Investigating Mobile Assisted English Foreign Language Learning and Teaching in China: Issues, Attitudes and Perceptions

Investigating Mobile Assisted English Foreign Language Learning and Teaching in China: Issues, Attitudes and Perceptions

Haixia Liu (Michigan State University, USA & Beijing Normal University Zhuhai Campus, China), Wenhao Tao (Beijing Normal University Zhuhai Campus, China) and William Cain (Michigan State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0177-0.ch015
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This study aims to investigate how English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teachers and students in China spontaneously use apps for smartphone and tablets to support their informal language learning. It also seeks to determine EFL teachers' perspectives on informal and formal Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL). A total of 240 smartphone and/or tablet users (186 students and 54 EFL teachers) from four colleges in Guangdong China participated in the survey. Twenty-eight teachers selected from the survey participants were interviewed afterwards. Analysis of the survey data showed that all participants were using apps to learn foreign languages informally. Survey data analysis also revealed that the most frequently used apps were based on form-focused behaviorist activities rather than learner-centered constructivist activities. A comparison of usage between EFL teachers and students revealed no significant difference in their choice of apps, yet students expected guidance from EFL teachers in using apps and resources to facilitate language learning. Finally, while the survey data indicated EFL teachers had positive attitudes towards informal MALL, the interviews revealed that many of them held negative sentiments toward MALL in the classroom. We interpret this difference in attitudes as a reflection of the teachers' concerns about learners' self-control and autonomous learning skills, as well as concerns about required teachers' knowledge and perceived changes to teachers' roles. We conclude by discussing the implications of MALL for language teacher education and professional development.
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Literature Review

Though the concept of MALL has existed for nearly two decades (dating back to 1994), MALL is considered by some to be still “on the fringes” (Burston, 2014, p. 103). Investigating further, our review of early research on MALL (pre-smartphone) revealed three main areas of concern (technical, pedagogical, and attitudinal) when it came to adopting MALL approaches and practices. Our review also suggests the advent of smartphone technology alleviates these earlier concerns.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Apple’s iOS: OS is short for operating system. Apple’s iOS is the operating system developed by Apple Inc. for mobile devices including iPod, iPhone and iPad etc.

Behaviorist Approach: Also called behaviorism, it refers to a theory of explaining human behavior in terms conditioning and reinforcement activities without reference to thoughts and feelings.

Learner-Centered Instruction: A teaching method that focuses on students engaging in hard work, reflecting on their learning process, and learning independently or collaboratively.

Android (OS): Android is an operating system for mobile devices developed by Google.

Form-Focused Instruction: An approach in language education that emphasizes the acquisition of linguistic forms such as lexical features, phonological features, grammatical forms, etc.

TPACK: Abbreviation for Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge . Proposed in 2006 by Mishra and Koehler, TPACK is a framework to describe knowledge growth in teachers’ professional practice and development along three intersecting dimensions: content, pedagogy, and technology.

Apps: Short form of Applications. Apps refer to software programs designed to run on mobile phones or other handheld mobile devices.

MALL: Abbreviation for Mobile Assisted Language Learning . MALL refers to the use of handheld mobile devices (MP3 and MP4 players, mobile phones, tablets, etc.) to facilitate language-learning activities including accessing information, communicating with teachers and students, etc.

Constructivist Approach: Also called constructivism, it is a theory of how people learn. Constructivism posits that people’s knowledge is built on their own personal experience and reflective thinking.

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