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This article examined how higher education students used text and instant messaging for academic purposes with their peers and faculty. Specifically, comfort level, frequency of use, usefulness, reasons for messaging and differences between peer-to-peer and peer-to-instructor interactions were examined. Students noted that they were very comfortable with using both text and instant messaging. Text messaging was used weekly with instructors and daily with peers. Instant messaging was used rarely with instructors but weekly with peers. Students rated text messaging as very useful and instant messaging as moderately useful for academic purposes. Key reasons cited for using both text and instant messaging included saving time, resolving administrative issues, convenience and ease of use. Text messaging appears to be the preferred mode of communication for students with respect to communicating with both peers and instructors. It is concluded that both text and instant messaging are useful and viable tools for augmenting student’s communication among peers and faculty in higher education.
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Exploring the use of text and instant messaging in higher education
classrooms
Sharon Lauricella
a
* and Robin Kay
b
a
Faculty of Social Science and Humanities, University of Ontario Institute of Technology,
Oshawa, Ontario, Canada;
b
Faculty of Education, University of Ontario Institute of Technology,
Oshawa, Ontario, Canada
(Received 27 June 2012; final version received 28 January 2013)
This article examined how higher education students used text and instant
messaging for academic purposes with their peers and faculty. Specifically,
comfort level, frequency of use, usefulness, reasons for messaging and differences
between peer-to-peer and peer-to-instructor interactions were examined. Students
noted that they were very comfortable with using both text and instant messaging.
Text messaging was used weekly with instructors and daily with peers. Instant
messaging was used rarely with instructors but weekly with peers. Students rated
text messaging as very useful and instant messaging as moderately useful for
academic purposes. Key reasons cited for using both text and instant messaging
included saving time, resolving administrative issues, convenience and ease of use.
Text messaging appears to be the preferred mode of communication for students
with respect to communicating with both peers and instructors. It is concluded
that both text and instant messaging are useful and viable tools for augmenting
student’s communication among peers and faculty in higher education.
Keywords: text messaging; instant messaging; studentfaculty interaction;
peer-to-peer interaction
Overview
Text messaging and instant messaging are two types of mobile communication that
are used extensively in college and university campuses. ‘‘Text messaging’’ or
‘‘texting’’ refers to the sending short, typed messages between mobile phones using
short message service (SMS) (Kasesniemi and Rautiainen 2002, p. 170). Instant
messaging involves sending brief, typed messages over the Internet, directly from one
computer to another. The use of both kinds of messages by faculty and peers are
analysed in this article.
Both text and instant messaging are used pervasively among students (Johnson
2007; Kennedy et al. 2008; Smith, Salaway, and Caruso 2009).
Furthermore, students are willing to use both text and instant messaging for
educational purposes (Jeong 2007; Kennedy et al. 2008). Given the popularity of text
and instant messaging, together with students’ willingness to use such technolo-
gies for academic purposes, the opportunity exists for university instructors
to incorporate such technologies into the teaching and learning environment.
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*Corresponding author. Email: sharon.lauricella@uoit.ca
Research in Learning Technology
Vol. 21, 2013
RLT 2013. #2013 S. Lauricella and R. Kay. Research in Learning Technology is the journal of the Association for Learning
Technology (ALT), a UK-based professional and scholarly society and membership organisation. ALT is registered charity
number 1063519. http://www.alt.ac.uk/. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons
"Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)" license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/) permitting use, reuse, distribution
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The purpose of this article is to assess students’ attitudes towards the usefulness of
text and instant messaging in facilitating education-based communication in higher
education.
Literature review
Text and instant messaging in educational environments
Motiwalla (2007) suggests that the popularity and support of mobile devices within
the student population is so great that, ‘‘it would be foolish to ignore them in any
learning environment’’ (p. 584). Similarly, Litchfield et al. (2007) found that students
are positive about using mobile devices in education and therefore suggest that
researchers begin investigating how mobile learning can be best utilised in teaching
and learning. Finally, Farmer (2003), who initially pitched caution in adopting this
communication tool, later suggested that it was ‘‘ideal for educational and learning
environments’’ (Farmer 2005).
The willingness to adopt text and instant messaging for educational purposes
involves a shift in perception on the part of most students who use these platforms
primarily for social purposes. Students’ use of text and instant messaging for social
purposes is well-documented (Contreras-Castillo, Perez-Fragoso, and Favela 2007;
Harley et al. 2007; Reid and Reid 2004).
However, social interaction based on text and instant messaging can serve to
build studentfaculty and studentstudent relationships in educational settings.
Rau, Gao, and Wu (2008) suggest that when students receive text messages from an
instructor, they feel more bonded with and think more positively about the instructor
and classroom activities. Jeong (2007) also found that using instant messaging
facilitated a more intimate studentinstructor relationship. Holley and Dobson
(2008) added that students also bond; text messaging morphed groups that had
been formed originally for academic purposes into longer lasting ‘‘friendship
groups.’’
There is some evidence to suggest that students are willing to use text and instant
messages for academic purposes including communicating with their tutors (Hill,
Hill, and Sherman 2007) and asking questions on field placement (Young et al. 2010).
Faculty must also be willing to engage in either sending and/or receiving text and/
or instant messages. However, this method of communication may not be as
pervasive in the instructor’s communication repertoire (Jones, Edwards, and Reid
2009) and consequently requires additional time commitments (Jeong 2007).
Benefits of using text and instant messaging
Immediate
Jones, Edwards, and Reid (2009) found that students check for text messages on their
mobile phones frequently and always respond to the arrival tone. Therefore, a
significant feature of text messaging is the immediate capture of the recipient’s
attention. Such attention-getting may lead to an improvement in students’ focus and
motivation (Martinez-Torres et al. 2007) and result in an enhanced learning
experience. Allen, Witt, and Wheeless (2006) found that an immediate response
from the instructor increased students’ motivation and the cognitive mastery of
material.
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Ubiquitous
Text messaging is also an advantage because mobile devices are nearly always turned
on and owned by the majority of students (Shih and Mills 2007). On the other hand,
instant messaging requires signing in (usually on a computer rather than a mobile
phone) to engage in an online conversation. Students in Bullen, Morgan, and
Qayyam’s (2011) student reported that if someone to whom they wish to send instant
messages is not signed in, they would phone them and tell them to go online.
Better than email
It is notable that text messaging is perceived by students to be more ‘‘instant’’ than
email and is the dominant mode of e-communication among students (Harley et al.
2007). Given its role as a primary communication channel, text messaging has been
identified as preferable to email in building both social and academic relationships.
For example, Longmate and Baber (2002) found that text messaging helped to
consolidate relationships among students, while email was rarely used for student
student communication. Rau, Gao, and Wu (2008) noted that students in email and
online forums did not report feeling positively about or bonded with their instructor,
though students using text messaging did report such phenomena. Naismith’s (2007)
study suggested that text messaging is more beneficial than email because email
requires access to computers, but students ‘‘look at their phones constantly’’ (p. 166).
While the use of email is advantageous in higher education (Lauricella and Kay
2010), increased immediacy and ubiquity of communication via text messaging and/
or instant messaging may be even more beneficial.
Administration
Text messaging is helpful for supporting brief or time-sensitive administrative issues.
For example, students can be reminded of upcoming due dates for library books
(Anderson and Blackwood 2004) or to contact librarians for assistance with research
(Hill, Hill, and Sherman 2007). Jeong (2007) adds that instant messaging can be used
for virtual office hours, thus transcending geographical challenges on the part of both
students and faculty. Text messaging can also be used for emergencies such as class
cancellations (Brown, Vetter, and Saunders-White 2008; Smith, Salaway, and Caruso
2009).
Time management
Because of its immediacy and ubiquity, text messaging is particularly well suited to
providing time-management assistance to students. Text messaging has been suggested
as a means of reminding students of assignment or application due dates, and timetable
or procedural changes (Keegan 2005; Naismith 2007), although administrative staff
members have been slow to incorporate text messaging with students or colleagues
(Pirani and Sheehan 2009). Jones, Edwards, and Reid (2009) suggest that text
messaging reminders from faculty can help students to develop a time-management
strategy. Similarly, Harley et al. (2007) found that text messaging reminders of when
assignments are due can be of particular benefit to helping first-year students adjust to
academic life. Finally, instant messaging is also used for receiving immediate responses
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to students’ questions or concerns, and facilitating a two-way conversation between
students and faculty (Yao 2011).
Academic activities
While limited research has been conducted on the use of text and instant messaging for
specific educational activities, some academic benefits have been observed including
using text and instant messaging involving students who are not physically present
in class (Muirhead 2005), engaging in simulations of decision-making scenarios
(Cornelius and Marston 2009), collecting field data (Patten, Sanchez, and Tangney
2006) or learning new vocabulary words in a learned language (Cavus and Ibrahim
2009). Use of text and instant messaging can be further expanded to incorporate new
social networking tools, which are increasingly used in higher education such as
Facebook or Twitter (Grosseck and Holotescu 2008; Hosterman 2009).
Challenges in using text and instant messaging
Short messages
Given that a single-text messages is limited to 140 characters, faculty and students
may be challenged by the short message length and brevity of language required
(Hill, Hill, and Sherman 2007).
Divided attention
When students respond to the arrival tone of new text messages, their attention is
drawn away from the current task in which they are engaged. This can be a
significant distraction when text messaging is used in class (Markett et al. 2006).
Similar problems exist for instant messaging conversations. Junco and Cotton (2011)
observed that instant messaging is detrimental to learning because it requires
students to split their attention in an academic setting.
User fees
Until free services to the education market are provided, cost could be a factor in
adopting text messaging for academic purposes (Litchfield et al. 2007; Markett et al.
2006; Peters 2007). The same challenge does not exist for instant messaging, as nearly
all services are available for free. However, the unique challenge to instant messaging
is that the user has to be signed in to a computer in order to participate.
Personal space
While text and instant messaging can serve to increase familiarity between students
and faculty, students were seen to resent such communication when it was used for
academic purposes. Students considered their mobile phones a personal technology,
and in some cases, disliked receiving text messages from faculty or tutors because it
encroached into their personal space (Brett, 2011). Instant messaging is also
considered a private, peer-to-peer communication tool, and students do not always
want to appear visible to their instructor or to other students (Jeong 2007).
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Purpose of the study
Given the near ubiquity of mobile phone use, together with frequent use of instant
messaging applications on the part of students, it is important to consider not only
how and why students use such applications, but also to better understand how these
tools can be incorporated into the educational experience. Direct focus on the
educational impact of these communication tools has not been examined in previous
research. This study investigates student comfort level with mobile phones and
instant messaging, and considers how often and why students use mobile phones and
instant messaging to communicate with both their instructor and with their peers for
academic purposes. This study also considers how students rate the usefulness of and
differences between mobile phones and instant messaging when they are used to
communicate with their instructor and with their peers. To date, this comparison
has not been examined. In addition, this study is unique in that it invites new
communication channels text and instant messaging to the students’ experience as
an alternative and not a requirement; the opportunity was opened for students to
communicate with their instructor by using their mobile phone or instant messaging
programmes. Furthermore, unlike previous studies, two-way interactions were
examined between students and the instructor. The instructor sends messages such
as reminders or requests directly to individuals or groups of students, and students
also send messages to the instructor with questions. Finally, both studentstudent
and studentinstructor interactions were examined, thereby broadening the focus of
previous research. The purpose of this study is to examine how comfortable students
were with text and instant messaging, frequency of messages sent, usefulness of
messages, reasons for messaging, differences between text and instant messaging, and
differences between messages sent to peers vs. instructors.
Method
Sample
The sample was selected from a small university in a large metropolitan area of over
3 million people. All students leased a laptop and had ubiquitous wireless access
to the Internet inside and outside their classrooms. Seventy-five students (30 males,
45 females), in their first (n32), second (n40), third (n2) or fourth year (n1)
participated in the study. Data were collected from three separate classes including
Advanced Professional Writing (n39), Foundations of Professional Writing (n
16) or Public Speaking (n20). The majority of students reported average course
grades of 7079% (n19) or 8090% (n36). The total enrolment for all three
courses was 101 students, resulting in a response rate of 74%.
Use of communication technology tools
All students were provided with the instructor’s mobile phone number and MSN
address for instant messaging. Students were invited to send text messages via mobile
phones or instant message via their laptops to ask questions or to obtain information
relative to the course. The instructor invited (but not required) students to provide
their mobile phone numbers who wish to receive information through this medium.
Students also had the option to send a message to the instructor via MSN to share
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their own contact information. Students could also use mobile phones and instant
messaging to communicate with their peers.
Procedure
At the end of the final class meeting, students were invited to fill in an online survey
about the use of text messaging devices (mobile phones and instant messaging).
Participation was voluntary and anonymous. The data were not accessed until all
marks for the courses were submitted. It took, on average, 1015 minutes for students
to finish the survey.
Data sources
Descriptive data
All students were asked to provide their age, gender, year of study and the course in
which they were enrolled while using the messaging tools. They were also asked to
rate their comfort level with using mobile phones and instant messaging based on a
four-point Likert scale (see question 5, Lauricella and Kay 2011a).
Frequency of communication tool use
Students were prompted to estimate how often they used mobile phones and instant
messaging with their instructor (see question 6, Lauricella and Kay 2011a) and with
their peers (see question 10, Lauricella and Kay 2011a). Six choices were available:
never, monthly, 23 times per month, weekly, 23 times per week and daily.
Usefulness of communication tools
Students were asked to rate the usefulness of mobile phones and instant messaging
with their instructor (see question 7, Lauricella and Kay 2011a) and with their peers
(see question 11, Lauricella and Kay 2011a). Students were also presented with open-
ended questions about why they did or did not use mobile phones and instant
messaging with their instructor (see questions 8 and 9, Lauricella and Kay 2011a)
and with their peers (see questions 12 and 13, Lauricella and Kay 2011a).
A content analysis was conducted on open-ended questions asking why text
messaging was used and a number of categories and subcategories were identified
(see Lauricella and Kay 2011b for a detailed presentation of the coding scheme). Two
raters independently assigned content category and subcategory labels based on the
coding scheme (Lauricella and Kay 2011b). Items where categories and subcategories
were not the same were reviewed, discussed and rated a second time. Final inter-rater
reliability estimates were 97% (mobile phones with instructors), 100% (mobile phones
with peers), 98% (instant messaging with instructors) and 100% (instant messaging
with peers).
Purpose and research questions
The purpose of this study is to explore the use of two text messaging tools (mobile
phones and instant messaging) in higher education classrooms. Six research
questions were addressed:
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(1) How comfortable are students with using mobile phones or instant
messaging?
(2) How often do students use mobile phones and instant messaging to
communicate with their instructor or peers?
(3) How do students rate the usefulness of mobile phones and instant messag-
ing for communicating with their instructor or peers for academic
purposes?
(4) Why do students use mobile phones or instant messaging to communicate
with their instructor and peers?
(5) Are there differences between text messaging with mobile phones and instant
messaging?
(6) Are there differences between the use of mobile phones with instructors vs.
peers?
Results
Comfort level with text messaging tools
Students rated their comfort level with two different text messaging tools (mobile
phones and instant messaging) using on a four-point Likert scale (see question 5,
Lauricella and Kay 2011a). Students reported being comfortable (18%) or very
comfortable (78%) with using mobile phones (M3.7, SD0.53). Ratings were
similar for instant messaging, with the majority of students being comfortable (17%)
or very comfortable (73%) with using this technology (M3.6, SD 0.73).
Frequency of using text messaging tools
Mobile phones
Mobile phones were used with the instructor 23 times per month (22%), weekly
(46%) or 23 times per week (11%), by the majority of students. The mean frequency
score (M3.6, SD1.2) suggested that, on average, students sent messages to or
received messages from their instructor almost once a week throughout the four-
month term (see Table 1).
Mobile phones were even more popular as a communication tool for academic
purposes among peers. Most students used this tool either 23 times per week (15%)
or daily (58%) with their peers. The mean frequency score (M 4.8, SD 1.7)
suggests that texting peers for academic benefit is an everyday occurrence for most
students (see Table 1).
Table 1. Student’s use of text messaging tools with instructors and peers (n73).
Instructor Peers
Tool M SD M SD tCohen’s D
Mobile phones
1
3.6 (1.2) 4.8 (1.7) 7.36* 0.88
Instant messaging
1
1.7 (1.3) 4.7 (1.7) 13.79* 1.94
1
Likert scale: 1, never; 2, monthly; 3, 23 times per month; 4, weekly; 5, 23 times per week; 6, daily.
*pB0.001.
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Instant messaging
Students used instant messaging infrequently to communicate with their instructor
with 66% of students never using it and 14% using it monthly. The mean frequency
score (M1.7, SD1.3) indicates that instant messaging is not a tool that most
students use to communicate with their instructor (see Table 1).
In contrast, students regularly used instant messaging for academic purposes with
their peers. Many students used this tool either 23 times per week (15%) or daily
(51%) for sending messages to their peers. The mean frequency score (M4.8, SD
1.7) intimates that instant messaging for academic reasons is a daily activity for many
students (see Table 1).
Perceived usefulness of text messaging tools
Mobile phones
All but one student rated mobile phones as either useful (19%) or very useful (80%)
for communicating with their instructor. This pattern was mirrored when using
mobile phones to communicate with peers: 19% of students rated them as useful and
75% rated them as very useful. Mean usefulness with instructors (M3.8, SD0.5)
and peers (M3.7, SD0.6) was high (maximum score was 4) (see Table 2).
Instant messaging
Students perceived instant messages as somewhat to moderately useful (M2.6,
SD1.2) for communicating with their instructor; however, response varied
considerably. The perception of usefulness shifted markedly when instant messaging
was used to communicate with peers for academic purposes. Most students rated
peer use as either useful (16%) or very useful (73%) with a mean usefulness score of
3.6 (SD0.7) on a four-point Likert scale.
Why use text messaging tools
Mobile phones
Students offered a total of 97 comments about using mobile phones with their
instructors. Four main reasons for using this mode of communication were cited
including time (40% of comments), specific purpose (26%), convenience (23%) and
ease of use (9%). With respect to time, students liked that sending text messages was
instant, especially when they had an urgent message for the instructor. Regarding
purpose, most students appreciated the reminders they received from the instructor
Table 2. Perceived usefulness of text messaging tools with instructors and peers (n72).
Instructor Peers
Tool M SD M SD tCohen’s D
Mobile phones
1
3.8 (0.5) 3.7 (0.6) 1.35
Instant messaging
1
2.6 (1.2) 3.6 (0.8) 6.63* 0.97
1
Likert scale: 1, not at all useful; 2, somewhat useful; 3, useful; 4, very useful.
*pB0.001.
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about due dates, assignments and last-minute requests to bring items or information
to class. Students also felt that texting with mobile phones was convenient because
they did not need a computer, and their phones, which most students owned, were
always on. Students also noted that sending mobile phone text messages was easy
and efficient (Table 3).
Students provided 65 comments about using mobile phones with their peers for
academic support. The reasons for using this device with peers mirrored those cited
for use with instructors, namely, time and the instant speed of transactions (34% of
messages), a specific academic purpose (25%), convenience (22%) and ease of use
(15%). Note that the academic purposes for using a mobile phone with peers were
different from those cited for instructors. Students primarily sent text messages when
they wanted to work in groups or when they needed academic help from their friends.
The main convenience of using mobile phones with peers was that everyone one
owned them and they were always on (see Table 4).
Instant messaging
There were 58 comments from students about the use of instant messaging with the
instructor; over 50% of the comments cited barriers to using this form of
communication. Resistance to use was predicated on having better options available
with email or mobile phones, instant messaging being too personal and the limitation
of the instructor having to be signed in to receive messages. Students who did use
instant messaging with the professor liked the instant speed (31% of comments) and
ease of use (14% of comments) (Table 5).
Table 3. Sample student comments about using mobile phones with the instructor (n97).
Category Subcategory Number % Sample comment
Time (40%) Instant 31 32 It allows us to get in touch with our
teacher right away.
Urgency 8 8 If you have an urgent question it is
nice to be able to text or call your
teacher right away and get answers.
Purpose (25%) Reminders 21 22 It was great to be able to get quick
updates and reminders delivered
straight to my phone.
Rapport 3 3 It’s friendly and makes the professor
more approachable.
Convenience (22%) Do not need
computer
12 12 It allows fast responses without
having to be at my computer.
Always on 9 9 I find it is useful because I always
have my phone on me (or someone
who I am with will have their phone)
and I always get the message.
General 2 2 It’s convenient.
Easy (11%) General 9 9 It is very easy communicating using
the cell phone.
Miscellaneous (2%) 2 2 I can always re-read the message at
any time which is always useful.
Reliability of establishing contact.
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The use of instant messaging for academic reasons was very different with peers
than with the instructor. Students cited a number of clear and specific reasons why
instant messaging with peers was effective including obtaining quick information,
such as links to helpful websites, organising group activities, sending files, discussing
issues, multi-tasking (35% of comments). Other reasons for using instant messaging,
similar to those cited previously, were the convenience of most students being signed
in (16%) and ease of use (11%). Several students commented that using instant
messaging was very natural almost part of their culture. One student observed that
Table 4. Sample student comments about using mobile phones with peers (n65).
Category Subcategory Number % Sample comment
Time (34%) Instant 22 34 You’re almost guaranteed an
immediate response since
everyone’s always on their phone.
Purpose (25%) Groups 10 15 Mobile phone allows us to get into
contact for meetings.
Help 6 9 Allows you to get help on
assignments through peer-to-peer
help instead of student to teacher.
Convenience (25%) Always on/have 15 23 My peers always have their phones
on them.
Don’t need
computer
1 2 If they are not at a computer they
can still contact you.
Easy (15%) General 10 15 Allows me to connect with people
quickly and simply.
Barriers (2%) 1 2 I don’t have a mobile phone.
Table 5. Sample student comments about using instant messaging with the instructor
(n58).
Category Subcategory Number % Sample comment
Barriers (52%) Don’t need/
use
13 22 I don’t think it is necessary when you
can use e-mailing for more detailed
responses and [mobile phones] for
shorter, more urgent notifications.
Too personal 11 19 It is more of a personal
communication method, which is not
appropriate for school. Instant
messaging is okay for talking one to
one with a friend or something, but I
prefer dealing with ‘‘official’’ matters
over e-mail rather than instant
messaging.
Need to be
signed in
6 10 The only thing problem is if the prof
is not [signed in] when I want to talk.
Time (31%) Instant 18 31 It’s instant, so that’s important.
Easy (16%) General 9 14 Easy and efficient.
Miscellaneous (2%) 1 3 Instant messaging and texting are
fairly similar.
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instant messaging could be a distraction in class, and two students noted that they
simply chose not to use it (see Table 6).
Instructors vs. peers
Frequency of use
Students used mobile phones significantly more often with their peers than their
instructor (pB0.001, see Table 1) with a large effect size according to Cohen (1988,
1992). With each other, students used mobile phones to send text messages, on
average, two to three times per week, whereas with the instructor they texted on a
weekly basis.
Students used instant messaging significantly more often with their peers than
with their instructor (pB0.005, see Table 1) with a large effect size according to
Cohen (1988, 1992). Frequency of instant messaging among peers, on average, was 2
3 times per week, substantially more than the monthly use with the instructor.
Perceived usefulness
There was no significant difference between student ratings of mobile phone useful-
ness with their instructor vs. peers. On the other hand, students rated instant messag-
ing as significantly more useful when communicating with their peers (pB0.001, see
Table 2) with a large effect size according to Cohen (1988, 1992). Instant messaging
Table 6. Sample student comments about using instant messaging with peers (n62).
Category Subcategory Number % Sample comment
Purpose (35%) Help 8 13 Is especially useful to share quick
links to websites that are useful for the
course.
Groups 6 10 I know it would be easy to get my
group members to meet in an online
chat.
Sending files 4 6 Instant messaging is useful because
also allows file transfer making it
much easier to talk and work [with]
the other person.
Discussion 2 3 Good, allows us to discuss things
back and fourth quickly (phones and
email does not allow that).
Multi-tasking 2 3 Instant messaging is useful because it
allows ... multiple chat sessions.
Time (27%) Instant 17 27 It is useful because you can have a
conversation with your peer quickly.
Convenience (16%) Always
signed in
10 16 Everyone is on msn all the time.
Easy (11%) General 7 11 [It is] less formal and awkward than
other [methods].
Miscellaneous (6%) 4 6 Since we are students, it is appropriate
for us to communication in this way.
A distraction in class.
Barriers (3%) Didn’t use 2 3 I do not use instant messaging.
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with peers was rated as very useful, on average, but only somewhat useful when used
with the instructor.
Reasons for using text messaging devices
The reasons cited for using mobile phones with the instructor versus peers were very
similar in content and frequency: saving time, specific academic purposes, con-
venience and ease of use. One main difference involved the overall purpose of using
text messaging. Aside from emergency situations, students passively received
reminders from the instructor (e.g. ‘‘It was great to be able to get quick updates
and reminders delivered straight to my phone’’) but actively used mobiles phones to
form groups and seek help from their peers (e.g. ‘‘Mobile phone allows us to get into
contact for meetings’’ or ‘‘Allows you to get help on assignments through peer-to-
peer help’’).
Students agreed that instant messaging with the instructor or peers was efficient,
convenient and easy to use. However, most students did not use instant messaging
with their instructor (see Table 5), believing that alternative communication tools
were more efficient because the instructor was not always logged into an instant
messaging forum. A number of students also noted that instant messaging was too
familiar or personal to use with the instructor (see Table 5). On the other hand,
students actively used instant messaging with their peers for a wide variety of tasks
including getting help, working in groups, having discussions and sending files (see
Table 6).
Discussion
The purpose of this study is to examine the use of instant and text messaging tools
in a higher education environment. Six aspects of messaging were examined includ-
ing comfort level in using the tools, frequency of use, perceived usefulness as an
academic aid, reasons cited for using messaging, differences between text and instant
messaging, and differences between the use of messaging with peers and the
instructor.
Comfort level
Nearly all students reported being either comfortable or very comfortable with text
and instant messaging. These results are consistent with Hill, Hill, and Sherman
(2007) findings, which suggested that students are willing to use mobile phone
technologies to communicate with their instructor, and Kennedy et al.s (2008) study
which identified that students wanted to incorporate social tools such as instant
messaging and texting into their academic studies. Given the high student comfort
level with mobile phones and instant messaging, it is not surprising that students are
willing to use these technologies in the academic setting.
Frequency of use
Most students used text messaging for academic purposes with their peers daily and
their instructor weekly. Text messaging was therefore a medium with which students
not only felt comfortable, but also one which they used often with their peers and the
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instructor. Instant messaging was also used daily with peers but almost never with
the instructor. These results suggest that instant messaging is a medium which
students either prefer to use with peers only or that there are particular barriers to
use this medium with the instructor. More research is needed, perhaps in the form of
interviews or focus groups, to understand potential barriers to use instant messaging
with an instructor. Examining different kinds of instant messaging (i.e. MSN, Skype
instant messaging, Facebook chat) might be helpful in better understanding the kind
of tools that students are willing and not willing to use with their instructor.
Usefulness of messaging
Students appreciated the convenience and ease of communicating via text and instant
messaging with both peers and their instructor. Given that text messaging is a
medium with which almost all students in the study were already comfortable, it is
not surprising that they used it to communicate with peers for academic purposes,
and that they valued the new opportunity to use it with the instructor. Students
appreciated the importance of being able to communicate with the instructor via text
message because ‘‘It allows us to get in touch with our teacher right away.’’ In this
case, academic questions or concerns, which previously would have been considered
‘‘emergency’’ situations, could be quickly and easily resolved by a text messaging
conversation with the instructor. Similar reasons were evident for reasons to use text
messaging with peers. Students noted the immediate nature of text messaging:
‘‘You’re almost guaranteed an immediate response [from a peer] since everyone’s
always on their phone.’’ These results are in line with Naismith’s (2007) study, which
argues that students ‘‘look at their phones constantly’’ (p. 166).
Despite its nomenclature as ‘‘instant,’’ instant messaging was less useful between
students and the instructor; students reported that there were more effective and
comfortable mediums (such as email and text messaging). Instant messaging, when
used between peers, was reported as useful for group meetings (‘‘I know it would be
easy to get my group members to meet in an online chat’’) or for exchange of files
(‘‘Instant messaging is useful because [it] allows [for] file transfer’’). Interestingly,
students reported text messaging being more useful for ‘‘instant’’ receipt of messaging
than instant messaging. With the capability to incorporate instant messaging
applications (i.e. WhatsApp, BlackBerry Messenger, iMessage) directly on a mobile
phone, it would be interesting to examine the student comfort level with and
usefulness of these applications in the academic setting.
Purpose of use
Both text messaging and instant messaging were perceived to be convenient, easy,
saved time, and offered a channel to communicate quickly about a specific
administrative purpose. This is consistent with Young et al.’s (2010) study which
demonstrated the success of using text messaging for quick, simple questions without
arranging a one-to-one meeting. However, students reported that within the
framework of academic purposes, the reasons for using text messaging were different.
Students used text messaging with the instructor to communicate quickly about a
particular issue and to receive passive reminders for due dates or changes in course
information, as was also shown in Anderson and Blackwood’s (2004) study on using
text messaging for administrative purposes. With peers, however, text messaging for
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academic purposes was primarily used to communicate about group work and for
arranging meeting times.
Instant messaging, like text messaging, was used with the instructor to
communicate about a specific issue directly and quickly, though it was used less
frequently with the instructor than text messaging. In contrast, instant messaging
was used among students more frequently, and when used for academic purposes,
was employed to send files, arrange group work and send links to useful websites.
In this manner, instant messaging was used by the students to extend classroom
participation and engage in learning by ‘‘conversation’’ rather than ‘‘lecture’’ (Bruns
et al. 2007). It may therefore not be perceived as a negative outcome that students
participated among themselves more often with instant messaging than with the
instructor. By using instant messaging, students extended classroom communication
by sharing information and by participating in synchronous conversations for
course-related purposes.
Differences between mediums
The higher proportion of students using text messaging rather than instant
messaging with the instructor can be partly explained by student perception of the
usefulness of mobile phone technologies. Nearly all students reported mobile phones
as being useful or very useful when used with both the instructor and peers. However,
students considered instant messaging to be more useful to communicate with peers
than with the instructor. One of the challenges of instant message communication is
that in order to communicate, both parties must be logged into the instant messaging
application on a computer at the same time. Although students in Bullen, Morgan,
and Qayyam’s (2011) study reported that if they wanted to engage in instant
messaging with a peer, they would phone to ask them to log in to the application, it is
unlikely that students would approach the instructor with the same request. In this
project, the instructor provided students with specific times during which she would
be available via instant messaging. Having distinct start and end times for instant
messaging is a recommended practice, such that students have clear expectations for
when they may contact the instructor, and also so that the instructor does not
become overwhelmed with instant messaging conversations (Jeong 2007).
Differences in communication mediums with instructor and peers
Students also reported that instant message exchange with the instructor and peers
was easy and convenient. However, students used instant messaging more often with
peers than with the instructor. In addition to the barrier that the instructor was not
logged into instant messaging at all times, students in this study, in line with the
results of Brett’s (2011) research, considered instant messaging to be a personal
communication medium and preferred not to use it with the instructor. For this
medium, students using instant messaging with peers for academic purposes used it
for tasks such as group work and exchange of files.
Although the instructor provided an instant messaging address, approximately
two thirds of the students never utilised this medium with the instructor. Rather,
students used instant messaging with their peers, and did so for academic purposes
on a daily or weekly basis. Although instant messaging is used more frequently in
a studentstudent than a studentfaculty relationship, academic use of instant
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messaging is another natural extension of a communication tool used frequently
among students.
Caveats and future research
This study is a first thorough attempt to examine the use of text messaging and
instant messaging for academic purposes in higher education. There are several areas
in which the methodology and analysis could be improved to guide future research.
First, the sample size, while acceptable at 75, was composed of communication
students in the Faculty of Social Science and Humanities. Subsequent research on
text messaging and instant messaging could focus on a wider variety of programmes,
in which the use of communication tools with the instructor and among students may
be different. Second, the study employed self-reported frequency of use on the part of
students, and the definitive quantity of text and instant messages was not determined
by this work. Future research could quantify the frequency, time of day and time of
semester in which messages were exchanged, thus providing a deeper understanding
of how and when both faculty and students may expect more (or less) frequency of
exchange. Finally, the study did not collect information from faculty. Additional
research in this area could consider the perception of both text and instant message
use on the part of faculty in order to determine potential opportunities or barriers to
this medium of exchange in an educational setting.
Conclusion
This research examined how and why students use text messaging and instant
messaging for academic purposes with both an instructor and with peers, together
with an analysis of student comfort level with such communication mediums. The
results showed that when students were given the opportunity, they used text
messaging via mobile phones with their instructor, though with less frequency than
they did with their peers. Benefits of exchanging text messages with the instructor
included resolving urgent issues, dealing with administrative questions and receiving
a quick response to academic questions. Amongst peers, text messaging was used for
arranging group meetings or giving/receiving academic assistance. Text messaging is
therefore an instant, convenient and pervasive means by which both students and
faculty can resolve and address issues requiring immediate attention.
Instant messaging, however, was perceived as less ‘‘instant’’ than text messaging,
and while it was used among peers for organising group activities, sharing files and
discussing academic issues, it was less helpful when used with the instructor. This
study suggests that given the near ubiquity of mobile phone and instant messaging
use, together with a demonstrated comfort level with such mediums, text messaging
via mobile devices and the use of instant messaging applications can be effectively
incorporated into both peer-to-peer and studentfaculty learning experiences.
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Much of the literature theorising mobile learning emphasises the importance of context with physical and social contexts identified to date. Our work to design and implement authentic mobile simulation activities using SMS text messaging suggests that a third context may also be important. This is a virtual context, the learner-created cognitive space within which the activity takes place. The arrival of a message during a simulation activity will disrupt the real world physical and social contexts in which the learner finds themselves and transfer them into the virtual context. We argue that this disruptive power of the mobile device to shift the user's presence may be one of the distinguishing characteristics of certain mobile learning applications. This paper will explore the idea of the virtual context and discuss the role of issues of context, presence and disruption, illustrating these with reference to a case study of mobile simulation learning using SMS text messaging.
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The increase in personal and mobile technologies as well as increasing access to organisational media suggests new ways in which community development can be supported. In this paper, we describe the differences between text messaging and email as ways of supporting community activities. A case study of a group of University students is presented. A framework for characterising and comparing communities is described. This is used to analyse the role of the technologies in the development of a sense of community amongst the students. The students completed communication diaries. Differences in the use of the technologies are identified and described. These are explained in terms of a claims analysis in which literature claims are compared with the collected data. The discussion focuses on the social use of technology and the integration of media within the community setting.
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