Investigating behaviours and attitudes towards the use of social media as a learning technology among higher education students in Saudi Arabia

  • Fatimah Algarni

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

One of the most interesting recent developments in the field of education is the transformation of
students from mere consumers of knowledge to active producers, owing to the proliferation of
technology and social media. Extant literature has focused on this aspect extensively, analysing
how social media has changed the attitudes and behaviour of students, allowing them to freely
express their opinions, and the consequent implications of the same towards teaching and learning.

Most of these studies however, are based on Western institutions and users, where social media
interactions between teachers and students, as well as contributions from students are relatively
common. The findings of these studies may therefore not be applicable in contexts and cultures
where such interactions and contributions are not common, such as the Saudi Arabian education
system. While some studies have indicated that present-day students in Saudi Arabia consider
themselves as part of the “connected generation” and have favourable attitudes towards the use of
social media for learning, research in this context remains scarce. There is very little known about
the ways in which social media is being used as a learning technology within the Saudi higher
education systems and the extent to which it is effective.

This thesis therefore investigates the behaviour and attitudes of higher education students in Saudi
Arabia towards the use of social media as a learning technology as well as the use of social media
by teachers and Universities in Saudi Arabia for teaching and learning. Drawing on prominent
educational and cultural theories, the study highlights the mediating role of culture, disciplinary
and gender differences in driving the current and potential uses, and implications of integrating
social media into higher education in Saudi Arabia.

In order to fulfil the research objectives, the thesis employs a mixed mode methodology focusing
on students, teachers and administrators from three Universities in Saudi Arabia – King Saud
University, Princess Nourah University and Al-Emam University. The research design comprises
a primary quantitative strand consisting of surveys with three groups of participants from the
selected Universities, and a secondary qualitative strand consisting of interviews with a subset of
all the three groups of participants. The quantitative data is analysed using a variety of statistical
tests and the qualitative data is analysed using thematic analysis.

The findings of the study demonstrate that while the behaviours and attitudes of students and
teachers in Saudi higher education corroborate existing studies and assumptions to some extent,
they also deviate from them in several ways. Key deviations include the way technology is
enabling change in attitudes and practices in the Saudi Arabian education system. Social media is
already being used by students, teachers and Universities both inside and outside the classrooms
to aid communication, information seeking, information sharing, collaboration and various other
teaching and learning activities. While it could be argued that these are supplements to teaching
and the essential nature of teaching and learning remains the same, it nevertheless shows a
paradigm shift as far as Saudi's educational culture is concerned, in that it challenges the notion of
Saudi educational institutions as strict, instructor-controlled, one-way communication systems. To
this end, the use of social media as a learning technology is already prevalent.

The findings also reveal areas where the use of social media for learning remains limited, a certain
lack of social media policy guidelines for teachers, a variety of barriers for further integration of
social media into Saudi higher education, and several differences in the attitudes of staff and
students towards use of social media as a learning technology. The findings also highlight the
definitive roles that culture and gender play in driving the social media behaviour and attitudes of
the participants. Overall, the findings not only shed light on the ways in which social media is
currently being used in Saudi higher education, but also highlight the gaps that can be filled, the
concerns that must be addressed, and the critical success factors that must be ensured in order to
enable continued use and successful further integration of social media as a learning technology
into the realm of Saudi higher education. The contribution to knowledge in this study is presented
as an implementation model for advancing the use of social media as a learning technology in
Saudi higher education.
Date of AwardMar 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorDeshinder Singh Gill (Supervisor), Sue Greener (Supervisor) & Katie Piatt (Supervisor)

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