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2002 Let my laptop lead the way: A Middle Eastern Study

Date: 2002
Author: Bradley Saunders, Phil Quirke
Affiliation: Zayed University, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi Men's College, Abu Dhabi
Keywords: gender differences, cultural factors, infrastructure and support, faculty affect, United Arab Emigrates


This paper describes the experiences of both students and faculty in two tertiary institutions in the Middle East: a university for women and a vocational college for men. Both of these institutions have recently made it mandatory for students to purchase a laptop computer.

This paper explores the four major factors to consider when introducing new technological innovations into the curriculum. These are:

1. Culture

2. Gender

3. Infrastructure and support

4. Faculty

If any of these four are ignored, the introduction of technology is likely to be complicated.

Key Findings:

Gender Differences:

In accordance with Islamic teaching, education is only co-educational at the kindergarten level (Al-Adhab, 1992). Hence, the majority of students in the institutions in this study had never been taught by a teacher of the opposite sex. Gender differences were observed in this study. Male students expected the new technology to offer them quick and easy answers and were quick to help each other in a predominately individual or preferred-pair work approach. Girls were more interested in how they could reach a high quality final product through interactive group work.

Cultural Factors:

The UAE is a fast developing modern country with the latest technological benefits of the modern age at every corner. Nevertheless, the culture of the UAE is rooted in the tradition and heritage of their Bedouin forefathers and their deeply held Islamic beliefs. These factors play a large role in the daily life of the modern Emirati student and, in the opinions of the students themselves, enhance their openness to new ways of learning. The secondary schooling system remains very traditional with teacher-led classes. Secondary education emphasises rote learning and memorisation. Therefore, despite great progress in the last few years, many tertiary students enter university and college with a need for improved critical thinking skills (Daniel, 2001). The introduction of laptops has accelerated this development as it creates a new learning paradigm based on more student responsibility and more emphasis on research skills and project work supported by alternative modes of assessment. In the beginning, students struggled as they were guided how to find answers to their own questions rather than being provided with an all-knowing teacher.

Infrastructure and support:

At the women's university, Information Support installed over a thousand network sockets in a very short period of time to produce a truly enviable technology-rich learning environment. Later, faculty expressed concern about the restrictions of free movement in the classrooms caused by the positioning of the sockets and the pedagogical problems this caused. In the male vocational college, which is currently in the process of moving to wireless technology, the faculty were frustrated by technical difficulties. Hours were spent preparing classes which then might be scrapped as servers failed or laptops crashed. Customary technical faults became major concerns and have led to plans for a significant increase of bandwidth and server strength. Clearly, such technical considerations play a major role in the success or failure of the technology-rich learning environment.


The faculty affective factors were seen by all concerned as the most important factor of the four, because they believed that if they were not considered, the planning required would be faulty. The authors noticed that the introduction did, as stated above, involve the movement of the curriculum into a new learning paradigm that placed more responsibility on the students. This shift requires a similar shift in the teaching and learning approaches followed by the faculty. Such a change is never easy to manage and must be carefully planned.


Whilst the cultural factors may not affect the programme greatly, it is believed that planners should be aware of these factors. The experiences gleaned from this study support the view that computer-based study is more effective when delivered to single-sex classes in this cultural setting. It is suggested that a clear infrastructure and strong institutional support is required to ease the extra faculty workload brought about by the implementation of laptops and the concomitant shift in learning paradigm. Finally, planners must take into consideration the faculty affective factors if any such program is to be introduced successfully.

Source Article: http://www.ifets.info/journals/5_1/saunders.html