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Participants’ Perceptions of the Usefulness of SMS as a Communication Tool

Chapter 6: Discussion

6.3. Participants’ Perceptions of the Usefulness of SMS as a Communication Tool

by using an informal language, but it cannot be assumed that all students are able to understand it. If there is a need to use such abbreviations in the educational content, the participants should be trained in such languages.

These three main issues relating to students’ perceptions of SMS ease of use contributed to their attitudes toward use of SMS as an educational tool, and they are strongly related to students’ perceptions of the usefulness of SMS as an educational tool.

These strong associations suggest that institutions of higher education would be able to take advantage of these positive perceptions to employ SMS as an educational tool. The SMS technology does not need familiarisation or training for most university students to use it regularly. However, in the use of SMS as an educational tool it is necessary to consider issues of typing text, understanding content in very brief messages, and difficulties with emotion and language. These issues may obstruct the use of SMS and negatively impact on students’ perceptions and attitudes toward the use of SMS as an educational tool.

6.3. Participants’ Perceptions of the Usefulness of SMS as a Communication Tool

believed that SMS was a useful communication tool. They reported some specific reasons for their positive perceptions. These reasons were related to convenience, directness and informality.

6.3.1. SMS is useful for convenient communication. The interview participants perceived SMS as a useful communication tool because it was convenient. This perception was based on the fact that SMS is low cost, always available and time saving. This has typically been the most common advantage of mobile phone and SMS use, in a number of studies. Another research study in Kuwait that investigated the use of SMS among Kuwaiti people showed that one of the main reasons for their use of SMS was its low cost (Al-Failakawi, 2006). Other international studies have shown that SMS is perceived as a cheap communication tool (Mante & Piris, 2002; Song & Fox, 2005; Leung, 2007; Kim at al., 2008; Balakrishnan & Loo, 2012).

The participants perceived SMS as a useful communication tool, and reported that SMS was more available than other types of mobile messaging applications (e.g.

WhatsApp) and phone calls. Participants reported that they used SMS when they could not make phone calls or when there was an internet failure or a weak internet signal and they could not use other mobile messaging applications. Further, phone users could send and receive SMS at any time, as well as open SMS whenever they had the chance. Leung (2007) found that the main motivation for the use of SMS was its convenience. The perceived convenience of SMS for the sender and receiver of SMS has been reported in other research studies that investigated people’s motives for using SMS (Lai, 2004;

Horstmanshof & Power, 2005; Balakrishnan & Loo, 2012).

Participants also appreciated the convenience of SMS for saving time and effort in communication, as well as for other tasks that could be completed through the use of a mobile phone (e.g., banking). The uses of SMS for these purposes represent examples of the use of SMS for receiving information. This perception extended to the usefulness of SMS to communicate important information. The participants felt an advantage of SMS was that it did not need to be accepted to be received and saved on the phone. However, participants believed that SMS was rigid and inflexible in communicating emergency-related information. For instance, it was reported that SMS is not useful when the sender is

in an emergency. In addition, because of the brevity of SMS, it might be interpreted in wrong way in an emergency.

Lan and Sie (2010) reported similar findings. They found that SMS was perceived as useful for instant information delivery, such as notifying or reminding users of time-sensitive matters. In the second interview, some participants said that SMS is useful for reminders because the received and the sent SMS were saved on the phone and they could return to them whenever they wanted. For instance, some participants reported using SMS for shopping lists. A second example was using SMS for banking services. The use of SMS for banking was also reported in the questionnaire results, where about a third of the

participants (36.2%, n=62) reported using SMS for banking services. Thulani et al. (2011) reported that the benefits of SMS banking included convenience, availability, accessibility, reduced costs, reduced labour, wider customer reach and better security. Furthermore, one participant believed that SMS could save time and effort when reserving seats in a soccer stadium.

Some participants found the ability of SMS to be sent to large groups of people at once to be useful in saving time and effort. Participants reported that they used SMS to arrange social events and to send greetings. The usefulness of SMS in sending holiday greetings to large groups of people at once was reported in the Kuwaiti media (Al-Nashi, 2002; Alrai Mediagroup, 2010). These uses have also been identified in other research.

Tahat et al. (2014) found that about one-third of the participants in their study used SMS to exchange greetings on special occasions. Grinter and Eldridge (2001) found SMS was used widely to coordinate with family and friends. Leung (2007) found that college students, who were the group that used SMS the most, were motivated by its convenience, its low cost, and its utility for coordinating events. Bulk SMS allow mobile phone users to contact large groups of people at once, and therefore bulk SMS is useful in saving time and effort in holidays and organising large events. For instance, it is reported that in 2010 for the Muslim celebration of Eid, 24.2 million SMS were exchanged through only one mobile network in Kuwait within three days (Alrai Mediagroup, 2010), a country of about three million people.

The use of SMS in education does not require special expensive infrastructure for university students, as the students have the required software and hardware in their hands

all the time. This is critical in developing countries, in which students often have limited access to expensive ICTs that might be used to support higher education.

Since students are familiar with using SMS to exchange important information, this opens up a number of possible uses in higher education. For example, students are likely to feel positive about receiving time sensitive administrative information related to class management such as key dates for registration and enrolment, assignment due dates and absentee rates. On the educational side, SMS can be used to send important key points of lectures or critical details of lectures that students need to remember and understand. After the use of SMS as an educational tool for one semester, the findings from the questionnaire showed that students found it easy to retrieve old SMS on their phones. The findings suggest that educational SMS would be saved on university students’ phones, so they can review them at anytime and anywhere. All SMS should be sent from one particular phone number in order to make it easier for the students to review the received messages SMS from the university at once.

In addition, since it is very cheap to send SMS, institutions of higher education can use SMS in two-way communication and as an educational tool, where the students can use SMS to request information and the university can reply it via SMS. Given students’

positive perceptions of the usefulness of SMS to save time and effort in exchanging information, university tasks such as using SMS to register for classes, to inform students about cancelation of classes, or to inform students about instructor absence would be reasonable. Since students are used to using SMS for coordinating events and sending social greetings it can be used in higher education institutions for key social functions (e.g., to invite students to attend events and to send holidays greetings to them).

6.3.2. SMS is useful for direct communication. Participants identified several areas where SMS provided a method of direct and private communication with one person or a group. Some participants appreciated the quiet and private mode of communication that SMS offers, where they can read and reply to SMS without disturbing the surrounding people. In a privacy context, Horstmanshof and Power )2005( explained that “Messages can be sent quietly and hence privately between communicators who may even be engaged in other activities such as travelling on public transport, watching television, attending

meetings, classes, or lectures” )p. 34(. Balakrishnan and Loo (2012) found that a popular motive for college students to use SMS was its privacy. They stated, “The privacy afforded by SMS also enables young people to communicate freely and discreetly” )p. 366(. Some participants reported privacy issues related to the use of SMS. While participants believed that SMS was useful for private communication, one participant complained that the received SMS might be opened by anyone who could access their phone. However, this issue was only reported by one student and does not reflect that all students hold the same belief.

In the second interviews, students reported they believed that SMS was a useful tool to overcome some cultural communication issues between females and males. In this use SMS was an indirect communication tool between them, which meant they did not have to speak face-to-face. In their descriptions of the Arab culture that restricts direct male and female interaction, Rouibah and Hamdy (2009) stated, “Arab culture is masculine, clear gender roles are the norm, and social interactions with the opposite sex are not tolerated”

(p. 5). Therefore, SMS might represent an alternative communication medium between women and men to overcome the cultural norms and expand the possibility of

communication within higher education courses.

The brevity of SMS made the participants perceive it as a useful, straight-to-the-point communication tool which reduces the time and effort required in communication. In other research studies SMS was described as a straight to the point communication tool (Barwise & Strong, 2002; Van der Waldt, Rebello & Brown, 2009). SMS messages were described as “low in information” but high in “social grooming” )Horstmanshof & Power, 2005, p. 48). Tahat et al. (2014) found that about two-thirds of the participants in their study perceived SMS as a useful communication tool in terms of saving effort and time in communication.

Student perceptions inform the type of the content that can be sent via SMS to university students. Institutions of higher education can use SMS to send short,

understandable and clear administrative and educational information for their students.

University students’ positive perceptions of the quietness of using SMS would suggest that institutions of higher education can take advantage of such perceptions by using SMS to send different types of private information that students may not wish to share with other

people such as exam results or absentee rates. Such findings would suggest that institutions of higher education can use SMS as an optional communication channel for students with limited internet access or those who are not present on campus.

6.3.3. SMS is useful informal learning tool. Some participants believed that SMS was a useful learning tool. Types of reported information that can be received via SMS included religious quotes or nutrition tips. The use of SMS for health purposes such as SMS intervention on dietary habits or for weight loss was investigated in several research studies that showed the benefits of such uses of SMS (Patrick et al., 2009; Shaw &

Bosworth, 2012). The use of SMS to receive Islamic religious messages such as religious edicts, short quotes from the prophet, or short quotes from Muslim holy books is common among Muslim youth (Roman, 2006; Sunarwoto, 2012). However, such use of SMS is not limited to the Islamic religion; other research studies have reported the use of SMS in other religions such as Christianity (Roman, 2006). The use of SMS for religious purposes is part of the larger application of technology for religious purposes called ‘Techno-spiritual practices’ )Bell, 2006) that represent the implementation of technology to support a range of religious activities around the world (Wyche, Caine, Davison, Arteaga & Grinter, 2008).

The use of SMS to receive religious quotes or nutrition tips represents an example of the use of SMS for the purposes of receiving information. Students’ acceptance of SMS as an informal learning tool suggests that it would be accepted as a tool to support university students’ formal learning. Institutions of higher education should take advantage of the positive perceptions of SMS as a learning tool through using SMS in similar ways (e.g., to send short educational content). This is addressed in more depth in the following section.

Student’ positive perceptions of SMS as a communication tool resulted from their use of SMS as a communication tool. All the participants reported that they use SMS as a communication tool. Regarding the usefulness of SMS as a communication tool, the reported positive points exceeded the negative ones. The institutions of higher education should take advantage of the positive perceptions of SMS as a communication tool among students by using SMS to communicate different types of information (e.g., administrative and educational content). The use of SMS in higher education should consider the reasons for students’ positive perceptions of SMS as a communication tool.

6.4 Participants’ Perceptions of the Usefulness of SMS as an Educational Tool