The mobile device to access information and learning

The
integration of technology into lesson plans should augment and complement the
lessons and support students learning in a way that may not be possible in the
absence of the chosen technology tools. 
Learning is becoming more distributed where students will use a mobile
device to access information and learning materials from anywhere and at any
time. It is crucial to understand students’ attitudes and perceptions when
considering bringing in a technology device into the picture. Therefore, this
qualitative study aims at investigating the attitudes and perceptions of
graduate students toward using mobile learning for learning, in the Educational
Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA) department at Northern Illinois
University (NIU), USA. The interviews of four voluntary participants were
conducted in order to provide more understanding on student perceptions of
mobile learning. Preliminary results, derived from individual (one-on-one)
interviews, indicated that students had positive attitudes toward using mobile
devices for learning and want to use mobile devices in an educational setting
in the future. They found that utilizing mobile devices was convenient and
enabled learning to be more flexible and portable because of the convenience,
usefulness and ease of use associated with mobile devices applications and
tools. However, students identified
usability issues like small screen size and keyboards, and additional
cost of mobile devices and services as constraints for using mobile devices for learning.

 

Key words: Mobile learning, cell
phone, mobile phone, attitudes, Technology
Acceptance Model (TAM), Higher education

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

Mobile technologies are any advanced devices
that are portable and supported by Internet connection. These devices include
PDAs, smartphones, IPad, digital cameras, flash-disks, iPods, laptop
(El-Hussein & Cronje, 2010), and they are usually small, autonomous, and
unnoticeable enough to be carried anytime (Trifonova, Knapp, Ronchetti, &
Gamper, 2004). in addition, these technologies are built-in wireless, and, via this
unique feature, individuals can access network information anytime, anywhere
(Hahn, 2008). Mobile devices can be used dramatically to improve learning and
bring digital content to students who love these technologies and employ them
in their learning as they use them in their personal lives (West, 2013). Using
these devices in education can provide opportunities for “collaborative
learning, students’ appreciation of their own learning process, consolidation
of learning, and ways of helping learners to see a subject differently than why
would have done without the use of mobile devices” (Kukulska-Hulme, 2007, p.

4). With recent developments in these devices, mobile learning has attracted
considerable attention in education (Kukulska- Hulme, 2009). Park, Nam and Cha
(2012) define mobile learning as “any educational provision where the sole or
dominant technologies are handheld or palmtop devices.” (p. 592). Mobile
learning could be defined as the learning that is delivered to students anytime
and anywhere through the use of wireless Internet and mobile devices (Wang, Wu,
& Wang, 2009).

 Based on
the idea of anywhere and anytime learning, mobile device technologies provide
“a myriad of opportunities to support learning and performance both inside and
outside the classroom” (Martin & Ertzberger, 2013, p. 26). The portability
and the affordability are the benefits that are offered by these devices
(Chinnery, 2006). Miangah and Nezarat (2012) stated, “mobile learning is
characterized by its potential for learning to be spontaneous, informal,
personalized and ubiquitous” (p. 309). Mobile learning devices have been
related to the concept of ubiquitous learning (u-learning) where “computing,
communication, and sensor devices are embedded and integrated into learner’s’
daily life to make learning immersive” (Hwang, Tsai, & Yang, 2008, p.81).

According to Alshahrani (2016), the future of mobile learning “looks promising
due to current and continuing innovations such as flexible and touchscreen
displays, multi-screen capabilities, powerful batteries with more charge cycles
and longer-lasting battery life, and wireless charging.” (p.90).

The Educational Technology, Research and
Assessment (ETRA) department at Northern Illinois University (NIU), United
States, delivers numerous programs and applies different strategies in an
attempt to positively affect the student learning skills and one of these
strategies is the use and integration of mobile devices as a vital part of the
teaching and learning support. However, it has been noticed that some graduate
students use their mobile devices mostly for entertainment, socialization,
keeping in touch with family and friends, or for checking e-mail: not as much
for educational purposes. Providing mobile academic resources is not enough to
confirm students to use them for learning. 

Mobile learning at institutions of higher
education remains in its infancy stage (Al-Shahrani, 2016; Park, 2011; Cheon et al., 2012;
Wang et al., 2009).

As it is still in its infancy, limited understanding is available regarding the
willingness and acceptance of using mobile devices for learning purposes. The concepts and educational
issues surrounding mobile learning are growing and need further study
(Kukulska-Hulme, 2007; Traxler, 2009; Wang et al., 2009). One of these issues
is students’ attitudes towards using mobile learning for learning. the successful implementation of
the use mobile device technology in higher education is based on student’
acceptance of this technology and whether students are willing to adopt mobile
learning for academic learning (Kukulska-hulme, 2007; Alshahrani, 2016);
therefore, the main purpose of this study is to investigate students’ attitudes
and perceptions of their own and the university’s role on the use of mobile
device technologies in the graduate programs in the ETRA department at NIU.

What are the graduate students’ understandings of this integration and how much
they believe that it may support them to improve their academic settings? This
study also investigates the students experience and satisfaction with the
mobile academic resources presented by the ETRA department at NIU. It is hoped
that the findings of this study will provide the scholars and educators
insightful information about the issue and trends of mobile learning in higher
education and fill in some of the gaps that currently exist in the research and
help to build a foundation for future research in the field of mobile learning.

In addition, it is hoped that the findings of the study will define the value
of in utilizing mobile device technology and how this technology integration
interacts with learning and provide suggestions for future developments. This
paper is not only will provide information about how students are currently
informally using their own personal mobile devices for educational purposes
inside and outside of the classroom, but also how they would view a more formal
use of these devices for educational purposes.

Why Mobile learning is Appropriate for
Educational Contexts?

Compared with desktops, mobile devices can be
more easily integrated across the curriculum (Moseley & Higgins, 1999).

These devices “have the power to make learning even more widely available and
accessible than we are used to in existing e-learning environments” (Brown,
2003, p.1). This is possible since many of students today already have mobile
devices do not need extensive infrastructure as desktop computers.

 One of
the key benefits of mobile learning is its potential for allowing students to
access academic material without the restrictions of time and place (Huang, Lin
& Chuang, 2007), and “without permanent physical connection to cable
networks” (Georgiev, Georgieva & Smrikarov, 2004, p. 28). Connectivity
enables students to connect and communicate with the learning websites using
the wireless device network to access the learning materials (Miangah &
Nezarat, 2012). Due to more affordable technology and improving digital
networks, many people turn to mobile devices as their first choice for
connectivity (Johnson, Smith, Willis, Levine & Haywood, 2011). In addition,
Dew (2010) attests “the principal features of mobile learning are the
flexibility for students to engage in the educational process and material
anywhere, any time” (p. 47).

Mobile devices provide more mobility,
flexibility and convenience compared to computer desktops. The issue of
mobility is an vital element in mobile learning, because students must at any
point be able to participate in educational activities regardless of the
physical location they find themselves, bearing in mind that the interest to
use the mobile device to learn outside a classroom or in any other place is
partly motivated by portability, lightweight, small size and convenience to
carry it around with relative ease for both communication and educational  purposes, utilizing its spontaneous features
to get access to unlimited information.

 Mobile
learning allows students to expand discussion and investigation beyond the
walls of the classroom and it allows students to access to resources of
learning as well as to complete all the tasks they would need on computer
desktops but with the convenience of mobility and flexibility (Al-Fahad, 2009;
Rossing, Miller, Cecil & Stamper, 2012). Students, therefore, recognize the
potential for future mobile learning opportunities as new technologies are
integrated into the educational context (Bottentuit Junior, 2008; Uzunboylu et
al, 2009; Wyatt et al, 2010; Wang et al, 2009; Maag, 2007) and want to use
mobile devices in an educational setting in the future (Maag, 2007). Al-Fahad
(2009), in his study, found that students perceived mobile technologies as an
effective means of enhancing communication and learning. Guenter et al (2008),
Hsu et al (2008), and Comac (2008) in their studies indicated students reported
both competence and ease in using the devices and performing the learning
tasks.

Mobile devices have a great advantage in terms
of their portability and flexibility. The results of previous studies (Clarke
et. al, 2008; Cavus & Ibrahim, 2009; Bottentuit Junior, 2008; Al-Fahad,
2009) indicated that many participants found that using mobile devices was
convenient and enabled learning to be flexible regarding time and location and
portable due to the portability of modern small and lightweight devices and
perceived convenience associated with mobile applications and tools, although
students felt if additional personal expense was needed to perform the tasks
(i.e. if they had to purchase a cell phone data plan or their equipment was not
up to date) that these factors would act as a restrictive (Venkatesh, 2006).

Mobile learning also helps overcome the digital divide for learners who do not
have access to computers but typically own a mobile phone (Aderinoye, et al.,
2007; Attewell, 2005). Mobile devices enable a flexible, convenient
personalized, secure, and easy to access content interface (Fozdar & Kumar,
2007).

Another benefit of mobile learning is allowing
students to “more easily carry reference and communication tools with them into
real-world environments. This flexibility permits frequent dialogue with
experts and peers, just-in-time retrieval of information, documentation of
personal experiences, and integration of course-based knowledge into aspects of
the learners’ daily lives-all permitting learners to receive feedback and
assess their progress” (Koole, McQuilkin & Ally, 2010, p. 3).

The Potential Barriers of Mobile Learning 

While mobile wireless technologies give
students increased flexibility and new opportunities in education sector (Traxler,
2007), students may be constrained by small screen sizes, limited input and
output capabilities, weak processing power, and limited memory (Koole,
McQuilkin & Ally, 2010). Likewise, Motiwalla (2007) did mention some
challenges exist from the students’ perceptions, such as small screen sizes,
limited processing powers and graphical limitations of most mobile devices
means learners might be spending more than necessary time searching for and
accessing information. Wang, Wiesemes, and Gibbons (2012) reported that issues
with the size of mobile devices and failures of wireless Internet Wi-Fi
connectivity cause frustration and disappointment in students. Limited
availability of wireless may also prohibit access to course materials (Croop,
2009). Some researchers also suggest the personal ownership of mobile devices
such as smartphones and the cost of unlimited Internet access or texting as
prohibitive for some students (DuVall, Powell, Hodge & Ellis, 2007;
Aderinoye, et al., 2007; Croop, 2009). Others such as Lawrence, Bachfischer,
Dyson, and Litchfield (2008) did mention the cost imposed by telecommunications
for access and mobile devices to be main cost barriers for students.

However, a few years ago, effective and
efficient use of mobile devices for teaching and learning was not easily
possible because of some drawbacks, but today, most of these drawbacks, which
included screen size, battery life, keyboard etc. have been rectified.

According to Tsvetozar Georgiev, Evgenia Georgieva, and Angel Smrikarov (2004)
suggest that cost is not a barrier since mobile devices are less expensive than
a desktop computer; smaller size and lighter weight than a desktop computer;
ensures better students engage as mobile learning is based on up-to-date
technologies, which students use in daily life; these devices equipped with a
Global Positioning System (GPS) can offer location dependent education.

Moreover, Williams (2009) suggested that shrinking data storage solutions cost
and the low mobile device cost is the main benefits of using mobile technology
when compared to desktop and laptops. According to Georgiev et al. (2004),
although mobile learning has several weaknesses at present, potential
technological solutions have the abilities to tackle these problems

Students’ Attitudes

An attitude is a “relatively enduring
organization of beliefs, feelings, and behavioral tendencies towards socially
significant objects, groups, events or symbols”(Hogg & Vaughan, 2005,
p.1). A literature review based on Allport (1935) defined attitude
comprehensively as “a mental and neural state of readiness, organized
through experience, exerting a directive or dynamic influence upon the
individual’s response to all objects and situations to which it is
related” (p. 810). In an educational environment, students’ attitudes play
a fundamental role in the achievement of educational goals (Al-Shahrani & Walker, 2016).

Eagly and Chaiken (1993) provided what may be the most conventional
contemporary definition; particularly, an “attitude is a psychological
tendency that is expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree
of favor or disfavor” (p. 1). Evaluation in turn is described as the
“imputation of some degree of goodness or badness to an entity” (Eagly &
Chaiken, 1993, p. 3). Entities or attitude objects can be “virtually anything
that is discriminable” (p. 4) such as the concept of inclusive education or
even behaviors or classes of behaviors. Attitudes themselves are not directly
observable but can be inferred from observable responses expressing a degree of
evaluation. Therefore, understanding student attitudes toward mobile learning
is needed and may provide insights into the feasibility of implementation of
mobile learning as well as the elimination of obstacles. According to Rogers
(2003), users’ attitudes toward a new technology are a critical component in
its diffusion. The success of the innovation depends on the individuals who use
it (Geisman, 2001). Individuals will accept an innovation if they believe that
it will enhance their productivity. Dorman (2005) also says that studying
attitudes is key in determining the level of individuals understanding,
acceptance, and readiness for technology.

An attitude is “an idea charged with emotion
which predisposes a class of actions to a particular class of social
situations” (Triandis, 1971, p. 2). Triandis (1971) suggested that attitudes
are complex, with a cognitive component includes a person’s statement of
beliefs, ideas and thoughts; an affective component of attitudes is the
emotional or feelings; and a behavioral component (behavioral intentions,
behavior or actions toward/away from the attitude referent. Triandis asserted
that attitudes help us adjust to our environment by providing a certain amount
of predictability.

Attitude is defined as an individual’s positive
or negative feeling about performing the target behaviour (Fishbein &
Ajzen, 1975). It is related to behavioural intention because people form
intentions to perform behaviours toward which they have positive feeling. As
proposed in Theory of Reasoned 277 Action (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975),
attitude was expected to influence behavioural intention in accepting a new
innovation. Most intention-based theories model attitude as a mediator between
beliefs and intentions. Individual’s’ salient beliefs about the outcomes are
expected to influence their attitude towards the behaviour, which in turn is
expected to impact their intention to perform that behaviour.

In a technology adoption context, the key
behaviour of interest is use of the system; therefore, attitude towards
behaviour is a potential user’s affective evaluation of the costs and benefits
of using the new technology. If users perceive the benefits of using the new
technology are greater than the costs, their attitude will be positive and a
greater likelihood of adoption will be resulted. For the purpose of this study,
attitudes were defined as the students’ perceptions, opinions, and beliefs
about certain aspects of the profession that have direct impact on their
behaviors. If students perceive mobile learning as a useful tool, compatible
with their current activities, convenient, and easy to use, they will
demonstrate positive attitudes towards mobile learning and use it for academic
purposes.