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E-Learning and ICT Integration in Colleges and Universities in Saudi Arabia

By Hend Suliman Al-Khalifa / March 2010

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In 2002, GOTEVOT, the government authority responsible for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's technical education and vocational training, established the E-Learning Training and Resources Centre. The Centre provides an e-library of more than 50,000 books and 3,000 training programs for lifelong learning and community services with electronic training portfolios. The organization publishes its technical and vocational courses in both Arabic and English on the web.

Courses include management technology, chemical technology, telecommunications technology, computer technology, food production technology, tourism and hotels technology and poultry. They were developed by the general Directorate for Design and Development of Curricula (DDDC) in GOTEVOT and are fully accessible and freely available online.

GOTEVOT has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Cisco, Microsoft, and ICDL to deliver electronic courses training packages covering these technologies to its students and vocational training centres.

The Ministry of Higher Education recognizes the need and potential for a coordinated and collaborative approach to e-learning in universities, where there is a considerable shortage of female lecturers in the gender-segregated institutions. Thousands of students are over-enrolled by these institutions and are simply given the course materials and sent home to study on their own. And demand for part-time study options is high, too.

While the universities have quite good technical facilities, these need to be better employed to provide equitable and quality education (Almohaisen, 2007).

It was for these reasons that in 2006, the Ministry established the National Centre for E-Learning and Distance Education (NCeDL). NCeDL provides nationwide e-learning development in the universities with the assistance of the Open University of Malaysia and Multimedia Technology Enhancement Operations, or METEOR (Almegren, Al-Yafei, and Hashem, 2007). It is responsible for a range of research and development initiatives aimed at facilitating next generation e-learning in Saudi higher education, including the National Learning Management System, Jusur, which is based on the OUM LMS, and the National Repository Makniz to store, manage, and share learning objects between Saudi universities. It also runs a project called Tajseer, which is designed to help progress from the more traditional ways of teaching and learning to more advanced methods through the use of technology.

NCeDL also offers training programs aimed at improving the abilities of female faculty members in Saudi universities and others interested in the field of e-learning and its applications. These training programs cover instructional design, designing interactive lessons using CourseLab, and how to use the Jusur Learning Management System and Jusur Learning Content Management System. The Centre also operates an E-learning Excellence Award scheme.

NCeDL has established alliances with some international e-learning agencies. Jusur was developed by the Malaysian METEOR company, the Maknaz learning object repository is being developed using HarvestRoad Hive, an Australian based-company, and Makanz content will be developed initially by TATA Interactive Systems, an Indian e-learning company.

Public universities are also beginning to embrace e-learning. The E-learning Centre in the Deanship of Academic Development at King Fahad University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) was established in 2003 to promote the use of the web in teaching and learning. It uses WebCT to offer integrated access to online resources by students and lecturers.

KFUPM has also joined the global movement for open sharing of educational content online through the OpenCourseWare Consortium. KFUPM OpenCourseWare contains Arabic and English language materials from approximately 80 KFUPM courses including engineering, sciences, and industrial management. Alfaisal University, a newly established private university, has also joined the OpenCourseWare Consortium.

King AbdulAziz University (KAU) had an earlier involvement in print/correspondence-based distance education and since 2005, when the Deanship of Distance Learning was established, has offered online course delivery. KAU uses the EMES LMS and virtual classrooms to provide additional learning support for first- and second-year students enrolled in basic science courses, particularly mathematics and physics. The university also has a digital library of 16,000 e-books.

Deanships for e-Learning and Distance Learning were established at King Khalid University in Abha in 2006, King Saud University in Riyadh in 2007, and Imam University in 2008. The e-Learning Unit at King Faisal University was established in 2008 and The Prince Mohammed bin Fahad University in Dammam and Effat University in Jeddah have also established e-learning centres to use online methods to augment the students' learning. These universities and others have also equipped their lecture rooms with interactive white boards, data shows, e-podiums, Polycom video conferencing solutions, and multimedia centres.

Digital distance learning via satellite, microwave, and wireless networks is also delivered by MeduNet, a leading Saudi e-health services provider which provides real-time classes, symposia, and the like, for the Kingdom's medical schools, government universities, and ministries in collaboration with leading U.S. healthcare institutions. MeduNet has agreements with George Mason University School of Nursing to provide nursing education classes and with Columbia Presbyterian Medical Centre and other providers of telemedicine services.

The importance attached to such development is shown in the seniority granted to the directors of these centres and the rapid upgrading of the technical facilities and support staff. However, there are also bottom-up developments occurring.

For example, a group of female researchers at the Information Technology Department at King Saud University has recently launched an Arabic learning object repository called Marfiah with the capability of serving needs of the Arabic educational community under an open licenses (Al-Khalifa, 2008). Marifah's web site contains many useful features for managing learning objects. Users can contribute learning objects in two ways: 1) by linking to a webpage and 2) by uploading directly to the repository. Learning objects stored in the repository can be rated or even used externally by tracking back their usage. Moreover, users can explore the web site easily and organized way (Al-Khalifa, 2008).

Even with unique features, the repository is providing to the Arab community, yet there has not been any serious uptake or usage of the repository since its first inception. This might be attributed to two factors: 1) lack of awareness of the usefulness of such technologies and 2) lack of support and advertisement.

Mirza (2007) describes the application of ICT in synchronous teaching for male and female students in the Master of Health Informatics program at the King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences. Likewise, Alrumaih (2008) shows the uptake of Jusur at Prince Sultan Military College of Health Sciences to conduct online discussion and quizzes, submit homework and disseminate lecture notes among female students enrolled in the Nursing Department's pharmacology course at the nursing department. Overall, the students' level of satisfaction was shown to be very high, despite the problems of internet access in Saudi Arabia.

Finally, many individuals have also established online training via web forums or synchronous web conferencing systems. Websites such as maharty.com and at3lm.com (in Arabic), to name but a few are exemplars of this kind of online training.

About the Author
Hend Suliman Al-Khalifa is a member of eLearn Magazine's editorial board, and is an assistant professor at the Information Technology Department, CCIS, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She received her MSc degree in Information Systems (2001) from King Saud University, Riyadh, KSA, and her PhD degree in Computer Science (2007) from Southampton University, U.K. For more about her work and interests, please see the About Us page.

References
Al-Khalifa, H. (2008). Building an Arabic learning object repository with an ad hoc recommendation engine. 10th International Conference on Information Integration and Web-based Applications and Services (pp. 390-394). Linz, Austria: ACM.

Almegren, A., Al-Yafei, A., & Hashem, A. (2007). Pilot nationwide elearning provision in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: issues and challenges. 21st Asian Association of Open Universities Conference. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Almohaisen, I. (2007). E-learning in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia . National Centre for Distance and E-Learning Seminar. Riyadh: Keynote speech.

Mirza, A. (2007). Utilizing Distance Learning Technologies to Deliver Courses in a Segregated Educational Environment. In C. Montgomerie & J. Seale (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and



Comments

  • Tue, 02 Nov 2010
    Post by maryam

    the article is very inforrmative and it brings to light about the efforts which are being taken to enable the students for higher education and to benefit the community at large.myself being from e-governence background and living in ksa, i find it as a great example of use of'ict'.

  • Thu, 02 Jul 2009
    Post by Taurai Hungwe

    The openning statement as a cach phrase is very disturbing and overlooks other learning theories.

  • Wed, 01 Jul 2009
    Post by Laura Johnson

    To my librarian''s ear, this sounds remarkably like a library. Stories, organized and indexed--a library.

  • Thu, 25 Jun 2009
    Post by Alice Bedard-Voorhees

    This moves info sharing into the oldest form of teaching. How would "keeper of the stories" --experts--be designated?