Mobile phones have become an integral part of daily life for almost all young students, and for the majority of Saudi EFL (English as a Foreign Language) students, the most popular form of electronic communication. In addition, Saudi Arabia has a substantial young population who are becoming more digital-savvy and increasingly connected, especially through social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. In particular, Facebook user penetration in Saudi Arabia is dramatically increasing among the young population who comprise the majority of Facebook users. Moreover, most Facebook users rely on mobile phone access due to their portability, familiarity, and ease-of-use.
The lack of authentic and meaningful opportunities for language practice outside the classroom has always been characterised as a limitation of EFL instruction worldwide. Saudi EFL students, in particular, suffer from traditional EFL pedagogies that usually isolate the students from the surrounding environment. Voices of students in such traditoional and decontextualised learning environments are usually igmored or underestimated. There have been some technology-enhanced attempts to improve EFL education. However, students’ pervasive use of mobile phone technologies and social media needs to be adequately exploited in order to create more collaborative and contextual learning experiences. Due to the novelty of mobile learning, there is a pressing need to develop theoretically-based design principles relevant to the integration of mobile phones in particular, to enhance contextual and collaborative language learning, and to capitalise on out-of-class language learning opportunities.
The purpose of this study is to explore how mobile phone technologies and Facebook can enhance and provide more collaborative and contextual learning experiences. To this end, a design-based research approach was implemented to allow for more rigorous design principles for mobile language learning. To accomplish these research aims, a design-based research approach was used to test, extend, and redefine generic design principles for mobile learning, as well as principles of connectivism. Principles were conceptualised and then employed in natural contexts to test their ecological validity, and a new framework was generated for conceptualising instructional design principles for mobile language learning. The research design utilised iterative reflections and feedback from language learners to inform two iterations of mobile language learning designs. Throughout the two iterations, in addition to their participation in in-class learning activities, 33 Saudi EFL university students were required to use their mobile phones to collaborate on a Facebook group that was created for the study. Students were required to post photos or short videos and to add captions, descriptions, or starter questions to the i Facebook group. Participants who were uploading were informed that photos or videos should be associated with a social event occurring outside class or one that has local or cultural characteristics. Other participants in the group were required to comment on the uploaded materials. The students were required to use their mobile phones to capture and edit the materials, and then upload them to Facebook. Mobile phone internet was also used to collaborate via Facebook. Qualitative research tools were used in the study, including pre- and post-task interviews, stimulated recall sessions, and Facebook observation.
The study found that mobile Facebook enabled the students to transition from being passive to engaged learners who were more involved in their learning task. It has also been clarified that students experienced contextual learning that was highly student-centred, collaborative, and user-generated. The task helped the students not only to interact with the outer context and integrate it with the in-class activities, but it also enabled them to produce their own learning materials that were both meaningful and authentic. Mobile Facebook also broke down student-teacher barriers that often exist in traditional EFL settings. The students interacted with each other and with their teacher and were able to express their ideas more freely. Hence, an informal and friendly community of practice was maintained.
The study drew upon the functionality of design-based research to identify appropriate design principles that can be employed for mobile language learning. Students also co-contributed to the design adjustment and were happy to experience that adjustment in their actual learning. Therefore, more student-centred learning was maintained. Mobile Facebook and the iterative nature of the learning design enabled the students to choose their learning resources and other networks that enhanced their language learning. Students’ feedback played a major role in the overall mobile language learning task as well as the shape of the final set of the design principles for mobile language learning. This final set of design principles were derived from generic design principles for mobile learning as well as connectivist guidelines.
The study illustrated the benefits of contextualising language learning using mobile phones and Facebook. In addition, it provided a deeper understanding of mobile instructional design and evidence, feedback, and guidance for both EFL teachers and mobile instructional designers. It also provides further contributions to the literature on collaborative and contextual learning in general, and, specifically, about its implications in a Saudi EFL setting. Further studies need to be carried out with broader scope and in different EFL contexts, so that more firmly substantiated predictions could be made about contextual learning as well as design principles for mobile language learning.