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Mobile Learning: Faculty See More Barriers than Uses

By Henry Kronk
March 04, 2020

The costs and networks supporting mobile device use around the world have continued to improve. Many university students around the world access information and communicate with their professors primarily through mobile devices. Accordingly, many edtech researchers have begun to pay more attention to mobile learning. But according to a recent survey of faculty, the inflection point at which mobile learning becomes a widespread, commonplace pedagogy at the university level might be some ways off. While faculty saw virtues in teaching and learning with mobile devices, more identified barriers and challenges.

These results derive from a study conducted by University of Shiraz researchers. “Mobile Phone Use in Education and Learning By Faculty Members of Technical-Engineering Groups: Concurrent Mixed Methods Design” was published in Frontiers in Education in late February.

The Costs of Mobile Use and Mobile Learning Are Plunging

In a 2019 report, the global communications industry organization GSMA stated that the relative cost of data in the Middle East had been cut in half between 2016 and 2018. On average, the cost of 500 MB of data went from 2% of monthly GDP per capita to 1% during that time. The cost of an internet-enabled device went from 30.1% of monthly GDP to 17.1%. In other words, more and more people are able to go online using mobile devices.

But according to the authors of the study out this month, educational mobile use has not always been successful. Like virtually every other use of educational technology, numerous factors affect its deployment. Besides buy-in and acceptance from both students and faculty, mobile learning’s success also depends on the mobile networks in place, quality and ownership of devices, institutional support, faculty experience and training, and more. 

While Most Studies Have Focused on Student Buy-In, The Researchers Looked at Faculty Attitudes

The researchers at Shiraz University, therefore, set out to conduct a two part study. For the first, they polled dozens of faculty members about their attitudes toward mobile learning. For the second, they selected a group of instructors who had experience putting the pedagogy to use and asked them to reflect in greater depth about their experiences.

As the researchers write, “Lack of research on the use of information systems is partly to blame for the insufficient use of these systems in developing countries. Therefore, further research is needed to pave the way for more effective application of these systems. Given the limitations, the main purpose of the concurrent mixed-methods design in this study is to evaluate the acceptance of mobile learning among faculty members as an important factor in the design and implementation of a mobile learning system.”

The research team managed to reach 87 faculty about their attitudes on the pedagogy. Their questionnaire involved numerous questions in four different areas: ease of use, usefulness, self-efficacy, and challenges and barriers. Each question was posed using a five-point Likert scale (5 meant strongly agree, 1 meant strongly disagree, etc.). They then averaged each response into a numerical value. While 5 would indicate strong support, 1 would indicate strong opposition, while 3 would demonstrate neutrality. 

Professors Identify Challenges, But Also Benefits of Mobile Learning

For each category, the average response fell in a range between 3 and 4. Among them, the highest amount of faculty believed that challenges and barriers remained with mobile learning (3.56 average value). However, the same body were also of the belief that mobile learning was easy to use (3.30) and showed strong self-efficacy (3.14). But the category that received the lowest score—3.07—was usefulness.

More detailed responses also provided a complicated picture about the use of mobile learning at the university level. The respondents said that mobile learning boosted participation, was a useful aid, and helped plan and manage their courses. But they also reported that mobile device use could cause distractions in the classroom, allow for cheating, and violate professors’ privacy.

To fix this, the respondents proposed measures like systems that could limit and control student’s mobile phone use in class, block social media, and provide an institution-wide framework to help instill good practices.

The authors conclude, writing, “Although mobile learning can never fully replace traditional learning, it can increase the value of existing learning styles if used correctly … Before designing and implementing a mobile learning system, it is important to assess future users’ perceptions of mobile learning, since their views do significantly affect their willingness to adopt mobile learning.”

Read the full study here.

Featured Image: Behzad Gaffarian, Unsplash.