The experience of Gulf Arab students new to e-learning
Robinson, Martha M.
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Technology-based initiatives are being implemented around the world as a means of improving quality and expanding access to education. With this implementation, however, it has become apparent that, to be successful in a technologically mediated learning environment, students need to develop new skills and modify behaviours that were successful in a traditional face-to-face environment. On every continent one can find initiatives to develop appropriate delivery methods, curricula, resources, and support that utilize new technologies to improve education quality and effectiveness and to address the particular needs of local learners. Government and educators in the State of Qatar face a challenge in that little research has been done into the culturally-specific needs of Arab distance learners, particularly those in Qatar. In the absence of such research, policymakers must rely on studies from other states that do not share their cultural and historical heritage. This study utilized a qualitative approach to examine Qatari students’ experiences in a pilot eSchoolbag project, which combines face-to-face instruction with e-learning resources and strategies. The experiences were reported by the students themselves, within the context of their cultural and educational environment. The study drew on Garrison, Anderson, and Archer’s Community of Inquiry model and Hofstede’s Dimensions of National Culture to structure and interpret the experiences of the participants. It utilized an open-ended pen-and-paper survey and semi-structured small-group interviews with 12 students who represented a range of experience and ability in the use of computers and the English language, though all used Arabic for communication at home. Participants’ experiences reflected elements of online communities of inquiry, with some variations due to this particular group’s age and blended rather than wholly online learning context. Educational values, English-language ability, and experience with computers emerged as structural issues that affected students’ e-learning experience. Three essential elements of the experience for this particular group of students were found to be motivation, belonging, and adjustment. The results of the study add to the body of knowledge about the experience and needs of school-aged Arab students in e-learning.