Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
In a country where men and women are taught in separate classrooms from K-12 all the way up to higher education, the use of online learning technologies can make a radical difference in building a stronger educational environment, especially benefiting female students. E-Learning Pioneers, a 2018 Blackboard Catalyst Award winner, is an initiative by Dr. Tahani Aldosemani at Prince Sattam Bin Abdulaziz University, in Saudi Arabia, which aims to provide female students and faculty members increased access to the university’s learning environment in order to promote equal learning opportunities and inclusivity.
Since the 1960s, when education for females was officially introduced in Saudi Arabia’s education system, boys and girls have been gender segregated from primary school up to higher education. Universities in the country have separate colleges for males and females, and even instructors must be of the same gender as their students.1
This, along with women not having permission to drive in the country – the ban on female drivers was just recently lifted as of June 20182 – has made gender inequality a critical factor for women’s education in Saudi Arabia, not to mention the huge impact on the country’s education and economic development.
Luckily, online learning tools now offer critical support when it comes to bringing people together. E-Learning Pioneers is a Blackboard Catalyst Award winning initiative that empowers female instructors by training them to use different Blackboard tools so they can in turn teach thousands of students online at the university’s women’s colleges.
“The original idea was to get the university’s instructors who were early adopters of Blackboard’s tools to train other instructors in their colleges. This way, more instructors could learn about e-learning platforms and tools and spread knowledge to more female students,” says Dr. Tahani Aldosemani, vice-dean of Information Technology and Distance Education at Prince Sattam Bin Abdulaziz University.
The tradition of instructors not being allowed to teach all students regardless of gender does not apply to classes taught through videoconference. This is key to the initiative’s success, as it allowed both male and female instructors from any of the university’s colleges to be trained and teach online.
Another way E-Learning Pioneers benefited women has to do with the ban on female drivers, as the university’s colleges are located in different regions throughout the country and online classes minimized the need for long commutes.
Since E-Learning Pioneers began in 2017, 15 female instructors have participated in the six-week workshops. Each coordinator or trainee who received the original Blackboard training was able to transfer the knowledge to other faculty members who could eventually pass it along to the students. So far, more than 3,000 female students have benefited from the initiative.
Besides learning how to operate Blackboard tools such as Blackboard Learn to their full potential, training consisted of diverse topics such as online learning strategies – including online teaching, blended learning, flipped classrooms, microteaching strategies – and quality standards around online learning (Quality Matters).
“Faculty were able to dig deeper on what e-learning tools could do for their work, learning about features such as virtual classrooms, electronic exams, evaluation, discussion and groups management, the Saudi Digital Library, among others,” Dr. Aldosemani explains.
In addition to that, both faculty and students have learned about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which enable students to access e-courses provided by international online learning institutions such as Edex, Coursera, MIT Online, and more.
E-Learning Pioneers has also published and distributed digital and printed magazines to raise awareness of online learning solutions, and has even created infographics on these topics containing QR codes with direct links to MOOCs and other applications.
Easily stay on top of what's important across all your learning activities, quickly connect and collaborate with others and ensure your success with Blackboard Learn.
E-Learning Pioneers 4 Main Goals
1. To provide female students and female faculty members, especially those who attend or work in faraway colleges, increased access to the university’s digital learning environment, with special support.
2. To raise awareness about the Blackboard suite of products and their full usage potential, as well as other education technology tools, features and resources.
3. To increase female students’ and faculty members’ motivation to adopt online learning solutions.
4. To create an online learning culture that enables female students to benefit from the expertise of different instructors, regardless of gender.
Social Media Played a Major Role in Engaging Participants
As Dr. Aldosemani recalls, the use of both the instant messaging application WhatsApp and the social media service Twitter were instrumental in getting initiative participants engaged with E-Learning Pioneers. “I personally used my Twitter account to celebrate and share what these pioneers were doing with the university community. The idea was to encourage them by posting pictures of what they were accomplishing,” the vice-dean recalls.
There were also three WhatsApp groups created to help participants exchange information about the initiative: one for administrators (college deans and vice-deans) to facilitate the work of E-Learning Pioneer staff members; one for IT staff to support participants with technical issues; and one for initiative participants themselves, where they could share their experiences with colleagues. “I also used the app to provide them with lots of encouragement and support,” says Dr. Aldosemani.
The Future of E-Learning Pioneers
According to the vice-dean, next year the idea is to spread the E-learning Pioneers initiative to male colleges as well, as a way to provide students with knowledge that is currently not available to them due to gender segregation rules in Saudi Arabia. “We are very thankful and honoured to be awarded with the Blackboard Catalyst Award, and the idea is to move forward with the initiative to spread more e-learning initiatives throughout Saudi Arabia,” shares Dr. Aldosemani.
“I was approached by many female deans in Saudi Arabia who want to apply the same initiative in their universities. So, I feel the impact was not just on me, or on Prince Sattam Bin Abdulaziz University, but on other institutions in the area as well. This has been a very empowering experience for me,” she concludes.
What Participants Have to Say About the Initiative
“The training programs provided to us from the Information Technology and Distance Learning Deanship were excellent, as they equipped us with the necessary skills and knowledge to train others. I liked the practical aspect of training and the one-on-one training approach, as well as the effective training materials and portfolios. The constant support and encouragement we received always encouraged me to do more for my college and to implement new e-learning initiatives for students.”
Maraheb Alrashedi, Instructional designer and E-learning Specialist at PSAU’s Society College, in Al Kharj
“I started planning the college training program after attending the Deanship training programs and adapted it according to faculty and students’ strengths and weaknesses, resulting in the implementation of a comprehensive training program. I rate the initiative as excellent in terms of the training program’s effectiveness, as well as the quality of both the training materials and the outreach training. I started training a limited number of trainees, and then I started to increase the number of students after examining my training capabilities. They were trained in groups of five people, and for each group I assigned a supervisor – from a group of e-learning early adopters among faculty members – to follow-up with students and provide them with support whenever needed.
I also encouraged them to send their questions or comments during the training sessions. Additionally, I asked trainees to answer some feedback questions on their satisfaction around the e-learning training programs.”
Salwa Hussain Ibrahim, Computer and Information Science Instructor at PSAU’s College of Science and Humanitarians, in Hotat Bani Tamim (located 100 km away from Al Kharj)
“I liked that the training program focused more on practice than theory, without intensive written materials. However, the teleconferencing aspect was not the best quality all the time and that was a challenge for me. I also appreciated that all the training materials and presentations were given to us, as well as that the training was provided by bottom-up management, rather than top-down. I found that communication with the deanship was excellent and that the chosen communication channels were effective. We used phone calls, WhatsApp, and direct communication as well.”
Sahar Eizidden, Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at PSAU’s College of Education, in Wadi Al Dawasir (located 500 km away from Al Kharj)
Dr. Tahani Aldosemani, vice-dean of Information Technology and Distance Education at Prince Sattam Bin Abdulaziz University.
AFP Fayez Nureldine