Blended Learning in Higher Education in Saudi Arabia

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Article critique: Blended learning in higher education in Saudi Arabia

The purpose of this paper is to perform a critical appraisal of an article titled Blended learning in higher education in Saudi Arabia: A study of Umm Al-Qura University published by Almaki Aidd Mohammed. This article critique comprises the abstract, the introduction, the literature review, the methodology, results and findings, the analysis and discussion, as well as the conclusion and recommendations sections.

The Abstract

The authors included an abstract that provided a concise outlook on the research, identified the research problem, as well as outlined the methods used and the key findings. The abstract first gave the background information that led to the inception of the research. In addition, the abstract explicitly states the specific purpose of the research, which relates to exploring the views and experiences of students and instructors at Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah with respect to the use of instructor websites in supplementing attendances at tutorials and lectures. The methods used have been identified as the mixed methods approach realized through interviews and questionnaires. The abstract also presented the key findings of the research in a concise manner; however, no recommendations were outlined.

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Analysis of the Introduction and Literature Review

In the introduction, Almalki (2011) clearly stated the aim of the study including its rationale. The stated purpose of the research was to investigate the experiences and perspectives of the faculty members regarding blended learning. The author also provided a list of research objectives and questions to be answered for the study to achieve its objectives. The introduction also states explicitly the rationale for the research study. In particular, Almalki (2011) justified the research by highlighting the need to investigate policies adopted by the government concerning blended learning and the promise that the latter has to address the issues of higher education in Saudi Arabia. This proves that the research problem is clearly identified. Although the researcher offered a rationale for the research, no references were made to the literature. The rationale would have been made stronger if the author has established some limitations in the existing literature such as the lack of sufficient studies regarding blended learning conducted in Saudi Arabia. In other words, if the author had identified a gap in the literature, this would have provided a stronger basis for justifying the research.

The literature review is comprehensive and relevant to the research conducted. In this respect, the scope of the topics covered in the literature on higher learning pedagogy, prove the role played by interactions and communication between instructors and students as well as higher learning experiences, all of which, as the author stated, necessitate the need for blended learning. Other aspects covered in the literature review relevant to the topic of the study included online blended learning, the benefits associated with blended learning for the students and the faculty members, and the theoretical framework for using information and communication technology in higher education. Therefore, it can be concluded that the literature review is relevant to the issue being investigated.

The sources included in the literature review are up-to-date. This is evident due to the observation that most of the studies cited in the literature are not older than 10 years from the time the study was published, with the exception of seminal works. However, there are some relatively old studies incorporated in the review. An example is a 1975 study and another study conducted in 1966. Apart from these two, the remaining studies cited in the review of the literature are up-to-date, which accords with the technological aspect of the topic studied.

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In addition, the literature review presents a balanced view of the issue being investigated. From the views expressed in the literature review, the author adopted an objective stance citing literary sources with divergent views on the issue addressed rather than focusing only on the studies sharing the same position. For instance, Almalki (2011) noted that the characteristics of higher education that informed his research were based on the work of various authors. Generally, the author performed a comprehensive, balanced, and up-to-date review of relevant literature; however, he failed to identify the need for the research. Additionally, Almalki (2011) did not specify any gaps in the literature that the study ought to address. It might have been more useful if the researcher had outlined the existing lack of corresponding literature and then framed his research as addressing the identified gap. This would have been useful in contributing to the significance of the study.

Analysis of the Methodology

The methodological approach adopted for the research was clearly stated. The author used a triangulated mixed methods design for the research study, which entailed the concurrent use of both qualitative and quantitative methods. Almalki (2011) provided a justification for using the mixed methods research, thereby relating it to achieving greater validity through the corroboration of the findings from multiple perspectives. The mixed methods research is consistent with the nature of the study conducted by the author. A key limitation is that the author did not specify the components of the research problem addressed by the quantitative and qualitative methods. It would have been useful if the author had listed qualitative and quantitative questions separately so that the reader could determine the focus of the qualitative and quantitative components of the research. As it is, it is not possible to determine which of the research questions were addressed with the help of qualitative methods and which were tackled using quantitative methods.

The steps are taken to recruit participants in the research were adequately described. Furthermore, the sampling approach was clearly stated in the article as purposive sampling. This sampling approach is congruent with the nature of the study conducted; nevertheless, the researcher did not provide a justification for using the purposive sampling approach in selecting the sample. Almalki (2011) provided a step-by-step description of the sample selection process with sufficient detail to facilitate replication. In this regard, the selection process first involved identifying the faculty websites followed by selecting the students and instructors from these websites. The criteria for sample selection were implied rather than explicitly stated. For instance, the author revealed that all the participants in the study should have experienced a blended online learning environment at the university. A description of the study population is also provided. Overall, the author gave sufficient details regarding the selection of the sample and the sampling method although their use was not justified. The sample selection process would have been more effective if the criteria for exclusion and inclusion had been explicitly stated.

The methods of data collection are clearly stated. Quantitative data was gathered using the questionnaire, which was also justified, although the researcher provided general justifications such as reducing bias, facilitating data collection within a short time, and guaranteeing anonymity. It would have been logical if the justification for the use of this tool was tied to the nature of the research. The constructs captured using the questionnaire are sufficiently described, including the nature of the items. They encompassed the demographic information about the participants; home access to computers and the Internet; interactions, learning, and usefulness; an open-ended section enabling the participants to express their opinions. These constructs are congruent with the topic of the study. Additionally, the researcher established and reported the validity of the questionnaire used in the study for the various scales, which ranged between 0.7 and 0.88.

To facilitate replication, the procedures and instruments used for collecting qualitative data are also described with sufficient detail. The instrument for collecting qualitative data was clearly identified as interviews and was subsequently justified. Almalki (2011) also described the content and design of the interview. The content captured in the interviews is consistent with the constructs expressed in the research questions, such as the issues associated with utilizing the website; benefits associated with class interaction; changes in learning and teaching practices occurring as a result of the website; integrating the material in the website into the curriculum; the reasons for augmenting classroom instruction with online teaching. The researcher also provided extensive details of the procedures used for conducting the interviews. In addition, the article has also described the steps taken to ensure the validity of qualitative data. Specifically, Almalki (2011) used peer debriefing and member-checking approaches to validate the findings collected using the interviews.

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The data analysis procedures were also described for both the qualitative and quantitative components of the research. Qualitative data were analyzed using a thematic analysis approach while quantitative data was analyzed using descriptive measures including standard deviation, means, percentage, and frequency. The quantitative data analysis procedures are appropriate given the descriptive nature of the research. In addition, thematic content analysis was also suited because of the exploratory aspect of the research.

Whereas the methodological steps are sufficiently described, Almalki (2011) did not clearly state ethical considerations in the research. Although there are mentions of guaranteeing anonymity and confidentiality in using a questionnaire, a more detailed discussion would have been helpful in addressing other pertinent issues such as informed consent and potential harm to the participants.

Analysis of the Discussion

The analysis and discussion of the findings are balanced and framed by the research questions and objectives. The key strength of the analysis and discussion is that the qualitative and quantitative findings are given separately. In addition, the findings are presented clearly using tables to show patterns and trends, especially for quantitative data. The quantitative findings presented are based on the items of the questionnaire. The author adopted a similar approach to introducing the qualitative findings, wherein they are presented based on the constructs captured in the interviews. A notable advantage of the manner in which qualitative data is presented is the use of quotes of the participants, which were used to reinforce the themes covered in the research. The discussion of the findings has been presented logically based on the research questions. Nevertheless, Almalki (2011) did not acknowledge any limitations associated with the study. It would have been useful if the author had listed the findings along with acknowledging the limitations inherent in the design of the study. Identifying the weakness of the study helps readers learn about the limits to which the findings can be applied. Another weakness of the discussion is that it does not refer to the points made in the literature review; thus, it is somewhat difficult to place the findings of the study with respect to the existing literature.

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Analysis of the Conclusion and Recommendations

The conclusions drawn by the author are supported by the findings in the sense that the answers to the study questions are based on the evidence presented in the research. The author used the findings to show that blended learning is capable of empowering higher education in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia if implemented and designed with the necessary expertise. In addition, the research also identified the implications of the study. Thus, Almalki (2011) outlined the recommendations for the Ministry of Education and Umm Al-Qura University with respect to the implementation of blended learning. The author also highlighted the areas of future research based on the findings and recommendations.

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