(The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Al-Fanar Media).
The use of technology in language classes is currently a hot topic in education circles. The trend in learning has roughly paralleled trends in technology, evolving from the use of large mainframe computers to a stage where all parties may employ handheld devices. In the process, education has become a far more localized and accessible pursuit than it was even as recently as 10 years ago. This latest iteration is commonly referred to as e-learning, with an important variation centered around the influence of mobile phones, referred to as m-learning.
Because of the portable nature of this new educational medium, which combines mobile phones with the sometimes apparently limitless ability of the World Wide Web to deliver information to learners, large swaths of traditional educational methodology and teaching methods may be falling by the wayside. More and more, educators and researchers are irresistibly attracted to the seductive power of this technological combination, particularly at this time of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Unfortunately, there remain many structural roadblocks that hinder the advent of m-learning. The promotion of such technology in language classrooms carries with it the implicit assumption that the presence of mobile phones in the classroom is an unqualified benefit. In fact, the very presence of these devices, not only in classrooms but also in society, has the potential of disrupting the ordinary course and patterns of life that the venues in which they are used to exist for.
Speaking as a Yemeni instructor, with experience in teaching at all levels of education in our nation, this situation requires the adaptation of online learning, due to the complicating factors created by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the geopolitical struggles and challenges facing the nation as a whole for an indefinite period of time. It would be next to impossible for the government to provide computers, laptops or other major learning platforms for online learning. However, since most Yemeni students own a kind of smartphone, it is within the realm of possibility to make use of any available application for these mobile phones to enhance the process of online learning for these students.
Using mobile phones as the primary means of access to a larger online-learning system in Yemen can provide certain benefits. To take one example, applications like WhatsApp may themselves be used as platforms, since groups may be created to exchange knowledge between the teachers, especially English-language teachers, and learners. Also, other applications and/or social networking websites, such as Facebook or Twitter, may also be employed for these objectives.
On the other hand, the quality and reliability of the Internet access required to power and enable mobile phones is weak, and not all Yemeni students across the country would be able to enjoy a uniformly positive experience or learning conditions. Additionally, the question of motivation on the part of Yemeni learners to willingly adapt a new trend in worldwide education is a significant one, especially in light of the fact that learners from other countries in the region have faced similar motivational challenges and deficits.
The promotion of such technology in language classrooms carries with it the implicit assumption that the presence of mobile phones in the classroom is an unqualified benefit.
Furthermore, the relative level of educational support in Yemen may not allow for teachers or teaching communities to make the most optimal use of these mobile phones in the best interests of their students. Therefore, training and awareness sessions should be provided as an integral part of any organized effort to adopt mobile phones as a possible learning tool for the Yemeni educational system.
It should be understood that there are many assumptions that are being made for the purposes of any studies of the potential for m-learning in Yemen. One of the most important of them is the premise that ownership of smartphones has become a universal reality among Yemeni university students. Theoretically, this would mean that 99 percent of all Yemenis attending university would be assumed to have smartphones with them as a part of their daily routines. From the experiences of the author, it is clear that this is in fact an observable situation.
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On the other hand, Internet access could reasonably be viewed as constituting an obstacle, given the prevailing weak infrastructure of Internet connections in Yemen. Furthermore, students must also be expected to bear additional expenses for the purpose of maintaining a certain level of connectivity, to allow them to engage in online education.
It is also possible for educators in Yemen to play an active role in motivating students to migrate to online learning as a potentially new approach, especially in these trying times of the coronavirus pandemic. One of the main roles of any learned educator is not only to inform, but also to inspire others, such as the students in their given learning
Internet access could reasonably be viewed as constituting an obstacle, given the prevailing weak infrastructure of Internet connections in Yemen.
communities, to pursue both new vistas of knowledge and new avenues by which to travel to them.
As with any educational endeavor, a great deal of patience and tenacity must be employed by all instructors or educators, as well as the ability to guide students to the point where it is possible for them to navigate, on their own, all of new channels of information and information exchange that online learning platforms can provide in a multimodal environment.
In closing, it should be understood that I am merely suggesting, in this brief article, that all involved educators as well as educational institutions should understand, to the greatest degree possible, what information they wish to promote and what other information they wish to de-emphasize or condemn within the Yemeni university community. As with any potential educational tool or method, m-learning should be subject to general research procedures to adopt or adapt. These procedures include, but may not be limited to, pre-testing, monitoring, validation, post-testing, learners’ attitudes and motivation, and practicality.
Once any m-learning initiative has run the gantlet of these rigorous validation measures, then and only then, can they be judged to be suitable for incorporating into the learning curriculum. The main purpose of this article is to raise the awareness of importance of adopting online learning, whether it be m-learning, or any other kind of learning that may be done on online platforms, as continued real-time classes may no longer be viable due to the continuation of serious consequences caused by the worsening health hazards.
Rais Attamimi is a researcher from Yemen who currently teaches at the University of Technology and Applied Sciences in Salalah, Oman. His research focuses primarily on issues of second-language acquisition, motivation, and the nexus between learning, society and technology.