IRRODL Volume 10, Number 2; Regional Focus Issue: Learning Technologies in the Middle East

Various Authors
2009 International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning  
The proliferation of communication technologies in the last decade has opened new horizons for learners and instructors, offering new modes for learning and communication. With modern open and distance learning technologies, instruction and learning hold new dimensions and new meanings. For the first time, education becomes independent of time and space and can be delivered anytime, anywhere, and to anyone. Nevertheless, despite their great potential, the use of learning technologies raises a
more » ... de range of questions regarding the traditional learning paradigms, and it poses challenges for learners, instructors, and policy-makers, who need to develop new teaching and learning strategies that fit the new synchronous and asynchronous ODL platforms. Educational technologies are used today in most educational systems for a large variety of purposes, including delivering knowledge and managing the teaching/ learning process, as well as for communication between learners and instructors and between learners and their peers. Present-day studies on the use of educational technologies in educational systems indicate that they have become an inseparable part of the teaching/learning process. However, a meta-analysis of the last-decade's research on the integration of ODL technologies suggests that it suffers from a series of severe pedagogical, political, cognitive, and technological problems, which hinder their successful implementation and lead to frustration among educators, decision-makers, and learners. The major problems are outlined below: Users face problems in reading effectively from a digital display of text and coping with graphic user interfaces. Learners and instructors are not proficient in making effective use of ODL platforms. Learners face problems in gaining knowledge from the hyper textual and non-linear learning environments, which are most common in ODL learning. Bridge over Troubled Waters: Learning Technologies in the Middle East Eshet-Alkalai and Aydin Page | 2 Most present-day ODL environments are ineffective for learning due to their design as a simplistic conversion from the "good old" traditional, face-to-face teaching & learning paradigms, and there is no educated use of the pedagogical possibilities that are offered by the ODL technologies. Learners suffer from feelings of loneliness and non-ownership and face learning difficulties when no instructor is physically present. Learners face problems screening the huge volumes of information available in ODL environments and constructing coherent bodies of knowledge from them. As indicated by a great majority of recent studies, the key issues in developing effective distance learning models are the adoption of adequate pedagogical paradigms that make educated use of the special technological features of ODL technologies and the consideration of state-of-the-art knowledge about designing effective distance learning environments. These studies also indicate the pivotal role that local conditions, such as the cultural, political, economical, sociological, ethnographical and geographical circumstances, play in designing effective ODL. In this respect, the Middle East is a unique and challenging geographical, economical, cultural, and political region, mainly because of its heterogeneous nature. It is composed of a variety of cultures, languages and religions, so there are special considerations in designing effective open and distance learning environments that are available to all. Economically, countries in the region range from very poor to extremely wealthy, requiring the adoption of special integration policies to ensure the ability of the poor countries to cope with the high cost of ODL. Technologically speaking, the region consists of very advanced countries and others that are only in the early stages of adopting ODL systematically. The above-listed problems and considerations illustrate the challenges that educators, designers, and decision-makers face in developing policies, strategies, and models for distance and open learning, which make an educated use of the available educational technologies on the one hand and which fit the unique capabilities and needs of countries in this extremely heterogeneous region. In this respect, the major challenges are the following: (1) to develop and improve the technological infrastructures to enable using state-of-the-art educational technologies, (2) to develop adequate models for distance ODL, and (3) to develop adequate policies and strategies for a proper integration of ODL in educational systems. This special issue of IRRODL aims to describe and analyze current trends and issues in ODL in the Middle East. It seeks to detail the actual and potential contribution of ODL to the educational, social, and economic development in the region, and it does so by discussing the challenges and obstacles to ODL's optimal utilization in various countries in the region. The articles included in this special issue mainly cover evaluations of ODL implementations in the region, online students' characteristics, such as gender, computer literacy and so forth, and ideas for designing ODL. The articles involving evaluation studies provide not only details about ODL implementations in the region but also some insights about how effective and efficient these initiatives are. For instance, Muneer Mahmood Abbad, David Morris, and Carmel de Nahlik introduce ODL implementations in the Arab Open University in Jordan (AOUJ). Abbad and his colleagues investigated the factors that influence the students' adoption of e-learning and found that prior experience was an important factor among AOUJ students who prefer e-learning. Another overview of AOUJ was presented by Khalil M. Dirani and Seung Won Yoon, who focused on the quality of ODL implementations. Dirani and Yoon classified their findings in three areas: (1) the existence of adverse conditions, (2) the presence of strong instructional practices, and (3) the need to improve administrative support. Another article that concentrated on quality issues and provided insights about an ODL implementation in the region was Mehmet Gültekin's paper on the evaluation of the Preschool Teacher Training Program at Anadolu University in Turkey. Gültekin examined the students' opinions regarding the quality of the support services and the materials provided to them. His survey study has shown that students had positive attitudes regarding the support services and the materials. The last evaluation article is about campus-wide implementation of Web-supported academic instruction at Tel Aviv University (TAU) of Israel. Rafi Nachmias and Judith Ram describe the scope and outcomes of Virtual TAU, a campus-wide project that aims to integrate information and communication technologies into the academic instruction at Tel Aviv University. The authors provided data, insights, and conclusions from research and evaluation studies at the institutional and pedagogical levels as well as the costs and benefits of the integration of Web-supported academic instruction. The articles on student characteristics may help readers understand who prefers ODL in the Middle East and what their perceptions of ODL are. Ayelet Baram-Tsabari and Alaa Kaadni Kaadni, for example, compared Arabs and Israelis' interest in science in an asynchronous learning environment. They conclude that science interests are gender and age dependent but culturally independent in an asynchronous, open, and distant science learning environment. Gila Kurtz, Yair Amichai-Hamburger, and Jeffrey Kantor studied Israeli students' attitudes toward open and distance learning (ODL) and their perceived self-esteem and loneliness at the last stage of their online learning experience. The authors found a positive correlation between self-esteem and attitudes toward e-learning in general and toward online interaction with the instructor in particular. They also uncovered no correlation between loneliness and student attitudes toward elearning. Yasemin Gülbahar and R. Orçun Madran examined student perceptions of communication and collaboration, satisfaction, equity, and autonomy in blended learning. The study shows the significance of computer and Internet literacy on ODL students' perception of interactions. The authors concluded that technology, instructors, students, and pedagogy are the four major areas that must be considered when developing a high-quality blended learning environment. In another study conducted in Turkey, Erkan Tekinarslan observed significant differences in the Turkish undergraduate students' perceptions of the Web as a learning tool based on gender, socio-economic background, and Web experience. The male students and the Bridge over Troubled Waters: Learning Technologies in the Middle East Eshet-Alkalai and Aydin International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning Volume 10, Number 2. Abstract The primary questions addressed in this paper are the following: what are the factors that affect students" adoption of an e-learning system and what are the relationships among these factors? This paper investigates and identifies some of the major factors affecting students" adoption of an e-learning system in a university in Jordan. E-learning adoption is approached from the information systems acceptance point of view. This suggests that a prior condition for learning effectively using e-learning systems is that students must actually use them. Thus, a greater knowledge of the factors that affect IT adoption and their interrelationships is a pre-cursor to a better understanding of student acceptance of e-learning systems. In turn, this will help and guide those who develop, implement, and deliver e-learning systems. In this study, an extended version of the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) was developed to investigate the underlying factors that influence students" decisions to use an e-learning system. The TAM was populated using data gathered from a survey of 486 undergraduate students, who were using the Moodle based e-learning system at the Arab Open University. The model was estimated using Structural Equation Modelling (SEM). A path model was developed to analyze the relationships between the factors to explain students" adoption of the e-learning system. Whilst findings support existing literature about prior experience affecting perceptions, they also point to surprising group effects, which may merit future exploration.
doi:10.19173/irrodl.v10i2.1103 fatcat:sfq7bhu4e5anjmiytychspxvze