Sample Essay: Smart Phones in learning English

smart phones essay

Introduction

The recent advancement of science and technology has resulted in significant contributions to the development of mobile technologies. It is evident that a number of these mobile technologies such as tablet computers, mobile phones and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) among others have changed the manner in which people socialize, work and live, enabling people to perform various daily tasks like chatting with peers through social networking sites, playing games, listening to music, and checking e-mail among others (Başoğlu, 2010). Apart from the aforementioned advantages, mobile technologies, particularly smart phones, have the potential of making significant contribution to general-purpose learning, and especially language learning.

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The likely hesitation and doubts regarding the incorporation of smart phones in classroom settings are understandable. First, educators and teachers have expressed concerns that smart phones can allow students to engage in non-educational activities resulting in distraction, and in the worst-case scenario, cheating during examinations (Fujimoto, 2012). In addition, educators and teachers have also expressed their concerns regarding how to manage the learning process, and conduct assessments and evaluations of students’ academic performance in a manner that is both accurate and fair. Nevertheless, these likely downsides appear to be minimal and have not discouraged educators and researchers from focusing on the potential contributions of mobile devices to students’ learning. As a result, a number of studies have been conducted about the use of mobile devices such as MP3 players, PDAs, iPods and mobile phones and their efficacy regarding language learning (Lopez, 2010). These studies have played a crucial role in helping researchers rationalize the effectiveness of mobile devices as learning tools in a number of educational contexts.

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The functional value associated with a smart phone is playing a crucial role in promoting learners’ consumption of mobile technologies. The new functionalities that come with a smart phone such as gaming features, Global Positioning System (GPS), music player, computer applications and camera among others imply that mobile phones, and especially smart phones, are no longer only limited to communication but are considered a necessity in the realm of a person’s work and social life. In both developing and developed countries, smart phones are being increasingly incorporated into a number of learning processes. Smart phones have been considered an effective tool for both interpersonal relations and communication; as a result, their use in educational settings is gradually increasing (Shih, 2011).

Despite the fact that a lot of attention has been directed towards mobile language learning in several countries across the globe, relatively few studies have focused on the use of smart phones in education, especially, learning of English as a Second language. As a result, this study sought to address this gap and contribute to literature through conducting an investigation into how students use smart phones to learn English as a second language. The research also explores the use of smart phones for general learning purposes. To this end, the following are the objectives of this research study:

1. To explore the use of smart phones for general learning purposes.

2. To explore the use of smart phones for English learning purposes.

In order to achieve the above-mentioned research objectives, the following are the specific research questions that guided the study:

1. How smart phones are used for general learning purposes?

2. How smart phones are used for English language learning purposes?

Literature Review

Mobile language learning entails the use of mobile technologies such as mobile phones and various wireless communication devices to enrich language learning (Motiwalla, 2007). Despite the fact that the use of mobile language learning is still in the early stage of development, it has caught the attention of researchers and educators alike owing to the advantages it accords learners. This means that mobile language learning provides learners with the flexibility to undertake their studies anytime and anywhere on condition that learners have their mobile devices with them. To this end, mobility is considered a potential contribution with regard to language learning.

The advancements in mobile technologies have played a crucial role in bringing supplementary educational opportunities in the current era of mobile learning, which has increased the possibility of enriching the learning experience of students. As Fujimoto (2012) points out, there are more than 60,000 software applications (apps) for 3G internet-capable smart phones, which have the potential of making significant contributions to educational development. Mobile devices, such as Blackberry, have enabled people to update and read shared calendars, and send and read emails. In the current learning environment, there is an increasing need for students` self-organization, which is caused by such requirements as the need to attend classes, revise a lot of material for examinations, manage diverse individual and group projects, and meet course deadlines (Thornton & Houser, 2005). The capabilities provided by smart phones provide students with the capability to manage their self-organization; this is because the concept of mobile learning is increasingly becoming more appropriate for learners. The mobile learning environment has been established to improve collaborative learning from the perspectives of both learners and educators. Currently, mobile learning tools are incorporated as a component of classroom learning activities the main objective of which is to promote novel teaching and learning methods. Thornton & Houser (2005) found out that Japanese students reported that it was very helpful to then when studying English to communicate in the form of text messages, which suggests the potential role that mobile phones can play in enriching the process of learning of English as a Second Language. Japanese students also indicated that the use of text messages for learning and teaching in the classroom was both an efficient and effective means of offering assistance in large lecture settings as regards the communication between the learner and the educator. Educators can make use of smart phones to facilitate teaching and learning through a number of ways including provision of learners with web-based curriculum, dissemination of notes and lecture materials, lecture schedules, in-class assessments, and quizzes (White & Mills, 2012).

Smart phones can be integrated in learning processes in various ways. Language learning is one of the areas that have the potential of benefitting significantly from the use of smart phones. According to Stockwell (2010), learners are in a position to make good use of smart phones to listen to audio anytime anywhere, which, in turn, helps in encouraging spontaneous learner interaction. One of the main advantages associated with the use of smart phones in learning contexts is that it allows a more flexible arrangement as compared to the conventional classroom settings.

A number of studies have been conducted to investigate the use of mobile phones in language learning. For instance, Fujimoto (2012) conducted a survey to explore the perceptions of Australian students regarding mobile language learning and found out that the learners generally had a positive attitude towards the use of tablet computers and mobile phone for the purposes of language learning. In another study conducted by White and Mills (2012) among Japanese students, it was found that university students had a positive attitude towards the use of smart phones for general learning purposes as well as language learning. The advantages of mobile phones have been also reported in literature. One of the advantages associated with mobile language learning, especially via smart phones, is flexibility, which can be attributed to the fact that smart phones allow learners to access learning materials in any place during any time of the day. Another advantage associated with the use of smart phones in language learning is that it enables learners to learn new words (Fujimoto, 2012; Motiwalla, 2007). According to Fujimoto (2012), the text messages send via smart phones for academic purposes have played a crucial role in the transformation of learners from passive learners into active ones. A study involving Turkish students sought to compare the use of traditional flashcards and digital flashcards in smart phones. It was reported that students who had utilized the digital flashcards on smartphones had better results than those who had relied on the traditional flashcards. When exploring the use of mobile learning, especially in regard to English as a Second Language, Shih (2011) highlighted the use of various mobile devices in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) and concluded that mobile devices are a crucial part of peoples’ lives in the contemporary society. The high access and portability accorded by mobile devices, and especially smartphones, have played a crucial role in increasing their prevalence in academic settings. Smart phones are considered superior to personal computers due to portability (Lopez, 2010).

Most studies on the use of smart phones in language learning have highlighted the benefits and positive experiences; nevertheless, some research studies have also reported negative attitudes associated with the use of smart phones in language learning (Stockwell, 2010). For instance, a study by Stockwell (2010) revealed that the majority of learners who took part in the survey chose personal computers in preference to smart phones in regard to vocabulary activities, with 60 percent of learners being reported not to use smart phones for vocabulary activities. The same study reported that the learners cited some difficulties related to inputting information, small screen size and cost as the main reasons for preferring to utilize personal computers instead of smart phone. Another study by Motiwalla (2007) reported learners’ dissatisfaction about the interface of smart phones citing such issues as low quality of visual materials, typing consumes a lot of time, slow internet connection and small display screen.

Theoretical Framework

This study focuses on the use of smart phones for both general learning and English language learning purposes. The general learning purposes explored in this study include dictionaries, access to the university website, search for learning material, course registration and reading books online. The English learning purposes explored in this study include use of a dictionary, learning vocabulary, use of English learning applications, listening to English audio files and doing English exercises.

Methodology

15 students participated in this study. At the time of the study, all of the participants had enrolled in an ESL course. The facilitators, who were in charge of the ESL classes, agree to provide assistance in regard to the distribution of questionnaires to the respective students during class hours.

The main data collection instrument used in this study was questionnaires, which comprised of 10 dichotomous questions in the Yes/No format and which captured information associated with the use of smart phones for general learning purposes (dictionaries, access to the university website, search for learning material, course registration and reading books online) and English learning purposes (use of a dictionary, learning vocabulary, use of English learning applications, listening to English audio files and doing English exercises). The data gathered from the questionnaires was entered into the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) version 2010 to be analyzed using descriptive statistics. The results are presented using percentages and tables in terms of the research questions in the following section.

Results and Discussion

The results are presented and analyzed in terms of the research questions that guided the research as follows:

Research Question 1: How smart phones can be used for general learning purposes?

The students were asked if they had ever used mobile phones for general and specific learning purposes. The respondents were provided with five options including dictionaries, access to the university website, search for learning material, course registration and reading books online. Table 1 below summarizes the findings regarding the use of smart phones for general learning purposes.

Table 1

Uses of Smart Phones for general learning purposes

 

Count

N %

Dictionaries

No

8

53.3%

Yes

7

46.7%

Total

15

100.0%

Access to the university website

No

9

60.0%

Yes

6

40.0%

Total

15

100.0%

Search for learning material

No

10

66.7%

Yes

5

33.3%

Total

15

100.0%

Course Registration

No

14

93.3%

Yes

1

6.7%

Total

15

100.0%

Read Books Online

No

4

26.7%

Yes

11

73.3%

Total

15

100.0%

The results of this study suggest that the most common use of smart phones for general learning purpose is to reading books online, with 73.3% (n = 11) of students indicating that they use smart phones for course registration. The other two most common uses of smart phones for general learning purposes included dictionaries (46.7%, n = 7), access to the university website (40%, n = 6) and search for learning material (33.3%, n = 5). Course registration reported the least percentage of smart phone use for general learning purposes (6.7%, n = 1). Nevertheless, it is imperative to note that it was only in course registration that the majority of students reported using smart phones. In other uses, the majority of the students indicated that they did not use smart phones. This suggests that smart phones are not commonly used for general learning purposes. The figure 2 below shows the findings of the use of smart phones for general learning purposes.

smart phones

    Research Question 2: How smart phones are used for English Learning purposes?

This research question focused on the specific uses of smart phones for English learning purposes. Table 2 below summarizes the findings regarding this research question.

 

Count

N %

To use a dictionary

No

1

6.7%

Yes

14

93.3%

Total

15

100.0%

To learn new vocabulary

No

3

20.0%

Yes

12

80.0%

Total

15

100.0%

To use English learning applications

No

7

46.7%

Yes

8

53.3%

Total

15

100.0%

To listen to English audio files

No

4

26.7%

Yes

11

73.3%

Total

15

100.0%

To do English exercises

No

11

73.3%

Yes

4

26.7%

Total

15

100.0%

The results suggest that the three most common uses of smart phones for English learning purposes include using a dictionary (93.3%, n = 14), learning new vocabulary (80.0%, n = 12) and listening to English audio files (73.3%, n = 11). In addition, 53.3% (n = 8) of the students who took in the survey reported using smart phones to use English learning applications. Using smart phones to do English exercises had the least proportion (26.7%, n = 4). It is evident that the majority of the of the students reported using smart phones for various English learning purposes, which is contrasted with the general learning purposes, whereby the majority of the students reported not using smart phones for various general learning purposes.

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Conclusion

This study sought to explore the use of smart phones for general learning and English learning purposes. The results presented in this study suggest that the majority of learners use smart phones for various English learning purposes except for the case of doing English exercises. Despite the fact that majority of the students use smartphones for English language learning purpose, the case is not the same for general learning purposes. The findings of this study provide crucial insights into the areas of applications of smart phones for ESL. From these findings, ESL facilitators are provided with insights into the aspects of TESL that smart phones can be used to enrich ESL learning.

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