Mobile Technologies as Boundary Objects in the Hands of Student Teachers of Languages Inside and Outside the University

Mobile Technologies as Boundary Objects in the Hands of Student Teachers of Languages Inside and Outside the University

Elżbieta Gajek (Institute of Applied Linguistics, University of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 8
DOI: 10.4018/IJMBL.2016040107


This paper presents the use of mobile devices by students of linguistics, future foreign language teachers, outside the university and in-campus, and their vision of the potential usefulness of such devices for language learning at tertiary level. As various characteristics of mobile devices influence their usability, users select a device to fit specific needs. This article discusses student teachers' preferences of the use of mobile devices in the light of boundary objects theory (Star, Griesemer, 1989; Star 2010). Although they use mobile phones mainly for communication and orientation in both contexts, the funcionalities are different. For example, they use phone calls outside the university versus sms in-campus, city public-transport website versus weekly schedule. The device turns out to be so flexible that allows for a selective use of its functionality depending on the context.
Article Preview


The first aim of the article is to present trends in the use of digital tools, that is computer laptops and mobile devices by university students – preservice language teachers. The second aim is to identify the extent technologies have been normalized (Bax, 2003).

The next aim is to reflect on the mobile devices as boundary objects. Boundary objects as defined by Star (Star, Griesemer, 1989; Star, 2010) can be used in many social contexts in various ways and for various purposes by the users, that is different communities use them as a common point of reference. Boundary objects articulate meaning and address multiple perspectives. They have different meaning in different social worlds but at the same time they have a structure that is common enough to make them recognizable across these worlds. Boundary objects are working arrangements, adjusted as needed. They allow different groups of people work together. Their actual use is worked out through the cooperation of their users. They are plastic enough to adapt to the changing needs of their users. They are not imposed by one community, nor by appeal to outside standards (Bowker and Star, 1999). Thus, boundary objects are used in an unstable way, so in the educational context, the role of mobile devices may change.

Steel and Levy (2013) discriminate between technologies and tools. Following Warschauer (2011, p. 36) they perceive the term Web 2.0 technologies as “wikis, blogs, audio/video conferencing, mobile technologies, virtual worlds and so forth” (Steel & Levy, 2013). However, the tools are perceived as a specific implementation of a certain functionality such as blog or wiki. But the tools change, thus Steel and Levy (2013) also use the term technologies for e.g. wiki and blog to emphasize a group of tools with certain functionalities. Some of them appear, others become outdated because of the users’ preferences. Thus, the role of the users, with a special focus on them as language learners requires constant updating.

Studies In The Use Of Technologies By Students

Early research, before 2006, on the use of Mobile Technologies (MT) in education was focused on basic mobile phones and Personal Digital Assistants (Burston, 2013; 2014a; 2014b). What is more, early studies of the use of mobile devices for foreign language learning investigated mainly the use of e-dictionaries (Sharpe, 1995; Weschler & Pitts, 1999; 2000; Yonally & Gilbert, 1995, Houser, Thornton, Yokoi, & Yasuda, 2001; Thornton & Houser, 2001a, 2001b, 2002; Deng, 2006; Wang, 2003; Zhang, 2004; Liang, Liu, Wang, & Chan, 2005; Burston 2013; 2014a).

The way students use technologies has been widely examined. Conole (2008) refers to learners’ preferences in her study from 2006 in the UK in which she collected 92 survey responses, 37 audio logs and 3 interviews. That time Web 2.0 technologies and PDA (Personal Digital Assistant – the ancestor of a mobile telephone, smartphone and tablet) were only mentioned. The well-established tools such as email, messengers, blogs, BlackBoard, Web radio, QQ were used. Skype and podcasts were new at the time. Language specific software such as Wordsmith for concordancing, online dictionaries were seldom mentioned.

Complete Article List

Search this Journal:
Open Access Articles: Forthcoming
Volume 11: 4 Issues (2019): 1 Released, 3 Forthcoming
Volume 10: 4 Issues (2018)
Volume 9: 4 Issues (2017)
Volume 8: 4 Issues (2016)
Volume 7: 4 Issues (2015)
Volume 6: 4 Issues (2014)
Volume 5: 4 Issues (2013)
Volume 4: 4 Issues (2012)
Volume 3: 4 Issues (2011)
Volume 2: 4 Issues (2010)
Volume 1: 4 Issues (2009)
View Complete Journal Contents Listing