Higher Education and Current E-Learning Potential in the MENA Region: Analysis of the Current Challenges and Opportunities for E-Learning in the MENA Region

Higher Education and Current E-Learning Potential in the MENA Region: Analysis of the Current Challenges and Opportunities for E-Learning in the MENA Region

Henry C. Alphin Jr. (Drexel University, USA), Jennie Lavine (HCT, UAE), Richard J. Croome (HCT, UAE) and Adam J. Hocker (Pennsylvania State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0047-6.ch004
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Abstract

Project management theory provides an organized, cost-effective approach to providing an accessible e-learning environment. Such a collaborative project has the opportunity to bring together such professionals as instructional designers, disability services staff, and institutional researchers. Accessibility as an afterthought is a costly approach, and disabled students are a large enough minority to seek equality of opportunity. E-learning accessibility empowers the individual by providing educational content in formats that not only encourage collaboration and learning, but also reduce frustration and develop a sense of inclusiveness. A project manager who understands the importance of e-learning accessibility will be able to grow the project from the ground up in a manner that empowers the disabled, while benefiting all learners. In the MENA region, urban and rural, poor and rich, all contribute to the possibilities of being able to access education and technological factors inhibit or allow access to online or e-learning.
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Introduction

Information technology has transformed the higher education landscape while subsequently enhancing educational opportunity for myriad students. E-learning courses can now be found in research universities, liberal arts colleges, and regional community colleges. Yet, as e-learning matures and students continue to take advantage of such opportunity, it is evident that knowledge exchange through the transfer of digitized information will require accessibility initiatives in order to be inclusive. Accessibility for disabled students is usually the mission of the office of disability services (ODS) or a similar arrangement, and directors in these positions often lack the influential vice president title. Major efforts to increase accessibility for disabled college students are often responses to legal mandates or high profile struggles. In order to resolve a U.S. Department of Justice civil rights complaint, the Pennsylvania State University worked closely with the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) to develop an accessibility strategy for blind students, faculty, and staff (Cummings, 2011). Many leaders of institutions of higher education (IHEs) watched the Penn State case closely, because they know that the implications will affect higher education globally. However, colleges and universities can take a more proactive approach toward accessibility for disabled students, rather than a reactionary approach aligned solely toward legalities. E-learning has been revolutionary for disabled students because of the possibility of multiple formats of content. Instead of a traditional role of face-to-face (F2F) content delivery, college students can listen to audio recordings, watch videos, participate in discussion boards, work in virtual groups, and involve themselves in asynchronous and synchronous learning endeavors. Instead of relying on traditional textbooks which “froze information in a single format” (Coombs, 2010, p.1), information technology exposes the student to as many formats of knowledge exchange as the instructor or IT department are willing to offer. Successful e-learning programs that incorporate accessibility components into the entire structure of the process will be best prepared to meet the needs of disabled students. It is much more costly to implement accessibility as an afterthought. Therefore, providing a structure with accessibility in mind on top of a flexible foundation while anticipating changes to meet the needs of learners is an economically efficient formula. Project management theories provide optimal organization processes for implementing e-learning programs and courses.

Disability in the MENA region is a difficult topic to research. Often, MENA region countries do not account for their disabled population, so there is little room for improving opportunities for the disabled population. Navigating the culture of concern and stigma toward disability in the MENA region will be a challenge, but e-learning provides an opportunity for previously forgotten students to excel. A structured approach toward e-learning program development and a positive change in disability culture will benefit the region economically while developing a stronger workforce.

  • 1.

    How integrated is e-learning culture in higher education within the MENA region?

  • 2.

    What are the social, political, and socioeconomic challenges of further integrating e-learning into MENA higher education?

  • 3.

    What are the social, political, and socioeconomic challenges of disability within the MENA region?

  • 4.

    What is the size of the disabled higher education student population within the MENA region? (How is disability defined in the region, as well? Would this include women within a broader disadvantaged perspective? Or do we completely change the disability component to disadvantaged?)

  • 5.

    How can a project management approach assist in providing a suitable structure for higher education e-learning accessibility within the MENA region?

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