Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

ICT Experiences in Two Different Middle Eastern Universities

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

ICT Experiences in Two Different Middle Eastern Universities

Article excerpt

Introduction

The importance of higher education to gain prosperity and to develop human resources is understood by under-developed countries. Three quarters of Arab universities were established in the last 25 years of the 20th century (UNDP: Arab Human Development Report, 2003). Students in higher education require a very flexible environment to communicate and collaborate with their peers to accomplish tasks needed to succeed.

Social and cultural values of a society do impose different rules based on gender. Females in Arab society are usually subject to different sets of rules as compared to their male counterparts in the same society. These rules may severely limit the learning opportunities for females.

In western society, culture and social values do not impose any restriction on individuals based on their gender. Students in higher education regardless of their gender can meet, communicate, and collaborate at anytime at any place of their choice. In contrast, most Middle Eastern society is based on gender segregation that permits limited interaction between genders. Culture and social values in UAE and Saudi Arabia strictly enforce gender segregation, while countries such as Jordan and Lebanon are moderately liberal in this matter.

Advances in networking technologies and the Internet can have a significant impact on teaching and learning in higher education (Hodges, 2004; Muhlhauser & Trompler, 2002; Smith & Winking-Diaz, 2004). In a technology mediated learning environment, students and teachers use a wide range of ICT tools to communicate, collaborate and share resources; these tools provide anytime anywhere learning opportunities.

We begin by providing an overview of how ICT could be used to enhance traditional instructor-led teaching to alleviate the impact of social and cultural values on higher education; to make the learning environment a place to pass information and knowledge from teacher to students, from students to teacher, and from students to students; and a place for creative thinking and learning. Next, we discuss education and learning environment in two Middle Eastern countries. We then discuss their ICT infrastructure and its impact on higher education. We conclude by presenting the findings from a case study based on surveys conducted at JUST in Jordan and at ZU in the UAE.

Education and Learning Environment

The UAE secondary schooling system remains very traditional with teacher-led classes where memorization is emphasized (Sanders & Quirke, 2002). Students prefer all-knowing teachers who provide them answers to all questions. Only the UAE citizens can attend the public education system that has separate schools for boys and girls. The private education system is mainly for ex-patriots and is usually not segregated by gender at the school level. Some private higher education institutions have a co-education environment while others have separate arrangements for male and female students. The UAE provides free education for its citizens at all levels of education. United Nations (UN) statistics indicates that the UAE is among the most developed nations in educating female students (Information in the UAE, 2005). Each major center of population within the country has two colleges of technology, one for males, and another for females.

ZU was established for the national female population. The University has five colleges and most of the faculty members are western educated. Its faculty endeavor to provide students learning opportunities in an American style of teaching ensuring a very high quality of education. ZU's operations and policies reflect the impact of social and cultural values on higher education.

Women enroll in higher education more than men and their ratio is 6:2. In UAE, 20% of the total work force is now women. Women have gained access to higher education, though they are still largely excluded from government decision making. …

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