Graduate Students’ Attitudes Towards Their Transforming Learning

Background

The COVID-19 outbreak has led to a massive disruption to education systems worldwide. The online learning format assumes that graduate students find and process a substantial amount of the materials individually. The increased demand for such a format is driven by people’s need to continue learning even during epidemics and crises. A proper educational infrastructure should guarantee that it will facilitate organized online learning in the future, and educational institutions will not have to spend additional amounts on unnecessary capacities and resources.

The coronavirus pandemic resulted in a significant shift in education processes. For instance, its outcomes have affected approximately 1.6 billion students in more than 190 countries and on each continent (United Nations, 2020). The study conducted by Rapanta et al. (2020) claims that new approaches in education are being taken to ensure the continuity of learning and training, including radio and television broadcasts to provide home study kits. New technologies have been adopted, for example, conferencing platforms, such as Zoom, WebEx, MS Teams and deep learning management systems (LMSs): Moodle, Blackboard and Google Classroom (Dias et al., 2020). Therefore, at the same time, it should be noted that the crisis served as a stimulus for innovation in education.

In regard to Saudi Arabia, in most universities in the country, the educational process of the instructional design course is performed in the form of face-to-face interaction. However, all universities have adjusted their educational process during the pandemic outbreak by shifting to an online teaching format. A course on Instructional Design in the Educational Technology Master Program at King Khalid University is offered online by this paper’s authors. The research reveals the Saudi graduate students’ opinions on online education. It aims to investigate whether they can effectively and appropriately study in such a situation. This research examined six Saudi graduate students’ perceptions and opinions towards the online course of the Educational Technology Master Program at King Khalid University.

The course Instructional Design is mandatory for all students with a major in Educational Technology. As the outcome of Covid-19 is understudied, it is vital to consider graduate students’ attitudes. Online learning and its impact on global education are of interest worldwide due to the lack of experience analysis and knowledge gap; therefore, one particular country’s example can benefit the current international research. The purpose of the study is to determine the attitude of graduate students towards online learning. It is crucial to evaluate their perception of new educational formats. Thus, the research question is about the graduate students’ perceptions, expectations, experiences, and attitudes, including positive and negative, toward their online learning experiences. It is analyzed through the perspective of graduate students’ online interactions compared to their traditional classroom experiences. The paper will provide ideas on how online learning conditions can be improved for Saudi graduate students.

Literature Review

Online Learning Worldwide and Covid-19 Effects

The studies provided all over the world examine the consequences, advantages, solutions and recommendations for online learning in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. The coronavirus contributes to moving towards online and remote learning (Dias et al., 2020). The implementation of e-learning depends on the degree of established familiarity with technologies; for instance, Chinese universities successfully adopted the video-conferencing platforms Zoom and Moodle (Ali, 2020). In contrast, some Australian educational institutions have faced difficulties with the rapid shift to online learning. Thus, the Covid-19 outcomes on the learning process rely on existing experience with digital tools.

There are various positive points to implementing online educational processes. Mukhtar et al. (2020) argue that these are remote learning, easy administration, accessibility, a comfortable environment, student-centered learning, and asynchronous learning. Regarding content, the basis for e-learning is various materials, including lectures, videos and different assignments (Rapanta et al., 2020). Students can rewatch and record lectures and use them as much as they need (Mukhtar et al., 2020). Such technologies promote the opportunity to integrate numerous types of media and enhance the anonymity of students (Rapanta et al., 2020). According to Rapanta et al. (2020), the online format benefits educational personnel in experimenting and exploring creative alternatives. To achieve quality knowledge, teachers are required to find reliable materials. Therefore, several studies claim that the shift to online learning education can bring several positive outcomes for students and educators.

Concerning the disadvantages of the Covid-19 outbreak, some aspects are disturbing the learning process. The survey conducted by Adnan and Anwar (2020) in Pakistan estimates that distance learning does not produce favorable results in developing countries. According to Adnan and Anwar (2020), in such economies, many students do not have access to the Internet due to technical and financial problems. However, 78.6% of higher education students argued that traditional learning was more effective compared to online one (Adnan & Anwar, 2020). The crucial element in education is communication between teachers and students. This aspect can significantly impact the students’ performance, whereas teachers’ support contributes to a better understanding of the course material (Rapanta et al., 2020). Hence, due to online learning, there is no clear pedagogical framework (Picciano, 2017). Consequently, distant learning might negatively impact students as the educational institutions have not determined additional pedagogical dimensions that should be considered in online learning.

Technologies Used In Online Learning

Referring to solutions taken in Covid-19 circumstances, several studies promote technological advances and educational staff competencies. The effective online learning process requires continuous faculty development. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) emphasize the need for faculty’s digital skills (Dias et al., 2020). It can be achieved through a technological backbone, stimulating learner motivation and participation in the learning process (Dias et al., 2020). Students recommend diminishing cognitive load and increasing interactivities (Mukhtar et al., 2020). According to Mukhtar et al. (2020), institutions can enhance quality by purchasing premium software and proctoring software. It is essential in detecting plagiarism in assignments and cheating on exams (Mukhtar et al., 2020). According to Dias et al. (2020), the sudden elimination of in-person classes is supposed to accelerate the adoption of OLEs as learning mediators. Hence, online education processes require quick adaptation to technological advances, focusing on the faculty’s digital skills.

Online Learning in Saudi Arabia

The educational process in Saudi Arabia is well equipped to provide opportunities for online learning. According to Tanveer et al. (2020), higher education in KSA has been developing various campaigns promoting online classes and distance learning. Although online learning is considered a new process in Saudi Arabia, most universities have been advancing on adopting e-learning to the curriculum of on-campus and distance courses (Alanazy, 2018). Before the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak, there had been a positive attitude toward online learning as it fastened the communication between the faculty members and the students (Alanazy, 2018). Implementation of online learning before the coronavirus has been perceived as a good process.

However, after the Covid-19 pandemic, the nation faces challenges and limitations regarding online learning. According to the study conducted by Tanveer et al. (2020), figures show that well over 67% of Saudi Arabia students note that shutting down the education sector may adversely affect their learning process. About a quarter of the research participants argue that assignments can be handled without external support (Tanveer et al., 2020). For instance, some medical students in Saudi Arabia claim to experience methodological challenges, technical challenges and behavioral challenges regarding the content delivery and technological hindrances of internet connectivity (Khalil et al., 2020). Particular academic projects and internships are not completed; therefore, it affects the graduates’ performance in the labor market (Khalil et al., 2020). Tanveer et al. (2020) argue that encouraging social distance and closing the campus involves pausing research projects; consequently, students experience an enormous level of stress. Overall, higher education in Saudi Arabia is ready to manage a significant volume of online learning.

Methods

Some of the literature used in the paper provides practical tools for assessing graduate students’ attitudes towards online learning. For instance, Singh (2017) analyzes questionnaires used for data collection methods in applied research to evaluate inputs. The article of Singh (2017) determines the factors of validity and reliability of such testing. Creswell and Clark (2017) explain the concept of mixed methods in terms of sociological studies. Finally, Robinson (2020) provides practical suggestions for using focus group interviews to properly assess the survey’s collected data. These studies contain the educational and methodological approach for studying graduate students’ attitudes towards the shift to online learning.

Subjects

The educational technology Master’s program at King Khalid University involves 21 graduate students, with 9 males and 12 females, being enrolled in the online instructional design course. The study’s sample consists of six graduate students (3 females and 3 males). Of the total set of graduate students, those selected are in a fourth master’s semester in the Educational Technology program, and none of them had previous experiences with online courses. The anonymity principle has been followed at all stages of the study, accompanied by using pseudonyms to keep personal data in confidence.

Online Course Format

The Instructional Design course in the Educational Technology Master Program at King Khalid University is entirely online. Students interact on the discussion board on the platform every week. The learning management system Blackboard is fully interactive. Students do not meet in person in the audience but communicate on the Internet. Course materials are submitted electronically; discussions are performed through interactive means. The Blackboard platform increases the availability of materials; the latter can be accessed anytime and anywhere. Students can receive all of their learning materials, including assignments, lecture notes, slides, hyperlinks, and audio/video applications. Every week lectures are provided regarding the coursebook, texts, and materials; a project is assigned every two weeks. The procedures are repeated for each assignment module. The platform allows learners to collaborate on the Internet; their performance is also assessed online. In the end, it requires a midterm and a final exam.

Materials

Student Attitude Survey

As part of a sociological study that reveals students’ attitudes toward online learning in terms of the educational process, students responded to 21 points of the questionnaire during the 2021 fall semester’s final week. It includes Likert-type questions from 1, which means “strongly disagree” to 5 – “strongly agree” (Singh, 2017). For the 21 items, the KR-20 reliability coefficient is.89 (Singh, 2017). The study examines open-ended questions, including students’ favorite program formats and attitudes toward distant education in advance and afterward. The research is a mixed method that uses both qualitative and quantitative methods. Researchers deliberately combine quantitative and qualitative data instead of analyzing them separately (Creswell & Clark, 2017). With the help of a Student Attitude Survey, it is possible to apply accurate estimates, quantitative research and proper qualitative research to study students’ attitudes to online learning.

Focus Group Interview

The Student Attitude Survey results had been collected; they had been coded and interpreted. After these steps, particular patterns obtained from the analysis are distinguished by the researchers. A focus group is a qualitative method of collecting information (Robinson, 2020). As it is a moderated discussion, all members of this discussion should have similar socio-demographic characteristics, attitudes or behaviors (Robinson, 2020). Therefore, a focus group interview is conducted with all six participants. The objective is to identify the models by which opinions are formed.

Moreover, it concerns obtaining personal information such as subjective opinion, position, point of view, participants’ statements to clarify or test hypotheses, collect preliminary reports on the project’s topic, and further design. Due to focus group interviews, such non-verbal responses of respondents, including gestures, postures, and voice intonation, can be observed by the interviewers (Robinson, 2020). Discussions should be handled in a quiet room, accompanied by a close-knit arrangement of people in the space to decrease all distractions (Robinson, 2020). The respondents’ attention can be maximized on the topic of discussion.

Procedure

Each graduate student engaging in the study is a member of a different group in the actual course. All participants should respond to the Student Attitude Survey after finishing the design projects. Open-ended questions are answered at the end of the Fall semester of 2021. The focus group interview with all study participants is carried out at the beginning of the following Summer semester of 2021. Regarding duration, the interview lasted approximately 90 minutes in total.

Data Analyses

Quantitative data obtained through Student Attitude Survey was assessed and rated according to the particular study inquiry. The research has provided numerical data that can be statistically analyzed to support hypotheses. Qualitative methods such as open-ended questions and focus group interviews provided details that have been recorded, transcribed, and categorized. The findings are described in the Results section and systematized the discussion with the most critical survey quotes. A comparative analysis of the replicas of the respondents is carried out in the same part.

Student Attitude Survey (Ullah et al., 2017)

  1. Online learning seems to be more convenient than traditional education.
  2. Online learning gives me a deeper understanding of the subject.
  3. I will be able to apply the information gained in online education in the future.
  4. Online learning enhances the interaction between teachers and students.
  5. I received an answer to the arisen questions promptly.
  6. The opportunity to rewatch the video of the lecture allowed me to understand the material better.
  7. The low speed of the Internet connection makes it difficult for the educational process.
  8. Online learning aggravates my social isolation.
  9. I have faced the problem of completing practical tasks without the teacher’s explanations.
  10. Students and teachers need to be taught how to work online.
  11. Online training gives me enough time to complete the assignments.
  12. Online learning assignment instructions are clear.
  13. My level of motivation has increased due to the online format.
  14. Online training develops self-management skills.
  15. It is necessary for me to study in a comfortable and familiar environment.
  16. Online learning should replace traditional education.
  17. I would like to continue studying online in the future.
  18. I will recommend online learning to other people.

Open-ended Questions

  1. What are your preferred delivery formats for this course?
  2. What do you like and what do you not like about this course?
  3. How can the course be improved?

References

Adnan, M., & Anwar, K. (2020). Online learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic: Students’ perspectives. Journal of Pedagogical Sociology and Psychology, 2(1), 45-51. Web.

Alanazy, S. M. (2018). Factors affecting faculty attitude toward adopting online learning at Aljouf University, Saudi Arabia. Journal of Education and Learning, 7(1), 154-162. Web.

Ali, W. (2020). Online and remote learning in higher education institutes: A necessity in light of COVID-19 pandemic. Higher Education Studies, 10(3), 16-25. Web.

Creswell, J. W., & Clark, V. L. P. (2017). Designing and conducting mixed methods research. Sage Publications.

Dias, S. B., Hadjileontiadou, S. J., Diniz, J., & Hadjileontiadis, L. J. (2020). DeepLMS: A deep learning predictive model for supporting online learning in the Covid-19 era. Scientific Reports, 10(1), 1-17. Web.

Khalil, R., Mansour, A. E., Fadda, W. A., Almisnid, K., Aldamegh, M., Al-Nafeesah, A., & Al-Wutayd, O. (2020). The sudden transition to synchronized online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic in Saudi Arabia: A qualitative study exploring medical students’ perspectives. BMC Medical Education, 20(1), 1-10. Web.

Mukhtar, K., Javed, K., Arooj, M., & Sethi, A. (2020). Advantages, limitations and recommendations for online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic era. Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences, 36(COVID19-S4), 27-32. Web.

Picciano, A. G. (2017). Theories and frameworks for online education: Seeking an integrated model. Online Learning, 21(3), 166–190. Web.

Rapanta, C., Botturi, L., Goodyear, P., Guàrdia, L., & Koole, M. (2020). Online university teaching during and after the Covid-19 crisis: Refocusing teacher presence and learning activity. Postdigital Science and Education, 2(3), 923-945. Web.

Robinson, J. (2020). Using focus groups. In M. R.M. Ward & S. Delamont (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research in education (pp. 338–348). Edward Elgar Publishing.

Singh, A. S. (2017). Common procedures for development, validity and reliability of a questionnaire. International Journal of Economics, Commerce and Management, 5(5), 790-801.

Tanveer, M., Bhaumik, A., Hassan, S., & Haq, I. U. (2020). Covid-19 pandemic, outbreak educational sector and students online learning in Saudi Arabia. Journal of Entrepreneurship Education, 23(3), 1-14.

Ullah, O., Khan, W., & Khan, A. (2017). Students’ attitude towards online learning at the tertiary level. PUTAJ Humanities and Social Science, 25(2), 63-82. Web.

United Nations. (2020). Policy brief: Education during COVID-19 and beyond. Web.

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