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Higher Education Open and Distance Learning Knowledge Base for Decision Makers in Arab States Needs Analysis

Submitted to: The UNESCO Cairo Office By: Dr. L. K. Gaafar1

December 2001

1 The author wishes to express his gratitude to Dr. Tariq A. Aldowaisan, the chairman of the Department of Industrial and Management Systems Engineering at KU, for his significant contribution to this study and his indispensable support, and for his valuable remarks on the final draft of this report.

Higher Education Open and Distance Learning Knowledge Base for Decision Makers in Arab States Needs Analysis

Table of Contents 1. Introduction........................................................................................................................1 2. Approach............................................................................................................................2 3. Results................................................................................................................................2 4. Conclusions........................................................................................................................6 Appendices A. An English translation of the survey questionnaire.....................................................8 B. Respondents and responses........................................................................................11

1. Introduction As the UNESCO intends to establish a Higher Education Open and Distance Learning Knowledge Base for Decision Makers in Arab States, this report is a detailed "Needs Analysis" that provides input on the design and content of such a Knowledge Base. The State of Kuwait was chosen for this "Needs Analysis" as a representative of all Arab states in the Gulf region. Kuwait is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which also encompasses Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar. The development of the intended Knowledge Base could not have come at a better time for the Arab region. The region has seen a flurry of activities related to open and distance learning over the last couple of years. This comes in the wake of a realization that open and distance learning could provide a solution to many problems facing tertiary education including increased demand and costs. Among the main activities in the region is the establishment of the Arab Open University, headquartered in the State of Kuwait. It is set to accept students for the fall semester of 2002. Also, an exceptional meeting of the Arab ministers of higher education and scientific research was held in September of 2000 to discuss a multitude of issues including open and distance learning. Kuwait has been at the center of many recent open and distance learning activities. It was chosen to host the headquarters of the Open Arab University. Kuwait University (KU) has also been chosen as the host of the GCC committee on distance learning, which is responsible for planning and supervising all activities related to distance learning in all GCC member states. KU has also made many significant efforts in the field of open and distance learning, some of which have been supported by the UNESCO. Among these activities is a workshop that the author coordinated in November of 1997 on multimedia based education and distance learning. The workshop was supported by the UNESCO Cairo Office. The UNESCO has also supported many open and distance learning related training programs at KU that started in February of 2001. KU has also recently established a Tele-Video Conferencing Lab and an Electronic Village. A specialized company has also been contracted to aid in the development of distance learning courses. This "Needs Analysis" covers the following aspects of an open and distance learning Knowledge Base: The representative tasks and challenges faced. The most pressing immediate issues. Examples of information products or queries to be answered by the intended Knowledge Base. Preferences regarding the methodology and interface of the intended Knowledge Base. Mechanisms to maintain updated information for this activity in the region. Training needs of decision makers in the field of open and distance learning.

In the remainder of this report, Section 2 describes the approach used in the "Needs Analysis," Section 3 details the results and, finally, Section 4 provides the main
Lotfi K. Gaafar Open and Distance Learning Knowledge Base- Needs Analysis

conclusions. 2. Approach The "Needs Analysis" started with a general survey of activities related to open and distance learning in the Arab world in general, and Kuwait in particular, in order to determine the target audience and design a suitable questionnaire. Many reports were surveyed and a key interview was conducted. Readings included proceedings of the exceptional meeting of the Arab ministers of higher education and scientific research, reports on distance learning activities at KU up to year 2001, and various articles on the Arab Open University (AOL). Dr. Malek G. Hussain, the chairman of KUs committee on distance learning and a consultant to the AOL was interviewed on various issues related to open and distance learning. As a result of these readings and interview, a survey containing 9 questions was developed in Arabic. The survey was tested on a small sample and revised accordingly. An English translation of the survey is included in Appendix A. The finalized survey was distributed to 20 individuals identified as key players in the area of open and distance learning in Kuwait. Individuals were chosen for current or past involvement with open and distance learning. In addition, some individuals were chosen for their potential future involvement with this type of learning. In this case, participants were instructed to respond based on their expectations not actual experiences. A total of 13 responses were received by the time of this report writing. A list of participants showing their involvement with open and distance learning is included in Appendix B. Appendix B also contains the actual responses of all participants. The following section describes the results of the survey. 3. Results The following subsections list the responses received to questions 2 through 9. Participants were allowed multiple responses on questions 2 and 3. Some also made multiple choices on questions 5 and 6. In all cases, responses are listed in a descending order of their frequencies Q2. What are the main challenges that you faced in the field of open and distance learning? Determining the role of open and distance learning in improving quality of the teaching/learning process. (46%) Determining the most suitable programs/courses for open and distance learning. (46%) Determining the role of open and distance learning in improving the quality of higher education (46%) Insuring the quality of the offered programs/courses. (38%)
Open and Distance Learning Knowledge Base- Needs Analysis

Lotfi K. Gaafar

Determining the best ways to obtain the necessary technology. (33%) Determining the required technology. (31%) Marketing open and distance learning programs. (31%) Convincing investors in the private sector of the feasibility of open and distance learning. (23%) Estimating the cost of the required equipment. (15%) Securing qualified staff for the project. (23%) Estimating the suitable price of courses offered through open and distance learning. (8%)

Additional responses that participants added are lumped and listed with those of Question 3. Q3. What are the main pressing issues related to open and distance learning in Kuwait right now? Securing official recognition of certificates awarded through open and distance learning (accreditation). (69%) Protecting the intellectual property and copyrights of course contents. (69%) Determining the best way for the private sector to participate in financing open and distance learning. (31%) Investigating the possibility of partnerships with renowned education organizations in the fields of open and distance learning. (31%) Determining the most effective ways to finance an integrated open and distance learning system. (23%) Deciding on the appropriate instructional language. (8%)

Participants also had additional comments to both questions 2 and 3. These comments were lumped together as they are closely related. Participants cite the following additional challenges and issues: The lack of unified clear standards for courses offered through open and distance learning, and the lack of clear guidelines on how to design such courses and how they differ from courses offered the traditional way. Design guidelines also have to be sensitive to the nature of the program and the type of the course being developed. It is generally felt that some programs/courses may lend themselves to open and distance learning more than others, and hence, different guidelines may be needed. Securing social acceptability of the certificates awarded through open and distance learning. This is more than mere accreditation. It involves overcoming social perceptions of the lack of seriousness in open and distance learning education, and the reluctance of the private sector to hire graduates other than those of the wellestablished governmental institutes of traditional education. Related to the point above, is the challenge of convincing potential students of the value of open and distance learning as compared to traditional learning. It is generally felt that, at least in the beginning, open and distance learning will attract mainly the less qualified students, and accordingly, programs have to
Open and Distance Learning Knowledge Base- Needs Analysis

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account for that. Open and distance learning must be made an appealing career in order to attract a qualified staff. Continuous training and career development mechanisms must be put in place to maintain the quality of the staff. The need to develop a suitable infrastructure, especially communication, to support this type of education. Key challenges in this area include the slow performance and the high cost of Internet access, and the lack of ISDN technology in Kuwait and most Gulf countries.

Q4. In your opinion, what information should be included in the intended Knowledge Base, in light of the challenges and issues indicated above? Participants listed the following information items for inclusion in the intended Knowledge Base: A list of educational institutes in the Arab world that apply, or are in the process of applying, open and distance learning partially or completely, and a list of their websites. A list of programming companies in the Arab world with experience in developing courses for open and distance learning. A classified list of open and distance learning experts and their contact information. Guidelines and standards for developing open and distance learning courses linked to samples of real courses. A catalog of successful open and distance learning programs and courses in the region. Results of research related to open and distance learning. A list of accreditation bodies and their contact information. A list of pioneering organizations in open and distance learning that may lend support or participate in partnerships. Available technology to support open and distance learning, and its suitable applications, sources, and cost. Both software and hardware should be covered. A list of organizations that may support or supply technology relevant to open and distance learning. A list of organizations that may be interested in financially supporting or investing in open and distance learning. Simple tutorials on technologies used in open and distance learning. Updated statistics on: available programs and courses, students attitudes, students performance, job placement of graduates, and comparisons with traditional learning. Case studies on the application of open and distance learning. Training resources on open and distance learning. Common regulations of open and distance learning programs. Guidelines on protecting intellectual properties and copyrights of courses.

Additional items are listed with responses to question 9.

Lotfi K. Gaafar

Open and Distance Learning Knowledge Base- Needs Analysis

Q5. What is your preferred interface for this resource? Through the Internet (77%) Local area network maintained by a global entity. (23%) Using compact disks (CDs) on a personal computer (PC). (23%) A suggestion was also made to use printed materials. Q6. What is your preferred media for this resource? Using multimedia (85%) Plain text (23%) Q7. What are the most suitable ways to continuously update the intended Knowledge Base, especially concerning information from Kuwait and the Gulf region? While many responses were received for this question, only the two following responses were directly related to the question: Allowing participants to modify or update their information in the Knowledge Base through the Internet. Establishing a central entity, with branches in all Gulf countries, to collect and update all information from the Gulf area.

The remaining responses revolved around encouraging open and distance learning in general, and encouraging information exchanges in the field. Q8. What are the training needs of decision makers in the field of Open and Distance Learning at the tertiary level in Kuwait? Participants saw the need for decision makers to receive training and continuous updates on the following topics: The infrastructure required to support open and distance learning. Available open and distance learning technology, especially communication, and its suitable applications. Administration of open and distance learning programs. Competencies needed for various aspects of open and distance learning. Addressing open and distance learning as a complete integrated system. Multimedia based education. Using the Knowledge Base and accessing the most recent information in the field. Awareness of Internet-based course management programs (e.g., WebCT).

Q9. Do you have any additional information or suggestions in the field of preparing the intended Knowledge Base?
Lotfi K. Gaafar Open and Distance Learning Knowledge Base- Needs Analysis

Most of the responses to this question were combined with responses to other questions as appropriate. However, the following responses are worth emphasizing: The importance of building on successful experiences of others. A suggestion was made to include such successes as case studies in the Knowledge Base. The Knowledge Base must provide information on training resources on open and distance learning, and include samples where applicable. The Knowledge Base must include common regulations of open and distance learning programs, and if applicable, reference education standards. The Knowledge Base should provide guidance on how to update regulations of conventional education to accommodate open and distance learning. Holding regular meetings for exchanging information among professionals of open and distance learning. Updating interested parties on the status of the Knowledge Base development. A suggestion was made to develop a mailing list for this purpose. It is highly recommended that the Knowledge Base be implement on the Internet and in this case provide the appropriate links to all information available.

4. Conclusions The increasing open and distance learning activities in the Arab world in general, and in Kuwait and the Gulf, in particular, emphasize the importance of the intended Knowledge Base. In general, results of the survey questionnaire reconfirm many of the points encountered in the various reports examined at the beginning of this study. Based on these results, decision makers need support on many aspects of open and distance learning including technical, social, and administrative. The various technological options for implementing open and distance learning need to be explained along with the best application for each technology and its source and cost elements. This should include technologies needed to directly support learning as well as those needed for the infrastructure of open and distance learning. Case studies and key statistics on successful experiences are needed to convince communities to take open and distance learning and its graduates seriously. This includes both potential students and potential employers. Also, as the great majority of university administrators, faculty, and staff are graduates of traditional education systems, planning, organizing, and managing open and distance learning will be a challenging task for most of them. The Knowledge Base must provide sound support in this area, and regular and extensive training programs on administrative issues must be made available to key decision makers. Finally, it is important that key individuals in the area be continuously updated on the status of the development of the intended Knowledge Base to maximize its utility and potential for success.

Lotfi K. Gaafar

Open and Distance Learning Knowledge Base- Needs Analysis

Appendix A An English translation of the survey

Lotfi K. Gaafar

Open and Distance Learning Knowledge Base- Needs Analysis

Background Information: Name: Current Job: Current Employer: Best way to reach you: Q1. What are the task(s) through which you worked in the field of open and distance learning (Currently or over the past five years)?

Q2. What are the main challenges that you faced in the field of open and distance learning? (Please choose all answers that apply) Determining the required technology. Determining the best ways to obtain the necessary technology. Estimating the cost of the required equipment. Marketing open and distance learning programs. Estimating the suitable price of courses offered through open and distance learning. Determining the most suitable programs/courses for open and distance learning. Insuring the quality of the offered programs/courses. Determining the role of open and distance learning in improving the quality of higher education. Convincing investors in the private sector of the feasibility of open and distance learning. Securing qualified staff for the project. Other challenges (please list):

Q3. What are the main pressing issues related to open and distance learning in Kuwait right now? (Please choose all answers that apply) Determining the most effective ways to finance an integrated open and distance learning system. Determining the best way for the private sector to participate in financing open and distance learning. Securing official recognition of certificates awarded through open and distance learning. Deciding on the appropriate instructional language. Protecting the intellectual property and copyrights of course contents. Investigating the possibility of partnerships with renowned education organizations in the fields of open and distance learning. Other issues (please list):

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Q4. In your opinion, what information should be included in the intended Knowledge Base, in light of the challenges and issues indicated above?

Q5. What is your preferred interface for this resource? Using compact disks (CDs) on a personal computer (PC). Through the Internet. Local area network maintained by a global entity. Others (please specify):

Q6. What is your preferred media for this resource? Using multimedia. Plain text. Others (please specify):

Q7. What are the most suitable ways to continuously update the intended Knowledge Base, especially concerning information from Kuwait and the Gulf region? Q8. What are the training needs of decision makers in the field of Open and Distance Learning at the tertiary level in Kuwait? Q9. Do you have any additional information or suggestions in the field of preparing the intended Knowledge Base?

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Appendix B List of Participants

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List of Participants The following individuals on the current list of target audience are: Name Prof. Malek G. Hussain Prof. Walid Bouhamra Prof. Kazem Albahrany* Prof. Jamal Al-Hajji Dr. Mansour Jeragh* Mr. Ali AlShammari Dr. Ziad Nijm* Dr. Fawaz Alanzi Dr. Mohamed Almulla* Dr. Mirza Hassan* Dr. Tariq A. Al-Dowaisan Dr. Khalid Alreshid* Open and distance learning involvement Head of committee on open and distance learning in Kuwait Member of the executive office of the Arab Open University Responsible for implementing distance learning at Kuwait University Head of the GCC committee on higher education. Consultant for distance learning planning and follow up, KU. Member of committee on open and distance learning in Kuwait Administered a distance learning course as the director of KUs community service center. Member of committee on open and distance learning in Kuwait Did a Master thesis on the design of databases for distance learning. Member of the Canadian committee on distance learning. Member of committee on open and distance learning in Kuwait Director of the college of Engineering and Petroleums information and multimedia office responsible for distance learning activities. Assistant to the vice president on decision support, KU Will be involved in future activities as the dean of the college of administrative sciences Will be involved in future activities as the chairman of the Department of Industrial Engineering. May be involved in future activities.

Dr. Mohamed Alrefai* May be involved in future activities. * Name spelling may not be accurate, as it was only available in Arabic.

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