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Internet and Higher Education 31 (2016) 3242

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Internet and Higher Education

Mobile instant messaging support for teaching and learning in


higher education
Simon So
Department of Mathematics and Information Technology, The Education University of Hong Kong, 10 Lo Ping Road, Tai Po, N.T., Hong Kong

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Smartphones could be the fastest spreading technology in human history. These mobile devices change the way
Received 7 May 2015 we communicate and enable mobile and ubiquitous learning at a different level. This study evaluated the use of
Received in revised form 27 May 2016 mobile instant messaging tools to support teaching and learning in higher education. A total of 61 undergraduate
Accepted 6 June 2016
students enrolled at a teacher-training institute in Hong Kong who have smartphones with WhatsApp were
Available online 14 June 2016
assigned into experimental and control groups. Besides the traditional classroom learning for both groups, the ex-
Keywords:
perimental group was also supported with bite-sized multimedia materials and teacher-student interaction via
Over-the-top (OTT) service WhatsApp outside school hours. The participants of the control group used WhatsApp only for academic commu-
Mobile instant messaging (MIM) nication. Pre-test scores were used as the covariate. The marginal means on the post-test scores showed that the
WhatsApp participants in the experimental group performed better than those in the control group. The intervention of
Bite-sized learning WhatsApp improved the learning achievement of the participants. The strength of the intervention between
Mobile learning the two groups was medium to large. A questionnaire designed by the author was administered at the end of
the study. The participants showed positive perception and acceptance of the use of WhatsApp for teaching
and learning. The participants slightly rejected the view that receiving instructional materials and questions out-
side school hours could interfere with their private lives. The typical usability issues on mobile learning were
found to be valid. The experience learnt in this research was discussed.
2016 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction and the special features of these MIM apps have the potential to foster
an effective environment to support teaching and learning. Since all
The widespread use of smartphones is reected by the observation the participants of this study had WhatsApp in their mobile devices,
that most higher education students in Hong Kong own such devices. the mobile instant messaging support in this research is solely referred
Subscribing to discounted or unlimited data plans is common among to the use of WhatsApp for teaching and learning.
them. These devices allow them access to Internet via high-speed In recent years, the popularity of text messaging and instant messag-
WIFI connectivity around the campus and at home. Kukulska-Hulme ing has prompted educators to integrate messaging tools in higher edu-
et al. (2011) conducted an international survey on university students cation teaching and learning (Bakker, Sloep, & Jochems, 2007; Brett,
and found that amongst the mature age students surveyed, receptive, 2008; Lauricella & Kay, 2013; Quan-Haase, 2008). Considerable work
productive, and communicative uses are shown across learning, social, has been reported on the use of these tools for content learning
entertainment, and workplace environments (p. 30). Owing to the up- (Cifuentes & Lents, 2010), language learning (Cavus & Ibrahim, 2009;
surge of smartphone penetration in recent years, over-the-top (OTT) Levy & Kennedy, 2005; Lu, 2008; Zhang, Song, & Burston, 2011), class-
messaging services on mobile instant messaging, microblogging, social room interaction and discussion (Hou & Wu, 2011; Jeong, 2007;
networking chats, and voice-over-IP talks have become the prime com- Markett, Arnedillo Snchez, Weber, & Tangney, 2006; Scornavacca,
municative use of smartphones. The general public including students is Huff, & Marshall, 2007), peer collaborative support (Ng'ambi & Brown,
less likely to use SMS service (Church & de Oliveira, 2013). Instead, they 2009; Timmis, 2012), administrative support (Goh, Seet, & Chen,
are more inclined to communicate with family and friends using various 2012; Jones, Edwards, & Reid, 2009; Naismith, 2007) and more. Howev-
synchronous and asynchronous communication tools such as er, many of these studies are limited to the exchange of text-based mes-
WhatsApp, Line, Viber, WeChat, KakaoTalk, BBM, Twitter, Skype, and sages (e.g. SMS) and, in some cases, the messaging tools are resided in
more (Pew Research Center, 2015). The use of these mobile instant PCs (e.g. desktop instant messaging tools). Rambe and Bere (2013)
messaging (MIM) apps has been growing rapidly. The ubiquitous nature have pointed out that the academic potential of MIM remains to be
one of the least explored functionalities of smartphones in higher edu-
cation institutions. The appropriate inclusion of these tools in higher ed-
E-mail address: swwso@eduhk.hk. ucation institutions is a challenge to the mobile learning research

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2016.06.001
1096-7516/ 2016 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
S. So / Internet and Higher Education 31 (2016) 3242 33

community. Teachers, who may be comfortable in using computers for educational purposes (Brett, 2008, 2011; Goh et al., 2012; Jones et al.,
teaching, may not be as comfortable in utilizing mobile technologies 2009).
such as WhatsApp into their teaching. They may not realize that For teaching and learning support with text messaging, many re-
MIM has the potential to create alternative dialogic spaces for student searchers have reported its use in language learning. Levy and
collaborative engagement (Rambe & Bere, 2013). The approaches to de- Kennedy (2005) described a project on learning Italian via mobile
liver instructional materials and activities with these tools remain as an SMS in an Australian university context. Lu (2008) explored the applica-
uncharted territory for many educators. This paper aims to ll the gap. tion of SMS in L2 learning in Taiwan. Cavus and Ibrahim (2009) reported
The purpose of this study was to explore the use of a mobile instant an experiment on the use of SMS to support the learning of technical
messaging tool to support the teaching and learning of a Database words. Zhang et al. (2011) reexamined the effectiveness of vocabulary
course in higher education. The intention of this research was not to learning between an SMS group and a paper-based group. Hayati,
conduct the entire course within WhatsApp. Instead, the traditional Jalilifar, and Marshhadi (2013) examined the push aspect of SMS
method of teaching such as face-to-face lectures and tutorials was affordance in relation to the delivery of bite-sized English idioms. A
supplemented with the delivery of succinct instructional materials number of studies explored the use of SMS to increase classroom in-
and activities through WhatsApp outside school hours. WhatsApp was teraction and discussion (Markett et al., 2006). Scornavacca et al.
used to extend and re-enforce the concepts learnt in the class, and (2007) presented an SMS-based classroom interaction system and
provide a channel for the students to communicate with the instructor explored its effect on the learning experience of the students.
and their peers ubiquitously. The following two research questions Ng'ambi and Brown (2009) implemented a dynamic frequently
were addressed in this study: asked questions tool that incorporated SMS. The tool was intended
Research Question 1: Does the intervention of WhatsApp, which to facilitate consultation among students and with the lecturer
supports the traditional classroom instructions of an undergraduate anonymously and inclusively. The MeLAS project (Brett, 2008) was
Database course outside school hours, improve the learning achieve- an institution-wide implementation of SMS-based technology.
ment of the participants? SMS tools allowed the creation of three types of messages, namely,
Research Question 2: To what extent do the participants perceive the one-way communication, formative assessment with feedback, and
usefulness and accept the use of WhatsApp for teaching and learning? collaborative learning.
The rest of this paper is organized as follows: the pertinent literature In the area of communication and administrative support with text
of text messaging and instant messaging for educational purposes is messaging, Naismith (2007) reported an e-mail to text message service
reviewed in Section 2. Section 3 presents the rationales for using that supported administrative communication for higher education
WhatsApp to support teaching and learning. The arguments are based staff and students. Message types included notications of room chang-
on the salient characteristics of modern MIM tools. It is followed by a es and class cancellations, reminders on assignment submission and col-
discussion of the methods and data analysis. Section 4 provides the lection, notications of relevant instructional activities, warning
details on the process of setting up the research and the highlight of messages to absentees, instructional messages, and greeting messages.
the intervention. The detailed results of the quantitative analysis Furthermore, many education institutions such as Deakin University
derived through the instruments are reported in Section 5. The main and Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) of Austra-
ndings, the limitations of the study, the practical implications and lia release examination grades and results via SMS.
suggestions for future research are discussed in Section 6. Section 7
provides the concluding remarks of MIM support for teaching and 2.2. Instant messaging
learning in higher education.
Instant messaging (IM) can be classied as quasi-synchronous com-
2. Relevant research munication. IM apps allow interlocutors to exchange short typed-texts
anywhere across the globe. The actual communication channel is nor-
Computer- and mobile-mediated communication provide users the mally bi-directional, although turn-taking in conversation is a common
opportunity to facilitate social afnity and social presence. Communica- practice. IM is a form of OTT services, which can be further categorized
tion using messaging tools is versatile. Users have control over when into mobile instant messaging (MIM) and desktop instant messaging
and with whom they interact. A number of research publications in (PC IM). The cost of sending and receiving messages is negligible in
the last decade have shown that messaging systems can be utilized in comparison with that of SMS texting. Modern IM apps can support mul-
many educational activities. These applications can be largely catego- timedia data and hyperlinks. Most of these apps allow group communi-
rized into (1) teaching and learning support and (2) communication cation and help to build a closer social networking environment
and administrative support. This categorization follows the conversa- for users (Vrocharidou & Efthymiou, 2012). IM tools facilitate many sig-
tional framework of Laurillard (2002) and her notion on the effective nicant opportunities for higher education (Farmer, 2005). University
use of digital technologies to facilitate learning through instruction, students are heavy IM users (Quan-Haase, 2008). Researchers have
construction, discussion, and collaboration (Laurillard, 2010). In the shown considerable interest in how students use IM (Bakker et al.,
proposed intervention specied in the rst research question, these 2007; Flanagin, 2005) and how IM can be integrated into their social
two domains of applications with WhatsApp could be found and and academic lives (Ogara, Koh, & Prybutok, 2014; Quan-Haase,
discussed in the later section. The following literature review pro- 2008). Lauricella and Kay (2013) have found that both text and IM are
vides the relevant studies which have implemented the two modes useful and viable tools to augment the communication among peers
of messaging communication, namely text messaging and instant and faculty in higher education.
messaging, in the two supporting domains described above. For teaching and learning support with instant messaging, IM tools
could be used to support synchronous discussion activities (Hou &
2.1. Text messaging Wu, 2011). Formal and informal interactions integrated with IM tools
in online learning environments could have positive effects on learning
Text messaging (texting) typically refers to the asynchronous mo- (Contreras-Castillo, Prez-Fragoso, & Favela, 2006; Hrastinski, 2006;
bile communication service between mobile handsets using SMS. Jeong, 2007). In studying subjects, such as a biology course for forensic
Texting has been popular for communicating short messages prior to science (Cifuentes & Lents, 2010), IM could encourage students to
the widespread ownership of smartphones and the shift of more users approach their professor with condence as well as to increase their
to OTT messaging apps in developed societies (ITU, 2013). Many educa- interest and success in their study. Timmis (2012) argued that IM
tors and scholars use text messaging as the form of communication for conversation offers a means of sustainable peer support among
34 S. So / Internet and Higher Education 31 (2016) 3242

undergraduate students through digitally mediated communication learners over time in bite-sized chunks (Stahl et al., 2010). Traxler
and collaborative activities that cross formal and informal boundaries. (2009) argued that the need to organize and navigate through bite-
The co-creation of artifacts, meaning making, motivation, and affective sized pieces of mobile learning content will affect the personalized
support were also demonstrated. learning journey of individual learners. For mobile phones, short and
In the area of communication and administrative support with in- bite-sized resources are most effective (Bradley, Haynes, Cook, Boyle,
stant messaging, IM enables libraries such as the National Library of & Smith, 2009). Provided the material pieces are succinct and concise,
Australia (NLA) to provide responsive and streamlined services (Davis, WhatsApp can be a exible medium that can support teaching and
2007). NLA's virtual reference service was a resounding success. Popular learning. Furthermore, the Ebbinghaus savings function informs us
IM clients were supported. Librarians could use IM to provide direct re- that the course of forgetting can best be described by a power curve of
sponses to user queries (Chua & Goh, 2010; Doan & Ferry, 2006; time (Wixted & Ebbesen, 1991; Wixted & Carpenter, 2007). This is
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2014). IM can also offer a widely accepted as a general theory for how we learn and retain infor-
range of other institutionally provided services such as the release of mation. The retention of new information degrades rapidly unless the
grades and notication of class cancellations (Lauricella & Kay, 2013). knowledge is reviewed in some manner (Stahl et al., 2010). To ght
the forgetting curve, experts have come up with many strategies.
3. Rationales for using WhatsApp to support teaching and learning Overlearning, immediate recall and spaced repetition are some of the
learning techniques. Revising the learning materials methodically
Web 2.0, sometimes referred to as the read/write web, is a breed- could reduce the steepness of the forgetting curve. Furthermore,
ing ground for engaging educational endeavors. As a myriad of Web 2.0 revisiting materials in bite-sized chunks is more effective than to learn-
tools are available today, the actual activity that can be achieved by a ing the same amount of material as a large bolus (Stahl et al., 2010).
Web 2.0 tool can be very different. Crook et al. (2008) outlined twelve Bite-sized approach to learning is both pedagogical and pragmatic.
major categories of Web 2.0 activities ranging from media sharing to so- WhatsApp is a suitable tool to facilitate this form of learning. WhatsApp
cial networking. Different and competing tools support different activi- allows the teacher to deliver learning materials in small chunks. This
ties. Typically, these tools are evolving and more features are method of presenting information is less overwhelming for the learners
continually added. Hence, sometimes it is difcult to classify the tool. and makes it easier for their learning. This can also be well-suited for
Nevertheless, WhatsApp as a Web 2.0 IM tool can also be considered students with a busy lifestyle. WhatsApp also retains the chat history
as a social networking tool. The functionalities supported by WhatsApp chronologically. Bite-sized materials are stored in the learner's device
can widen opportunities for pedagogical rethinking (Conole & Alevizou, for easy access. Learners can conveniently revisit these materials at
2010). By making use of the special features offered by WhatsApp, pur- their own pace and time.
poseful activities can help students to learn more effectively (Beetham &
Sharpe, 2013). This section will highlight some of these features which 3.3. Studies of WhatsApp for educational purposes and the aim of this study
are capable of enabling various pedagogical activities. Studies of
WhatsApp for educational purposes and the aim of this study are pre- The uptake of WhatsApp as a MIM tool has been phenomenal. As of
sented at the end of this section. September 2015, WhatsApp had a user base of up to 900 million, mak-
ing it the most globally popular messaging application. The system han-
3.1. Over-the-top messaging services can support formal and informal dles N10 billion messages each day (Wikipedia, 2015). WhatsApp can
learning be a serious tool to support teaching and learning. Despite the ubiqui-
tous use of WhatsApp, only a few research studies have reported on
Over-the-top (OTT) services refer to the delivery of media contents its application for teaching and learning. Rambe and Bere (2013) report-
such as video, audio, images, or texts over the Internet rather than via ed a case study on an undergraduate IT module at a South African uni-
dedicated service providers or exclusively over mobile carriers. Some versity that integrated WhatsApp into classrooms and out-of-the-
examples are Skype for video/voice calls, WhatsApp for messages on classroom tasks. They argued that MIM has the potential to create alter-
mobile devices, and YouTube for streaming video delivery. MIM apps native dialogic spaces for student collaborative engagements and to
enable users to exchange messages and to deliver images and video transform teaching and learning. Ngaleka and Uys (2013) explored
clips for free. The readily available service is well-suited to the continu- the use of WhatsApp for a group of undergraduate students on collabo-
um of formal, non-formal, and informal learning environments (Cross, rative research projects. Conversation analysis was used to analyze the
2007; Eshach, 2007). In higher education settings, most in-campus loca- test messages (ten Have, 2007). Gutirrez-Colon et al. (2013) reported
tions like classrooms have Internet access. Students can use OTT services the use of WhatsApp for English language learning. Salem (2013) stud-
and apps to support their formal learning (Lockyer & Patterson, 2008). ied the effect of MIM applications on the use of English language in Ku-
To bridge in- and out-of-school learning (Eshach, 2007), OTT services wait. This paper focused on the issue commonly known as textisms in
can have important roles in some of the informal learning activities the composition of text messages using IM tools (Rosen, Chang, Erwin,
such as scientic eld trips and museum visits (Meek, Fitzgerald, Carrier, & Cheever, 2010).
Sharples, & Priestnall, 2013; Pachler, Bachmair, & Cook, 2010). The aim of this study is to examine how smartphones installed with
WhatsApp can support spontaneous communication, the exchange MIM tools such as WhatsApp may effectively be used to engage stu-
of images, and sharing of captured video clips in teaching and learning dents in their learning. We are interested to explore how MIM can en-
activities. The mobile connectivity and instantaneous services provide hance traditional teaching and learning in higher education. It is not
an opportunity to offer new ways of teaching and learning that can ulti- the intention of this study to disturb the existing classroom practices;
mately improve performance. On-demand access to media contents is rather, the focus is on how MIM can support their learning outside
benecial to busy and independent learners. By allowing learners to se- school hours. This research was carried out in a teacher-training insti-
lect their needed learning materials, this can cultivate a responsive ped- tute in Hong Kong. The selected unit is an undergraduate database
agogy for individual differences. course for pre-service and in-service ICT teachers in Hong Kong. Many
of these in-service students have full-time posts in primary or second-
3.2. Bite-sized approach to learning ary schools. The ubiquitous nature of smartphones could extend their
learning beyond the regular lectures and promote closer interaction
To use technology uidly and ubiquitously, a exible learning envi- among the tutor and student-peers. The extended dialogic space may
ronment should entail digital-minded students (Andone, Dron, provide an additional support in constructing their ICT knowledge as
Pemberton, & Boyne, 2007). Learning materials should be presented to well as fostering active discussion in motivating their learning. The
S. So / Internet and Higher Education 31 (2016) 3242 35

purpose of this study, therefore, is twofold: (1) to examine whether the with the teacher and their fellow students. The control group was limit-
intervention of WhatsApp outside school hours for a traditionally ed to the use of WhatsApp for administrative support only. After com-
taught ICT course could improve the learning achievement of the partic- pleting the experiment, a questionnaire was administered to the
ipants; and (2) to evaluate the views on the use of WhatsApp for teach- participants to elicit their views on the use of MIM for teaching and
ing and learning among the students. A two-group pre- and post-test learning. Fig. 1 shows the setup and the procedure of the experiment.
experiment aimed to answer the rst research question and for the sec- The details of the participants, the measures and the procedure are de-
ond research question, a questionnaire designed by the author was used scribed in the subsequent sections. The collected data are analyzed
to analyze the students' perception and acceptance of WhatsApp for quantitatively to answer the two research questions introduced above.
teaching and learning. In addition, the typical usability issues were ex- The results can then be reported in detail.
plored and the experience learnt was discussed. This research was de-
signed to ll the gap in the literature on the use of MIM to support
teaching and learning in higher education. 4.2. Participants

Participants were students at a teacher-training institute in Hong


4. Methodology Kong. Students were recruited from two parallel evening classes of a da-
tabase management course during the winter semester of 2014. The
4.1. Pedagogical intervention of WhatsApp students had the same instructor, course content, and teaching sched-
ule. Participation in the study was voluntary. They signed a consent
To evaluate the effectiveness of MIM in supporting teaching and form and were informed of their rights to withdraw at any time during
learning, a two-group pre- and post-test experiment accompanied by the study. One class mainly consisted of in-service ICT students enroll-
the pedagogical intervention of WhatsApp was conducted on a higher ing in mixed-mode programs. These students have full-time teaching
education course in Hong Kong. The course teacher is also the author or non-teaching posts in primary or secondary schools in Hong Kong.
of this paper and has over ten years of experience in teaching the ICT A small number of pre-service full-time students were also enrolled in
course in Database. Both the experiment and control groups in two par- this class. This class was chosen to be the treatment group because the
allel classes received the same traditional instruction and identical con- intervention was conducted outside school hours and the learning sup-
tents as if the course was taught in the past. The pedagogical port was believed to be benecial to this group of students. A total of 31
intervention of WhatsApp was to enhance teaching and learning out- students participated in the experimental group and all of these stu-
side school hours. The support was not meant to replace the classroom dents are regular users of MIM tools like WhatsApp. The other class
teaching or to introduce new topics in WhatsApp. Succinct key points consisted of full-time pre-service students majoring or minoring in
and supporting multimedia materials were provided in WhatsApp to ICT. This class was designated to be the control group. A total of 30 stu-
consolidate the concepts presented in class. The teacher posted ques- dents participated in the control group and they are also regular users of
tions to the students and encouraged them to respond to the questions. WhatsApp. However, their participation using WhatsApp was limited to
The students could also use this medium to ask and discuss any queries the exchange of messages related to the administration of the course.

Fig. 1. The setup and the procedure of the experiment.


36 S. So / Internet and Higher Education 31 (2016) 3242

4.3. Measures expectancy, for example, is dened as the degree of ease associated
with the use of the system capturing the concept of perceived ease of
4.3.1. Pre- and post-tests use, complexity and ease of use from existing models (Venkatesh et
The instructor designed an instrument with 50 quiz items to assess al., 2003). From a technical perspective, using WhatsApp for learning
the participants' prior knowledge and their learning of the class content may be hindered by the screen size, one-nger interaction, internet
at the end of semester. The pre- and post-tests were administered to speed and battery life of mobile devices. These factors may increase
students in both the treatment and control groups prior and after the the difculties in accessing instructional materials and facilitating inter-
course. The pre-test served as the covariate for the analysis and mea- active activities on mobile devices with WhatsApp.
sured before the experimental intervention began. The identical post- A crucial aspect of the questionnaire design is to address the specic
test was given to the students at the end of the course. Analysis of co- nature of WhatsApp in supporting teaching and learning. Many of the
variance (ANCOVA) was used to evaluate the two-group pre-test/ items were formulated by identifying WhatsApp's unique features in
post-test design (Hogg & Tanis, 2010). After completing the course, it the context of mobile learning. The questionnaire has a range of
is expected that there will be an improvement on the database knowl- WhatsApp specic questions which focuses on whether WhatsApp
edge in the participants for both groups. This design allows the re- can elicit new learning opportunities, foster effective communication,
searcher to answer the rst research question by measuring any allow relevant feedback, offer informal and formal learning opportuni-
signicant learning improvement for the participants in the treatment ties, and support collaborative learning. WATLQ was also designed to
group as compared to the control group with the pre-test as the address the concern asserted by Rambe and Bere (2013) that merging
covariate. academic learning with family life after hours using MIM was known
as a cause of resentment.
4.3.2. Questionnaire
To establish a better perception on the use of WhatsApp for teaching 4.4. Procedure and instruction
and learning, a questionnaire was administered to both the experimen-
tal and control groups at the end of the course. This instrument was de- The traditional approach of instruction was provided to the students
signed by the author and referred to as WhatsApp for Teaching and enrolled in the introductory course of Database Management System.
Learning Questionnaire (WATLQ) in this research. WATLQ intended to The course prepares students to teach the database strand of ICT within
measure the acceptance and perceived usefulness of WhatsApp for the curriculum framework of secondary schools in Hong Kong and pro-
teaching and learning from the perspectives of the participants. The in- vides sufcient knowledge of this eld to primary ICT teachers. The stu-
strument allows the researcher to answer the second research question. dents received regular lectures on the theories in relational databases,
The formation of the instrument was drawn from the literature review query language, and web-based database construction. To practice
(Bakker et al., 2007; Cavus & Ibrahim, 2009; Davis, 1989; Flanagin, what they had learned in the lectures, they also had to complete a
2005; Gutirrez-Colon et al., 2013; Lauricella & Kay, 2013; Ogara et al., hands-on database project in groups.
2014; Rambe & Bere, 2013; Venkatesh, Morris, Davis, & Davis, 2003). During the rst lecture, the instructor recruited the participants for
In order to design a questionnaire that addresses the needs of the re- the study. They were asked to provide their mobile contact information
search, comprehensive and frequently cited models such as the Tech- to the instructor and to undertake the pre-test. In the subsequent class
nology Acceptance Model (TAM) (Davis, 1989) and the United Theory lectures, lecture slides were typically used to teach the formal database
of Acceptance and Use of Technology (UTAUT) (Venkatesh et al., theories. Hands-on database tasks were completed with the class com-
2003) were examined but not all of these models' constructs and puters. Besides the regular instruction, students in the experimental
items were fully adopted for the parsimonious reason. However, some group frequently received bite-sized instructional materials via
constructs proposed by these models are highly relevant to this study. WhatsApp. The small chunks of materials were designed to support
Most specically, TAM assumes that the beliefs about usefulness and and supplement the lectures. The bite-sized materials included video
ease of use are always the primary determinants of information tech- links to YouTube (e.g., Fig. 2a), diagrams (e.g., Fig. 2b), and point-form
nology adoption. According to Davis (1989), Perceived Usefulness notes (e.g., Fig. 2c). The intention was to engage the learners and to
(PU) is dened as the degree to which a person believes that using a maximize their learning in a succinct manner. Students could choose
particular system would enhance his or job performance. A number of not to study the materials if they felt they were familiar with the topics.
measured items related to this construct were formulated for the pro- The instructor also posted questions regularly and encouraged the stu-
posed instrument to suit the context of this study. For examples, these dents to respond (e.g., Fig. 2d). Any student could respond or the in-
specic questions focus on whether WhatsApp can bring new learning structor could elicit answers from specic students. The instructor
opportunities and be an effective tool for learning. Furthermore, Per- would also release the answers after a day of prolonged silence. Stu-
ceived Ease-of-Use (PEOU) is dened as the degree to which a person dents could also freely post questions to their instructor and fellow stu-
believes that using a system would be free of effort. Examples of these dents (e.g., Fig. 2e). The instructor would usually respond to the
questions include whether WhatsApp can help learners to easily review questions within a day. The dynamic of the dialogue resembled the con-
all multimedia materials by keeping all the records of the contents and versation they would normally have with their family and friends. For
whether WhatsApp is more exible for learning as it can be done at any- the students in the control group, the exchanged messages were limited
time and anywhere. The UTAUT model can be used to understand the to concerns related to the administration of the course, such as forming
factors that inuence the acceptance of a specic technology. The project groups and making announcements to students (e.g., Fig. 2f).
model includes four key constructs largely derived from a variety of the- The instructor informed the participants on the time when materials
oretical models including TAM. UTAUT posits that performance expec- would be posted. The rst preferred time was between 4:30 pm and
tancy, effort expectancy, social inuence and facilitating conditions are 6:30 pm. At these times, the participants were expected to travel on
the determinants of behavioral intention or use behavior, and that gen- public transport to reach the institute or to return home. Rather than
der, age, experience and voluntariness of use have moderating effects in phubbing with their smartphones in subways and buses as most people
the acceptance of technology. The original UTAUT model included a do in Hong Kong, they could use the time to learn. The second preferred
large number of items to measure the various factors with a number time was anytime in the evening and weekend hours (Cavus & Ibrahim,
of modulating effects. This model is too comprehensive to be fully 2009). The instructor was aware that the participants were working
adopted into this study for practical reasons. Similar to the constructs during the day. He avoided posting messages between 8:00 am and
of PU and PEOU proposed in TAM, performance expectancy and effort 4:30 pm on weekdays because many participants have daytime jobs.
expectancy are the two most relevant constructs to this study. Effort This was proven correct because numerous participants interacted
S. So / Internet and Higher Education 31 (2016) 3242 37

Fig. 2. (a) Bite-sized video clip in YouTube on entity-relational diagram; (b) a diagram that outlines the sequence of SELECT statement execution; (c) point-form notes; (d) some questions
posted by the instructor about database relations; (e) student inquiry on joins; and (f) formation of project groups and notices posted by the instructor.

with their instructor and fellow students during the evening until mid- control groups were similar, and the post-test scores for both the exper-
night, especially a few days before the nal test. imental and control groups were higher than the pre-test scores. At rst
glance, the descriptive data indicated that the participants in the exper-
5. Results imental group performed better than those in the control group. A de-
tailed analysis was conducted to examine the effects of the intervention.
The demographic information of the participants is shown in Table 1. To compare the learning effects of the intervention using WhatsApp,
The majority of the participants were second year students aged be- a one-way ANCOVA was conducted on the post-test scores (DV) of the
tween 18 and 23. Smartphone ownership is 100%. experimental and control groups (IV). Pre-test scores (CV) were used
as the covariate to control the potential differences in the prior database
5.1. Pre- and post-test results knowledge of the students. Before presenting the results, several as-
sumptions of ANCOVA were tested. From the Shapiro-Wilk analyses
The mean and standard deviation of the pre- and the post-test scores shown in Table 2, all the tests were not signicant (p N 0.05). The data
are shown in Table 2. The pre-test scores for the experimental and were normally distributed across each group. No violation of the
38 S. So / Internet and Higher Education 31 (2016) 3242

Table 1 scale (Q1 to Q11) was = 0.885. The overall Cronbach's was very
Participant demographics. good. The internal consistency for the items measuring WhatsApp for
Experiment group Control group teaching and learning was high. No obvious items should be deleted.
Count % Count %
The mean responses for this part ranged from 4.44 to 5.11 for the exper-
imental group and from 3.36 to 4.46 for the control group. The mean
n 31 30
values were all higher than 3.0 in the six-point Likert-type scale, sug-
Age
1820 3 9.7 21 70 gesting that generally, the participants had a positive perception and ac-
2123 11 35.5 8 26.7 ceptance of the use of WhatsApp for teaching and learning. All the mean
2426 7 22.6 1 3.3 responses of the experimental group were consistently higher than
2730 5 16.1 0 0 those of the control group. One possible reason for this nding is the
N30 5 16.1 0 0
University
rst-hand experience on the use of WhatsApp for teaching and learning
1st year 0 0 0 0 in the experimental group. The participants of the control group
2nd year 26 83.9 29 96.7 responded to the questionnaire merely based on their perception of
3rd year 0 0 1 3.3 WhatsApp for teaching and learning. They could be more reserved in
4th year 5 16.1 0 0
answering the questionnaire compared to the participants of the exper-
Smartphone ownership 31 100 30 100
imental group. This argument could be supported by the t-tests of Q5,
Q6, Q8, and Q10, which showed signicant differences. The participants
of the experimental group had stronger view on these items than those
Table 2
of the control group based on their rst-hand experience (e.g. Q6, Q8).
Pre-test and post-test scores.
Usability issues, such as the form factor, battery life, Internet speed,
Pre-test Post-test and interaction are frequently cited in mobile learning research (Looi
Groups n Mean/SD Shapiro-Wilk/p Mean/SD Shapiro-Wilk/p et al., 2009; Elias, 2011; Nedungadi & Raman, 2012). Despite the signif-
Experimental 31 18.16/6.080 0.952/0.176 31.00/6.802 0.958/0.260 icant advancement of smartphones and mobile gadgets at present,
Control 30 18.23/3.989 0.962/0.354 27.47/6.095 0.977/0.727 these issues remain valid. For Q12 to Q14, the participants expressed
their views on these issues. Thus, the expected high mean responses
were observed.
assumption of normality was found. The Levene's test of equal error var- The timing of social network interaction for learning support is an
iance was not signicant, F(1,59) = 0.91, p = 0.345 N 0.05. This result important issue for those who are practicing mobile learning in higher
indicated that the group variances were equal. The assumption of ho- education. Inappropriate timing can hinder learning effectiveness.
mogeneity of variance was satised. The correlation between CV and Rambe and Bere (2013) reported that learners had some reservations
DV was acceptable and signicant, r = 0.31, p = 0.015 b 0.05. The and resentment toward receiving and sending messages after hours.
two variables were reasonably correlated, but the correlation was not In our study, the mean responses for Q15 (a negatively phrased item)
too high. The independent t-test was used to test CV between the two were 3.22 for the experimental group and 3.79 for the control group.
groups. No signicant difference in the pre-test scores between the ex- The participants in the experimental group slightly rejected the view
perimental and control groups was found, t = 0.054, p = that receiving instructional materials and questions after school hours
0.957 N 0.05. We could use the covariate in the experimental outcome. could interfere with their private lives. In other words, they did not re-
The assumption for homogeneity of regression slopes was tested be- ally mind the irregular timing of the WhatsApp activities as mentioned
tween IV and CV, F(1,57) = 0.98, p = 0.326 N 0.05. No signicant inter- in the previous section. For the participants in the control group, per-
action (group pre-test) was observed. The application of ANCOVA was ceived inconvenience might be an explanation for the mean response
justied. (Neo & Skoric, 2009).
The post-test scores shown in Table 3 indicated a signicant differ-
ence, F(1,58) = 5.087, p = 0.028 b 0.05. The marginal mean adjusted
for the covariate of the post-test results of the experimental group 6. Discussion
was 31.01, which was higher than that of the control group, 27.45.
The participants in the experimental group with the intervention of 6.1. Summary of main ndings
WhatsApp performed better than those in the control group. This result
implied that the pedagogical approach for WhatsApp to support teach- This section presents a summary of the main ndings from the quan-
ing and learning was helpful. Cohen's f was computed (G*Power, 2013), titative measurements in response to the two established research
f = 0.297. Cohen (1988) suggested that values of f as large as .50 are questions. The rst research question looked into the pedagogical inter-
not common in behavioral science (p. 284). SMALL, MEDIUM, and vention of WhatsApp outside school hours to support the traditional
LARGE f values are dened as 0.1, 0.25, and 0.4, respectively. Based classroom instructions for an undergraduate course in Database. The
on this effect size, the strength of the intervention between the two improvement of students' learning was measured from their perfor-
groups was medium to large. mance in a knowledge test given before and after the course. In compar-
ing the results from the post-test scores with the pre-test scores as the
5.2. Questionnaire results covariate for the experimental and control groups, the ANCOVA analysis
indicated that the improvement of the test scores was signicant. The
An item-by-item analysis of WATLQ was conducted. Results are pedagogical intervention of WhatsApp outside school hours for the
shown in Table 4. The Cronbach's reliability for the main part of the course could help students to improve their knowledge on the subject.

Table 3
ANCOVA and effect sizes of the post-test results.

Variable n Mean SD Adjusted mean Std. error F p Partial 2 Cohen's fa

Post-test Experimental group 31 31.00 6.082 31.01 1.108 5.087 0.028 0.081 0.297
Control group 30 27.47 6.095 27.45 1.126
S. So / Internet and Higher Education 31 (2016) 3242 39

Table 4
Means, standard deviations and t-test results of WATLQ for the experimental and control groups.

Experimentala group: Control group:


Items mean/SD mean/SD t
Q1 WhatsApp can be an effective tool for learning as it can give immediate messaging support. 4.78/0.974 4.46/0.793 1.311
WhatsApp ,
Q2 WhatsApp can bring new opportunities of learning. 4.44/1.219 4.18/1.020 0.878
WhatsApp
Q3 WhatsApp can improve communication between students and teachers. 4.74/1.318 4.43/0.959 1.007
WhatsApp
Q4 WhatsApp is a quicker method of getting feedback in learning. 4.74/1.228 4.32/0.819 1.495
WhatsApp
Q5 WhatsApp is more exible to be used for learning as it can be done at anytime and anywhere. 5.00/1.000 4.36/0.870 2.546
WhatsApp ,
Q6 WhatsApp can support multimedia learning as learners can exchange image, audio and video contents. 5.11/0.934 4.36/0.911 3.030
WhatsApp ,
Q7 WhatsApp can support collaborative learning by forming discussion groups of up to 50 members. 4.85/1.134 4.29/1.084 1.894
WhatsApp ,
Q8 WhatsApp keeps records of all multimedia contents and can help learners to easily review them. 4.93/1.072 4.21/0.876 2.701
WhatsApp ,
Q9 WhatsApp allows learners to think carefully before giving any response. 4.48/1.341 3.86/1.079 1.906
WhatsApp ,
Q10 WhatsApp is best suited to provide compact and succinct learning materials either directly or through resource links. 4.63/1.006 3.82/0.983 3.013
WhatsApp (links)
Q11 WhatsApp can supplement conventional teaching method and face-to-face classroom learning. 4.44/1.281 3.36/1.367 3.042
WhatsApp
Q12b It is troublesome to read instructional materials on mobile devices with WhatsApp. 4.70/1.203 4.71/1.182 0.033
WhatsApp
Q13b The simple conversational structure of WhatsApp is not well catered for structured discussion and learning. 4.48/1.087 4.39/1.197 0.287
WhatsApp
b
Q14 The screen size, one-nger interaction, internet speed and battery life deter me to use WhatsApp for learning. 4.26/1.375 4.11/1.166 0.443
WhatsApp
Q15b Receiving instructional materials and questions outside ofce hours can interfere with my private life. 3.22/1.368 3.79/1.449 1.482

p b 0.05.
a
1: strongly disagree; 2: disagree; 3: weakly disagree; 4: weakly agree; 5: agree; 6: strongly agree.
b
Issues on WhatsApp for teaching and learning.

The second research question investigated the perceived usefulness 6.2. Limitations of the study
and acceptance of WhatsApp for teaching and learning. The participants
in the experimental and control groups were asked to ll in WATLQ at There are several limitations in this study. It seemed that students in
the end of the course. In general, WhatsApp for teaching and learning the experimental group received more instructional materials and
was well received. They believed that WhatsApp can elicit new learning learning opportunities than in the control group. They had more possi-
opportunities. WhatsApp can foster effective communication at any- bilities to interact with the learning materials, their peers and the in-
time and anywhere. By forming discussion groups up to 50 members structor. Therefore, it is expected that students in the experimental
per group, WhatsApp can support collaborative learning. The special group would perform better than those in the control group on the
features such as the support of multimedia contents and keeping re- post-test with the pre-test as the covariate. This observation is generally
cords in the history can help learners to review the contents quickly correct and the casual relationship may be the limitation in this study
and easily. WhatsApp can supplement formal and informal learning. from the research design perspective. However, this approach is sensi-
WhatsApp allows relevant feedback. Thoughtful responses can be ble and this type of experimental design is common in the eld of edu-
furbished asynchronously. The item responses from the experimental cational research (e.g., Spradlin & Ackerman, 2010). From the
group were compared to the control group using t tests. Comparing educational prospective, the purpose of the research was to improve
the means for each item indicated that there were signicant differ- learning with the proposed intervention. In fact, there was a large
ences on the questionnaire items of WhatsApp's exibility for learning, amount of effort required by the teacher to supplement the traditional
multimedia learning, content review, access of succinct materials and classroom instructions with WhatsApp outside school hours. If the im-
supplementing conventional teaching methods. Participants in the con- provement of the participants' learning was mild, the effort may not
trol group were more conservative with these items. These results are be cost effective and the intervention may not be worthwhile.
likely due to their perception and not their rst-hand experience of There is no strong reason to believe that the participants in both the
WhatsApp for teaching and learning. Participants found that typical is- experimental and control groups have experienced this level of applica-
sues on mobile learning with WhatsApp were valid. Readability, conver- tion for teaching and learning with WhatsApp prior to this study. The
sational structure, physical appearance, limited input capability, researcher is condent that the responses collected from the survey
internet speed and short battery life were some of these issues. should be genuine. However, it is possible that the survey results may
The participants slightly rejected the view that receiving instruction- have been affected by any number of extraneous variables. Their past
al materials and questions outside school hours could interfere with experience of mobile learning could confound the survey results. The
their private lives. Learning in the evening and during odd hours did researcher was unable to control the bias of opinions but the specic
not concern them. This response is not surprising because the partici- and purposeful design of the questionnaire items could reduce concerns
pants are young adult learners. The theory of andragogy of Knowles over potential confounding factors.
(1984) asserts that adults strongly adhere to self-direction and readi- Another limitation is that this experiment is not a large scale re-
ness in relation to learning. Adult learners are motivated intrinsically. search. The experimental and control groups had only 31 and 30 partic-
Their motivation to learn could override the timing inconvenience. ipants respectively. The sample size was relatively small. The normality
40 S. So / Internet and Higher Education 31 (2016) 3242

assumption was properly tested for the pre- and post-test data. The over WhatsApp. Learning through their peers was also important and
groups were conrmed by the Shapiro-Wilk tests. However, each of WhatsApp was a good collaborative tool for them. This argument was
the pairwise means of the questionnaire items was not tested for nor- supported by the results from the questionnaire.
mality. The normality assumption was relied on the rule of thumb in Shy and reticent students participated more in MIM than in the
frequentist statistics. The sampling distribution can be approximated classroom environment. The teacher received responses from these stu-
by a Normal model. The t-tests were employed. dents as they posted questions through WhatsApp. In the face-to-face
lectures, they were very passive and did not communicate with the
6.3. Practical implications and suggestions for future research teacher at all. Although this aspect was not thoroughly investigated in
this study, it is an excellent topic for further research.
This study investigated the use of MIM tools to support teaching and Rambling and irrelevant conversations by the students occasionally
learning in higher education. The implications and the insights derived occurred. Some students used the platform to post unrelated messages.
from the study are articulated through Laurillard's Conversational When a student posted a long social message, another student immedi-
Framework (2002), a highly inuential framework for teaching and ately responded by requesting that student to refrain from doing so, in-
learning design that may be mediated by technologies. The framework dicating that the students treasured WhatsApp for teaching and
is dened as the minimum requirements that any learning environ- learning. They would like to devote the discussion group for the course
ment should provide to support the complete learning process, embrac- and not for social interaction. Some students in the group deliberately
ing the learning experiences of instruction, construction, chose to send messages to the teacher privately for matters unrelated
experimentation, discussion, collaboration, production, and articula- to the course (e.g., request for sponsorship of a charity event).
tion, as a unied way of challenging both conventional methods and
learning technologies (Laurillard, 2010, p. 419). Laurillard emphasized 6.3.3. Learning environment
the iterative dialogue between teacher and learner in the constructed The teacher attempted to establish a closely connected environment
environment of a teacher. The three main components, namely, teacher, to support learning inquiry, encourage reective practice and promote
learner, and learning environment are discussed in the subsequent active learning. MIM tools have the potential to reorganize the learning
sections. process by steering away from didactic classroom teaching to spontane-
ous student-centered learning. Students could relate the contents to
6.3.1. Teacher their prior knowledge, clarify misconception, develop accurate con-
Laurillard has argued that the teacher makes a difference and he or cepts, and co-construct meaning with their peers. The learning environ-
she is the key to innovations. Learners cannot be entirely left alone to ment, however, had its limitations. First, forming subsequent chat
learn and work independently. The intervention of the teacher at the groups dynamically was inconvenient for the teacher. For MIM tools
right time and with the appropriate learning materials helps the like WhatsApp, a series of actions and notications were necessary to
learners in the formulation and construction of knowledge. In this establish the communication because of the privacy issue and the sys-
study, the teacher attempted to provide the right supporting materials. tem server requirement. Therefore, the establishment of dynamic
Following the regular lecture, the teacher sent bite-sized materials via group interaction was not ideal for this learning environment. Second,
WhatsApp to students to supplement the lectures. The teacher was there were many participants involved in the control and experimental
aware that the use of WhatsApp was intended to enhance learning be- groups. It was difcult for the teacher to conduct all the teaching and
yond the lectures. In the iterative cycles of the conversational frame- learning activities because the form factor of smartphones limited the
work between teacher and learner, a range of narrative and input capabilities and restricted typing with the use of a single nger.
interactive resources, such as videos and web resources, were used to To resolve these issues, the teacher used a Bluetooth keyboard for typ-
support the learners through WhatsApp. The teacher engaged the ing operation and reverted to a tablet for a larger screen when possible.
learners in academic discourses by posting questions and eliciting re- Third, on many occasions, access to learning materials shared between
sponses. These activities provided different ways to explore the con- PC and mobile devices was required. Transferring the materials from
cepts. One drawback of WhatsApp is the linear structure of the PC to mobile devices and vice versa was tedious. Using cloud-based de-
dialogues. WhatsApp is not a threaded discussion tool. For a science positories to centralize the le storage and sharing among different de-
course such as the database course in the study, the problem was not se- vices could have addressed this issue. However, this suggestion was not
rious. Open dispute and interpretation on different topics were not taken by the researcher. Nevertheless, the suggestion should be ex-
required. plored in future research.
Overall, the teacher felt that the study was successful. MIM contrib-
uted to the learning achievements of these students. To facilitate 7. Conclusions
WhatsApp for teaching and learning especially outside school hours,
the teacher had to contend with high extra workload. On the one In recent years, the proliferation of smartphones in society has been
hand, the teacher had to prepare the relevant bite-sized materials that witnessed. Students in higher education are heavy users of these mobile
were consistent with the lecture materials. Carefully selected materials devices (Kukulska-Hulme et al., 2011). Mobile technologies such as
were disseminated regularly at the right time. On the other hand, the smartphones and tablets offer the opportunity to embed learning in for-
teacher should always be available to interact with the students. mal, non-formal, and informal education (Eshach, 2007). This study
Responding quickly to queries and ideas of the students are important demonstrated how smartphones with WhatsApp can support teaching
to avoid discouraging the students. Therefore, this highlights the impli- and learning in a database course at a teacher training institute in
cation of the signicant time commitment required from the teacher. Hong Kong.
In this experiment, WhatsApp was used as the communication tool
6.3.2. Learner to support teaching and learning. This study offers teachers ideas
In the experiential level of the conversational framework, learners about the use of MIM tools for educational purposes. Teachers can
transform their conceptual understanding into a practical adaption adopt a bite-sized approach in teaching and learning. They should also
guided by the discussions and reections with their teachers and encourage students to actively discuss relevant topics. Students could
peers. Learning through practice is an important process. MIM can sup- use the ubiquitous learning environment to interact with their teachers
port learners with these activities. In this course, the students had to col- and peers. As the ANCOVA results in Table 3 have shown, the learning
laborate in a team for a database programming project. The teacher achievements of the experimental group improved signicantly com-
frequently received questions on how to solve programming errors pared to those of the control group. Since positive outcomes of using
S. So / Internet and Higher Education 31 (2016) 3242 41

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