Doctor of Philosophy
School of Mathematics and Applied Statistics
Bukhatwa, Bothaina, Improving mathematics education in the Middle East: a focus on technology, learning design and professional development, Doctor of Philosophy thesis, School of Mathematics and Applied Statistics, University of Wollongong, 2014. http://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/4273
This research is motivated by the challenges faced in the best design of eLearning sites to increase student understanding of educational processes and in providing appropriate professional development to academic staff. The particular focus in this research is “How can tertiary mathematics education in Middle Eastern countries, specifically Libya and Oman, be enhanced through the integration of technology into teaching and learning?”
The researcher, of Libyan origins was immersed in the Australian culture and education system, working sometimes as a research assistant engaged in the development of learning materials, and research student conducting evaluations, and interviews with staff and students and through these activities creating an environment that facilitated reflection on the similarities and contrasts between the education system in different cultures. Both qualitative and quantitative methodologies were used, with analysis of literature, surveys, focus groups and interviews as the primary methods of collecting data. Data collected were used to examine what is possible in the western context and in parallel to identify current education issues in Libya and Oman. The initial analysis of literature was undertaken with a view to identifying high functioning technologies that are free or low cost for use in Libya and Oman. This review was followed by two case studies conducted at the University of Wollongong (UOW), Australia, which were used to identify best practices with these technologies leading to a third case study that both explored professional development and implemented a professional development program at Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) in Oman.
Case Study 1 involved the researcher working with a lecturer at UOW, to improve outcomes of an introductory subject. The process for improvement drew on both lecturer and a total of 210 students’ evaluations survey gathered over three implementations of the subject. The first step evaluated the effectiveness of existing resources. The next step saw the development of an improved way to combine resources so that students could better visualize and understand the learning process. This required the alignment of resources, supports, activities and assessment with learning outcomes. From this practices were determined that could benefit Middle Eastern classrooms. These included the use of eLearning site, video technology, Tablet PCs, and the provision of online learning support.
Case Study 2 started with interviews with academic staff and postgraduate students in the School of Mathematics and Applied Statistics (SMAS) at UOW. This showed that software packages were primarily learnt through self-learning. Mapping of subjects taught by SMAS and in Libya suggested that the introduction of technologies such as eLearning site and Tablet PCs in Libya would be useful. Scope to use alternative freeware or low cost mathematical software was also identified. Other useful technologies identified included Cam Studio and PowerPoint, for the production of video resources, and Moodle, to manage the online learning environment.
Although the learning of mathematics software at UOW was undertaken primarily by self-learning, support was considered necessary for learning to use non-mathematics related technology such as required for video creation. Staff also needed ongoing technical support. Several units at UOW facilitate improvements in faculty teaching. Professional development at an institutional level was found to be more complex and multilayered than theories suggested. Many strategies and approaches are used in staff development including learning and sharing from each other’s experiences, collaborating, project work, reflection, workshops, conferences and video conferencing. Face-to-face training sessions took a variety of forms including drop-in sessions, one-to-one consultations and group sessions. These methods are usable in developing countries.
The final case study followed the development of a professional development program to introduce staff to new technologies. This involved: 1) identifying the needs of staff in relation to technology; 2) organizing a system for communicating with staff targeted for professional development; 3) provision of workshops, including the need for evidence based evaluation to guide change; 4) the provision of a plan developed for staff to start the development process; 5) a time period for implementation, and 6) a follow-up to determine if implementation ensued.
The workshops were to be delivered in Libya. As a consequence of the civil war they were transferred to SQU in Oman. Staff and postgraduate students from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics (DOMAS) at SQU were surveyed. This revealed that staff needed training both in how to use software and in how to integrate technology into curricular activities. The need for proper technical support was highlighted.
At SQU staff from a variety of departments attended workshops to increase their awareness of the significance of technology for student learning outcomes. Data revealed 86% of attendees had a positive response to the training, with 91% reporting they had been given ideas about how to integrate technology into the classroom. One lecturer was selected for further study to examine the outcomes of the professional development in terms of integration the use of Tablet PC into their teaching from both student and lecture perspectives. As an outcome the lecturer was use a tablet PC to deliver lectures and to develop video resources for integration in the suite of resources made available to support student learning.
This thesis shows the importance of determining staff needs and raising awareness of the importance of ICT to support student learning. Staff need professional development regarding the integration of technology into students educational experience. The single most important issue identified was the need to develop policy to mandate the use of technology in teaching. DOMAS staff often stated that they could not commit to use technology unless required to do so. Departments need to deliberate and plan to integrate available technology into the curriculum.