Acceptability of an asynchronous learning forum on mobile devices

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  • Acceptability of an asynchronous learning forum on mobile devices

    Chih-Kai Chang*

    Department of Information and Learning Technology, National University of Tainan, Tainan, Taiwan

    (Received October 2007; final version received November 2007)

    Mobile learning has recently become noteworthy because mobile devices have become popular. To construct anasynchronous learning forum on mobile devices is important because an asynchronous learning forum is always anessential part of networked asynchronous distance learning. However, the input interface in handheld learningdevices, which is generally handwritten, is not efficient. Hence, most learners do not attempt to use onlineasynchronous learning forums on a handheld learning device. Although the wireless internet learning device (WILD)can recommend proper online learning partners depending on the level of a learner, the mechanism is similar to asynchronous learning forum, such as a chat room. In other words, learners should be online at the same time to chatwith each other. For a learning community with few learners, there is not always a learner online for thesynchronous learning forum. Consequently, the degree of interaction among learners must be decreased without aneasy-to-use, asynchronous learning forum. This study constructs an audio-based asynchronous learning forum on aWILD and is supported by streaming media technology. Furthermore, this study used technology acceptance model(TAM) to measure learners degree of subjective satisfaction of an asynchronous learning forum on a WILD. Thepreliminary results show that learners acceptance of audio-based input is not significantly higher than handwritteninput on a WILD for the asynchronous discussion. However, learners perceived usefulness is higher thanhandwritten input on a WILD. Most important of all, the mechanism of audio-based input can enrich the processesof interaction in a learning environment with WILD activities.

    Keywords: learning forums; handheld learning device; audio-based input; technology acceptance model

    1. Introduction

    For the past decade, computers and the Internet havecreated a whole new style of interaction for distancelearning. The accomplishment of computer assistedlearning (CAL) comes from powerful computingability. Meanwhile, the Internet supports high interac-tion of users in a distance situation through synchro-nous or asynchronous communication tools, forinstance email, groupware, chat rooms, or web-baseddiscussion forums. An absence of interaction withother learners or with an instructor will obviously limitlearning in distance learning situations (Hiltz 1994).Besides serving as a communication channel, onlinecollaborative learning becomes feasible through com-puters and the Internet. Moreover, the popularity ofhandheld computing devices and wireless Internet isincreasing. Meanwhile, mobile devices are now beingintroduced as learning devices and some researches usethem as collaborative tools (Cole and Stanton 2003).Researchers are still exploring the impacts andinnovations that come with them.

    According to the survey report in Japan, thepopulation of those using an internet-capable cellular

    phone is 71,522,800, which is more than 80% of thepopulation of cellular-phone owners. Moreover, theratio of households with a cellular phone is alwayshigher than households with a personal computer(Telecommunications Carriers Association 2004). Ifthis trend of growth continues, the use of handhelddevices to access the Internet will become the mostpopular method. However, similar surveys also foundthat the purposes of Internet use by personalcomputers (PCs) and mobile devices vary. People usethe Internet to exchange email, download and listen tomusic, and download or exchange pictures on a mobiledevice. However, they generally access the Internet ona PC to search for information on products andservices, gather information on games, news, weather,restaurants, etc., or obtain information from govern-ments. In other words, handheld devices are used todeal with small amounts of information, while PCs arerequired for applications involving a large amount ofinformation.

    Although there are many reports of innovativecomputer use in K12 schools, Soloway, one of thepathfinders in mobile learning, points out some


    Behaviour & Information Technology

    Vol. 29, No. 1, JanuaryFebruary 2010, 2333

    ISSN 0144-929X print/ISSN 1362-3001 online

    2010 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/01449290701806337

  • sobering statistics about the availability and use ofcomputers in K12 schools (Soloway et al. 2001,Norris et al. 2002):

    (1) The primary use of computers in K12 schoolsis for word-processing. In other words, thepotential of computers is not fully playedbecause teachers may not know how to usecomputers to enhance instruction (Smaldinoet al. 2005).

    (2) Approximately 42% of teachers report thattheir students use a computer less than 15 minper week. Approximately 65% of teachersreport that their students use the Internet lessthan 15 min per week.

    (3) Another nationwide (US) survey shows that70% of the teachers allow their students to usecomputers zero, one, or two times per week.

    (4) Most of the teachers often use a computer andhave an internet-accessible computer in theiroffice.

    (5) Approximately 60% of teachers have one orfewer computers in their classroom. Approxi-mately 65% of teachers have either no access,seldom (less than once a week), or once-a-weekaccess to a computer lab.

    The reasons behind those statistics are complex, butone of them is because PCs require a dedicated spaceand maintenance. Furthermore, there simply isntenough money for schools moving to a 1:1 computer-to-student ratio by using PCs as learning devices forprimary and secondary education. Although the studyby Lowther et al. (2003) showed significant advantagesfor the laptop group by providing fifth-, sixth-, andseventh-grade students with 24-h access to laptopcomputers, the cost of the pilot classroom is notaffordable by most schools. Consequently, Solowaysuggested using handheld devices as the choice oflearning devices for K12 students from the cost benefitperspective.

    There are some researchers who are interested inusing mobile devices to conveniently capture some-thing for learning. For instance, Sharples et al. (2002)used handheld learning devices to support children tocapture everyday events, such as images, notes andsounds, to relate them to web-based learningresources, to organise these into a visual knowledgemap, and to share them with other learners andteachers. Another example is that Chen et al. (2003)used a digital camera as photo inputs of birds and apersonal digital assistant (PDA) with a Wi-Fi-based(IEEE 802.11b) wireless network card to scaffoldbird-watching activity. Chang et al. (2003) implemen-ted e-Schoolbag systems on mobile devices as data

    collection centre of inputs from notebook, teachingmaterial, weekly report, contact book, exercise, andother classroom activities. Kravcik et al. (2004)developed a mobile learning application, calledMobile Collector, to gather data and write downannotation in the collaborative activity of field trips.However, mobile learning applications using themultimedia function are still rare in educationalliterature. More research efforts are needed to explorethe issues on multimedia learning applications withlearning devices because the multimedia functions onmobile learning devices have gradually improved toan applicable status (Keegan 2005).

    Before discussing the development of the asyn-chronous audio-based forum on mobile devices, wepresent a trend summary of future mobile technologyto justify the rationality of our implementation.Anderson and Blackwood (2004) reported that Mo-bile devices are likely to converge into a hybrid ofsmartphone, PDA and media technologies, which canbe termed a PACE (Personal Assistant, Communica-tion and Entertainment) device. Hence, applicationsof media technologies on mobile devices will be acrucial part. From another point of view, Maurer(2002) suggested that we should prepare the learningstrategy for the learning devices of the next decade.One can anticipate that every student will bring her/hiswireless internet learning devices (WILDs), equippedwith more than 10 GHz processor, 10 GB memory,high-speed Internet accessing, telephone, and globalpositioning system (GPS) functions, into the class-room. Undoubtedly, the learning process from theperspective of student, teacher, activity, and evaluationwill be changed in the extreme situation. Hence,researchers should draft a digital learning environmentin which any information is accessible, within a second,to each learner.

    This study tried to find a balance point between thehandheld learning devices suggested by Soloway andthe advanced learning devices suggested by Maurer. Inother words, this study assumes that a handheldlearning device with built-in wireless Internet andmultimedia functions is available to every learner. Thatassumption is coincident with most definitions ofmobile learning, which uses handheld and wirelesslearning devices (Keegan 2002). In that situation, thispaper proposes a method using an audio-based forum,which uses the audio-based input, to replace the text-based forum, which requires the handwritten input.The purpose of the proposed audio-based inputmethod is to promote learners usefulness and usabilityof discussion in a mobile learning situation. Hence, itwill enrich the interaction processes in a mobilelearning situation. Based on this purpose, three tasksof this study are described below.

    24 C.-K. Chang

  • 2. Promote ease-of-use of an asynchronousforum in WILDs

    Generally, an asynchronous learning forum is text-based, including HTML pages. However, it is not easyto use handheld learning devices to provide input to adiscussion article in an asynchronous learning forum.Without speech recognition technology, current mobilelearning devices depend on on-screen keyboards,handwriting recognition, or a limited set of keys toinput text. People get used to editing a short messageservice (SMS) message by one of those input methods.However, the content of SMS messages mostly belongsto announcements, news, or notifications (Seppala andAlamaki 2003). Although those input methods arewidely accepted, it is difficult to post a text-basedmessage for explaining a concept (that may need, forexample, 1000 characters) to a learning forum. More-over, findings show that asynchronous groups hadbroader discussions and submitted more com-plete reports than their face-to-face counterparts(Benbunan-Fich et al. 2003). Consequently, speechrecognition would be the most natural input method inthe scenario of a mobile learning forum. However, it isalso the most expensive technology in terms ofcomputing power.

    Although speech recognition or sound-based nat-ural language processing technology is not feasible, asound-based input method is still feasible in terms of thehardware limitations of current learning devices. Forexample, the multimedia messaging service (MMS),evolved from SMS, on GSM/GPRS or CDMA net-works, can send and receive multimedia messages suchas graphics, video and audio clips, and so on. Thisstudy uses audio-based input to post a discussion article(clip) and uses the streaming technology for listening toa clip to solve the capability problem in the wirelessLAN situation. Hence, it can promote an easy-to-useasynchronous learning forum and motivate learnersto use it in WILDs. In fact, audio-based input is notnew because sound-based media, such as audiotapesand audio CDs, have been a component of distancelearning for decades. This study made efforts totransform the experience of traditional distance learn-ing into useful knowledge in the era of mobile learning.

    3. Promote usefulness of an asynchronous forum inWILDs

    One of the common problems in asynchronous learningis lack of interaction. There are many reasons for thisproblem, such as poor curriculum design, limitations oflearning devices, or improper instructional strategy.Many strategies have been proposed to encouragelearners to participate in an asynchronous discussion

    (Barker 2001). Those strategies can be classified as notgraded, graded, or indirectly graded. The gradedstrategies are more popular than non-graded andindirectly graded strategies because they can compellearners to participate in discussions. In general,discussion activities need detailed instructional plans;otherwise they may fail to stir many student responses.For example, a good teacher may plan several follow-up questions to prevent the discussion from having longsilences. However, there is no instant notification tolearners when a new message replying to a learnersresponses is posted to the asynchronous forum. Atleast, learners can acknowledge those interactions atonce through the mobile learning devices.

    Another common feature of previous strategies isto reduce the average time interval between responsesto messages; waiting a long time for a response willharm learners useful cognition in an asynchronousmobile/distance learning forum. Collaborative learningstrategies can provide an instructional task design toengage learners actively in achieving a lesson objectivethrough their own efforts and the efforts of themembers of their small learning team (Cooper 2003).The features for a collaborative learning strategyinclude heterogeneous grouping, interdependence, in-dividual accountability, and group processing(Warschauer 1997). Empirical evidence shows thatcognitive processes of deep learning occur in promo-tive interaction dialogues of the collaborative learning(Van der Linden and Renshaw 2001). Consequently,this study uses collaborative learning activities tomotivate learners who are using an asynchronouslearning forum in a mobile learning situation.

    4. Evaluate learners acceptance of audio-basedforum by technology acceptance model

    Using handheld devices is a new experience for mostlearners. Whether a learner will use the handhelddevice for learning is partially determined by his/heracceptance of the new technology. Thus, this study firstuses technology acceptance model (TAM) to evaluatelearners acceptance of using handwritten input forasynchronous learning forums taking place on learningdevices. Although some researches, for instanceJarvela and Hakkinen (2002) and Hawkes and Dennis(2003), examine the quality of asynchronous web-based discussion, this study is not trying to analyse thediscussion content. Moreover, Woods and Keeler(2001) use audio emails to increase students participa-tion in group discussion and result in more favourablestudent perceptions of student/faculty relationshipsand quality of group discussion, a greater sense orfeeling of online community, and a higher degree ofsatisfaction with the overall learning experience.

    Behaviour & Information Technology 25

  • Instead, this study evaluated whether or notlearners could accept the novel input me...


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