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M-learning and student engagement: Factors that support students' engagement in m-learning

Martin, Romana (2011) M-learning and student engagement: Factors that support students' engagement in m-learning. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Mobile learning (m-learning) is learning that takes place in a variety of contexts, within and beyond traditional learning environments, utilising any type of mobile device. The availability of mobile devices with the potential to be used in university education has vastly increased over the past decade, and therefore m-learning has become increasingly common in university settings. M-learning is usually supported by a mobile device which offers some level of mobile connectivity to learning resources or access to communication technologies, or both, and can facilitate or support learning. M-learning thus involves participating in learning activities not confined to a set place or time.

In some institutions, m-learning has been encouraged through initiatives such as laptop programs, but often m-learning occurs incidentally with students utilising laptops and other mobile devices that they have acquired to help them with their studies.

Despite attempts by these institutions to develop such laptop programs, there have been limited resources on how to integrate m-learning into tertiary education for use by lecturers who have the desire to tap into the possibilities of taking advantage of students’ ad hoc access to laptops and other mobile devices. Models with practical applicability to m-learning have been slow to emerge, and very few practical guidelines are available for educators on the effective implementation of mobile devices in university teaching and learning, and lecturers are often left guessing as to what might promote students’ engagement in m-learning.

The aim of this study was to gain an understanding of the factors that influence students’ engagement in m-learning, specifically where mobile devices facilitate engagement in both learning activities (M-learning Task Engagement) and interaction with others (Online Social Engagement) in ways that contribute to learning outcomes (e.g. ACER, 2010; Coates, 2006; Kearsley & Shneiderman, 1998). A secondary aim was to identify what motivates students to use laptops for learning. Finally, the study aimed to develop a new m-learning design model and guidelines for lecturers developing learning designs for use in m-learning contexts.

The study included both formal m-learning and laptop programs, and classes where laptop use is ad hoc driven mostly by students’ personal needs. The research was conducted using seven case studies at three Australian universities. In one case, students were participating in a laptop program; in two cases, tablet computers were used in classroom settings; and in four cases, students’ use of laptops was based on student ownership and personal initiative. Data were collected by two surveys: one to gather students’ perceptions of their m-learning experiences and the other focussing on lecturers’ perceptions of m-learning.

The research explored what may motivate students to use their laptops and engage in m-learning. As could be expected, mobility was the key motivator for the use of laptops, and the learning tasks that students found to be most motivating involved accessing information, authoring (e.g. writing, blogging, note taking) and communication. Other categories of motivators identified in this study were: student productivity; performance outcomes; the learning experience; information access; the lecturer; entertainment; and social interaction.

The results of this study indicated that both Online Social Engagement and M-learning Task Engagement were influenced by students’ Goal Orientation. Online Social Engagement was also influenced by Technology Focus, which is learners’ orientation towards utilising technologies for learning. Students’ Perceived Mobility also influenced engagement in m-learning, but specifically in the area of M-Learning Task Engagement.

The results of this research led to a model and guidelines for lecturers planning to implement m-learning in a student-centred learning context which maximises students’ engagement in m-learning. The m-learning design model and guidelines lead lecturers towards considering student motivators for m-learning and the factors that influence students’ engagement in m-learning. The resulting learning designs, that address students’ requirements for mobility, and mesh with their Goal Orientation and Technology Focus, are therefore likely to contribute towards both M-Learning Task and Online Social Engagement in m-learning.

The outcomes of this study have important practical implications for educators and institutions as they provide a planned approach to integrating the use of mobile technologies in the curriculum with the aim of achieving increased engagement in learning.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Information Technology
Supervisor(s): McGill, Tanya and Sudweeks, Fay
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