The research will be dedicated to the examination of perspectives of e-learning through Blackboard on classroom instruction. The significance of this study is determined by the current role of e-learning in the education system. In the present day, more and more educational facilities, especially higher education institutions, implement e-learning to support or substitute traditional learning. At the same time, there are still multiple barriers and limitations for its successful application that should be assessed to ensure the development of e-learning that facilitates communication, considers learner’s differences, provides access to a huge amount of information, and helps educators deliver materials. The study will apply the quantitative descriptive method with data collection through semi-structured interviews efficient in the case of small-scale research as they provide a highly flexible technique when the study is characterized by an open framework. The participants will be the members of the Faculty of Educational Graduate Studies of King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah. For data reliability, sampling, methodology, design, and data analysis will correspond to the subject of the research, and will be appropriate for answering research questions and making conclusions. The reliability of data will be determined by participants’ competency in education and experience of Blackboard’s use in classroom instruction.
The current proposal refers to the study that will be conducted in order to examine the perspectives of e-learning through Blackboard on classroom instruction on the basis of its perception by the members of the Faculty of Educational Graduate Studies of King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah. The significance of this research is determined by the fact that e-learning has already become an intrinsic component of education in modern realities. Moreover, it is regarded as one of the best education methods, especially for higher educational facilities as it has several substantial benefits (Arkorful & Abaidoo, 2015). In the case of e-learning that fully or partially substitute the traditional education process, its flexibility in relation to place and time should be taken into consideration (Politis & Politis, 2016). In other words, e-learning tools provide an opportunity to choose personally when and where to study (Rubens et al., 2012). Moreover, e-learning ensures that students have access to a huge amount of information via the Internet and facilitates communication between educators and learners (Arkorful & Abaidoo, 2015). It may even improve communication skills by eliminating fear of face-to-face talking.
E-learning is a cost-efficient type of learning that may be highly useful in the case of education staff shortages. It considers learners’ differences more efficiently in comparison with traditional learning allowing self-pacing and individual academic progress. There are multiple digital tools that enable e-learning, and one of them is Blackboard, a specific internet-based course-management system that allows faculty and students to use online activities and materials to support face-to-face teaching and participate in online classes.
In a considerable number of higher education institutions, Blackboard has already been applied for online classes and classroom instructions. However, e-learning initiatives’ development does not reach its advanced stages in the Middle East (Al-Azawei, 2016; Al-Asmari & Khan, 2014; Bhuasiri et al., 2012). In addition, both educators and students experience difficulties in using these e-learning tools, and multiple barriers for their efficient application may be observed (Alshahrani & Al-Shehri, 2012). Thus, as the technologies for e-learning will continue to develop, it is essential to examine its perspectives on the basis of the current situation and educators’ perception of e-learning tools’ efficiency and accessibility. In this case, a descriptive qualitative study will be conducted with data collection through semi-structured interviews in order to answer the research question:
- How may e-learning through Blackboard on classroom instruction be improved to provide the most acceptable outcomes?
At the same time, this complex question will be supported and will logically derive from the following additional question that will be answered during the research:
- How do educators perceive contemporary e-learning and evaluate their competency in their use, including the use of Blackboard on classroom instruction?
- What limitations and barriers for Blackboard’s successful implementation and its use by educators do exist?
General Background of E-Learning
In recent years, the Internet has already become an intrinsic part of people’s lives all over the world. In relation to education, it is currently a vital way that makes resources for learning and research available for both students and teachers to acquire and share information (Purwantoro, 2021). As a matter of fact, modern e-learning is characterized by the use of technological advancements and the Internet to teach learners, produce or collect learning materials, and regulate courses in education facilities (Arkorful & Abaidoo, 2015). As a concept, e-learning covers a wide range of learning methods, applications, and processes.
There is no common definition of e-learning, as the term is perceived by researchers and users in different ways. In the broadest sense, it is any learning enabled electronically and empowered by digital communication and information technologies (Rennie & Morrison, 2013). Moreover, in some definitions, e-learning encompasses the offering of fully online courses, while some experts state that e-learning presupposes the use of technology in order to deliver a part or the whole course independently from a permanent place and time (Al-Mubireek, 2019). According to the European Commission, e-learning is “the use of new multimedia technologies and the Internet to increase learning quality by easing access to facilities and services as well as distant exchanges and collaboration” (Arkorful & Abaidoo, 2015, p. 30). In addition, it includes online-distance learning, distributed learning, and hybrid learning.
The most comprehensive definition of e-learning that will be addressed in this proposal was initially formulated by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). According to the Centre of Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) on the basis of OECD, the common vision of e-learning is not currently achievable in practice (OECD, n.d.). In other words, the idea that due to e-learning, a student will follow prestigious overseas universities’ entire courses comfortably from their own home without cost-inefficient living abroad and other inconveniences has failed to materialize. Students are still attached to classrooms at least partially as the peculiarities of this type of education are essential for efficient learning. That is why, OECD defines e-learning as “the use of information and communication technologies in diverse processes of education to support and enhance learning in institutions of higher education, and includes the usage of information and communication technology as a complement to traditional classrooms, online learning or mixing the two modes” (Arkorful & Abaidoo, 2015, p. 30). In this case, it facilitates the attainment of knowledge through the distribution of information by electronic means.
Initially, e-learning was perceived as the transmission of information to distant locations in the format of video presentations. However, subsequently, it was found out that e-learnings features are centered on digital devices and the Internet, and the Internet, along with the development of communications technologies, has transformed distance learning into e-learning (Arkorful & Abaidoo, 2015; Sangrà et al., 2012). Regarded as a revolutionary phenomenon, e-learning is believed to be able to turn education into an interactive, self-paced, repetitious, and customizable process (Afghani, 2021). Thus, to be distinguished from other types, e-learning should obtain the following characteristics:
- The presence of a multimedia environment (Garrison, 2011; Carliner & Shank, 2016);
- The incorporation of several types of information;
- Support for collaborative communication (Boud & Cohen, 2014; Lou et al., 2017);
- The provision of student-centered education (Wright, 2011);
- Learners’ control over education processes;
- Support for networks for information accessing;
- Free implementation of education systems on various digital devices.
In universities, a new learning environment focused on electronic networks allows students to individualize learning schedules and support. In comparison with the traditional learning environment, e-learning facilitates collaboration and interaction between peers and instructors (Mathew et al., 2019). In addition, the use of multimedia makes the educational process more interesting, productive, and active. In relation to higher education, e-learning may empower students to maintain their own careers, pursue personal objectives, and acquire education at the same time (Elfeky et al., 2020). In general, e-learning may be divided into computer-based and internet-based on the basis of its engagement in education (Algahtani, 2011). Thus, computer-based e-learning implies the use of software and hardware for computer-assisted learning and computer-managed instruction. However, computer-based learning is suitable for self-learning outside the classroom or as a tool suitable for support within the class (Moore et al., 2011). In this way, computers are applied for information storing and retrieving to aid in education management.
In turn, internet-based e-learning presupposes a substantively wider range of opportunities for education to Internet access. On the basis of an instructor’s involvement, computer-based learning is divided into assistant, blended or mixed, and online modes. The assistant mode is used in the classroom along with traditional learning. Both mixed and blended modes offer individual learning and traditional classes or the use of e-learning tools to support traditional teaching in the classroom (Zuvic-Butorac et al., 2011; Graham et al., 2013). Finally, online mode is completely individual learning with exclusive use of learning networks.
Blackboard and Its Utilization by Faculty
Blackboard is a specific internet-based course-management system that was designed to allow faculty and students to use online activities and materials to support face-to-face teaching and participate in online classes. It is a learning management system (LMS) used as a course information repository and a medium of communication through announcements, emails, podcasts, or discussion boards (Alokluk, 2018). In addition, it facilitates information delivery in the classroom – traditional boards are no longer required (Lau et al., 2014). This e-learning tool enables educators to provide course materials, virtual chat, academic resource centers, online quizzes, and many other activities (Blackboard, n,d,). Every faculty independently chooses the degree of Blackboard’s use within a particular course. For instance, the tool may be applied as a supplement to classroom teaching through putting handouts and syllabus on course sites; in contrast, instructors may conduct classes entirely through Blackboard (Alenezi & Shahi, 2015). It delivers learner-focused and personalized content and activities and promotes engaged learning and interactivity.
In general, the use of Blackboard predominantly depends on users’ efficiency and educators’ competency in relation to e-learning technologies. Thus, users need to know how to utilize the tool to facilitate the educational process (Aljawarneh, 2020). Otherwise, technological progress will not contribute to efficient learning but deteriorate it (Trelease, 2016). In turn, with the help of Blackboard, teachers may provide quality support for students and teach them how to “select, combine, coordinate their cognitive strategies in connection to the new knowledge, and prompted to reflect on their strategy use, extending their metacognitive knowledge with strategy and capacity beliefs” (Alokluk, 2018, p. 135). At the same time, if educators use the tool incompetently, it becomes non-useful to students (Subramanian et al., 2014; Oye et al., 2011). Thus, educators’ competency implies technology literacy and the ability to integrate digital tools in student-centered learning.
In faculty settings, educators play a vital role in providing e-learning and ensuring that learning-related tools, including Blackboard, promote efficient student-centered learning (Alturise, 2020; Fryer & Bovee, 2016). They are responsible for generating the content that will be both appropriate and interesting for students, gathering sources relevant to the course’s subject, grouping collected data into regular portions or modules, and giving structured material to students (Mohsen & Shafeeq, 2014). In general, course-management software helps professors at universities bring “new levels of interaction both among students and between students and professors” and organize courses in a more professional way (Alokluk, 2018, p. 136). At the same time, Blackboard is frequently perceived as difficult to use and inflexible for faculty and students.
This perception is traditionally determined by the tool’s limitations and a lack of educators’ technical competency. According to Alokluk (2018), only 23% of teachers feel confident using e-learning technologies. The University of Wisconsin System (UWS) conducted a study that aimed to explore how Blackboard is used by faculty members (Prescott, 2013). Its key findings demonstrated the following:
- Poor rates of LMS uptake due to faculty’s fear of losing control over the educational process and belief in LMS procedures’ negative impact on pedagogy;
- The majority of faculty use LMS only for the presentation of content – interactive parts of the tool, including quizzes, tests, and surveys, are used less in comparison with static ones;
- The adoption of LMS is perceived as a part of class management rather than pedagogy;
- The use of E-learning tools is mostly caused by the persuasion of deans and departmental chairs;
- The majority of faculty members mention the necessity of adequate training related to e-learning software for its efficient implementation and regular use by all participants of the academic process.
For the research, the descriptive qualitative method will be used, and the expediency of its application is determined by several factors. First of all, data will be collected through semi-structured interviews with faculty, thus for non-numerical descriptive data, the qualitative approach should be utilized. Moreover, this method will allow to identify teachers’ unique experience and perception of e-learning with the use of Blackboard, its current scope, and opportunities or hindrances of its development in the future. The benefit of the descriptive qualitative method is in its ability to form and examine the most comprehensive data set related to the subject matter (Dharma et al., 2017). In other words, participants’ answers will present the vision of e-learning application in the universities of Saudi Arabia in detail to make relevant conclusions. Finally, by setting semantic categories, the use of this method will allow a discourse and related content analysis, guarantee high validity, and reduce inappropriate interpretations (Fandiño et al., 2019). On the basis of data analysis, the study will provide particular recommendations that may be considered and applied for the improvement of e-learning for higher education.
The participants of the research will be teachers of the Faculty of Educational Graduate Studies of King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah. The selection’s criterion will be a previous use of e-learning tools, including Blackboard, during classes. In this case, the participants familiar with the subject of the research will be able to provide a professional and reliable opinion. Invitations for faculty members who are involved in e-learning teaching with the use of Blackboard on classroom instruction will be sent via email, and those educators who will accept them will be connected by phone in order to confirm their participation. It is expected to invite 10-15 faculty members – this number is determined by the necessity to provide relevant and valid results within the framework of a relatively wide data scope. In addition, the findings of this research will show whether a greater number of participants is required.
As a matter of fact, semi-structured interviews are efficient in the case of small-scale research as they provide a highly flexible technique when the study is characterized by an open framework. Every interview will be conducted individually within an hour in a secure place. Every conversation will be recorded in audio format for subsequent transcription and semantic analysis. The latter will be used to extract and categorize meaningful information from data that may be unstructured. In general, the interview will be based on the following questions, however, the participant will be free to leave their comment concerning any aspect of the subject matter:
- How would you define the main purposes of e-learning?
- What advantages and disadvantages of e-learning do you see?
- For what purposes do you use e-learning tools, including Blackboard?
- What pedagogic goals does it facilitate?
- To what extent are the objectives of learning with the use of Blackboard achieved?
- To what extent do you use Blackboard?
- Do you define yourself as a confident user of this tool?
- What difficulties do you experience when using this tool?
- What limitations or barriers do you see for obtaining more technology literacy in relation to this tool?
- What main factors encourage faculty members to increase or, in turn, decrease the usage of Blackboard on classroom instructions?
- According to your perception, what is the attitude of students to e-learning?
- Are they satisfied with using Blackboard?
- What difficulties do they experience when using it?
- From your personal perspective, how can these difficulties be mitigated?
- Is there any other e-learning tool that may be more applicable for faculty in the future?
Data Validity and Reliability
In qualitative research, data validity refers to the appropriateness of information, processes, and tools. In other words, it defines “whether the research question is valid for the desired outcome, the choice of methodology is appropriate for answering the research question, the design is valid for the methodology, the sampling and data analysis is appropriate, and finally the results and conclusions are valid for the sample and context” (Leung, 2015, p. 325). For this study, sampling, methodology, and data analysis correspond to the subject of the research, and are appropriate for answering research questions and making conclusions. As previously mentioned, semi-structured interviews are suitable for a small-scale study to provide an appropriate data scope.
In turn, the reliability of this qualitative research depends on the reliability of the collected data. As information will be provided by competent educators with experience in working with e-learning tools, results may be regarded as reliable. At the same time, the human factor of subjectivity and the possibility of participants forgetting or misinterpreting some information should be taken into consideration as well (Noble & Smith, 2015). Nevertheless, the subject of research allows some subjectivity as it will examine the perception of individuals on the basis of their knowledge and experience to provide insight into perspectives of e-learning with the use of Blackboard for the improvement of its quality in the future.
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