Using mobile technologies for mathematics: effects on student attitudes and achievement.
Authors and affiliations:
Keith J. Topping
Ian G. Barron
All from the University of Dundee, Scotland.
What did the research explore?
The study investigated the effects of using Android tablet devices on learning in mathematics. The research attempted to answer four questions:
- What are the students’ views on using mobile technology for learning maths?
- Is there a change in attitude towards learning maths when mobile technology is used?
- Is there a change in attitudes towards mobile technology when it is used to learn maths?
- Is there a change in students’ performance in a maths test when they have been taught using mobile technology?
How did they conduct the research?
The study involved two teachers and their classes from the same primary school in Scotland. One of the teachers adopted the use of tablet devices in their maths classes (the experimental group), while the other teacher taught their maths classes as normal (the control group). A total of 52 primary school students, aged between 9- and 11-years-old, participated in the study. There were 24 students in the experimental group, and 28 students in the control group.
The students in the experimental group participated in mobile-supported, collaborative learning activities within indoor and outdoor learning environments. They had eight hour-long sessions of mobile-learning activities, spread over three months.
The study used a number of ways to gather data:
Maths Attitude Inventory (MAI)
A MAI survey was used to measure the students’ attitudes towards maths. Students were asked to self-report on their enjoyment and self-confidence around maths, the value of maths, their confidence with technology and the value of mobile technology. The experimental group and the control group completed the MAI at the start and end of the intervention so the change could be mapped. The experimental group also completed the MAI survey midway through the intervention.
Maths Test (MT)
The MT comprised of topics covered in the intervention, such as symmetry, angles, area and perimeter and information handling. Both the experimental group and the control group completed a maths test before and after the intervention to compare results.
End Activity Evaluation (EAE)
The students in the experimental group completed an EAE questionnaire at the end of each mobile-supported learning activity. The EAE was used to allow students to rate the tablet and the activity separately. The questionnaire consisted of 20 questions looking at three factors – usefulness, ease of use and user satisfaction.
Teacher and student interviews from the experimental group were also carried out at the end of the intervention. Students were asked to reflect on the activities they liked and disliked, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of them. The teacher was asked questions on their views of mobile learning and the effect the activities had on students.
What were the key findings?
With regards to the test scores, the experimental group performed significantly better than the control group. One reason for this could be that ‘the activities made them recall the topics better and helped them visualise the concepts being learned’ (Fabian et al. 2018, p. 1134). It’s also worth noting that there was no significant difference in the scores of male and female students in either the experimental or the control group.
The results from the maths attitude test showed no significant difference in attitudes towards maths between the two groups. There was, however, a slight increase in positive attitudes towards maths when the students in the experimental group completed the midway survey.
According to the authors, the students in the control group ‘had a positive view about the use of mobile technologies and they found the learning activities fun, engaging and useful.’ (Fabian et al., 2018). This was also confirmed by their teacher who said the students were positive and would look forward to the sessions.
What are the limitations?
- It is difficult to attribute the higher test scores to the use of technology due to the design of the study; the increased test scores might be down to the the differences between the teachers or, indeed, the students
- One of the limitations of the study was the short intervention time. As the authors note, ‘the weekly mobile learning sessions over 3 months might not have been enough to yield a permanent change’ (Fabian et al., 2018, p.1134)
- The sample size was also quite small for a study involving the use of technology, however, the researchers suggest this was due to recruitment issues
- The teacher involved in the study was enthusiastic about and proficient in the use of technology. As such they were able to address some of the technological challenges presented by the devices and the software. The results might have been quite different with a less proficient teacher.
What ideas might you adopt for your own classroom from the research?
- Conduct a small-scale action research study into the effectiveness of using mobile technology for teaching maths. If positive, try to ensure that students are given opportunities to use mobile technologies to support learning
- Explore a range of subject-specific tech applications to support students’ learning
- Develop proficiency in using mobile technologies in the classroom
- Ensure that the infrastructure is in place to maximise communication and workflow with shared drives and backup procedures.
What questions does the research raise for teachers?
- How can mobile devices be used in the classroom to maximise students’ learning?
- In which subjects are mobile devices most likely to have a positive impact on learning?
- Where can teachers access good quality training on how to use technology in the classroom?
- What is the most cost effective solution to using mobile devices in school?
- How can schools ensure that infrastructure is in place to minimise technological challenges such as connectivity and battery life?