The educational process has changed due to the technological development and digital revolution of the 21st century. The effect of information and communications technology in education has been proven through research over the last few years; it had been seen to provide increased meaning and motivation in learning [1,2]. At present, technology in language classrooms contributes to the improvement of speaking, writing, listening, and reading skills. The mobile learning strategy is one of the more recent trends of the digital age, and it can be used to enhance education . Currently, mobile learning assists educators in enhancing and promoting learning and performance both inside and outside of the school setting . When applied specifically to language learning, mobile learning evolved into mobile-assisted language learning term, referred to herein as MALL . MALL is a new phase in learning both second and foreign languages and provides EFL educators with new opportunities to use the handheld technology as well as the application of student-focused teaching practices .
During 2020, the World Health Organization announced that COVID-19 had become a worldwide pandemic. Countries around the world were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it has equally affected Saudi education, as schools were shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the Saudi Ministry of Education decided to use online learning with the students to assist them in completing their academic studies. This was the first-time online learning was utilized in Saudi K-12 schools. Currently, learning gadgets are used to achieve online education standards. During this period, many Saudi EFL teachers prefer to use their mobile phone as the medium to teach their students.
From the learners’ aspect of MALL implementation and insight into mobile learning, the understanding of technology has been discussed widely . Additionally, very few studies have discussed the utilization of MALL from Saudi instructor perspectives at the university level . There is a serious lack of research that examines teacher perspectives on the utilization of MALL in K-12 schools, particularly in elementary schools. This current research aims to fill this gap and contributes to existing studies by providing insights into Saudi EFL teachers’ perceptions on the implementation of MAL. Also, the potential challenges have been discussed which might hinder the MALL implementation from the perspectives of EFL teachers in Saudi schools. The results of this current research contribute to the field by providing insight to scholars, practitioners, the Saudi Ministry of Education, and developers interested in improving the teaching of EFL.
Computer-assisted language learning (CALL) is the first term that comes to mind when discussing the digitalization of language learning. MALL is considered a subset of CALL and has become a new phase in foreign language learning . The CALL-associated skills should be continuously updated in order to keep up with the rapidly development of technology . Thus, mobile phones are registered as a large growth in linguistic fields. Rahimi and Miri’s (2014)  definition of MALL concerns a technology-supported approach to second language teaching and learning. MALL has the potential to additionally provide linguistic skills and further assistance with communication via recent mobile technology.
When it comes to associated benefits, the mobile phone is a modern technology that provides many opportunities for language learning. Mobile technology is seen as a technique that provides students with many substantial advantages, including flexibility, portability, low cost, portable size, and user-friendliness . It gives learners a chance to learn no matter where they are, supporting anywhere-and-anytime learning as opposed to traditional learning. Due to its small size and weight, it can also be easily carried and taken to different places . Thus, mobile technology is non-restrictive and accommodating to personal circumstances. Moreover, a great deal of research has previously examined the benefits of MALL in learning a language [1,12,13]. It was stated that using mobile phones for language teaching purposes has been both successful and helpful, and it has also helped to improve students’ listening, reading, speaking, and writing. Krivoruchko et al.  cited that using MALL increases learner’ participation, engagement, and motivation in language learning. Moreover, Kukulska‐Hulme & Viberg  found that MALL assists in the enhancement of communication and collaboration between students; this allows the teacher to interact with all students simultaneously, potentially leading to more motivated and effective language teaching.
Despite the potential advantages, mobile learning is not without its drawbacks. There are some shortcomings which are described as obstacles in using MALL as an educational approach due to the small screen size, untrusted system of data storage, and limited presentation of graphics . Additionally, Chartrand  stated that dependence on the Internet is problematic for some EFL students. As internet connections can be unstable and may not always provide high transmission capacity, it may result in some students retaining less knowledge and understanding of the subject. Chartrand  also highlighted that using mobile phones in the classroom could cause distractions and interruptions; students can become distracted by other irrelevant activities.
The positive perceptions and attitude representations are the most powerful incentives for adopting MALL. Many studies have been conducted globally, attempting to examine teachers’ attitudes toward the implementation of mobile technology in their classes. An example of this would be the study performed by Nariyati et al. , which committed to investigating EFL pre-service teachers’ attitudes toward MALL utilization. The participants showed positive attitudes and believed that using mobile technology could enrich the language learning process. Due to this positive attitude, the EFL teachers showed a preference towards MALL use in teaching English. This is supported by Nuraeni , who found that the majority of teachers had a positive attitude towards using MALL to support classroom activities in teaching the English language during the COVID-19 pandemic. They believed that MALL was a good learning strategy to support their teaching process, and they perceived it as a beneficial tool for learning activities. They also expressed their hopes that EFL teachers would continue to use MALL in EFL teaching.
Nevertheless, other sources  found that there were significant differences among EFL Turkish teachers in terms of their attitude towards using MALL. They highlighted that female teachers showed higher positive attitudes and perceptions towards using MALL in EFL classes; this was due to the fact that they believed they could achieve increasingly satisfactory results using a mobile phone, as it removed time and space limitations, and it provided further opportunities for practicing English language and gaining English skills. Baek et al.  found that female EFL teachers were more positive than male teachers in their attitudes. Also, more experienced educators with over 15 years of experience had positive perceptions toward mobile learning than those who were less experienced. On the other hand, Dehkordi  found that there was no significant difference between male and female perceptions. Both positively perceived the use of MALL in the EFL learning process.
It is crucial to understand teachers’ perspectives in order to apply MALL to teaching in EFL classrooms, particularly that of their proficiency and efficacy in developing MALL activities in TEFL learning. According to Bandura , the term self-efficacy indicates to an individual’s beliefs in their abilities as well as their possession of the required skills to complete tasks. Thus, teachers with high efficacy use instructional strategies that motivate students to learn and overcome the obstacles they encounter. Khan  found that most of Saudi instructors in university lack the knowledge and skillset to develop and implement MALL activities. Most of the participants reported that the use of mobile can help to facilitate EFL learning. However, some of them indicated that mobile phones cannot support EFL teaching. Many EFL educators referred to learners’ inefficiency in using mobile phones for academic purposes, as small screen size and unstable internet connectivity are the key challenges in using MALL. In the study performed by Dashtestani  EFL teachers reported that they needed to improve their skills to develop MALL activities. These findings also suggest that they had some challenges on using MALL which might be the reason for the nonuse of mobile for EFL teaching. The challenges include that using mobile for non-educational purpose, students’ lack of knowledge to use mobile for academic purposes, high costs of internet connection, and slow internet speed. As the review of the studies shows, very few has been examined from Saudi EFL teachers’ perspectives on using MALL since this was the first-time online learning was used in Saudi K-12 schools, particularly among K-12 English teachers. This study attempts to fill the aforementioned research gap by examining EFL teacher perceptions of using MALL in elementary schools that may potentially impact their MALL implementation.
Materials and Methods
This study made use of the survey developed by Khan et al. .
The survey was developed from pre-existing literature. Essential changes were implemented in the questionnaire in order to match the Saudi EFL context. The survey was valid as it was sent to five researchers and university teachers in the Saudi context; appropriate corrections were made in accordance with their comments .
According to Khan et al. , the questionnaire reliability of the three sections (teachers’ attitudes, their ability to develop MALL activities, and challenges of using MALL), was (0.86: 0.83, 0.79 and 0.86) on Cronbach’s Alpha. In the current study, the Cronbach’s Alpha of these three sections was (0.69, 0.85 and 0.97).
This study examined Saudi EFL teacher attitudes toward MALL as well as the perceptions of the proficiency and challenges of using Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL) in elementary schools. Also, the study investigated whether any of these demographics (gender, teaching experience, and professional development) have any significant difference on EFL teachers’ proficiency and attitudes toward MALL utilization. The results demonstrated that, in general, teachers had a positive attitude toward utilizing MALL in elementary schools in Saudi Arabia. The teachers showed agreement on using mobile phone for teaching and integration and they stated that mobile has many advantages included “portability, learning opportunities, multimedia functions, accessibility, scaffolding, availability and connectivity of data”. After MALL was initially applied for conducting lessons during the COVID-19 pandemic, EFL teachers reported an overall positive attitude towards using MALL with elementary students, and they considered it as beneficial for learning activities. These results concerning the first research question are in line with research on teachers’ attitudes towards using MALL in other contexts [18,19]. This confirms the teachers’ positive attitudes toward the usage of MALL to support classroom activities, particularly those concerning learning the English language in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Saudi EFL teachers considered themselves as fairly proficient in the ability to develop and use MALL activities. This finding evidenced that the majority of Saudi teachers do not have sufficient skills required for the utilization of MALL, which is a result that is in line with other research [7,24]. Dashtestani  highlighted that educational institutes should provide EFL teachers with ICT skills required for the implementation and use of MALL. Based on the Bandura theory, teachers with high efficacy use new instructional strategies (such as MALL) that motivate students to learn . According to Kent and Giles , teachers who have low self-efficiency in using new methods as ICT will experience a negative effect on their ability to implement it in their classrooms. Therefore, emphasis on providing Saudi teachers in elementary schools with MALL training and professional development is the key to providing them with skills required for improved proficiency in MALL utilization for EFL teaching.
Since Saudi teachers felt their efficiency to use MALL in EFL teaching was low, they inevitably experienced some challenges that affected MALL utilization. As Bandura  stated, those who have high self-efficiency are capable of overcoming challenges and difficulties faced. EFL teachers in elementary schools reported that they had some difficulties, including: students’ nonuse of mobile phones for academic purposes, lack of skill to use mobile phones for academic purposes, internet connectivity obstacles, and lack of MALL activities and software tools. These findings are consistent with previous studies [7,27,28] indicating EFL teachers encountered some of these difficulties while implementing MALL. Therefore, placing a greater emphasis on and working toward offering MALL training for Saudi EFL teachers could potentially cultivate both greater self-efficiency toward MALL use and the ability to overcome challenges.
The results demonstrated that there were no significant gender-based differences among the participants in their attitudes toward MALL and perceptions of their proficiency. These findings are consistent with previous studies, as Dehkordi  found that male and female teachers both had positive perceptions toward using MALL in EFL teaching and learning. On the other hand, a portion of this research was inconsistent with these findings and suggested gender did have an effect on teachers’ attitudes and perceptions in regards to MALL [20,21]. The females showed higher perceptions regarding mobile learning in EFL teaching as they believed that they could reach increasingly satisfactory results through its use.
The current study’s results revealed a difference among the participants in their attitudes and perceptions toward MALL utilization based on their professional development and teaching experience. The EFL teachers who received professional development were more positive than teachers who did not receive professional development with regards to both their attitudes toward MALL and perceptions of their proficiency to develop MALL activities. As reported previously, 76 of the total participants had not previously attended MALL training. That meant not all Saudi EFL teachers in elementary schools receive training in MALL, and this is an issue that can effect their MALL practice. This finding is consistent with previous studies reporting that receiving training has an impact on teacher perception, particularly in regards to MALL utilization . Thus, continued MALL-related training courses, conferences, and workshops can be effective in supporting teachers in its use; this, in turn, would lead to more successful MALL implementation. As Carless  (p. 23) assured, “Without sufficient retraining, even teachers initially enthusiastic about an innovation method can become frustrated by problems in implementation and eventually turn against the project.”
Moreover, these findings show that Saudi EFL teachers’ teaching experience has a significant effect on both their attitudes and perceptions regarding MALL in elementary schools. EFL teachers who had 21-30 years of experience were more positive than those teachers that has less teaching experience in their attitudes toward MALL and perceptions of their proficiency to develop MALL activities. These results align with the Baek et al.  study that found EFL teachers with more than 15 years of teaching experience showed higher positive perceptions toward mobile MALL than other less experienced groups. According to Rosa , an experienced EFL teacher are more positive towards using technology than a novice teacher and shows more support to the advantages of technology in language teaching.
MALL is the latest method to emerge in language learning; this method entails the use of applications to support students’ learning, especially in the period of the COVID-19 pandemic . As elementary schools were required to transfer to online learning and MALL utilization, this study is focusing on Saudi teachers’ perspectives, particularly on MALL utilization among English teachers. In order to implement MALL effectively, it is vital to take into consideration the context in which it operates. Hence, the Ministry of Education should attempt to minimize the constraints and challenges associated with MALL adoption in the Saudi context and increase the level of teachers’ proficiency for developing MALL activities, particularly since they do not possess the required skills. According to Ashtestani  and Nazari and Xodabande , there is a necessity to provide EFL teachers with the necessary skills by practically and theoretically coaching on the use of technology (such as MALL) in language teaching. Therefore, Saudi EFL teachers should attend pedagogical and practical training for the designing and evaluating of MALL activities.
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