Effect of Mobile Assisted Language Learning | Free Essay Example

Effect of Mobile Assisted Language Learning

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Topic: Tech & Engineering
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Abstract

The use of Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL) is becoming common in several schools within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The review of the literature revealed that this technology-based learning has registered impressive success in other countries, especially in the developed nations. The researcher aims to examine the effect of Mobile Assisted Learning on the grammatical accuracy of English as foreign language Saudi learners. The study explored students’ attitudes toward the use of MALL. The researcher collected data from an intermediate school in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and used both qualitative and quantitative methods to analyze the collected information. The study data was collected by conducting pre-and-post tests on two groups and conducting interviews with selected teachers. The researcher used an experimental design where the control group was taught through traditional methods, whereas the study group was taught through the same traditional methods in addition to the MALL. The outcome strongly suggests that MALL can significantly improve the grammatical accuracy of EFL intermediate school students.

Introduction

The use of technology in institutions of learning has increasingly become popular in various parts of the world as a way of making the learning experience more memorable and less stressful. According to Facer and Abdous (2011), years of research have shown that the use of technology may help students with learning problems to have a better mastery of concepts taught in class. It breaks the monotony of having a teacher in the classroom issuing instructions to the learners and in its place technology is introduced to assist the teacher in some areas (Dashtestani, 2013). MALL is one of the technological approaches that have become very popular when teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) students. Researchers and other stakeholders in the field of education have come up with pedagogical approaches that can be used to ensure that technology is effectively integrated when teaching the language. According to Zhang (2016), the use of MALL has been particularly important among EFL learners who find it useful in mastering spelling and pronunciation of some of the English words.

Introducing this form of technology allows these learners to have a first-hand experience of how certain words are spelled and their sounds when spoken (Peranginangin, 2014). The use of MALL has been particularly considered important in countries where learners are using English as their second language. In most of the cases, these students rely on local teachers who are also affected by the first language when teaching English. Such teachers may have problems pronouncing certain English words when teaching. Their poor pronunciations and probably incorrect sentence structures are easily adopted by their students which compromises proper learning of the language (Levy & Stockwell, 2006). It is for these reasons that the use of MALL is considered very critical when teaching EFL students. Woloshen (2013) says that using this mobile technology also makes learning possible at any place and at any time, whether or not the teacher is around.

In light of the 2030 vision of Saudi Arabia, there is a changing trend to employ modern support technologies in the education system. A lot of money will be invested by the Ministry of Education in Mobile-Assisted Language Learning. Therefore, it is worth examining the effectiveness of MALL on the performance of learners. When conducting research, it is important to come up with a clear aim of the study that will guide the process of collecting data from the field and making analysis. In this study, the primary aim is to examine the

In many instances, students may fail to master a given concept when it is first taught in class (Walker & White, 2013). Unfortunately, teachers rarely have time to repeat these concepts because of the need to cover the syllabus (Monje, Elorza, & García, 2016). With the use of mobile technology, learners can review these concepts during their free time so that they can learn what they were unable to master in the classroom. In Saudi Arabia, the use of MALL has become one of the popular approaches that some schools use to boost learning among students. In this study, the researcher seeks to examine the effect of Mobile Assisted Language Learning on the grammatical accuracy of English as Foreign Language Saudi learners. The study data will be collected by conducting the pre-and-post tests on two groups: Study group taught by using MALL and control group taught by using traditional teaching methods to know learners’ progress in mastering grammar; and (2) interviews with learners who were taught by using MALL.

Aim of the Study

When conducting research, it is important to come up with a clear aim of the study that will guide the process of collecting data from the field and making analysis. In this study, the primary aim is to examine the effect of MALL on the grammatical accuracy of Saudi EFL intermediate female learners in Jeddah city. Past studies have indicated that the use of technology boosts the ability of the learners to master the language (Mthethwa, 2014). The study is, therefore, interested in examining the effect of Mobile Assisted Language Learning on students’ ability to master the structures of this language.

Significance of the Study

The study seeks to examine the effect of technology in improving students’ mastery of the English language. This study will help in determining how effective the use of technology is in improving the grammatical accuracy of EFL Saudi learners. The findings of this study can help the stakeholders to make informed decisions and policies that may transform the education system in this country. It will also encourage teachers to use the MALL in their English classes.

Research Questions

In this study, the following research questions will be used in collecting data from the field.

  1. What is the effect of Mobile Assisted Language-Learning on the grammatical accuracy of Saudi EFL intermediate school female learners in Jeddah city?
  2. What are the views of Saudi EFL learners about the use of Mall on their grammar accuracy?

The above questions will help the researcher to understand the type of data that is needed from the field.

Limitations of the Study

In every research study, some limitations are worth noting to help those who use the document to know the relevance of the study. In this study, the collection of data is limited to Saudi Arabia. The researcher will collect data from sampled schools within Jeddah city where several learning institutions have started embracing the relevance of assistive technologies. Data collected will be from English as Foreign Language students. Due to the limited time available for the study, the number of participants will be limited, as discussed in the methodology section. When using the information in this document, it is important to understand that the context of the study is uniquely Saudi Arabian. Since the use of secondary data will help in giving it a global context, the collection and analysis of the primary data will be based on the Saudi context.

Review of Literature

History of MALL

The use of technology in institutions of learning has increasingly become popular in various parts of the world, and it has attracted the attention of many scholars who are interested in understanding its impacts and how it can be melded to fit into the pedagogical approaches which are in use today. According to Kimyayi (2012), learning is a very complex process that needs assistive tools if possible to enhance the ability of the learners to grasp what is taught.

According to Waxler and Hall (2011), the use of audiovisuals was first used in teaching science-related subjects. There has been a notion all over the world that pure science subjects and Mathematics are very complex. Students’ performance on these subjects in many parts of the world has been worrying. That is why technology was developed to help teachers improve the learning experience and ensure that learners can go through the same concept some times to understand what is taught. Beatty (2002) affirms that the use of technology in teaching science-based subjects and Mathematics proved successful on many fronts. Some students, being human beings, tend to form a negative attitude towards some teachers either because of the way they talk, how they dress, their manner of teaching, or any other issue that may evoke negative feelings in them.

The Benefits for Slow Learners

It is important to appreciate that different learners have different capacities to grasp what is taught in class. Some students are quick learners some are average students, while others are slow learners. As Bradley (2012) notes, a slow learner is not necessarily an academic dwarf. Such a student may only need some special attention to become an academic giant. Understanding the unique needs of these learners is therefore critical in ensuring that they get the best of the concepts taught to them. However, Blake (2008) notes that it is unfortunate that teachers may not have time to specifically focus on a single student because of the high number of students per class.

When a teacher tries to move at the pace of the slow learner, it may not be possible to meet the syllabus expectations, and other learners may complain in such circumstances. It is at this stage that technology comes in handy. The teacher can go at a normal pace of teaching, but create a culture where learners spend sometimes reviewing what has been taught in class on gadgets. This will be particularly important to slow learners who may want a concept to be repeated severally before they can grasp it. With such technology, they can repeatedly watch the lessons as much as they want, until they understand the concept. When that happens, these students will often block their mind literarily, making it impossible for them to understand what is being taught. They spend most of the time on other irrelevant issues instead of concentrating (Thomas, Reinders, & Warschauer, 2013). Once the attitude is negative, it becomes almost impossible for the student to grasp what is taught. Other students fear the presence of the teacher to an extent that they spend most of the time that the teacher is in class trying to remain invisible. These students can benefit from technology-based learning by being provided with recorded audio-visuals of the lessons taught in class. Studies have shown that when technology is used, such students tend to perform better in sciences as they get to learn at their own pace.

Advantages of MALL

According to a study by Stanley and Thornbury (2013), the use of audiovisuals in teaching languages is just as important as using this technology is teaching Mathematics and sciences. Spoken English has a variation, a fact that is always associated with the first language that one speaks before learning English. It is common to find semantic, phonological, and syntactic differences in the speech of people having different backgrounds when speaking English (Underwood & Farrington-Flint, 2015). In fact, in some cases, there may be a complete misinterpretation of what one says because of this variation. This scholar says that some variations are insignificant, and unless one is keen to identify them, it may not be possible to realize that the speech has some phonological variations (Mishan, 2004).

This variation is always determined by the stage at which one started learning the language (Thomas & Reinders, 2010). A person who is introduced to this language at a tender age of below ten years can easily overcome the effect of the first language on English. One the other hand, if one is exposed to the language in adulthood, this big variation may last forever. That is why some of the local teachers are unable to give clear pronunciations of some English words because they are affected by their first language. To ensure that the distortion of the pronunciation of English words that is common locally is eliminated, there may be a need to use technology to supplement what the teacher offers in class. The use of MALL provides a perfect opportunity for these learners to have a better mastery of the English language. It is very important in learning grammar. According to Chapelle (2003), sometimes the wrong structures are caused by wrong pronunciation. Understanding the syllables can be improved by these mobile technologies.

When the learner is provided with these audiovisual materials so that they can easily watch and listen to how words are spelled and pronounced, their grammar is improved. They also get to know how parts of speech are used in a sentence structure. In some of the learning institutions that have started using this technology, Levy (2007) says that students have registered marked improvement in their grammatical accuracy. This is because of several reasons. First, Alepis and Virvou (2014) say that with this technological equipment, learners can determine the number of times they want to go through a given concept. Secondly, these technologies enable the learners to choose when they want to learn and the environment they consider most appropriate for the learning process. Finally, this technological equipment makes learning more effective because the distortion that their teachers may have based on their first language effect on their spoken or even written English is eliminated.

According to Chapelle (2001), although the use of MALL is critical in improving the grammatical accuracy of EFL Saudi learners, it is important to understand that these technologies cannot replace teachers. Students still need teachers to guide them in the learning process. Teacher-student interaction remains critical and cannot be undervalued.

Grammar Accuracy among EFL Students

The English language is increasingly becoming an important language in modern globalized society. According to Hanieh (2016), most learning institutions in the Middle East and North Africa are embracing the language, and some are even using it as the mode of delivering instructions in other subjects such as sciences and mathematics. This is meant to ensure that their students can easily pursue further education in various international institutions around the world without encountering the language barrier. Ensuring that students achieve grammatical accuracy is, however, one of the major concerns of most English teachers handling EFL students. Most of the students in the region use English as a second language (Hanieh, 2016). Their ability to learn grammatically correct English is affected by their first language. This is evident in their spoken language, which in turn affects their written English. The unique challenges that these EFL students face in learning English make it necessary to use technology to enhance their grammatical accuracy.

Mobile-assisted language learning has come out as one of the most relevant tools in improving the grammatical accuracy of these students. One of the areas of grammar that can be enhanced using MALL is the subject-verb agreement. Hanieh (2016) observes that subject-verb agreement is one of the greatest challenges that these students face, especially when they are writing in prose. They fail to understand when they should use singular or plural verbs in their sentences, a mistake that completely breaks up their communication. MALL offers them a platform where they can practice subject-verb agreement regularly and consistently so that they can improve in both spoken and written English.

Tense is another major grammatical issue among EFL students. Some of them fail to understand when they are expected to use past, present, continuous, or future tense in their sentences (Mthethwa, 2014). They end up mixing their tenses in no particular pattern. MALL can easily help in addressing this problem. Students can access materials that explain when and why they are required to use specific tense regarding the time factor in their sentences. They can practice among their peers to help them overcome common problems. Stanley and Thornbury (2013) explain that using mobile assisted language learning exposes learners to an environment where they can get practical examples of solutions to their grammatical problems. They can listen to speeches made by their admired personalities and learn from them how to balance the tenses. Some students are affected by the problem of direct translation when writing or speaking English (Mthethwa, 2014). Such problems can easily be overcome when MALL is used.

According to Hanieh (2016), mobile-assisted language learning offers students a unique opportunity to enhance their grammatical accuracy in the English language. Some students tend to be slow learners. It may not be practically possible for teachers to go at their pace and still ensure that the syllabus is completed within the set time. Using iPads or tablets, such students can re-visit recorded class lecturers several times to enable them to understand the concept. Stanley and Thornbury (2013) argue that some students may find it difficult to understand their teachers because of their approach to delivering instructions. With the help of mobile devices, they can do their research in the online platforms to enhance their grammatical accuracy. They can access sites that will deliver the same instruction but in a way that they can understand. The multimodal approach of learning offered by MALL is critical in enabling EFL to overcome challenges they face in enhancing their grammatical accuracy.

Recent Related Research

The use of MALL is not yet a very common phenomenon in most of Saudi schools. However, recent studies show that it is increasingly becoming common in most of the Arab world as the best way of improving the mastery of the language among EFL learners (Khrisat & Mahmud 2016; Palfreyman 2012). Al-Shehri (2011) shared results from a 16-week Saudi Arabian study that used mobile phones and social networking. The study aimed to investigate the benefits of mobile phones and social media in enhancing the learning of the English language among L2 students. The study used a pre-test post-test design method to investigate the capacity of learners before and after being allowed to use the mobile-assisted language learning. The study pointed out the potential of mobile-based social networking to create an effective L2 English environment. In this study, it was evident that when learners are allowed to use internet-enabled mobile phones, they get to learn social skills. They get to go beyond what is taught in the classroom, especially the ability to interact with peers. However, the study warned that care must be taken when children are allowed to access the social network through these mobile devices. The content of what they share and access must be closely monitored and regulated. They should not be allowed to access sites that may subject them to mental torture, especially in cases where they are open to cyberbullying. The study concluded that allowing students access to social media using mobile devices can be academically beneficial if the process is properly monitored by the relevant authorities.

Palfreyman (2012) investigated the use of mobile phone cameras by university students from the United Arab Emirates. The study aimed to determine if the learning process can be improved when learners are allowed to use cameras to engage their research. The students were asked to take pictures of their everyday life and to do a writing task based on the photos they took. The study found out that mobile technology can enhance learning autonomy and intercultural exchanges. First, it makes learning an interesting process. When learners are allowed to take pictures of interesting things within the university and make a report afterward, they get to enjoy the learning process. Secondly, they get to learn research skills at a very early stage of learning. They gain independence in undertaking personal skills. When they work in groups, they learn how to work together to gain mutual academic goals. The study strongly suggests that there should be proper guidance from the instructors to ensure that such learning processes do not turn into games where students waste a lot of time.

A study by Hazaea and Al-Zubi (2016) at Najran University aimed to investigate the efficiency of using mobile technology in EFL reading classrooms. EFL Reading classroom of 30 male students was allowed and encouraged to use their mobiles in a reading classroom. During the treatment, WhatsApp group, self-reflection journals, post-test, and semi-structured interviews were used. Results of the post-test revealed that using mobile phones learners’ reading skills is remarkably improved. The study found out that the use of mobile phones helps in improving the oral skills of learners. When they are allowed to listen to speeches of prominent world leaders such as Barrack Hussein Obama II, their pronunciation of some words improves remarkably. The motivation to continue practicing even when they are out of class helps in improving their grammatical skills.

Research has been conducted and showed the positive attitudes of learners toward the implementation of mobile technology in class. A study by Al-Fahad (2009) investigated the perceptions and attitudes of 186 undergraduate students at King Saud University towards the effectiveness of Mobile Assisted Language Learning in their studies. The method used in the research was a survey that was conducted from a sample of the targeted population. A questionnaire was used to collect data from the study. The findings showed that mobile learning could improve retention among B.A. and M.D. students. The respondents agreed that mobile assisted language learning is critical in enhancing learning among students because of some factors. The approach empowers learners and motivates them to engage in individual or group research even when they are not in a classroom setting. The respondents also felt that the process eliminates boredom in the learning process.

Another significant study was carried out by Khwaileh and Al-Jarrah (2010) which aim at examining graduate students’ perceptions towards mobile learning at the University of Jordan. The researchers used a survey to collect data from their sampled participants. They developed a 30-statement questionnaire to collect data. The findings of the study showed that students perceive mobile learning as a useful learning system. The majority of students are enthusiastic about the use of technology in the learning process. Many are thrilled by the fact that they can do their research online with minimal guidance from their teachers. However, their main concern, according to the report, was the security and safe storage of these devices when they are not in use.

The study by Hanieh (2016) looked at the benefits of Instagram and other social media platforms to improve grammatical accuracy among L2 undergraduate students. The primary aim was to determine how Instagram can help these learners to identify their grammatical weaknesses and improve on them using materials available on the online platform. A sample of university students was asked to link their mobile phones to the L2 Instagram community. They were also asked to upload photos, videos, and texts from their out-of-class contexts and to reflect on each other’s materials. The students welcomed the use of mobile phones to connect the class with their outside world. This does not mean that these tools can replace the need for teachers in the classrooms. Teachers must understand that these assistive technologies are only meant to make the learning process simple and more enjoyable for the learners, especially those who are slow in mastering the language. This study, therefore, intends to add to this area of research. It recommended a further study on how the potential of social media can be harnessed to help improve language learning among L2 students.

Methodology of the Study

Study Design

The research methodology is a very important section of a report because it clearly defines how data will be collected, how it will be analyzed, and the approach used in the presentation. This study is intended to examine the effect of MALL on the grammatical accuracy of EFL Saudi learners. Given the nature of this topic, the study will be based on the experimental design with one control group and one experimental group (Mthethwa, 2014).

Subjects

The primary data is of critical importance in this study because it will be used to inform the recommendations that will be made. However, data cannot be collected from the entire population. It is, therefore, necessary to have a sample that acts as a representation of the entire population. This study is limited by time hence the researcher has to choose a manageable sample. A sample of 30 female students will be selected in one class. 15 students will act as a control group while the other 15 act as the experimental group. The students are aged from fourteen to fifteen. The students are at the intermediate level from The 4th Intermediate School in Jeddah. The decision of choosing both control and experimental group samples from the same class is based on the nature of the study. The researcher wants to ensure that both groups are in the same environment to determine the real impact of this technology on the learners’ ability to learn the language. The subjects will be chosen through simple random sampling into the two groups. It is important to ensure that the researcher’s perception will not affect the process of collecting data from the participants.

Procedures

A third-year intermediate school class will be chosen for the study. The thirty students will be subjected to an English grammar test before the start of the program, and an average score for each of the two groups will be obtained. The experimental group will be assigned iPads to assist them in the learning process. All the participants will be instructed on how to work with iPads in two to three sessions. After learning a grammatical lesson in class, the contents of the lesson taught will be made available in the iPads to enable them to access the information while they are at the school’s computer lab. These iPads will be internet-enabled to help these students’ access to further materials from online sources. They will be adequately trained on how to use iPads to read materials and get further information from the internet. Their search findings will be shared with their peers in the online platform. They will be supervised by the researcher to restrict the use of the gadgets to the topic assigned to them. This is important to ensure that these learners do not spend their time reading irrelevant materials while online.

The experiment will be conducted in one-month time, with very close assistance from the researcher. The control group will be also instructed to go through their notes every evening after classes. However, they will not be assigned the iPads. They are expected to use their class notes and textbooks that are readily available in the library. After one month, all the thirty students will be made to sit for an exam. An average score for each of the two groups will be obtained once again. The score of the two groups will be compared and based on the percentage improvement. This will enable the researcher to determine which of the two groups can register a higher score in this study.

After this practical test, the researcher then will go-ahead to interview the fifteen students of the experimental group to determine their view about the use of Mobile Assisted Language Learning as a way of improving their grammatical accuracy. This data will be collected from the respondents in a face-to-face interview with the researcher. Once the data is obtained, a qualitative analysis will be conducted to find out the views of these learners towards the use of assistive technologies to improve the learning of English grammar. The findings will help in backing up the outcome of the two tests conducted to determine the improvements made by the two sampled groups of respondents.

Tools of the study

To collect the data needed for this study, several tools will be used:

Tests

A grammar test prepared by the researcher consists of 20 questions; all taken from the class textbook will be used as a pre-test. The study used structured (closed-ended) questions. That was necessary because it was a comparative study that would determine their improvement before and after using MALL to enhance their grammatical accuracy. The multiple question approach was necessary to ensure that the students were not benefiting from guesswork but indeed understood the grammatical questions. The questions tested their grammatical skills in various contexts. Some focused on tenses (past, present, continuous, and future) while others tested their skills on passive and active voices. Some questions focused on the use of prepositions and pronouns. The test will be given to the experimental and the control group at the beginning of the study to examine the participants’ actual grammar accuracy before introducing the MALL in this study.

The post-test pre-test will be used at the end of the study to investigate the differences between the two groups. The marking of the tests will be done by the researcher and two English teachers at the institution. The markers will develop a marking scheme for the questions. After receiving the answer sheets from the participants, the researcher will mark them and then hand over the marked sheets to the first teacher for verification. The first teacher will hand over the verified sheet to the second teacher who is the head of the English department (HOD) at the institution for the final verification. These experts will guarantee that the tests are marked correctly.

Interviews

Interviewing with the teachers will also be critical in collecting relevant data for this study. Other than conducting the pre-test post-test described above, it was important to interview experts and to get their views about the impact of mobile-assisted language learning on the grammatical accuracy of EFL intermediate school students. Interviews will use both open-ended questions to collect the data. Closed-ended (structured) questions will make it possible to conduct a quantitative analysis to determine the magnitude of the impact of MALL on F2 students’ grammatical accuracy. On the other hand, open-ended (unstructured) questions will make it possible to conduct qualitative analysis to explain the statistical findings. They will enable the researcher to capture the views of the experimental group towards the use of assistive technologies in learning environments. The following question will be asked to the students from the experimental group:

  • What do you think about the use of MALL in grammar lessons?
  • What are the benefits of using MALL in learning new structures?
  • What are the challenges of using MALL for grammar lessons?

Analysis and Discussion

This chapter focuses on the analysis of primary data that was collected from the respondents. As explained in the methodology section, it was important to collect data from both primary and secondary sources. Secondary sources of data provided a background for this research and helped in identifying the existing knowledge gaps. On the other hand, primary data was needed to find the current state of knowledge in this field and to address the existing knowledge gaps. The chapter involved a detailed analysis of the primary data and a discussion of the findings.

Analysis

In this section, the researcher focused on analyzing the information collected from the participants both qualitatively and quantitatively. The chosen research design was a mixed-method analysis. It means that the researcher used both quantitative and qualitative methods. The quantitative methods helped in explaining the magnitude of several factors such as the level of acceptance of MALL, the significance of its impact, levels o the benefits, and challenges. The qualitative analysis made it possible to explain these statistical variables based on the answers provided by the respondents. The first question, which was qualitative, was aimed at determining the impact of MALL on the grammatical accuracy of Saudi EFL intermediate students in the city of Jeddah.

What is the effect of Mobile Assisted Language-Learning on the grammatical accuracy of Saudi EFL intermediate school female learners in Jeddah city?

The respondents noted that MALL has a significant impact on the grammatical accuracy of the students. There was a unanimous agreement among the respondents that the new system is critical in enhancing the grammatical accuracy of the students. One respondent explained that one of the biggest challenges that learners face in grammar is poor pronunciation. Poor pronunciation is attributed to the effect of the first language. At an early stage of learning, they embrace the wrong pronunciation because their teachers also make the same mistakes. Once a word is pronounced in a wrong way, it may not be easy for one to write it incorrectly grammar. Using MALL, they get to hear the correct phonology of the words that they often mispronounce or misspell. They learn from native speakers of English, which enhances their skills. MALL also promotes student-centered learning, as some respondents noted. When using the system, students are reminded that they have to be at the center-stage of the learning process. When they are assigned tasks to complete using these devices, they learn skills of research at a very tender age. A section of the respondents also noted that the system promotes teamwork and active engagement among students. They get to share tasks and can easily communicate with one another even when they are at home as long as their devices are connected to the internet.

What are the views of Saudi EFL learners about the use of MALL on their grammar accuracy?

Mobile-assisted learning as a new system can only achieve the desired outcome if it is supported by the primary stakeholders. Students are the most important stakeholders in this new system because they are expected to use the devices to support their learning. If they fail to embrace the new system, it will force the teachers to make unnecessary follow-ups, which loses the meaning of using MALL. The teachers who have been using the new system were requested to rate the level of acceptance of MALL among their students. Figure 1 below shows the response that was obtained from the students.

Students’ perception towards MALL.
Figure 1: Students’ perception towards MALL.

The statistics obtained from the participants show that there is a massive approval of MALL amongst learners. Only one of the respondents stated that he believes students are not very receptive to the new system. Another respondent was not committal to this issue. Teachers interact with students more often, and they are in the best position to determine whether they approve of it. Given that 90% of the respondents felt that students approve of the new technology, one can conclude that MALL has received acceptance among students. The acceptance is critical in ensuring that the desired level of success can be achieved in enhancing their grammar, given that majority of students in Jeddah and the country at large are learning English as a second language.

What do you think about the use of MALL in grammar lessons?

Teachers are the second-most important stakeholders in the use of MALL to enhance the grammatical accuracy of EFL intermediate school students. They are delegating part of their power and responsibility of teaching students to MALL. They need to be supportive of it to ensure that the new approach is successful in the local school. It was important to get their views on this issue. What asked to share their views, the figure below shows the outcome of the analysis of their answers.

Teachers’ view of MALL.
Figure 2: Teachers’ view of MALL.

It was evident that there is a mixed reaction among teachers when it comes to this issue. Although the majority of the teachers interviewed (55%) stated that they approve of the MALL system as a way of improving the grammatical skills of their students, a significant minority (35%) had a contrary opinion. For those who approve of this system, they believe the ministry of education should come up with a policy that would introduce a universal use of MALL among learners. The other 10% were not sure of the true value of MALL in enhancing the grammatical skills of their students. It is worth noting that even those who said they disapprove of the new system stated that MALL comes with benefits that cannot be ignored in the modern century. Their only concern was that it also brings several challenges (discussed in the sections below) that may further limit the ability of their learners to improve on their grammatical accuracy. A section of the respondents (those who were non-committal) stated that it is too early to take a strong stance on this issue given that it is still in the pilot stage. They argued that the new system needs to be taken through the test of time to determine its true relevance in improving the grammatical accuracy of the learners.

What are the benefits of using MALL among EFL students?

The next question focused on determining the specific benefits of MALL. Although the respondents had mixed reactions over the need to universally implement the strategy, they were all in agreement that it has some benefits that cannot be ignored. The respondents were requested to list the benefits of the new system for students. Figure 3 below shows their response, based on the benefits that were most recurring in their responses.

Benefits of MALL to students.
Figure 3: Benefits of MALL to students.

The statistics above show that 95% of the respondents believe that MALL simplifies learning. Most teachers admitted that it was difficult teaching students some of the grammatical concepts because of several factors, top of which were the effect of the first language on English learning and the inherent fear that some students have towards their teachers. Some students view learning as a complex task that cannot be easily understood. Mobile-assisted language learning comes up with a completely new approach that simplifies the process. Sometimes it is designed as a game or simple competition popular among children of varying ages. They do not realize that they are learning when they are engaged in such games. Every time they win these games or graduate to the next level, they strengthen their grammatical accuracy. The games also make learners more inquisitive in the classroom than they always are under the normal system. Their focus is always on winning these games, and when they realize that their teachers can help them to do so they become very active in class. Questions that they were not able to answer to move to the next level would be asked in class. The perception that learning is a boring and complex undertaking is eliminated in the process.

The respondents were also emphatic on the issue of student empowerment. 90% of the respondents feel that MALL empowers students. It takes the learning process to the next level where learners can enhance their understanding of English grammar anywhere they are as long as they have the hand-held devices. They no longer have to rely wholly on their teachers. They can engage their colleagues with easy. Traditional students’ discussion groups required them to be in the same physical location at the same time to facilitate such discussions. That is no longer the case with the emergence of MALL. With an internet connection, these students can engage in a fruitful online discussion where they can share their ideas and ask questions to their colleagues for mutual development. Whenever necessary, they can consult their instructor or individuals with a higher level of knowledge, especially on issues that become controversial in their discussion groups. That explains why 85% of the respondents stated that MALL is great when it comes to knowledge sharing. It eliminates the physical barriers that existed before.

The social development of students has always been one of the most important functions of the school. It is expected that after going through the schooling process, one should have good interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. One should know how to interact with others despite the possible existence of differences in terms of race, religion, gender, age, social class, and many other demographical factors. Some students tend to be shy, fearing that others would judge them harshly. Others feel inadequate, and therefore lack a sense of belonging when amid their colleagues. MALL creates a platform where one feels he or she is protected. When learners engage in an online group discussion in the comfort of their homes, the intense fear is eliminated. They find it easy to express themselves to their colleagues and sometimes even discussing their fears. Through such forums, they realize that even some of their colleagues suffer from the same problem. They find strength in each other to overcome their fears. When they meet in physical forums at school, they get to bond in better ways because they know they have more in common than factors that distinguish them from their colleagues.

Time wastage was another issue that the respondents identified, although they admitted that their opinion on this issue is subjective. In the past, these students would have access to hand-held devices such as personal computers, smartphones, or tablets from their parents or siblings. They would use these devices to play games or visit social media sites, completely forgetting to spare time for their academics. MALL helps in reducing the amount of time students spend using hand-held devices for non-academic purposes. It ensures that part of the time that a leaner spends with these devices is dedicated to academics. Given that the devices have become popular with them, using MALL to promote grammatical accuracy was considered a brilliant move by these respondents.

What are the challenges of using MALL for grammar lessons?

MALL is a new concept that is being introduced to enhance grammatical accuracy among EFL students, especially those in the intermediate school. As would be expected, it comes with some challenges that need to be addressed to enhance its efficiency in a learning environment. The respondents were asked to identify challenges they feel may affect the successful implementation of MALL in learning institutions. Figure 4 below shows the response that was obtained from the participants:

Major challenges associated with MALL.
Figure 4: Major challenges associated with MALL.

One of the main concerns of teachers with MALL is that it complicates the ability of teachers to determine if learners are engaged in meaningful academic activities whenever they are with these devices. Given that learners can go online using the iPads or tablets used in MALL, a teacher may think that learners are engaged in online group discussions while the truth is that they are active in the social media such as Facebook and YouTube. Currently, students are not allowed to have these devices in the classrooms. It limits their ability to visit social media while in school. When MALL is in use, it is obvious that these learners will be allowed to have the devices with them. Some of the respondents stated that it is possible to find cases where learners are on YouTube at a time when they are expected to be engaged in classwork. One of the respondents stated that this new approach could only be effective if the software can be installed in the devices that bar its users from accessing specific sites that are non-academic, especially social media.

Some of the respondents were also concerned that students might have access to irrelevant materials that may pollute their minds. If the devices are not properly programmed, they can access anything so long as it comes to their minds. Cyberbullying is currently one of the main concerns of parents and teachers. These devices may increase the problem if the devices can easily be used to access social media. At that tender age, children tend to be naive. They can easily be influenced by evil-minded individuals in the online platform to engage in activities that may be harmful to them. The device may change from being a crucial tool of learning to become a harmful device that can lead them to self-destruction.

Some of the participants also noted that it is possible to create an environment where learners over-rely on MALL. As Hanieh (2016) states, it is not possible to completely replace teachers in a learning environment. However, learners may come to over-rely on the new system to the extent that they may fail to appreciate the important role that teachers have to play in the entire process. They may embrace a feeling that they can learn easily with the help of MALL. Some of them may find it challenging to learn without these devices. It means that if they have to transfer to institutions where MALL is not used, their performance may be adversely affected. It means that once it is introduced, it may not be possible to pull it back without affecting the performance of the learners. All the stakeholders must, therefore, be committed to this new system before it can be fully enrolled in learning institutions.

The respondents also identified associated costs and parental support as some of the challenges associated with the implementation of this new system. The management of the school must ensure that the relevant gadgets are made available to all the learners. It is also required that the gadgets must always be connected to the internet whenever the learners want to use them. The school may need to have Wi-Fi. It might also be necessary to engage parents to ensure that their children will have access to the internet while at home. It means that the project cannot achieve the desired level of success without parental support. Some parents are not comfortable with their young children having unlimited access to the internet because of their vulnerability. Therefore, rolling out the project requires a multi-stakeholder engagement where everyone must be convinced about the benefits that will be achieved.

Discussion

The intermediate school students find it important to master the English language, especially if it is the mode used in delivering instructions at higher levels of education. The findings made in this study show that there is always a concerted effort by teachers to ensure that their students develop a mastery of this language. Students also put extra effort to enable them to improve their grammar and oral skills. The findings show that MALL has a positive effect on the grammatical accuracy of Saudi EFL intermediate female learners in Jeddah city. It offers a unique learning approach and platform that did not exist before. It changes the approach of learning from that which is fully-cantered on teachers that focused on learners. The power of the teachers to disseminate knowledge is reduced and shared with the learners themselves. The analysis of primary data and findings from the literature review strongly supports the use of MALL. The following are the benefits of MALL that have been identified in this study.

The grammatical ability of students

The findings from the interviewees and information obtained from the literature review strongly suggest that grammar is one of the areas that intermediate school students find to be the most challenging. The syllabus offers the approach that should be taken in teaching grammar and the examples that teachers should use. However, the examples are not exhaustive. It may not be possible for a teacher in the intermediate school to find time to teach the syntax, morphology, phonology, and semantics in a comprehensive manner that can be understood by the students (Wyner, 2014). In most of the cases, they provide the basics. They develop a strong foundation upon which learners can develop their knowledge in this field. Learners are expected to build upon this foundation. MALL offers learners a perfect platform through which they can improve their understanding of various grammatical concepts. After classes when they are at home, learners can use their devices to try and investigate the concepts taught in class. They can access materials that further explain the concepts. They can learn other basic grammar rules that might not have been covered in class. They get to access more examples that can enable them to know what to do when given a test. The findings show that MALL enables learners to practice grammar as groups or a team of two even when they are not in the same physical location. It allows them to contact their teachers at any time in case they find conflicting information or need any form of help in their private studies.

Knowledge building

Building knowledge is a complex process that goes beyond what is taught in the classrooms. Classwork offers learners a perfect scenario of understanding the world and knowing how to handle different forces to achieve the desired outcome. However, one is expected to develop on the basics provided in the classrooms to enhance one’s knowledge. In the past, learners were encouraged to become avid readers of books to amass more knowledge. Waxler and Hall (2011) argue that the modern generation of learners is not avid readers. As such, it has become necessary to find alternative ways of enabling them to build their knowledge on a platform that they enjoy visiting. Tablets, iPods, iPhones, iPods, and smartphones have become very popular among learners of all ages.

Parents and teachers have tried to discourage learners to limit their time spent on these devices, but little success has been achieved in such efforts (Mthethwa, 2014). An ingenious strategy was, therefore, developed to enhance knowledge learning using these devices that they love using. Instead of discouraging the learners from using the hand-held devices, MALL was introduced to ensure that they can use them constructively. It was one of the ways of ensuring that students do not view the learning process as a boring punitive undertaking. MALL introduces fun on the knowledge building process. Some games have been developed specifically to teach grammar. In such games, students are expected to pass specific English tests before they get to the next level (Stanley & Thornbury (2013). Their desire to get to the next level of the game will drive them to pass the tests through every means possible. They do not even understand that they are learning in the process. The more they play such games and pass more tests, the more they build their knowledge in the English language. When similar tests come in their exams at school, the same energy and thrill that they had in passing such tests would drive them into scoring impressive results. They get to relate classwork to real-world forces.

Zone of proximal development

The concept of the zone of proximal development was developed by Lev Vygotsky who was a psychologist, as Peranginangin (2014) observes. This concept classifies learning capabilities into three different zones. In the first zone are items that a learner can do without any assistance from the instructor. The second zone (known as the zone of proximal development) is characterized by items that a learner can do with the help of the instructor. In the last zone are things that a learner cannot do. A teacher must understand each of these three zones, especially in an environment where learners have been introduced to mobile-assisted language learning. Figure 1 below shows the different learning zones.

The zone of proximal development.
Figure 1: The zone of proximal development (Mthethwa, 2014).

Learning a second language should be social, other than emphasizing on the syllabus. The syllabus provides a rigid approach to teaching that may fail to understand the uniqueness of the learners. As shown in the analysis, the academic performance of learners often varies, which indicates that they have varying capabilities to understand what is taught to them. It is strongly suggested that students should be empowered to engage in the learning process actively other than forced to follow what is in the syllabus. In the past, learning was teacher-cantered. Teachers had all the powers to define the learning process. The absence of a teacher in a classroom would paralyze the learning process. However, that is changing in modern society. Teachers are expected to share that power with the learners. Students should be allowed to engage in discussions where they can learn to speak and improve their grammar without the fear of the presence of their teachers. Using devices such as iPads, they can get help in addressing issues within the zone of proximal development. These devices, which can enable them to access data on the internet, can enable them to address issues they find challenging in a classroom setting.

Hazaea and Alzubi (2016) observe that it is common to find cases where learners are unable to understand what is taught in class because of the approach and strategies of their teacher. When they go to the internet and get further materials and tutorials presented by other instructors, they can have a better understanding of the concept that they did in the classroom. Other students just fear their teachers because of personal reasons. They find it difficult to comprehend what is taught because their mind is preoccupied with fear. However, when they are on their own, they can address the knowledge gap using the devices, and with the assistance of their colleagues. Keengwe and Maxfield (2015) strongly advise that MALL works best in an environment where learners are empowered. They have to take control of their learning process and appreciate their ability to do their research using the devices to master the language.

Ability to notice their knowledge gaps

Exams are always meant to identify the knowledge gap among students. Their percentage score defines their level of understanding of what is taught in class, as has been the tradition for many centuries. A parent, a teacher, and students themselves will know the level of knowledge gained through such tests. However, it is not easy for a parent or a teacher to explain to a learner the gap. Such gaps are best understood by the students themselves. Monje, Elorza, and García (2016) believe that a learner who identifies the gap has a far better chance of addressing it than the one who is constantly reminded by teachers or parents about the existence of such a gap. MALL makes it possible for learners to understand the gap. When using these devices, they are sometimes presented with tests, some of which come in the form of online games. When they fail in such tests, they get to learn about their knowledge gap. They come to appreciate the need to conduct further studies to address the gap. Sometimes the gap is identified when learners are engaged in online discussions with their peers.

When they are in the classroom, some learners fear sharing their ideas whenever a question is asked because they feel their answer may be wrong and may elicit ridicule among their colleagues. However, that changes when they are amid colleagues they trust. When they provide inaccurate answers, their colleagues will correct them, making it possible for them to identify the gap. In most of the cases, the gap is addressed immediately by the colleagues or materials available for their discussion. In some cases, it may require the learners to look for further materials to address the knowledge gap. In such an integrated and efficient system, a teacher’s role is reduced to offering guidance and addressing confusing facts. These teachers are only required to ensure that the information made available to learners in the MALL system is accurate and in line with the syllabus provided by the ministry.

Conclusion

Technology-based learning is increasingly becoming popular in most of the learning institutions in developed countries. In these countries, technology is used to enhance the teaching of complex subjects such as mathematics and sciences. The same concept is also being applied in the teaching of languages, especially for those who are learning a second language. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, English became one of the most preferred languages used in delivering instructions. It is considered an international language that empowers learners to seek further studies in various other parts of the world. As such, schools are doing a lot to ensure that their students have a mastery of the language. Learning this language may not be as simple as many would think. As shown in the discussion, students who have a different first language find it very challenging to speak and write fluently in English. In one way or the other, they get influenced by their original language, a fact that affects their grammatical accuracy when learning the language. The world is becoming a village and English is emerging as the most powerful communication tool in the global arena. It means that despite the existing challenges, stakeholders must find ways of making learners fluent in this language. Mobile-assisted language learning is emerging as the solution to this problem.

MAAL technology enables learners to use hand-held devices such as tablets, iPhones, iPads, and iPods to facilitate their learning. It allowed them to go online and find answers to questions that they might not ask in class for fear of being ridiculed by their peers. Teachers are finding ways of programming these devices to ensure that learners can access information that will be taught in class. Before coming to class, learners are allowed to go through what will be taught and to grasp basics so that they can understand their teachers in a better way. After classes, students can use the same devices to engage in group or individual discussions about what was taught. They can address academic assignments with ease, and even contact their teachers when necessary without waiting for the physical interaction in the classroom. The concept is relatively new in the country, but its success in other developed countries in Europe and North America means that it can be applied effectively locally.

The study strongly suggests the importance of understanding the benefits and challenges of embracing this new method. One of the main benefits of this new technology is that it empowers learners. It eliminates the idea that learning can only take place in the presence of teachers. Learners can form online discussion groups where they can do their research and learn new concepts based on the syllabus. Although the role of teachers will still be crucial, their role will mainly be to guide students on the right path based on the assigned syllabus. They will ensure that the materials that students access and knowledge that they acquire are in line with the items within the syllabus. It is also clear that MALL simplifies the learning process. Some students often develop fear towards a subject they consider complex, the English language included. MALL introduces a new approach to learning which sometimes involves interesting games. In such games, students need to pass specific English grammar tests to move to the next level or to win the game. They will find inspiration to pass the test, not knowing that they are learning in the process of doing so. Social development was also identified as an important benefit of the system. Shy students who rarely speak before others can easily engage their colleagues while in the comfort of their beds. The more they engage with their colleagues with ease in the online platform, the easier it becomes for them to engage these colleagues in physical arenas such as in class. They get to fight their fear and learn the importance of teamwork.

Mobile-assisted language learning also has challenges that stakeholders will need to address to ensure that it becomes a success if it is embraced at a national level. One of the biggest challenges identified is the difficulty of monitoring the activities of learners when they are online with these devices. Some may access sites that have contents that may pollute their minds. Others may only be focused on playing games with these devices instead of engaging in meaningful academic work. Others may prefer spending more time on social media where they can easily become victims of cyberbullying. The respondents strongly suggested the need to use software that can make it easy for teachers and parents to monitor the online activities of children. They have also recommended programming these devices in a way that they cannot support specific websites of functions considered undesirable or time-wasting platforms. The respondents also warned of the possibility of students over-relying on MALL for their private studies and effective learning. It means that if the system is eliminated for one reason or the other, then the academic performance of these learners, especially in English grammar can significantly drop. The stakeholders must find ways of managing all the fundamental issues identified to ensure that MALL can be implemented because of its benefits.

Pedagogical Implications

It is clear that MALL offers huge benefits to EFL students and it is likely that it may be implemented in the future despite some of the challenges that have been identified. The first pedagogical implication focuses on the English language teachers. First, they should not develop a fear that these devices may replace them in most of the learning institutions. On the contrary, they should understand that the new system is going to make their work easier than it currently is. Teachers are needed to guide the students when using the new technology and to address confusions and contradictions that learners may face. As such, they need to support this initiative instead of being opposed to it. Teachers also need to understand how they can monitor and control how their students are using these devices. Instead of spending time outlining the dangers of MALL, these instructors should try to understand the new system, how they can use different software to monitor the online activities of their students. They must understand that at all times they must be in control of their activities of their students. They should be able to identify critical issues and discuss them with the administration to help enhance levels of success when using these devices.

The second pedagogical implication addresses the EFL intermediate female students of Jeddah City in Saudi Arabia and by extension all other students who may be needed to embrace this new learning method. These students should understand that grammatical accuracy is critical in their academic pursuits. They should understand that the new system is designed to help them enhance their fluency in written and spoken English. It may be tempting to use these devices in other irrelevant non-academic activities. However, they will be the ultimate losers because the system is designed to help them. They need to know how they can work closely with their teachers to understand how to use the devices to conduct their research, to engage their colleagues in group discussions, and to contact their instructors whenever necessary.

Parents and the administrators may not be directly involved in the learning activities within the classrooms. However, the finding of this study strongly suggests that they have a crucial role to play in ensuring that this new system is successful. The administrators need to ensure that the needed infrastructure is available in the school to facilitate the implementation of the MALL. The school may need internet connectivity that can support the devices. To the parents, they have the responsibility of facilitating continued online learning for their children even when they are at home. That may require the installation of Wi-Fi or any other platform that can enable their children to be online while at home. Parents and the administrators also need to agree on cost-sharing when it comes to the purchase and maintenance of the hand-held devices used to facilitate technology-based learning.

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