terms of messages being repeated, only one third found it useful, while two-thirds of the participants indicated that it took up additional space in their cell phones' memory since they did not delete many of the SMSs, and thus did not find the repetition of SMSs useful. According to Roschell (2003), the research being done on mobile-mediated learning appears to present somewhat of a paradox. On the one hand, there are teachers and researchers who are enthusiastic about using mobile technologies, believing that they provide a means for learners to study "every time, everywhere" and that it will encourage more frequent and integral use of learning technologies with regards to the more occasional use generally associated with computer laboratories. Many see mobile-mediated learning as the next generation of learning, since it is also found that SMSs can be used to support and encourage students off campus through short bursts of information (Kukulska-Hulme, 2005). On the other hand, there are other groups of teachers and researchers who have a more pessimistic approach, pointing out the many factors that impede the introduction of mobile-mediated learning into language

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learning environments. Wang and Higgins (2006), for example, give a detailed overview of the psychological and technical barriers to using mobile phones in classrooms. They argue that acceptance of new technologies takes time, and all learners cannot be expected to feel comfortable with using new technologies at the same rate. It is also possible, as Dias (2002) points out, that learners may see mobile-mediated learning as an intrusion into their own personal space, which would limit the degree to which they would accept learning with their mobile phones. Pedagogically, as Stander (2011) argues, activities that capitalize on mobility and portability, the very rationale for using mobile technologies, are not as commonplace as one might hope, and although the "everywhere" factor is often not an issue, the "every time" part is. Learners are sent messages by email or SMS at either fixed times, or times that suit the teacher, which is a tendency that seems to defeat the purpose of using mobile technologies. The technical limitations have been widely cited, and include the size of the screen and the difficulties of inputting grammatically correct text (Thornton & Houser, 2002). When working with the device, children can become isolated from other learners, as they are listening and reading what is being displayed on the device, and they become distracted from what is happening around them, since working with mobile devices can create a distance from what is going on around you. As Savill-Smith and Kent (2003) put it, the use of students' personal devices for learning may appear to be natural but issues can arise over device ownership and control. Wang and Higgins (2006) mention the acceptance of the new technology that takes time, and all learners not being expected to feel comfortable with using it at the same rate. Stockwell's (2008) study found that although the students owned a mobile phone, and were rather confident that they had the necessary skills to work with the device, a lot of them were both unwilling and reluctant to use their phones for educational purposes. The fact that students know how to use mobile technologies in their everyday lives does not mean that they know how to use it when dealing with language learning (Stockwell, 2008). "Thus, the success of mobile-mediated learning may depend on whether or not users are willing to adopt the new technology that is different from what they have used in the past" (Wang, Wu, & Wang, 2009, p. 100). In this section of the study, the literature regarding mobile technologies was discussed. Looking at it, one can definitely get an idea of where language and the incorporation of technology and more specifically SMSs are heading to. A significant point reflected in the section was that there were few studies that present convincing evidence of learners' perceptions of the use of mobile phones for language learning, or their use of mobile phones for private, educational and language learning purposes in everyday life thus far. That's why these two issues were focused on as the core components of this study. The Research Question and Hypothesis The study crystallized around the following research question: Q1: Is there any significant difference between the perceptions of learners toward mobile-mediated instruction before and after incorporating mobilemediated learning in EFL classes? Based on the mentioned research question, the following null hypothesis was formulated: H 0(1) : There is no significant difference between the perceptions of learners toward mobile-mediated instruction before and after incorporating mobilemediated learning in EFL classes.

Participants The participants of this study were 60 male EFL learners in Iran Language Institutes (ILI), Kermanshah branch, that were randomly chosen from among the population of 72 learners on the basis of convenience sampling. All the participants were pre-intermediate learners and due to the limitation of the institute, convenience sampling was the only option at hand. The participants came from various socioeconomic backgrounds and different areas in Kermanshah. Most of them were high school and university students and their age varied between 16 to 45. Instrumentation To investigate the perceptions of the participants of the experimental group toward mobile assisted language learning in general and learning via text-messaging in particular, a questionnaire in the form of a Likert-scale developed by Mac Callum (2011) was used in the study. It should be mentioned that since the original questionnaire by Mac Callum (2011) contained 8 parts, 4 of which were not the focus of this study, only parts 5, 6, 7 and 8 were adopted as parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 (see appendix A). The questionnaire was entitled 'Learners' characteristics and experience and the perception of mobile learning'. The first part deals with what students would think about mobilemediated learning and using mobile technology in their learning. To answer the 18 items of the @irst part, the participants choose one of the options that were ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). The second part deals with what students would think about having different functions of mobile-mediated learning available on their mobile devices. Once again, in order to answer the 6 items of the second part, the participants choose one of the options that were ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Since the learners' personal ideas about this course on MALL were compelling to the researcher, there was an extra but optional part, i.e. part 3, in which the learners were asked to write about their personal opinions and feelings about the course, if they had any. And finally, it was the last part of the questionnaire, i.e. part 4, which dealt with learners' demographic information. To standardize the new questionnaire, it was administered to 12 male pre-intermediate EFL learners with similar characteristics to the learners of the experimental group. The pilot study was conducted to calculate the reliability of the questionnaire, which turned to be 0.84 (see appendix B). It should be stated that the validity of the questionnaire checked by two experts in the field. They were instructors in the ILI with more than 15 years of English teaching experience. It must also be mentioned that the questionnaire was distributed among the participants of the experimental group twice. The first distribution was before the course, while the second one was after the course. The learners' responses were analyzed using SPSS, version 21, to see whether there was a statistically significant difference in learners' perceptions before and after a course on MALL, i.e. to answer the second research question. Data Collection and Procedure The study was conducted during the fall semester of 1393, in Iran Language Institute of Kermanshah. From among the population of 72 pre-intermediate male EFL learners, 60 of them were chosen randomly, i.e. based on convenience sampling. It should be mentioned that these 72 preintermediate learners were all newcomers and had participated in Iran Language Institute Placement Test. This reliable and valid written placement test that has been administrated for many years, always comes with oral interviews by two interviewers. Thus, it enjoys a high inter-rater reliability, i.e. r= 0.90 (Sa'dabadi & Sarkhosh, 2014). This way the researcher

Methodology

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made sure about the English knowledge homogeneity of the population. At the very first session of the course, all the sixty learners were randomly divided into two groups of control and experimental. The researcher applied two different approaches to teach phrasal verbs to the participants in the study. From one side, the 30 learners of the control group that attended their classes on Sundays and Tuesdays, learned 96 phrasal verbs in twelve consecutive weeks using conventional methods. To be more precise, each Sunday, 8 phrasal verbs were typed on a separate sheet of paper and presented to the learners during the last fifteen minutes of the class (see appendix C). Traditional teacher-fronted methods like providing learners with English synonyms and using the phrasal verbs in sentences were used in this group. Rarely did it happen to the instructor to use Farsi translations. All the 96 phrasal verbs were chosen from the book entitled Phrasal Verb Organizer by John Flower (1993) and the instructor did not introduce the source to the learners of either groups. This way they enjoyed the same learning situation. From the other side, the 30 learners of the experimental group who attended their classes on Mondays and Thursdays learned the 96 phrasal verbs in twelve consecutive weeks using mobile text-messaging. To be more specific, each Monday, at the same time that the learners of the control group had learned the phrasal verbs, the instructor text-messaged 8 phrasal verbs in sentences alongside their English synonyms or simple definitions. It should be mentioned that the learners of the experimental group were asked to write their cell phone numbers on a piece of paper at the very first session. To answer the research question, the researcher distributed a shorter version of Mac Callum's (2011) questionnaire that was compatible with the scope of this study. To elaborate more, at the very @irst session, the 30 learners of the experimental group filled in a questionnaire entitled 'Learners' characteristics and experience and the perception of mobile-mediated learning'. The instructor explained the format of the questionnaire and all four parts of it. The learners were assured that their responses would remain confidential and only be used for research purposes. The instructor also explained that the learners must not necessarily owe a cell phone to fill in the questionnaire. It needs no emphasis that the purpose of distributing the questionnaire was twofold. First, it was an endeavor to record and evaluate learners' current perceptions toward mobilemediated learning. Second, it was an attempt to compare them with learners' perceptions after a course on MALL. Thus, one more time and during the last session, the learners filled in the same questionnaire in the same format to see whether there was a statistically significant difference in their perceptions before and after a course on mobile assisted language learning. The learners were also asked to write their personal opinions, if they had any, in the third part of the questionnaire regarding the course they had had on using their mobile phones as learning tools. Data Analysis In order to scrutinize the perception of Iranian male EFL learners toward MALL and to find out whether the mean difference in their perceptions before and after a course of mobile-mediated instruction was significant or not, the researcher computed descriptive statistics and ran a paired sample t-test. It must be noted that all the statistical analyses were conducted by using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) program, version 21. Results As can be observed, Table 1 draws on the descriptive statistics of the experimental group in answering the questionnaire before and after the treatment.

Table 1 Descriptive Statistics for the Experimental Group in Answering the Questionnaire Score Before the treatment After the treatment Frequ Perc Cumulative Frequ Perc Cumulative ency ent Percent ency ent Percent 50 - 70 1 3.3 3.3 1 3.3 3.3 70 - 90 14 46.7 50 4 13.3 16.7 90-110 11 36.7 86.7 14 46.7 63.3 110-130 4 13.3 100 11 36.7 100 Total 30 100 30 100 Mean 93.73 105.20 Median 90 106 Std. Deviation 14.273 17.050 Minimum 68 55 Maximum 125 130

Paired Sample T-test As it was shown in Table 1, the mean score of learners' responses to the questionnaire was 93.73 with the standard deviation of 14.273 before the treatment, while the mean score of their responses was 105.20 with the standard deviation of 17.050 after the course of mobile-mediated learning. This means that the perception of learners notably changed toward mobile-mediated learning after the course i.e. they indicated a much more positive attitude toward mobile-mediated instruction. Figure 1 indicates the schematic representation of the mean difference before and after the treatment more clearly.

However, to confirm or reject the null hypothesis, the researcher ran a paired sample t-test to compare the means of the learners' responses to the questionnaire before and after the treatment. The results of the t-test can be seen in Table 2. Table 2 Paired Sample T-test: Comparison between the Means of the Learners' Responses to the Questionnaire before and after the Treatment Std. Groups N Mean t df Sig Deviation Before the 30 93.73 14.273 treatment -2.352 29 0.026 After the 30 105.20 17.050 treatment

As Table 2 depicts, the t-value with 29 degrees of freedom (df) was -2.352. In fact, the t-observed -2.352 was more than t-critical 1.69, at 0.05 level of [email protected] (p

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