Qualitative Study of Distance Learning in ___ Universities
Challenges and Perspectives
Saudi Arabian education system has aimed at joining the international trend in the move to distance learning as the new educational process. This study aims at investigating the challenges and perspectives that are encountered by the Saudi Universities while implementing the distance-learning approach. The paper has included a background study on blended learning and how it has benefited learning in higher institutions. The paper has researched on the challenges and perspectives in distance learning through data obtained from among the universities in Saudi Arabia. Therefore, the case study was King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. This paper has presented real reason, which has led brought constraints of distance learning in Saudi Arabian Universities.
Qualitative Study of Distance Learning in Saudi Arabia Universities
Challenges and Perspectives
1.0 Background of the Study
Due to the penetration of computer networks, advanced technology and communication technology in many sectors, technology has made it easier in the implementation of most tasks in the current world (Alebaikan et al., 2010). E learning has been considered to be one of the influences that technology has posed in higher education. This is considered as a method of distance learning that is defined as a method that utilizes advanced technologies. This includes software, network, electronic library, and multimedia (Al-Asmari et al., 2014). This has been considered important in the delivery of information through the easiest way, and that has enabled save time and resources (Pavan, 2013). Due to speedy development in information technologies, the higher education has to be more responsive to rapid changes and dramatic developments in Saudi Arabian higher education ministry.
Distance-learning has introduced a new form of learning and getting knowledge shared around the world (Al-Fahad, 2009). This has supported education to the people that live in the remote areas to continue investing in their university studies. This has been enabled through the application of computer networks that have facilitated distance learning (Alhomod et al., 2013). This has also led to amazing prospects in most nations. Distance learning has developed rapidly in the previous few years in Saudi Arabia (Al-Furaydi, 2013). It has enabled the universities to teach and train a scattered geographical workforce and has also increased their eligibility in skills and knowledge demand with greater efficiency with a reduced cost.
There is an international move by universities to grant learning environments that are important in the 21st century. Universities have appreciated the significance of distance learning as a new way of developing educational processes (Fleck, 2012). The rapid developments have led to the Saudi Arabian Universities and Higher education to join the International trend (Altameem, 2013). The advantages of distance learning were familiar by the Saudi Arabian Higher Education Ministry as a resolution to their lasting challenge in the provision of the education to the increasing population of students (Mirza et al., 201). This move was considered as an essential modification in the system of education in Saudi Arabia.
This study has, therefore, been conducted to investigate the challenges and perspective of qualitative distance learning in the Saudi Arabian Universities. The study will rely on information gathered from King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. This will be the case of study in the research. The research will include a conceptual framework that will reveal the design in which the research will be carried and data collected and analyzed. A literature review will offer previous studies of the issues related to Saudi Arabian Universities and the distance learning. Qualitative research will be carried through a questionnaire-interview based study as the method of data collection. Therefore, the study has used a sample of 3 instructors from King Saud University.
3.0 Conceptual Framework
The impact measurement/ IS-Success framework was selected to take into consideration the four scopes of impact in IT models. In this case, the E-learning is considered as the model in the systems of IT. The model is important and has been utilized in most of the IS research. As illustrated below, the IS-success / measurement dimensions can be classified regarding the system performance from a technical viewpoint, the quality of information, the individual, and the organizational impact. In this case, the conceptual framework aims at the individual and organizational impact of the distance-learning systems to the students and the Universities of Saudi Arabia (Mirza, 2007). This will, therefore, lay out the challenges and perspectives of distance learning in Saudi Arabia.
3.1 Research Objective
The main objective of this study is to comprehend the challenges and perspectives of distance learning and its future effect on Saudi Arabian Universities. Also, the study also aims at identifying how instructors explore the distance learning educational process. Identification of challenges and perspectives of the distance learning users through interviews and questionnaires will offer insight on how the instructors need to be supported to adopt the new learning environment.
3.2 Research Questions
This research study explores the following questions:
1. How do instructors perceive distance learning in their classrooms?
2. What are the concerns about distance learning in Saudi Arabian Universities?
4.0 Literature Review
With the purpose of contributing to the focus of distance learning in the Saudi Arabia universities, the researcher evaluated and researched a sample of previous researches that were related to distance learning. These researches were from Saudi Arabia and all over the world.
Moore Dickson-Deane and Galyen (2011) had set out to reveal if there was a difference between online learning and e learning which were labeled as distance learning. The authors defined e learning as instructional materials and content that was delivered through the Internet. This means, therefore, that students receive instructional content from their professors through the Internet such as the discussion boards, online lessons, and online exams. These are termed as the self-paced distance learning. This means that students work on the course at their own pace without face-to-face interactions between students and instructors.
Alabamian and Troudi, (2010) have concluded long studies that have been conducted in the evaluation of educators’ and learners’ perceptions of e learning in Saudi Arabia. They found that it is necessary to train instructors in the e-Learning to increase their knowledge on integration with the Internet and e-Learning. The instructors also contributed that the idea of distance learning would be effective and improve the teaching and curricular methods (Ushioda, 2013). This, therefore, means that e-Learning would supplement the learning methods rather than replacing them. It was also found that there were various challenges that Saudi Arabia is facing in the implementation of e-Learning (Ibrahim et al., 2007). These challenges were seen to have occurred form the general perceptions of the instructors and the learners due to the existing learning methods in that time. Other studies have included the Saudi Arabia instructor’s perceptions on e-Learning.
Al-Furaydi (2013) researched by selecting randomly 71 teachers from public and private intermediate schools. The researcher was concern about how the teachers felt about the administration of the e-Learning in their school. The finding of his study was that the teachers were positive about e-Learning and that they supported the e-learning system as a way of motivating their students (Alkhattabi et al., 2010). They looked at distance learning as a substitute to web-based learning. They were concerned with the reliability of Internet that was poor and the lack of time in learning how to conduct the e learning with their students.
5.1 Data collection
The study has utilized qualitative research study, which is richer and has closer perception into the question under study (Maxwell, 2008). It creates openness through allowing people to voice their feelings and responses. It has an increased greater stretch onto the research and offers refined details on the problem outlined for research. The method also allows the researcher to identify other surprising aspects of the research that may otherwise be unnoticed if a quantitative research design was adopted. Notably, the exploratory research will also provide insight into key issues and vital variables of distance learning in Saudi Arabian Universities (Kawulich, 2005).
Moreover, the researcher used a case study design in this paper. The case study is usually built on a real-life event or phenomenon. Confirming this perspective, Zainal (2007, p.2) adopted Yin’s (1984) definition of a case study within a real-life context stating: “it is an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context; when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident; and in which multiple sources of evidence are used.” In particular, the researcher used semi-structured interviews. Semi-structured interviews comprise a set of questions that when posed to an interviewee, give leeway for them to provide ‘unbound’ responses, implying that the respondent has the authority to provide an answer without being limited to specific answers as happens to structured interviews (Alshenqeeti, 2014). Alshenqeeti noted that this method of data collection is important where the researcher has no direct experience of the phenomenon under investigation, and therefore their perspective is wholly dependent on that of the interviewees. It further gives flexibility for the interviewee to add their voice shaping the opinions of the researcher and context of the ideals derived from the interaction.
Furthermore, interviews are important for educational studies to acquire an opportunity for enabling the researcher to have a detailed investigation of the instructor’s perspectives (AlMegren et al., 2013). An interview was used in this research as a way of obtaining detailed information about this topic. The interview was carried in such a way that each interviewee was able to give their descriptions with more devoted time and willingness to do so.
The researcher prepared the interview sheet based on the findings of the study on the literature surrounding the topic. Since the researcher lives in a different country than the interviewees, the interviews were conducted by using Skype application.
The interview included six questions that were clear to the interviewee about the concept of distance learning and lasted for about an hour. The interviews for the lectures were carried out to enhance understanding about their views on distance learning and the challenge that they face during implementation of distance learning.
The researcher was able to sample some individuals at King Saud University. This includes 3 instructors from different departments. The instructors were informed about the research and the purpose of the interview in order to acquire information willingly. They were also assured about their confidentiality in the information they provided to the researcher.
In this research, the purposive sample was used. It is a nonprobability sample the researcher identified based on the characteristic of population as well as the objective of this study (Tongco, 2007). The researcher used a homogeneous purposive sample. In other words, the three departments are chosen because they share the characteristic of using distance learning. Therefore, the researcher did not include other departments that have not used e-Learning yet.
Being a qualitative study, one of the significant challenges is ensuring that it is rigorous enough. The central concept surrounding the adherence to the criterion for a rigorous study is to create trustworthiness. Billups (2014) noted that it is impractical to attempt to transfer the elements of trustworthiness of a quantitative study design into a qualitative one. According to Billups (2014, p. 1), the criteria for assessing the trustworthiness of a qualitative study is based on the credibility, dependability, transferability, conformability, and authenticity elements. Moreover, the interview transcripts are provided in a separate document for future scrutiny. Another important consideration in a qualitative study is the rigor of the study. To ensure this, the researcher invited the interviewees to confirm that the themes identified corresponded to the replies they gave, in line with recommendations by Noble and Smith (2015). This approach ensures that personal bias that may affect credibility and hence rigor is avoided.
5.4 Data Analysis
The sources of data for this study are the transcripts from the semi-structured interviews. The first step in coding the data was transcribing all the information into text. Next, the researcher perused and studied all the transcriptions before identifying patterns and themes that related to the intention of this research paper. In other words, the researcher analyzed the data searching for prominent themes so that they show the lived experience of the teachers towards using distance learning (Roberts, 2010). Thereafter, the researcher translated the analyzed data into English language, since the interviews were conducted in Arabic language. The data was coded into the specific themes that befitted the text and the themes compared across the different respondents. Common themes were analyzed further. Finally, the researcher reviewed the transcriptions to ensure that the major intention of the paper was achieved with the data results. It also essential at this point to compared the theme of the paper, the literature review, and the results of the paper in measuring the validity of the findings (Roberts, 2010).
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According to CITC, Saudi Arabia has the fastest growing country regarding distance learning (Khan et al., 2001). The number of lecturers that have been enrolled has increased dramatically in the current years. The instructors’ perceptions have been presented in two sections in the findings.
6.1 Instructors’ Perceptions on distance learning
The instructors expressed satisfaction and expressed positive perceptions about distance-learning experiences. The instructors expressed satisfaction in availability and flexibility because they consider that distance learning has eliminated barricades of space and time. For instance, interviewee A said, “it gives the students more time and flexibility and the lecture can be repeated many times! For the faculty as well, because we also do recording the lectures… so students are able to log into their university accounts and watch the lecture as many time as they wish.” Also, the instructors have been able to post their lecture notes, give assignments and course announcements through distance. According to them, this has reduced time spent in classrooms (Ali et al., 2003). They also argued that content they provided online was more advantageous compared to the learning method used before. The instructors who participated in this study appreciated the pedagogy, flexibility and technical skills improvements in distance learning. They described it as a suitable method of learning in Saudi Arabia. For instance, one interviewee said: “Well, I think it helps us as instructors to overcome the social and cultural barriers… you know… for example male instructors like myself teaching female students and Vice Versa…”
They argued that the distance learning could influence the appreciation of the society in engaging in learning technologies. This is because the students can improve and become more efficient regarding computer literacy. The findings have revealed that distance learning flexibility is advantageous to the lectures. This is because they have revealed that it is a valuable approach that has promoted flexibility and sufficient guidance in distance learning as compared to the traditional methods of learning.
6.2 Challenges of Distance-Learning
One major challenge that instructors claim is difficult in the implementation of the distance learning. This is because of the traditional university culture (Hamdan, 2014). These issues will be related to the adoption of technology use in education, managerial and organizational support (Arkorful et al., 2015). It is a difficult strategy for the universities to enforce the establishment of new strategies in the education system when they have been used to the traditional methods. For instance interviewee C said: “My only concern is the number of dropping out from school… many organizations do not approve on distance learning as a method of learning in this country…so they do not accept employees with e-learning degrees.”
The time required for the application of the distance learning will increase because the instructors have to develop a digital content that will require the instructors more time than developing the traditional materials for the courses (Bates, 2009). They will require more time to ensure that they develop quality information with the new techniques and skills to interact fully with the students.
Internet availability at home has been considered as a major challenge due to the shortage of Internet labs hence causing unacceptable grades in distance learning (Mirza,2007). The shortage of Internet affects the peers that are not capable of gaining Internet access while at home. Some students have been faced with challenges related to their computer knowledge. Due to lack of computer skills, they have had negative perceptions about the use of distance learning (Asiri, 2012). This is because they have poor performance on the courses and spend a lot of time trying to browse the Internet. According to the instructors, students have lacked digital materials that enable their participation in the discussion topics online (Alebaikan et al., 2010). The study has demonstrated that some students have failed to understand the e-plagiarism in cases that they have been offered with rich resources that they can easily copy. It is also evident that some of the organizations do not acknowledge e-learning degrees hence less opportunities to the students that pursue distance learning courses.
It has been a challenge to acquire detailed information form participants. Most of the participants were conservative regarding answering the questions. This has affected the qualitative research that has rarely been used in the Arabic educational studies. Moreover, the geographical distance between the researcher and the participants is considered to be one of the limitations of this research study.
This study asserts that distance learning could grant excellent experience learning to the students in Saudi Arabia. The instructors have expressed positive attitudes and impressions towards distance learning. However, distance learning has been faced with some challenges that require being looked into to blend successful factors of distance learning. This study has utilized instructors from King Saud University who have facilitated in understanding of distance learning in the universities. This study has shown the perceptions of the lectures and has also shown the challenges of distance learning in Saudi Arabia. This, therefore, has contributed to the relevance of this research paper for future research.
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Teachers Interview Transcript #1
To start, I want to ask you if you have used distance learning in your teaching?
How familiar are you with distance learning?
I can say that I’m in average range as to what is available to our institute
Fair enough… how regularly have you used distance learning in your teaching?
Ammm… each semester I got to teach one class through distance learning
So what do you see as the benefits of using distance learning?
Hmm let me see..,
Well, I think it helps us as instructors to overcome the social and cultural barriers… you know… for example male instructors like myself teaching female students and Vice Versa…It also helps to overcome the remote distance between the teacher and the students which make the physical presence nearly impossible…ammm distance learning in my opinion can also helps increase the teacher pool since teachers and students do not have to reside in close-proximity… you know what I mean…?
Oh yeah I understand what you mean…
So I want to know what are your concerns about using it to teach
I would say the limited interaction between teacher and students… it hard for some students to learn through online only without attending an actual classroom with a traditional instructions… ammm… so this is what concern me the most.
Also, not to mention the poor knowledge that most of students have regarding plagiarism… they just copy from the Internet and paste their answers…!
Awesome…! Thank you for your time and your answers. I will share your answers with you to make sure that it is exactly what you said
You are welcome man!
Teachers Interview Transcript #2
Have you use distance learning in your teaching?
If the meaning of distance learning is teaching through broadcasting, then yes.
What do you mean by broadcasting?
I mean teaching female students through a special T.V channel that broadcasted for the purpose of teaching only. You know what I mean… Since male instructors cannot teach female students face to face.
Oh I see what you mean know… but my question is about online distance learning or e-learning.
Oh I am sorry… I misunderstood…
That’s all right… so have you used e-learning in your teaching?
Ok how familiar are you with distance learning?
Well, I have been using distance learning in my teaching since I became an instructor at this university…so it is like about two years now
How regularly have you used distance learning in your teaching?
I have 2 classes each semester and for this semester I have 3…so I’m using it very regularly
Can you please tell me what do you see as the benefits of using distance learning in your teaching?
The benefit is that it gives the students more time and flexibility and the lecture can be repeated many times! For the faculty as well, because we also do recording the lectures… so students are able to log into their university accounts and watch the lecture as many time as they wish.
So what are your concerns about using distance learning to teach your classes?
Ammm… I believe the limitation of the discussion between faculty and students, although that it is required from each student to do discussions though blackboard, but I think it is not affective as the face-to-face classes. Also, I want to mention the problems that most students face to be able to access the Internet while at home, as they do not have wireless Internet connection where they live.
Thank you for participating in the interview; I will be sending a copy of your answers to you so you can check your answers.
Ok thank you!
Teachers Interview Transcript #3
Have you use distance learning in your teaching?
How familiar are you with distance learning?
Ammm, very familiar
How regularly have you used distance learning in your teaching?
Well, I used it like 3 curses per semester for about…ammm… it is been since 2011.
Ok so what do you see as the benefits of using distance learning in your teaching?
Well, I believe that it makes education more flexible for both genders. A lot of my students are not living in Riyadh and they need to take this particular course as a required for their degree…in my opinion, distance learning provides the learners with a full opportunity for discussion and dialogue as the tools of communication that allow each student to express his/her opinion at any time without embarrassment such what happened in the face to face discussions.
So what are your concerns about using distance learning to teach your classes?
My only concern is the number of dropping out from school… many organizations do not approve on distance learning as a method of learning in this country…so they do not accept employees with e-learning degrees.
I’m also worried about the availability of Internet connections at many student’s homes as they live in small villages that do have some issues with the connections.
Thank you so much for your answers… I will send you a copy of this interview so you can take a look at your answers
Sounds good… thank you!
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