The effect of training in Mobile Assisted Language Learning on attitude, beliefs and practices of tertiary students in Pakistan.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Pakistan has two official languages, Urdu and English, where Urdu is the contact language and English is the language of business, higher education, military, government and is considered the symbol of status in the society. Due to religious pressure and language as a power struggle among political parties, choosing a language as a medium of instruction has always been a controversial issue in Pakistan. As a result, many language policies were developed since the creation of Pakistan in 1947, favouring either of the official language. Consequently, English language teaching lacked innovation and expertise which directly affected students’ performances (Ammar, Ali, Fawad & Qasim, 2015). Many researchers have pointed out the most important factors continuing to affect the performance of students such as outdated teaching techniques, stress on rote learning, crowded classrooms, poor planning while designing a syllabus and lack of motivation on the part of teachers as well as students (Awan & Shafi, 2016; Khan, 2011; Mohammad, Masum, Ali & Baksh, 2017; Yaqoob & Zubair, 2012). The incorporation of technology, especially mobile devices, might be a solution to the above problem. In other contexts, many researchers have reported that learners view mobile devices as a supportive aid which allows them to gather information, study, work, and communicate with their teachers and peers in an effective manner. Flexibility, low cost, small size, durability, convenience and interactivity are few of the advantages of mobile devices in the language learning process (Ogata & Yano, 2004; Huang, Huang, Huang, & Lin, 2012).
In the last couple of decades Pakistan has progressed dramatically in the field of technology especially in the use of mobile phones. The telephone penetration rate per 100 individuals (teledensity) has jumped from 4% in 2004 to 74.98% in 2018 with an increase in total mobile subscribers from 5 million in 2004 to 149 million in 2018 (Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, 2018a). Although, the above-mentioned scenario ensures the availability of a certain form of technology in Pakistan, it does not guarantee that students possess adequate knowledge and expertise in the use of mobile phones for language learning. Researchers have claimed that technology-enhanced environments allow learners to take a significant amount of responsibility for their own learning, but a lack of individual expertise, limited knowledge, and reduced comfort level result in major constraints in getting maximum benefits from the use of technology (Hubbard, 2004; Lai, Shum & Tian,2016; O’Bryan, 2008; Romeo & Hubbard, 2010). The present descriptive case study explores the attitudes, beliefs and practices of undergraduate students at a public university in Pakistan regarding the use of smartphones (a modern form of technology and readily available in lower- and upper-middle income economies at low cost) for enhancing English writing skills. It further investigates the effect of training in the use of ubiquitous smartphones on learner autonomy.
1. What are the digital practices of undergraduate students both inside and beyond the classroom in Pakistan?
2. What are the effects of learner training in MALL on learners’ attitude towards, beliefs about, and use of smartphones for autonomous language learning?
A mixed method approach was used and both qualitative and quantitative data were collected using various tools. The research design was descriptive in nature, which divided the study into two main phases. The first stage included carrying out an online survey for digital practices which yielded a data set of 316 participants. The second stage consisted of conducting an online training course in MALL techniques in which 23 participants volunteered to participate. In the present study both Hubbard’s (2004) learner training principles and Romeo and Hubbard’s (2010) three-part training framework (Technical, pedagogical and strategic training) were used to inform the design of the course. This was an eight-week training course in MALL, hosted through a blog: Weeks 1, 2 & 3 were technical training, Weeks 4, 5 &7 pedagogical training and independent writing practice and Weeks 6 & 8 were used for strategic training. Participants practiced self-directed use of smartphones for writing and writing support during these weeks. Online surveys, semi-structured interviews, participants’ written feedback, frequency of blogposts and number of words written in each blog post were used as data collection tools. The data analysis stage consisted of quantitative analysis using R and qualitative thematical analysis through NVivo.
The results of the study revealed that undergraduate students in Pakistan were well equipped with digital tools, having smartphones (96%) as the most accessed digital tool. However, they were not using their smartphones for learning English language rather their use was primarily for entertainment and making phone calls. The results of the study showed that the training was successful in developing positive attitudes among students towards use of smartphones for enhancing English writing skills. By the end of the course, students perceived smartphones to be a helpful digital learning tool and showed an increased use of smartphones for practicing English writing skills on their blogs. The results of the study also showed that all students reported a perceived improvement in their English writing skills after practicing English writing through their personal blogs. They became more careful about word choice and spelling, and spent more time in planning and revising their English writing tasks. Overall, 92% of students reported an improvement in English writing skills which helped them to perform better in exams and in class assignments in English. An improvement in students’ confidence, motivation and engagement in English classroom activities was also reported by the English teacher.