Use of mobile devices in mathematics education: A case of higher education in the United Arab Emirates

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The British University in Dubai (BUiD)
The term mobile learning or m-learning refers to the educational practices in which portable, handheld computing devices are integrated. Such devices have powerful computation as well as networking features. Different types of dedicated software are available on these devices which can be used to perform more complex tasks than simple calculations, such as tasks of solving equations, drawing graphs and transforming from algebraic form to geometric and graphical representation. Intelligent tutoring software is an example of such dedicated software, which is designed to provide tutoring support to students. Intelligent tutoring programs are developed by incorporating artificial intelligence and principles of learning theories which provide tutoring support to students. A mobile device together with software supporting these mathematics computational features forms a digital tool. Use of such digital tools enriches mathematics learning experience as they can provide visualization of abstract concepts and take off the burden of carrying out complex procedures. This research aims to examine current practices of Apple iPad based mathematics teaching and learning in the United Arab Emirates. The focus of this research is to investigate how students in higher education institutes study foundation year mathematics courses using web-based intelligent tutor. The investigations in this study are guided by a combined theoretical framework of the theory of instrumentation, semiotic theory and the Activity Theory. A convergent parallel mixed-method design is adopted in this study to gain understanding of students’ practices and teachers’ practices. Cross sectional survey method was applied for collecting quantitative data. A survey instrument consisting of items to measure perceptions, beliefs as well as study habits was developed to conduct survey research on students’ population. This survey was sent to a sample of 210 students and 201 students completed the survey. Another survey instrument was designed to measure teachers’ beliefs and their preferred as well as actual methods of teaching. 19 out of 26 mathematics teachers completed the survey. Qualitative data was collected from class observations. Quantitative data was analysed by applying methods of path analysis and cluster analysis. It was revealed from the quantitative analysis that students find use of intelligent tutor effective in learning mathematics. It was found that the students are able to develop ability to learn independently by using the intelligent tutor. This ability to learn independently can be assessed from the data logs maintained by the intelligent tutor and it is found to be a significant predictor of student’s academic success. Other study habits, which promote active learning, also improve their perceptions about development of conceptual understanding as well as their marks in the course. The teachers from the chosen institute have a positive attitude towards the use of digital tools in teaching mathematics and they are willing to use them to transform their teaching. From class observations, it was found that the use of interactive digital tools available on mobile devices provides opportunities for students to construct knowledge and facilitates student-centered, personalized learning. There are positive indications about the effectiveness of digital tools in mathematics education in higher education.
Educational technology., Mobile computing., mathematics education, United Arab Emirates (UAE), mobile learning, m-learning