Comments: Zoraini’s presentation of using the SMS technology in OUM #change11

The MOOC series 2011 began with Professor Zoraini’s project of implementing the mobile technology in Open University Malaysia.

The project

The SMS technology in Open University Malaysia has been used to support first semester learners in a blended context by means of providing learners studying tips, sending motivational messages, and reminding students to participate on the discussion forum and complete the readings before the meetings with the tutors. The mobile learning technology was adopted based on an initial survey showing a high penetration rate among the learners (98.9%) as well as a high level of readiness from the students (82%). A series of studies conducted between 2009-2011 showed that the SMS technology was well-received by the students, many of whom described the use of SMS as good, motivational, useful, helpful, reminding them the course content better.

My first skepticism

My first skepticism regarding the studies remains to be whether there are or will be more objective measures, other than student satisfaction, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the SMS technology. However, does the support system provided by the technology indeed

a)    help students to improve their academic performance;

b)    increase the amount of discussion board participation;

c)     encourage persistence (lower dropout rates);

d)    lead to a decrease in late assignments, etc?

My second skepticism

I further wonder whether the use of this technology will lose its appeal once the students find out that the messages that they receive are rather centralized and standardized (which are, perhaps, useful for the purpose of the study), the same way that urban legends passed along in email are usually directed to the junk box immediately.

My third skepticism

My further concern was regarding the nagging effect, though Zoraini commented that perhaps “holding the hands” of the distance learners may be necessary, especially when they are in their first semester, which is reasonable.

Final thought

This project is ongoing. Perhaps more studies in the future will answer the above concerns. Look forward to learning more about this.

To learn more about the project

Find the papers written on the project here : or the presentation slides here: Or view the presentation


9 thoughts on “Comments: Zoraini’s presentation of using the SMS technology in OUM #change11

  1. Interesting (and I think spot-on) insights. I could not attend today’s session but have scanned through the research. It IS important that someone take these steps to gather baseline data re: integrating new bits into the ed tech toolkit…but agree that it would be more interesting to measure impact on the larger learning system.

    Was particularly intrigued by the idea of using push/pull SMS/texting as a way to improve discussion board/blog engagement (or engagement with other design elements of a course). Same too re: the SMS messages being centralized; I suspect students would treat the messages differently knowing if they knew it was coming from an instructor/course facilitator vs. some centralized team.

    Great post. Thanks.

  2. Does anybody know if Malaysian students have the same habit being polite and of never tell a negative comment to a teacher? In China students never tell a teacher something negative. So teachers always hear all is very well. Maybe Malaysian students are as polite as Chinese students?

    1. In general, yes, Asians are generally polite and respectful in front of others.

      Realising this, the mobile team at OUM also looked for other signs to confirm what we were told/heard. We had anonymous questionnaires given out (of course one can also say that perhaps those who did not have anything good to say will not respond or will not say anything bad. But the latter isn’t always true as we’ve seen students capable of writing down nasty remarks in other questionnaires). In short, we try to triangulate the data/info to get better feedback.

      Three things I remember clearly:

      1. Students called/emailed us to inform us that while their course mates were receiving the SMSes, they weren’t. They provided us with their mobile phone numbers to ensure they were included.

      2. Students told us that they forwarded the SMSes from OUM to coursemates that did not/had yet to receive them.

      3. A student emailing directly to the OUM president complaining of an issue but at the same time commending the effort by the mobile learning team in doing things right for students. The President had forwarded me the student’s email.

      Just the above three examples tell us the SMSes sent were valuable to their learning process.

      On the other hand, mid-way through every semester, we inform students that they may inform us if they wish to stop receiving the SMSes. Once, we got about 10 requests (out of 1500+ students of the same course). And, when we inquired further, they said it was because they were had already dropped the subject, or had replaced their mobile phone number with a new one (and, subsequently gave us a new one).

      In the most recent semester, four out of 817 students requested to stop the SMSes and another four out of 977 students requested the same for another course. Again, the reasons were similar to the above.

  3. Hi jaapsoft2,
    Good point that the participants might not be completely honest in the focus group discussions when they were asked to comment on the SMS technology, though it’s probably just a method chosen to enable users or learners to express their thoughts in their own terms. I think the feedback is somewhat valuable. And I probably wouldn’t go so far as to say that Chinese, Malaysian or other Asian students would never tell a teacher something negative. I do, however, think that it’s normal for learners in general to show appreciation when they think that others are doing things to help them.

  4. Missing a point I feel. Who arbitrates value? What if my University provides a fully featured library, open (only) on Sundays, with no instruction, ever? Are we ingraining helplessness? Or just suspect buy in value for prospective learners?

    The shift (tensions) to empower hubs may be determined by such agile offers (value points) that alternative providers don’t offer. 24/7 retail closed the least agile of the craftsmen, others flourished in new models as new agreed value was discovered. Ultimately, it costs more, in risk, not to provide.

    The infinitely shaped nature of blended learning will mean discovering learner value will be strongly sought by learning providers, far more than it currently is. If status of credential matters, or physical proximity and human comforts, or teaching reputation or sport rosters or other heritage values, hubs will continue to pay far more because they value The Packaged Brand. As now. Elasticity of Demand101.

    If however, disaggregated or even new core value emerges in blended spaces and is deliverable on terms closest to specific hub needs, then those agile providers, especially as lowest tenderers to meet high expectations and standards, will thrive.

    Moving to facilitate granular decision making provides choice for the learner, if not comfort for the institute. SMS may be that future choice value, but I doubt it.

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