Education Outcomes for Saudi Women

Methodology

Introduction

The methodology is the process of instructing the ways to do the research. It is, therefore, convenient for conducting the research and for analyzing the research questions. The process of methodology insists that much care should be given to the kinds and nature of procedures to be adhered to in accomplishing a given set of procedures or an objective. This section contains the research design, study population, and the sampling techniques that will be used to collect data for the study. It also details the data analysis methods, ethical considerations, validity and reliability of data, and the limitation of the study.

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Research philosophy

For this part, choosing a philosophy of research design is the choice between the positivist and the social constructionist (Easterby, 2008). The positivist view shows that social worlds exist externally, and its properties are supposed to be measured objectively, rather than being inferred subjectively through feelings, intuition, or reflection. The basic beliefs for the positivist view are that the observer is independent, and science is free of value. The researchers should always concentrate on facts, look for causality and basic laws, reduce phenomenon to the simplest elements, and form hypotheses and test them.

Preferred methods for positivism consist of making concepts operational and taking large samples. While on the other hand, social constructionists hold the view that reality is subjective and it is socially constructed and given meaning by people. The researchers should concentrate on meaning, look for an understanding of what happened, and develop ideas about the data. Preferred methods for social constructionists include using different approaches to establish different views of the phenomenon and small samples evaluated in-depth or over time (Saunders, 2009). For the case of analyzing the impacts of Social Media and electronic mediating to improve education outcomes for Saudi women in Electronic mix multi genders, the philosophy of the social constructionists was used for carrying out the research. Because it tends to produce qualitative data, and the data are subjective since the gathering process would also be subjective due to the involvement of the researcher.

Research design

This research used qualitative methods to collect and analyze field data. The use of qualitative research helped to explore the impacts of social media and electronic mediating to improve education outcomes for Saudi women in electronic mix multi genders. Moreover, qualitative research also assisted in gaining real insight into the culture of education for Saudi students and helped in understanding the results of this study.

Research approach

Qualitative research is a way of research question captured in various academic fields of study, conventionally used in the social sciences, but also research on the market and other areas (Snell & Dean, 1992). The qualitative method investigates the question as to how and why decision making is carried out; hence, focused and smaller samples are more frequently preferred to huge samples (Skinner, 1953). In particular cases studied, qualitative methods produced only information, and any more general findings were only conjectures (guesses on informative). Quantitative methods on the other hand-verified the validity and truthfulness of the hypotheses (Romzek, 1989). Creech (1995) further asserts that qualitative methods can be explained as a source of data or an explanation based on the dimensions of the graph or a non-mathematical data collection.

Data collection

There were two stages involved in collecting the data. The first stage relied on several focus group interviews, which took place in New Zealand at Waikato University. The second stage of the data collection process involved an action research study with three different class situations and interventions at three universities in Saudi Arabia. The universities were King Saud University, Waikato University, and Imam Mohammad University. The participants in each stage were Saudi female students and both female and male lecturers in the universities. Students who participated in this study were mainly undergraduate students from different majors.

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Stage one

The first stage of the research was an exploratory study of focus group interviews, one for the males and the other for the female Saudi students in New Zealand. A focus group interview is a qualitative research technique; hence, the research was started in New Zealand where there is a large number of Saudi students including males and females who came to study at the Waikato University. This was a good chance to gather some background information about their learning experience. Saudi students in New Zealand have a comparative learning experience because they came from diverse cultures and different education systems. The focus group participants were mainly post-graduate students at Waikato University who had experience with online papers during their study. Those graduated students had the learning experience in two different situations. They studied for their Bachelors in Saudi Arabia and were granted scholarships from the Saudi government to complete their higher education overseas.

A suitable way for gathering the information is a focus group interview which is a qualitative research technique. This type of technique is mostly used in marketing researches to reflect the customer’s attitude about new products. The main reason for using the focus group in this research is different from the decision to use the focus group on the marketing researches; for instance, it aims to get basic information from the Saudi students’ experiences in two different cultures. Moreover, the focus group interviewees were selected carefully as they shared the same situation. According to Krueger and Casey (2000), a focus group could be more naturalistic. In other words, it allowed participants to speak freely without controlling them. One of the advantages of a focus group interview is that it gave the researcher a chance to observe the actions, body language, and facial expressions that were relevant in explaining the participants’ messages about what they wanted to say.

The goal of the focus group is to get an overview of human behavior about generalizing the results. Focus group is a social type of interviewing, each participant is involved in the conversation and they can share, agree, and disagree about other’s opinions. Focus group is more flexible in the manner in which it leads conversations, thus, the participants have the right to talk, laugh, and tell personal stories. It is more focused on how people say their ideas rather than on what they say (Bell & Bryman, 2007). Focus group interviews offer the opportunity for participants to communicate and interact with each other rather than being isolated with their opinions (Catterall & Maclaran, 1997). These conversations need to be focused on the main topic and that is why an interview guide was needed to get significant data from the participants.

Krueger and Casey (2000) further suggested that the focus group participants should have similar characteristics and should be interested in one topic. In this research, the participants were Saudi students, both male, and female who shared the same culture and beliefs to ensure the similarities of the characteristic. Also, they were graduate students who had enough experience in studying in Saudi Arabia and New Zealand to ensure qualification similarities. There were two focus groups; male and female group, which could increase the level of freedom for both in terms of expressing their feelings and sharing their experiences in front of the same gender. Each focus group had around 4 to 7 participants, which is the preferred size for the researchers to gain in-depth information from each participant (Greenbaum, 1998). The estimated time for each group was around two hours which was enough to increase the opportunity for participants in expressing their feelings and points of view. Also, each focus group was from the same gender for a cultural prescription. This segregation of the two groups was derived from the culture of Saudi Arabia because of the segregation of genders in their own culture.

Stage two

The second stage of this research took place in Saudi Arabia in three different universities in Riyadh, the capital city. Riyadh was chosen because it is the biggest city in Saudi Arabia and it has many universities. The universities under consideration included King Saud University and Imam Mohammad University. In each university, there are different colleges such as Management College, Education College, and Science College. These universities have two separate sections; male and female except for Princess Norah University which is a pure girls’ university. Each gender has its building and its management. The population of this study was mostly female students and male lecturers. The participants were undergraduate students from different majors. Formal approval from universities was the first step for the researcher to be initialized.

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Action research

Action research which is also known as participatory action research refers to the process of solving problems whereby the researcher works together with others to solve problems and address key issues that arise in the research process (Ferrance, 2000). Action research is the kind of research that is done by actions, thus, justifying the name. Action research, in some cases, can be carried out by bigger organizations with the help of qualified researchers. The bigger organizations engage in action research to develop their policies, performances, and awareness of the business environment that surround them. Through action research, the researchers work in collaboration with others with the main aim of innovating new ways of practice that are beneficial to the whole society in terms of work improvement (Ferrance, 2000). According to Professor Kurt Lewin, then of MIT, action research is proportional research that analyzes the state and the outcomes of a variety of societal actions or research, thus, resulting in shared action.

Action research is a process that involves various steps that are systematic to achieve the desired result. The first step is to identify the problem area, also known as diagnosing. In this research, the problem is the difficulties that the Saudi female students have when dealing with the male lecturers at the Saudi Universities. Once the problem area has been identified in action research, the next step is to gather or collect the relevant data, also known as action planning. In this step, the students were interviewed at different stages of the research. The questions in the interview mostly centered on difficulties in dealing with the male lecturers; the idea of mixing the female students and the male students electronically; and the female students’ experiences with the opposite gender on social networks such as Facebook or Twitter.

Besides, the lecturers were also interviewed, and the interview questions centered on the male lecturers who teach through TV screens; the male lecturers who teach online courses; and the obstacles and opportunities that the female lecturers in the Saudi universities have when teaching the online courses. Moreover, in this research, there was a telephone interview for one of the religious leaders about mixing both genders electronically in the education sector. Nonetheless, there was an observation of three different cycles in the learning process. The cycles included the traditional class where the lecturer is a male and the students are females; the lecturer here uses the live TV screen as media between him and his students. Besides, there is also the online class as another form of cycle, whereby, the lecturer is male and the students are female. The third cycle is also called the online class, whereby, the lecturer is male/female and the students are mixed male and female.

Action taking is the third step of action research is the action taking. In this stage, the social networks are implemented in the traditional classes as well as online classes as a way of communicating with lecturers. Moreover, the students in each cycle are closely observed. Besides, there are workshops about social network Such as Facebook and Twitter. The action taking stage gives way to the evaluation stage. In the evaluation stage, the data gathered from the interviews are analyzed. Besides, the reaction of the students after the change happened in their classroom is also analyzed. After the evaluation stage, the next stage involves the specification of the results, whereby, the learning outcomes are produced.

The three different cycles of action research

First Cycle

This cycle focused on traditional classes (male lecturers teaching female students). In other words, it is a fixed class time. This class took place at King Saud University and it was a fixed time class. This class was a religious subject (Islamic 103) for the first-year students. It was a compulsory subject for all the majors at King Saud University. 17 female students were attending the class once every week. They attended the classes every Sunday from 12:30 pm to 2:00 pm. Both the lecturer and the students were required to be on the campus at the specified time to attend the lecture. The female students were mainly in the Saudi female campus which is located in the Almaraz area at Riyadh, whereas, the male lecturers were in the Saudi male campus in the Aldereiah area at Riyadh.

The approximate distance between the male and female campus is about 10 to 12 kilometers. In this class, there is one video connection and two audio connections between the lecturer and students. The students can communicate with their lecturer using microphones. There are 4 TV screens around the class and microphones are hung on the walls of the class. The timing of the class session is displayed on the screen in front of the students. The control of the microphones is from the lecturer’s side and he can switch it on or off but the students cannot. The male lecturer is shown live through the TV screens from the students’ side but the lecturer cannot see them. A female supervisor always attends the classes to monitor the attendance of the students and also the proceedings in the class. Mobile phones are not allowed during class time and chatting is prohibited unless a student needs to ask or answer a question.

Attendance is necessary for this class and there is a special consideration for the number of absences each semester. After three absences the student is given a warning and with the fourth absence, the university does not allow the student to continue attending the subject, hence, the student fails the paper, unless there is a medical report explaining the reason for her absence. The female supervisor plays a significant role in the class as she monitors the class sessions, takes attendance, and checks identities for the students to make sure that they are the right students enrolled in the paper. The male lecturer depends on the supervisor’s observations because he cannot imagine the situation on the female campus. The lecturer mainly calls the names through the microphones and asks each student to read a chapter of a book while he interprets. Moreover, the supervisor will be responsible for spreading the test sheets for the students and observing them during the exam time.

Diagnosing the problem

This way of learning is used when there is a lack of female lecturers for female students. The maximum time for the lectures is for two hours. This is considered as a way of segregation between genders in Saudi Arabia. The lecturer has a list of all the students’ names without their pictures. The control of this class is mainly from the supervisor’s side rather than the lecturer’s side. The lecturer’s email is provided for the students but the students’ emails are not known by the lecturer. Thus, the problem is that there is no much interaction between the male lecturer and the female students.

Action planning

Before collecting the data a formal approval was required from King Saud University. After getting the university’s approval, the researcher applied for the lecturer’s permission to take an action in the learning process of his class, Islamic 103. The period of the action lasted for five weeks. The researcher observed the class sessions and registered the way of learning in such classes. The lecturer informed about the research topic and the aim of observing his students by sending an email to him explaining the aim of this research. The researcher asked the lecturer to inform the students about her in advance. The students who were not willing to participate were not affected in any way. The researcher then asked for access to the students’ emails so that he sends an information sheet about the research details. Everyone in the class was welcome to participate.

In the first two days, the researcher observed the situations and recorded the normal situation for this class. The main focus was on the female students and how they received the class materials through TV screens. The interviews were divided into two: pre-interview and post-interview. The pre-interview took place before the action while the post-interview took place after the action had ended. In the following two days, the researcher had a pre-interview for the male lecturer to address the real situation of this type of learning and to get the basic information about his experience in teaching the female students through TV screens. The interview for the lecturer was chosen to be after the class session in the same class.

The researcher used a microphone in the class to speak to the lecturer for one hour. The TV screens were turned on, thus, giving the researcher a chance to see the lecturer’s face and record his expressions. An audio recorder was used to record the lecturer’s interview. The audio recorder was used with the consent of the lecturer. Unstructured questions were asked to the lecturer about his experience in teaching the female students and his opinion of segregation between genders in the education system (see appendix C). Moreover, there was a pre-interview for 8 female students who had agreed to participate in this study. The interview took about 45 minutes for each student. A consent form was given to the students to sign before starting the interview. The researcher had their permission to tape-record their interviews. The interview questions were unstructured questions to encourage them to speak freely about their situations and some of their obstacles to the learning environment (see appendix E).

After all these interviews the researcher addressed the capability of the social networks to be addressed in the education system. The researcher then spoke to the class and presented the meaning of social networks such as Facebook and how they can use it to boost the communication between the female students and the lecturers. Moreover, the lecturer was informed about the importance of social networks. After that, emails were sent to all the participants and the lecturer on how to use Facebook in the learning process. All these procedures helped in drawing a real picture of the situation and work on the appropriate solutions to their problems through social networks. A thematic analysis was used to analyze all the data gathered from interviews.

Action Taking

After sending emails and highlighting the importance of social networks that could help both the lecturer and the students to communicate easily and freely, the action stage took place after introducing the use of Facebook to the course. Brief descriptions about Facebook were explained by the researcher to the students. The researcher designed a special page for the course and named it ‘Islamic 103′. So, the name of the paper matched the name of the page to make it easier for the students to search for it on Facebook. The researcher wrote all the basic information about the paper on Facebook for easy access by the students. Both the lecturer and the students could interact through Facebook and learn how it could be used for formal learning instead of using it for informal communication with friends. They had the choice of using their real names or not on 1 Facebook. This process lasted for four weeks. The students were encouraged to post some comments on the Facebook wall about the feedback of each session. Each participant was asked to comment on each others’ posts and explain their point of view. The lecturer posted the previous exams’ questions on the Facebook wall and opened a discussion about it. The students were asked to post some videos or audio recorded topics about their class sessions. After the action taking the stage, the researcher observed Facebook check on how the participants had commented on the page. A post-interview was done with the lecturer and with the 8 students who previously contributed to this study.

Evaluating

The evaluation process came after the four weeks of gathering the data and action-taking. Another telephone interview with the same lecturer was done to ask him about his experience out of his class. Also, another focus group interview was carried out for the same female students to explain how social networks could influence their learning.

Specifying

This section covered the results of this circle and how the students gained from the online interaction. The male lecturer explained the differences between traditional learning and the interaction on Facebook in the education sector.

Second cycle

This cycle focused on online courses (male lecturers teaching female students). The researcher got formal approval from Mr. Yousef AlQassim, the distance learning deanship to observe one of the online classes. Hadith (Islamic subject) is the subject that was attended by the researcher. Imam University added the researcher to the system, ‘Tartarus’, as a student. This step helped in observing the online lessons and the systems as well. Tartarus is the system used for distance learning at Immam University. Imam University’s students can log on to Tadarus to see their enrolled subjects with their times, dates, and lecturer names. Each student can attend the classes online or they can see the recorded videos. The display of the chosen topic, Hadith 201, is shown as a smart board online. The picture of the male lecturer is not displayed online, only his voice is heard by the female students. Students are enrolled from different parts of Saudi Arabia and all are linked to the university electronically. During the exam time, the students are required to attend physically.

Diagnosing the problem

In the past, the university did not admit students for some reasons such as low grades in high school or lack of space in the universities. At that time the students could complete their graduated degrees through home-based education. In this situation, the students were enrolled at the beginning of the year and were given the subjects materials to study at home. Later, the students were required to attend the exams at the end of the year on the university campus. The education system realized the difficulties for the students through that way of learning and they introduced distance learning to help the students to be more connected to the university. The university transformed the traditional way of home-based students to online learning. The new courses were online and linked to all students who could not find a place in the university. This improvement made a great difference in the students’ life. The students are more likely to be involved in the subjects and could see the lectures online. The problem here is that there is no much interaction between the lecturer and the female students. Also, female students cannot hear their peers’ voices during their participation. Moreover, all the online courses are carried out by male lecturers; the female lecturer is not engaged in this type of learning even if the students are females.

Action planning

The lecturer needed formal permission from Imam University to take any action in their learning process. The researcher was required to get the consent of the female students before undertaking the research. It is an unethical issue in Saudi Arabia for females to give their mobile phone numbers to strangers, that’s why their consent is required. Also, the researcher asked for permission from the lecturer to be part of the learning process. The distance learning deanship added the researcher in the system ‘Tartarus’. The researcher was added to the system as a student to facilitate her navigation. On the researcher’s page, the paper was added as Hadith 102, an Islamic paper for the first-year students who studied Sharriyah at Imam University. Pre and post interviews were carried out for the female students and the male lecturer. An interview for the female lecturer was conducted to address the females’ opportunities in teaching online courses.

Action Taking

After being part of the system, the researcher contacted the female students through their mobile phone numbers that the University had provided. A pre and post telephone interview was held for the 8 female students from different parts of Saudi Arabia. The pre-interview was at the beginning of the cycle and the post-interview was after the action is taken. The telephone interview was chosen because it was hard to have a face to face interview as each student living in a different city in Saudi Arabia.

The researcher arranged for a pre and post telephone interview with the male lecturer because it was so hard to have a face to face interview with him due to the cultural restriction. Moreover, a face to face interview was conducted for the female lecturer to address the opportunities for the females to teach through online media. This interview highlighted the opportunity for the female lecturer to participate in the online courses and to discuss the main obstacles that hindered her. The pre-interview for the male lecturer and the female students was the first step of understanding their real situations. This addressed their main obstacles to their online courses. The post-interview was carried out to all the participants after the introduction of Facebook to the paper. After the pre and post-interview for all the participants, the researcher sent out emails to them about the social networks and how they could help in the learning process. The participants were also informed about adding a Facebook page for the subject, Hadith 102, and they could easily interact with their lecturer and share videos and information about the topics discussed in the class. After 4 weeks of interacting on the Facebook page, a post-interview was carried out to the 8 female students and the male lecturer to evaluate their views on using Facebook in their learning process.

Evaluating

The result of the interviewing displayed the real situation and how the online courses were running in the Saudi Arabia Universities. Besides, another group interview was carried out for the same female students to explain how social networks could influence their learning.

Specifying

Introducing online courses in Saudi Arabia Universities is a good step but it needs more implementation for the online applications. Online learning is a copy of the traditional classes as the students need to attend the tests physically. Some changes in the online classes will help both the female students and the male lecturer. The female lecturer could find an opportunity to carry on online courses about cultural consideration. The female lecturer could also teach male students electronically without displaying the real pictures.

Third cycle

This cycle focused on online courses (male lecturers teaching both female and male students). The researcher got formal approval from the university to observe one of the online classes.

Diagnosing the problem

This type of learning is mainly common in private universities. Usually, the lecturers are from the US or England and they are linked electronically with the students in Saudi Arabia. The online classes consist of both male and female Saudi students who interact with each other. The problem here is that the graduated students do not have this kind of learning. The undergraduate students mostly study with the same gender traditionally and electronically. They should have the chance to study in a mixed environment electronically, the same as the graduated students.

Action planning

The researcher decided to run the same system of graduated students for undergraduate students. The lecturer was also encouraged to run an online class with mixed genders for a short time, say, 4 weeks. The researcher prepared an interview for a religious person by searching on Facebook for someone who could give out his opinion about the mixed environment for both genders electronically. The interview lasted for 45 minutes.

Action Taking

As the online classes started the researcher observed the reaction of the students on discussing some of the topics online. An interview was done for the lecturer and the students to explain their feelings about the idea and how they predicted the results. The lecturer asked the students, both the males and the females to post their ideas on the online page and each student was needed to comment on that online post. The lecturer also asked the students to form a group of two (male and female) to research on one topic and submit it as one assignment. A second interview was done for the lecturer and the students after this experience.

Evaluating

These practices encouraged the students to share their knowledge with the opposite gender under the umbrella of education learning. The students explained their feelings after the experience and suggested some regulations for such courses. The females were more opened and more confident to discuss the course material with male friends (electronically).

Specifying

Online courses with mixed genders were an issue for Saudi culture. Designing some rules and regulations could help the students to be mixed concerning their culture and religion.

Data Reliability and Validity

The triangulation method has a desirable impact because the three research approaches, namely example, literature review, and questionnaire/ interviews, on the own, have weaknesses in reliability and validity. This justifies the triangulation method approach in this study to reduce the error posed by their validity and reliability. The example method has weaknesses in study reliability, internal validity external validity, and constructs validity. This poses a research dilemma on the best method to approve the outcome of the case study.

Findings

Introduction

This section covers the analysis of the data, presentation, and interpretation. This research showed that segregation between the males and the females in Saudi universities was not a concern in the Electronic media. This allowed both genders to share their experience and train them for their future professions in the corporate world. Moreover, online courses would increase the opportunity for the Saudi females to study in the universities overseas within the distance learning range. The electronic socialization in Saudi Arabia suits Saudi’s culture and increases the opportunities for female students.

For research methodology, the choices of the two approaches: deductive and inductive approaches were used for carrying out the research (Easterby, 2008). A deductive approach is described as a study in which the theory is tested by empirical observation, and is referred to as moving from the general to the specific. Deductive research establishes a theory and then checks on the data; it uses quantitative data and it is a very structured approach. On the other hand, the inductive approach is a study in which the theory is developed from observation of reality and is the opposite of deductive research; it moves from the specific observations to the general statements. This study mainly used an inductive approach for the case of analyzing the impacts of Social Media and electronic mediating to improve education outcomes for Saudi women in Electronic mix multi genders because the theory is developed from the observations of the reality.

By using a quantitative approach, the researcher would need to collect a volume of data and analyze the relationship of the data, and then the data would be manipulated into trends or patterns. Next, the researcher would use standardized approaches that structure the data before it is analyzed. Examples of quantitative approaches include experiments, surveys, formal methods, and numerical methods. By using a qualitative approach, the researcher would collect more in-depth data and aim to explore understanding, meaning, and experience. The data represent the feelings and the views for the qualitative approach and are not integrated into the opinion poll. Besides, it is difficult to analyze by standardized methods. Case study research, action research, and ethnography are some illustrations of qualitative methods (Easterby, 2008)

The most customary demarcation between the uses of quantitative and qualitative research especially in the social sciences is that qualitative procedures are employed for illustrating confounding quantitative outcomes or for exploration (i.e., conjecture-engendering). On the contrary, quantitative methods are being employed to evaluate theories. Some critics think that the use of the quantitative method of analysis purposes to offer many illustrations, precise and reliable evaluation mainly through centered conjectures, applied mathematics, and evaluation tools. On the other hand, qualitative data is normally tedious to display or graph in mathematical terms (Bryman, 2003). For program research and policy evaluation, qualitative research is frequently employed as it can offer solutions to some significant questions more effectively and efficiently as opposed to quantitative approaches. This is especially the case for comprehending why and how some results were accomplished (not just what was accomplished) and also for replying to some significant queries about pertinence, unplanned effects, and impact of processes such as: were anticipations justifiable; did procedures function as anticipated; were chief policymakers able to do their jobs; did the program create any unintended impacts; and so on.

During the research process, qualitative approaches have the benefit of permitting for more multifariousness in the capacity to adapt to new developments as well as in responses to research itself (Bryman, 2003). It is to be observed that qualitative research can not only be time-consuming but also expensive to conduct; many fields of research espouse qualitative methods that have been purposefully developed to offer more cost-efficient, succinct and timely outcomes. In collecting the data, qualitative researchers may employ varied overtures, like narratology, classical ethnography, grounded theory practice, shadowing, or storytelling. In other methodological approaches, qualitative procedures are also generically present, like actor-network theory or action research. Contours of the data gathered can include group discussions and interviews, reflection field notes and observation, various pictures, texts, and other forms (Bryman, 2003).

Unstructured questions were used during the focus group sessions to enhance the participants to address their problems and obstacles in their learning experience. The researcher, being a female, handled the female focus group for Saudi students. This was aimed at eliminating the sensitivity of dealing with the opposite gender; thus, the researcher conducted the female session while the male session was conducted by a male helper to ensure and observe the privacy and the cultural issues. The male helper is the researcher’s husband who is studying Masters in International Management at Waikato University and is so much familiar with the ethical considerations.

The researcher was connected to the male helper by a microphone during the male interview process to monitor the discussions and the direction of the conversations. Both the focus group interviews were recorded on tape about the participants’ consents. The benefit of conducting a focus group interview is that it saves time for the researcher and this could encourage participants to talk about their experiences and feel that others may experience the same situations. A notebook and pen were provided to the researcher to write the important points during the interview process. A thematic analysis was used to analyze the data to help the researcher in grouping the most important topics during the interview.

Finding from the exploratory study for Saudi students in New Zealand

After the exploratory study was done on the Saudi students, both males and females at Waikato University in New Zealand, great findings were released for the first time about their experience in studying in two different cultures. A thematic analysis was used for the data that was collected to help the researcher in grouping the most important issues during the interview process. The important issues that were part of the interview process are described below.

The difference in the learning experience

From the study, it was evident that there were three key differences perceived in the learning experience for Saudi students between the Saudi systems of learning and the New Zealand systems of learning. After analyzing the data for the Saudi male and female students about their learning experiences in Saudi Arabia and New Zealand, it was revealed that there were differences in the learning experiences between the two setups. Those three differences that were pointed out included: the way of mixing both genders at the universities in New Zealand is different from the Saudi universities; the way of teaching the subjects are different in the two countries, and the way of communicating between the students and lecturers is also totally different between the two countries. The Saudi students got shocked about how the male students and the female students were mixed in the New Zealand universities.

This was different from what they were used to in the Saudi Arabian universities, where segregation between genders is regarded to be an important element. In Saudi Arabia students mainly depend on the lecturers and textbooks whereas in New Zealand they depend on themselves in the pursuit of knowledge with little direction from the lecturers. The Saudi Arabian universities depended on tests rather than assignments, while in the New Zealand universities, the opposite is true. Moreover, class attendance is very important to pass the examination in the Saudi Arabian universities whereas, in the New Zealand universities, the attendance level is not given much consideration. Nevertheless, the way of communication between the students and the lecturers are different as well. It is very hard to meet with the lectures in the Saudi universities and at the same time, the students do not find it easy to critique each other’s work. One of the female participants said, “It was one of my hardest times when the lecturer asked me to critique other student’s work. I felt it was disrespectful but after a long time of training I liked it and found it as a good way of learning.” Another participant added, “Being unable to critique does not mean that we do not understand, it means we are not used to this way of learning in Saudi Arabia.”

Gender preference among Saudi students in New Zealand

Both the male and the female students found it very hard at the beginning of this study because of the mixed environment at Waikato University. They adapted to the situation after some time but they still preferred to work with the same gender in the course of this study. The male students were more opened to work with the female students unless they were not Saudi girls. The same idea was evident from the female students’ perspective. A female participant said, “Talking to a Saudi guy embarrasses me a lot, but I do trust them even though we are not used to this situation. If I have a Saudi boy in my class I prefer to keep silent.” Besides, a male participant said, “I would love to help a Saudi girl whenever she needs help but I am worried about the other Saudis and how they would interpret this”.

Working with female students, in general, is a concern for Saudi males because they think that women like to control the situation when they work in a group. They said that women sometimes use their tears as a weapon and that is why they prefer working with the males because it is more flexible for them. On the other hand, the Saudi female students found it more flexible to work with their female counterparts because they can meet at home and they are more understanding and aware of the women’s situation. A female participant said, “I worked once with a group that had boys and they asked to meet late at night but I could not, I tried to explain to them about my religion and my situation but they could not get the idea.” Another female participant said, “I prefer online communication between the group members because it grants us more freedom as Muslim women without embarrassing others.

At one time I was in a mixed group and I was worried all the time about getting closer to the male student or shaking their hands.” Therefore, it is true to say that both genders agree that they have no experience in dealing with the opposite gender outside their family members. This limited experience is a problem, especially for the female students who were taught by male lecturers as they found it hard to express themselves or raise their voices. After their experience in studying at Waikato University, each gender prefers the lecturer to be from the opposite gender. A female participant said, “We feel that the male lecturers here at Waikato University are more respectful than their female counterparts. We do have limited experience with the male lecturers in Saudi Arabia, who we rarely communicate to through TV screens.” On the other hand, the Saudi male students preferred a female lecturer as it was a new experience for them in New Zealand that had never happened to them in Saudi Arabia.

The success of the social networks

Difficulties were facing Saudi students in dealing with online applications at Waikato University; on the other hand, the use of social networks such as Facebook in the learning process proved to be very successful. Both the male and female students agreed that Waikato University had an online application for the students but they said it was hard to navigate and they thought that they needed a lot of tutorials before starting the university. The male students were more involved in the online learning process than female students. This was because they dared to use a new way of learning than females. The online experience for the female students was limited, as it was technical for them to use navigate into the social networks, add papers, and submit assignments. Both the male and female students who participated in the online learning process said that there were pros and cons for using the online process.

According to them, they considered online papers to provide an easy way of transferring knowledge. The online paper also suited female students more than their male counterparts because they were more involved with the family at home. Besides, the online paper suited the New Zealand education system more than the Saudi system because students in New Zealand depend on themselves. It is also true to say that the online papers suited the female students to solve the problem of mixing with the opposite gender. It also suited the graduated students, who were more responsible than the undergraduate students. Moreover, the online papers suited the Saudi culture especially if the lecturer is male and the students are females.

In contrast, the online papers presented some challenges to the students. The students had the idea that a person might lose his/her speaking skills by using the online paper. Moreover, online papers prevented students from enjoying the experience of learning in the same class with their classmates. Also, some of the online papers are outdated since they were recorded a long time ago and have not yet been updated. Online papers do not provide an opportunity for the students to make presentations in the class, hence, not boosting their presentation skills and personal confidence. Nonetheless, online papers do not pay much attention to the attendance of the students which is one of the main aspects of the education system in Saudi Arabia and they found it hard to adjust to online papers.

Both genders liked to use social networks especially after their experience overseas. They appreciated the technologies that linked them with their families and friends back at home. There are some applications such as Skype and Oovoo that helped them to connect with their families and friends in the other parts of the world for 24 hours. They added that Facebook and Twitter were the most common and important social networks which were available on I-phone and this made it easy to access them anytime and anywhere. A male participant said, “I feel that I am carrying my friends with me all the time as I have the Facebook application on my I-phone”. A female participant also added, “I attend most of the events in my Family house electronically which is great, I saw my sister at her wedding electronically!” Both genders used their real names in the social network but there were some restrictions in adding their real pictures especially for the female students. The female students were stricter than the male students in adding the opposite gender to their friends or contact list. For more details about the finding of this focus group see appendix A for boys’ interviews and appendix B for girls’ interviews.

Findings of the action research

Action research refers to the process of solving problems whereby the researcher works together with others to solve problems and address key issues that arise in the research process. Through action research, the researchers worked in collaboration with others with the main aim of innovating new ways of practice that were beneficial to the whole society in terms of work improvement. The researcher conducted action research in three different cycles. The first cycle focused on traditional classes (male lecturers teaching female students). In other words, it was a fixed class time. The second cycle focused on online courses (male lecturer teaching female students) and the third cycle focused on online courses (male lecturer teaching both female and male students).

Findings of the first cycle

During the first cycle of action research, the researcher interviewed the 17 female students who attended their classes at King Saud University. The results of the pre-interview of the female students showed that the female students preferred male lecturers to female lecturers because they all thought that the males were more flexible than the females. They believe that female lecturer were stricter and they asked for a lot of work. If the female students had the choice of choosing between a male lecturer and a female lecturer, they would choose the male lecturer over the female lecturer. The students contacted the male lecturer through emails if there was a need but it rarely happened. If they had any questions or matters arising, usually they contacted their supervisor; for instance, if there was a change in the lecture time or the exam schedule. Thus, they contacted the supervisor more than the lecturer. The female students pointed out that the subject was not so demanding, thus, class attendance was not an important element. Instead, they wished to have an online paper that did not require their physical presence in the class.

The researcher also interviewed lecturer in the first cycle of action research. The results revealed that the lecturer did not like the way of teaching because it was so hard to communicate with the students. Also, it was very hard to pinpoint the excellent or good students from the poor ones. The lecturer confirmed that he would have preferred to teach male students so that he could negotiate and discuss with them easily and freely. In his response to the question on whether he was comfortable with teaching the female students, the lecturer said, “I feel that I am speaking to myself when I teach the female students because I am isolated in a room and cannot imagine the situation in the class.” Thus, the remedy to this problem is providing a female lecturer who is equally qualified. The online classes have the same problem of being isolated, especially if the lectures are recorded.

Moreover, the male lecturer suffered from another problem of being the supervisor for the female students who were doing their master’s degrees. It was so hard to communicate and discuss with them, as there was nothing like face to face interaction. He said, “When I supervise a male student he can visit me during my office hour and we can chat, negotiate and discuss the topic more.” The lecture was concerned that teaching 4 compulsory Islamic subjects were too much for the students. He suggested that they should be minimized to two subjects and that only the most important topics in Islam should be chosen to teach the students. Moreover, the lecturer did not support the idea of giving the students a research assignment because they might assign it to someone to do it for them. Instead, the lecturer liked to ask the students to read a chapter of a book and summarize the main points. The lecturer was aware of the relevance of using social networks in the study process even though he did not support the use of Facebook in the education system.

Apart from the lecturer and the students, the researcher also interviewed 3 supervisors who managed the students. The researcher found out that the supervisors’ qualifications were different as some had secondary certificates while others had bachelor degrees from different majors. The supervisors attended different courses such as English language, Computer, and management courses after the job hours. From the beginning of the semester, a timetable was provided for the supervisors for them to know which papers they should attend and monitor during the semester.

The research revealed that the supervisors were responsible for: calling out the students’ names and writing the attendance; monitoring the class activities and ensuring that the students do not use their mobile phones during the class time; ensuring that chatting is not allowed in classes; the supervisors are the link between the lecturer and the students all the time; they received the medical reports for the absent students and discussed it with the lecturer; they are responsible for spreading out the exam tests and supervising the students during the exam time; they have to submit the exam papers manually to the lecturer through the university’s mail, but this way might take a long time, thus, some supervisors sent their male relatives to hand in the exam papers to the lecturer after a telephone arrangement. The supervisors were generally happy about their work and they said that the university provided a good salary package and besides, there is child care for their children within the institution. Generally, they do not wish for the system to change because their jobs are based entirely on the classes that have male lecturers teaching female students through TV screens.

Moreover, the researcher interviewed a female lecturer who had 44 students in her class. She was teaching the same paper to another group of students. The lecturer was so happy about her job and she enjoyed it. She said that other qualified female lecturers could handle the students. She did not see any reason for replacing the female lecturers with the male lecturer. She felt that most students attended the class just because of the attendance marks but not to benefit from the paper.

After action taking in the first cycle, the researcher conducted a post-interview for the female students. The results revealed that they liked the idea of using Facebook in their class but they found it difficult to open an account on Facebook. They felt that social networks could be useful during their free time but it is difficult for social networks to be part of the curriculum. The students appreciated their lecturer’s comments on the Facebook page and understood his vision more. Facebook was seen as an informal way of learning rather than the main media of learning. The students were not much active in commenting on the Facebook wall; instead, they just liked the posts rather than commenting on it. The students still found it hard to embrace the electronic media in the learning process, thus, they rarely communicated to the lectures or the supervisors through emails; instead, they attended the classes physically.

A post-interview was also done with the male lecturer. The results revealed that the male lecturer was not active on the Facebook page as he thought that Facebook was not suitable for the learning system. Besides, he held the view that social networks were more suitable to spread news or share knowledge with millions of people; thus, the social networks would not help in the segregation between the two genders. He recommended that the male lecturers should teach the male students and the female lecturers should teach the female students. The lecturer did not trust the use of Facebook as people tend to use fake identities. The Facebook page could be a distraction from the main topics and the students could be more confused and find it more difficult to focus on the main goal of the paper.

Findings of the second cycle

During the second cycle of the action research, the researcher conducted a pre-interview for 8 female students who were studying at Immam University. It was a telephone interview that took about 45 minutes for each participant. The interview questions were unstructured questions to give the participants more freedom to share about their experiences. The results revealed that female students liked the idea of having courses online. Besides, they felt isolated a little bit but they found online learning as a solution for being far away from the universities. The students communicated with their male lecturer through his email or the online discussion provided in the Tadarus system. The online discussions provided the platform for the students to post their questions for the lecturer to answer. The university set up an informal website for the students. This website was created by a student at Immam University and it was more helpful to them than using Tartarus. The website helped the students a lot because the students from the previous years wrote about their experience in studying some subjects and provided guidelines to follow in studying for the exams. On the website, the students formed groups, such as the Hadith group, to help them communicate with each other. The website also necessitated the free download of educational materials.

The study also revealed that the students depended on the website more than their formal website, Tartarus. There were no assignments or researches during the semester. There was one big exam at the end of the semester and the students had to appear physically to do the exams. The exam questions are multiple-choice questions and the computer will mark them automatically. The students preferred to use false names in Tadarus chatting during the class session because they felt more comfortable, it was part of their culture to stay hidden from the males; thus, assuming false names suited them all. Most of the students had no account on Facebook because they did not think about having a social network as they thought it was a waste of time.

A pre-interview for the male lecturer was also conducted and the results revealed that the lecturer had 4 years of experience in teaching the online courses. Online learning presented various advantages to the students. It gave opportunities to a lot of students to complete their studies, especially those who did not get enough grades to be accepted in the universities. Online learning presents some advantages. It is a chance for old people to complete their education. Besides, it makes it much possible for the working class to still carry on with their education. Also, online learning offers a platform that boosts communication between the lecturer and the students at all times. Through online learning, the students were required to submit their email addresses to the lecturer to ease communication between the lecturer and the students. The students did one final exam which was marked out of 100 percent. There were no marks for attendance or assignments. In the Tadarus system, the students used their real names at the beginning of the course for the online chatting, later on, they asked the coordinator to change their real names and use fake ones. Generally, the social networks were good but there was a lack of honesty, someone could write under a famous person’s name, who knows? It is so hard to trust them. The lecturer agreed to have a Facebook page for this paper.

After the pre-interviews, the researcher conducted post interviews with female students. The results revealed that they liked the idea of Facebook. Besides, they used fake names rather than their real names. They also used simple pictures instead of their pictures. The students agreed that they did not trust people in social networks; hence, they had to find a group for the students who studied the same paper. They formed a virtual group, as they did not have the chance to meet physically. Facebook helped the students a lot in sharing the materials better than the websites they used previously. The students uploaded some videos on YouTube that explained a lot about their topics in class, thus, they still knew what the classes were about even without attending them physically. The students could see the lecturer’s comments and freely respond to them. Facebook gave the students the chance to locate themselves and see how they were physically located away from each other. The female students liked the idea of having a Facebook page and they wished that they could have it for a longer period.

Another post-interview was conducted with the male lecturer. The results revealed that the lecturer liked the idea of using Facebook. He confessed that initially, he did not trust peoples’ identities on Facebook but after the research, he realized that a group of people could have their privacy and they could trust each other. The lecturer enjoyed being part of a group on Facebook and they shared a lot of videos and information. The lecturer said, “I think Facebook is a great tool to use in the education process especially for the mixed classes online.” Facebook allowed both genders to share knowledge without compromising their culture or religion.

Findings of the third cycle

During the third cycle of action research, the researcher interviewed a religious person. The religious person was met through the use of Facebook. The research revealed that the religious person supported the use of Facebook as a great medium to spread a lot of Islamic rules to many people at the same time. He admitted that he could not reach out to all these many people physically. He mentioned that any invention in this world has advantages and disadvantages and that there was a need to take the opportunities to employ the advantages of Facebook to share the truth of Islam. Sharing knowledge is not related to one gender, both genders have the right to speak and share their opinions unless there is no physical interaction between them. The religious person also admitted that many great female writers in Saudi Arabia could publish their work for the public regardless of how they looked physically. He also encouraged both genders to write and share important knowledge electronically as it is a better way of exchanging knowledge without compromising the Islamic rules or the cultural restrictions. He never seemed to care so much about the use of fake names on Facebook; what was more important to him was the content of what people wrote on Facebook. He said, “In my page, I have a lot of females who always write nice topics and I am interested in reading all of them, even if they do not use their real names it does not matter.”

Discussion

Introduction

This chapter presents a summary of the findings and a discussion of the results following the objectives of this study.

The exploratory study discussion

This study revealed the huge differences between the education system in New Zealand and Saudi Arabia. The participants who were mainly Saudi students (7 males and 4 females) had the chance to complete their studies abroad in New Zealand and express the new culture of education. All these students were granted scholarships by King Abdullah, the king of Saudi Arabia to complete their post graduated studies. All of the participants agreed that there were big differences between the ways of studying in Saudi Arabia and the way of studying in New Zealand especially in the universities. The first cultural shock for them was mixing both genders in the universities, which was opposite in the Saudi Arabian system (Doumato, 2003). It was typically evident that the idea of mixing both the genders was a very sensitive issue for them, as they were Muslims and Arabs. They explained that the idea of segregation in Saudi Arabia was derived from two aspects; i.e. religion and culture.

Moreover, Saudi students explained the relationship between the lecturers and the students in Saudi Arabia in the learning process. The lecturers in Saudi Arabia are both the directors and the instructors of the paper. The students played the role of listening to the lecturer and following instructions; the lectures gave the students 100 percent of the course materials, hence, the students had no extra research work to do. The opposite was true in Waikato University where the students had to do some extra research in addition to what the lecturers had given them in class. It is not surprising that they suffered at the beginning of their study at Waikato University as the lecturers, who were the directors, directed the students and most of the work was mainly on the students’ shoulders.

The use of workgroups was not an important element of learning in the Saudi Arabian universities but it was very important in the New Zealand universities. The use of workgroups emphasized the need for mixing both genders in the learning process. Working in groups highlighted the problems that the students faced in dealing with the opposite gender; the male students preferred having fellow males in their group as they saw that it was easy for them and they felt more comfortable. This preference was in line with their cultural practices that never allowed for the male students to mix with their female counterparts.

On the other hand, the female students found it more difficult to deal with their male counterparts in the group because of the dressing they were required to put on; they were needed to wear the Hijab at all times while some wore the Niqab to control their freedom. The distance between the group members was an issue for both Saudi genders. Both the Saudi boys and girls preferred not to be in a group that had Saudi members from the opposite gender. This reflected the cultural restrictions on them and how they felt uncomfortable with the situation. Surprisingly, there was a gender preference for the students and the lecturers; the Saudi girls preferred a male lecturer while the Saudi boys preferred a female lecturer in New Zealand. The Saudi female students felt that the male lecturer was more understanding and respectful of their appearance. On the other hand, the Saudi male students preferred to have a female lecturer as she reminded them of their mothers by taking care of them while they studied abroad.

An online application is an innovation for the Saudi students, thus, the use of social networks for learning at Waikato University proved to be quite challenging to the Saudi students as they found it very difficult to navigate. According to Bartome (2008), the use of such applications in the universities mainly focus on creating efficient and sound systems besides simplifying the course delivery; but the participants did not agree that the online applications at Waikato University were easy or simple as they found difficulties in navigating, adding papers or following the assignments’ instructions. They admitted that there was no adequate training or seminars on how to use them; besides, all the online papers had different standards or formats, so each presented an additional challenge. Each paper has its character of releasing the videos or submitting the assignments. The participants described the learning in New Zealand universities as Personal Learning Environment (PLE), which used unique tools and social networks such as Moodle (Degenne & Force, 1999).

Both genders were using social networks to connect them with their friends back home and with their families. All of the participants had an account on Facebook but they preferred to protect their private affairs by putting their information confidential (Acquisti, Alessandro, Gross & Ralph, 2006). The Saudi students preferred to stay anonymous on Facebook as they felt that there was no need for divulging much information about one’s self. According to Saudi culture, privacy is given much consideration, and spilling personal affairs online is greatly prohibited. For the Saudi girls, personal information is strictly preserved and protected; they are stricter on sharing their information and they never put their pictures on their Facebook walls because they do not trust the other social network users who might use their pictures in a bad way.

This sensitivity concerning the posting of personal pictures was derived from their Arabic culture. These findings corroborated the findings of Schepp and Schepp (2009) as they found out that women exerted more protection on their personal information and regulated their profiles to be private. On the other hand, Burton (1992) found out that more women posted photos on Facebook; this did not agree with the interview findings conducted on the Saudi girls as they did not prefer to display their pictures on the social networks. Moreover, Schepp and Schepp (2009) explained how women used social networking sites to expand their social relations which reflected on the Saudi girls’ situations as they liked to be linked with their families in Saudi Arabia, hence, they care about attending their families’ parties online. Starthdee (2005) agreed that women noted to demonstrate their relationship related to their families or romantic relationship. The findings demonstrate the same idea that women are more sensitive to family bonds, thus, they take the advantage of technology to keep them in touch with their family members.

From a Saudi perspective, the literature brings out an idea about the preference of online learning for women in Saudi Arabia and the findings agreed with that. Both genders agreed that online classes suit women in Saudi Arabia who have other responsibilities at home, for instance, taking care of the children. According to Reem, this type of learning helps women not to mix with the opposite gender and break the rules of Saudi culture (Murphy, 2009). Alsaggaf (2004) found out from his study about the effect of the online community on an offline community in Saudi Arabia that males and females liked the idea of online communication between genders as they could express their feelings without much regard to the cultural restrictions; this agreed with the findings of this research. In this study, each gender preferred using online communication with the opposite gender because it gave them the freedom of socializing with each gender. The students used SMS or emails to contact the group members because they do not require face to face interaction.

The use of social networks in the university’s learning process is regularly reinvented to adapt to new and innovative applications of information technology. These efforts in the learning process mainly focus on creating efficient and sound systems apart from simplifying course delivery by aligning the learning process with technology. Social networks offer dynamism and personalization of the learning process, hence, the term Personal Learning Environment, PLE, can be appropriate to invoke, using unique tools and social networks. Dalsgaard (2008) illustrates that social networks enable a student to determine the rate crafted on his or her unique insight, needs, experiences, and differentiate the known from the unknown, recognizes resources to stimulate learning efforts, and reinforces personal beliefs. In this case, social networks utilize technologies such as wikis, discussion forums, and Blogs to establish the learning process among university students.

The effectiveness of social networks is ingrained in the benefit of other university advancement efforts. A university’s aim of providing appropriate education to students entails many facets. These facets include diverse technology, administrative procedures, classroom organizations, social factors, instructor’s pedagogical approaches, logistical factors, and curricula. This phenomenon in the university learning process can be critically assessed to determine the penetration of the social networks’ effects at the student level, institution level, and community level. The assessment can be achieved through a system of learning benchmarks.

Social networks such as Facebook, Wiki, Yammer, Twitter, Blogs, podcasts, e.t.c., have been embraced to deliver education to adult learners. These processes have occurred as a result of the internet (Papen, 2005). Social networks have increased self-education and promoted anonymity among adults. Adults can share with the other adult learners regarding a certain area of interest, hence, through these interactions, they can increase awareness. According to Papen (2005), social networks support commitments towards sharing information, instigating newcomers, and lengthening shared knowledge through aspects such as shared experimentation, problem-solving, and liberated inquiry.

Another area of interest in social networks is the issue of anonymity. Social networks do not embrace face to face contacts; hence, it is simpler for an adult to be open and honest about a phenomenon in the context. However, anonymity with social networks may distract adult learners because some people may opt to disseminate false knowledge (Papen, 2005). Social networks have become increasingly integrated into the education systems of most universities, hence, creating multiple impacts on the students, educators, and administrators.

The chief role of social sites is to provide a means for an individual to make links with others. In an education setting, social networks have surged the sharing of knowledge between lecturers, students, and among the students themselves, maintaining or finding old and former classmate and enhancing professional growth and development in a student’s area of discipline. Social sites such as LinkedIn and Sparkpeople are commonly embraced in higher learning institutions, thus, offering a student opportunity to network with educators, other students within and outside the learning environment. Social networks have established a new social dimension, hence, enabling the students to develop increased awareness.

By interacting with social network sites, the students’ knowledge of global issues is guaranteed. The student develops new opportunities in exploring the social norms, developing technical skills, and exploring the common interests. By constructing a public image, the students are exposed to the challenges of defining themselves (Degenne & Force, 1999). This is because, most of the social networks prompt the users to create a profile that exposes essential aspects of their identity, memberships in different groups, ideas they value, and the likes and dislikes, among others. This is because these sites are visible to the instructors, parents, and the whole public in general. The students who are paranoid about their vulnerability can determine which information is appropriate for them to publish.

Consequently, social networks have been blamed for consuming most of the students’ time which may have otherwise been valuable for doing other important things such as studying, doing research, or engaging in group discussion. Whereas the unforeseen use of social networks and its related applications in the universities seem to be worthwhile for learning growth, they possess a serious social threat that may otherwise jeopardize the main goal of the technology. Facebook, a common social network site, has been on occasions summoned to court over major privacy issues (Delta & Jeffrey, 2002). Major social networks, such as Facebook, have hundreds of million users and these users have different opinions, attitudes, and mindsets. Adding on this, Facebook provides several tools and resources which monitor the activities of every user; Hence, encompassing the experience that students have with the social networks sites such as MySpace and Facebook, it is obvious that integrating the social networks in a university’s learning environment might be another Facebook within the university’s periphery, thus, promoting less learning or leading to inappropriate learning culture (Delta, and Jeffrey, 2002).

Social media has had a historical background about their use in society. Although they are used to accomplish housework responsibilities, connection to the social networks can be linked with a telephone as a communication mechanism available and widely embraced at home. A study on telephone services revealed that women spend more time than men talking on the phone and also that many women work as telephone operators (Burton, 1992). Generally speaking, young women have closely been linked with a comprehensive and frivolous use of telephone technologies for social reasons. Consequently, women’s use and impact on the growth and development of computers has been trivialized whereas the essence of computer development has been masculinized (Degenne and Force, 1999).

Women use social networking sites to expand their social relationships. According to Schepp and Schepp (2009), the female participants in a survey carried out in 1997 to unravel the inspiration of Facebook users, scored highly on a social scale for posting photos on Facebook (Burton, 1992). Consequently, a survey carried on a blog sustained by MySpace, found out that more women wrote blogs, family, romantic connection, healthcare, and friendships. Research on the social network users at the university argued that women were more likely to show friendship in the context of publishing pictures of their friends, naming their best friends, and composing poems about their friends. Consequently, women were noted to demonstrate their relationship related to family and romantic relationships. A major analysis of gender balance on MySpace asserted that men and women tend to have a majority of “Top Friends” from the opposite gender (Strathdee, 2005).

Privacy has been a controversial issue linked to social network users. Many studies have proved that a bigger difference exists between men and women. According to Schepp and Schepp (2009) women exert more protection on their personal information and regulate their profiles to “private”, consequently, women tend to sift the information they post on the social network sites. Despite privacy concerns, studies have indicated that more women are more likely to maintain updated photos of themselves. Although, men and women users of social Media show distinct motivations and behaviors they support some similarities. For instance, a study that investigated the veracity of information shared on social networks by college students found out that men and women were likely to give accurate information about their partner’s name, birth, and class schedule.

The increasing rise of social media among women than men has brought with it opportunities for more participatory and new social dynamism. In the present society, social media tools have become a daily pattern in women’s lives, unifying their online and offline experiences, and becoming the dominant instrument of social interaction and interdependence. According to research carried by Strathdee (2005), about 42% of the women in the US participate in social media many times in a week as compared to the men. As they spend more on social networks, women spend correspondingly less time with mainstream media. Women, on a large scale, use Facebook and MySpace, blogs, forums, and discussion forums and Twitter follow in that order. Blogs wield important impacts on women than men. Strathdee (2005) argues that women’s posts on blogs are more captivating; about 80% of women spend their time online.

People access the internet through various methods; the common access methods used presently are leased lines, broadband, packet radio, fiber optic, and WiMax connection, among other methods. Internet use globally has been on the rise each-day (Forester, 1985). With market permeation, the segment of fast growth is diminishing in the developed countries, whereas increases in developing countries such as Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Caribbean are increasing. Many international organizations, for instance, the United Nations, have argued that internet access is a human right. Sustaining this assertion, some countries such as Finland, Greece, Spain, and Estonia have already entrenched it to form a part of the human right to their respective countries (Heeks, 2001).

Margetts (1999) argues that, although the internet has been evolving for over forty years, its impact in the Middle East has been a recent phenomenon. In Saudi Arabia, internet access to its citizen was achieved in 1999. Since its introduction, the government has played an important role in influencing its use by exerting more control. The government only permits its citizen to access the internet contents once it feels confident that it is safe and in tandem with the Islamic culture (Heeks, 2001). The Saudi government has implemented internet filtering strategies by instituting proxy servers between the government-owned internet connection and the servers connecting the rest of the world.

The Saudi government has censured internet sites which include; sites with provocative attires, holocaust, sites linked to opposition political groups, Islamic extremist’s websites, and free web hosting providers among other sites (Margetts, 1999). However, other sites such as alcohol-related sites, religion, and media are sparingly blocked. Despite the government’s endeavor of streamlining the moral of Saudis by filtering specific sites, it does not filter sites that appear outside the prohibited context. Another issue, which has been, linked with internet access in Saudi is the language. The medium access language of the internet is English accounting for the majority of home pages on the internet. Saudis who are not well versed in English are disadvantaged. However, the recent developments in software production have eased the problem of access, although some of this software have reported some errors.

Just like other countries, the rise in the usage of Social Networking websites in Saudi Arabia is a natural step towards the freedom of actions by users. There have been both ‘people for’ as well as ‘people against’ such drastic usage of the tools but as long as internet access to these websites is not restricted, one would find it very difficult to keep control on the media, the journalists as well as the common people who use such tools. Numerous Saudi individuals are expressive with blogs on various topics as well as video postings of individuals who need to express themselves. These content types in turn spread like wildfire using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter that act as a web and interconnect the entire population within the kingdom and internationally. An example can be of a person who decides to write on a controversial subject that affects the country and other followers comment, like, or share the content which then moves from the blogosphere to the social networking profile updates. These are then visible to the entire network of friends if commented on or acted upon. In other words, both the individuals as well as the government need to be watchful of what they post and the repercussions that it can have upon the masses.

Social networking comprises mainly of building online communities and linking them together symbolizing a mesh. People with common interests and activities would come to a common forum to express themselves. Almost all the social networking sites are internet-based and use Web 2.0 technologies like micro blogs, video, chatting, and other tools. In addition to keeping users in touch, social networking helps in niche networking concepts wherein a particular niche hobby or task is created as a platform for users to exploit. The research revealed that there are common features that all the social networking sites follow: they can post a profile including educational information, they can post pictures and albums, there are privacy settings that let you control who can see what, they can search for members and block unwanted ones, and lastly, a person can be part of a group of like-minded individuals.

One of the special characteristics of Saudi education is the separation between men and women except for the kindergartens and some medical schools. This separation is related to the respected social status of women in Islam. Mixing between genders is not acceptable from the Muslims’ perspectives and the Grand Mufti for Saudi Arabia from 1993-1999 wrote about the danger of mixing genders in the workforce. The Grand Mufti Bin Baz addressed the danger of mixing genders, which could affect the family and society. He argued that the Quran provided some characteristics about the women and the importance of following Allah’s orders.

Each gender has its character that suits him in managing his life to ensure balance from inside and outside the home. According to the men’s characteristics, they are more capable to work outside the home and responsible for the financial support for the family. On the other hand, women are suitable for working at home and capable of taking care of their children. According to Bin Baz, this balance ensures a quiet and safe environment for the kids and society. Also, if a Muslim woman would like to work outside her home she had to choose a suitable place and work with the same gender. This restriction is derived from the Quran orders for females such as women need to wear Hijab or Jilbab, which is a dress to cover their bodies and their faces to protect them from strangers when they need to go outside their homes.

There are more orders in the Quran for women such as that they should not have any decoration on their dresses or makeup on their faces in front of males who are not Mahram (meaning, the male relative such as; husband, father, brother, son, uncle, and nephew). This order is important in Muslim society because the decorations could attract the opposite gender, which may lead to immoral relations. Bin Baz used all these examples to convince the Muslims about the danger of mixing both genders and how women will not be in a safe environment with the men. He continued saying that Islam has forbidden Khalwah, where one man sits with one woman in a close area without any Mahram. Therefore, all these are signs of the forbidden mixing of genders in the workplace or place of study. The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia presently is Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Alsheikh who also has the same point of view. Doumato (2003) argued that women are segregated from men in public life such as; schools, universities, and work. He also mentioned that women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia as part of their culture.

Segregation between genders is not related to Muslim communities only; it is an issue in the western world as well. Wiseman (2008) mentioned the study that was carried out from 46 different nations to investigate the idea of segregation in national education systems, and the results were surprising, as there were no consistent enrollment differences or achievement advantages between countries who segregate between gender and the ones that do not. The act of segregation is also compulsory in the restaurants and cafes in Saudi Arabia. Manning (2002) reported that even the American companies support gender segregation in Saudi Arabia such as McDonald’s and Starbucks. Even though those companies stick to their rules in running their businesses around the world but they accept Saudi customs. Moreover, some of the businesses do not like the idea of segregation but they prefer the profit and winning a business in Saudi Arabia rather than not having one. They agreed to have two different sections in each restaurant one for the males and the other one for the families with two different entrances for each section. Therefore, segregation is everywhere in Saudi Arabia and is a part of its culture and religion that is hardly changed.

Internet in Saudi Arabia was running for the Saudi government’s benefit until 1999. After that time, it was opened for public access to the Saudi culture (Altawil, 2001). E-learning and distance learning had an interest in Saudi women. The importance of e-learning for Muslim women is immense because they preferred to be educated while they are in their homes and without separating them from the family environment. Hence, Reem continued encouraging the women who needed balance in their life between taking care of the children at home and education to take the advantage of technology as a way of developing their skills rather than wasting their time (Murphy, 2009). There are advantages for Saudi women to continue their education through online courses, for instance, there is no need to move to another place to complete the degree. The most important advantage for women in Saudi Arabia is that they do not need to mix with the men and break all the rules and culture. Besides, there is an advantage from the financial point of view because they do not need to take their children to childcare and pay for them. On the other hand, the disadvantage of an online degree is that some institutions are not accepted and approved by the Saudi Ministry of Education.

Kholood agrees about the importance of technology in the education system in Saudi Arabia in the era of globalization but with some restrictions. She believes that the more the Saudi students are open to the world through the internet, the more they fall in danger of losing their beliefs and cultures. She commented that Saudi students would be more westernized by following some strange festivals such as Valentine’s day, which is derived from western culture through electronic media. The responsibility will, thus, be on the ministry of education to encourage its students to practice self-learning from their early ages about their culture and religion awareness. Therefore, religion and culture are the most important aspects of Saudi learning, which ensure nation-building for the country. From another point of view, Al-Saggaf (2004) had a study about the effect of the online community on the offline community in Saudi Arabia. This study focused on 15 Saudis between the ages of 15 to 45 years (7 males and 6 females). There are pros and cons to this study especially in a strict context such as Saudi Arabia where segregation is compulsory in real life.

Besides, this study revealed some important changes for the participants such as they became more open-minded and had the chance to express their thinking and way of discussion with the opposite gender. The participants feel free in addressing their real names and not being naïve. It allowed each gender to understand the opposite gender’s mentality and characteristics. Online community provided the participants with a chance to express themselves and share their experiences away from the cultural restrictions, which resulted in appreciation from both sides. On the other hand, the con of the online community is that they spent more time on the computers and neglected their family members in the real life. Another con is that in the online community, there are some unacceptable topics, which are against the religion, and customs of the Saudis, and this could affect the person’s thinking. Alsaggaf believes that his study will benefit Saudi culture without breaking the rules. Parents, schools, and media have the responsibility of showing the advantages and disadvantages of the online community to achieve progress in the Saudi culture.

Management educators classify their students as millennial students (Reinhardt, et al., 2009). This classification is derived from the fact that some students were involved with computers since they were kids. Also, the students who practiced computer-mediated communication could get better knowledge and exchange of ideas than face to face learning. Wankel (2009) has explained the different types of social media that suit the teaching approaches and issues such as Facebook, blogs, YouTube, Twitter, MySpace, and Virtual worlds. It is an undeniable fact that the rising popularity of Social Networks in education has its benefits as well as its disadvantages according to its supporters and proponents. Today, the use of the internet is an important part of people’s lives. The stage has reached to such an extent that if internet connectivity is disconnected for prolonged periods at a school or corporate setting, a feeling of helplessness seems to occur and many corporations like Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and Google stake their entire businesses on the user being connected to the cloud.

Online social networks provide both the teachers and the students with a platform to interact positively beyond the physical restrictions of the school’s or college’s walls. This enables the teacher to provide personal support, track as well as statistically measure the performance of the students. When disruptive technologies enter the classroom, like social networking, microblogging, wireless devices, the students get a chance to express themselves more easily. There is a distinction between digital natives and digital immigrants, where education can be reformed by helping the teachers to change their pedagogy to suit the 21st century and the tools that are at their disposal. However, the media has a big role to play in bringing about a positive picture of Facebook, Twitter, and other tools. Also, there exist some limitations that need to be taken care of. For example, one’s private life should be private and not exposed to the whole world on Facebook. A certain sense of maturity needs to exist while exercising those decisions.

Conclusion

This research elaborates on the study about the effects of social media such as social networks on female university students in the context of the gender-segregated system in Saudi Arabia. The results reflect that social media has a positive effect on the collaboration of students as they can keep their culture and religious values without the physical intermingling of people of both sexes which is a requirement to their religion and culture. An exploratory study was carried out for postgraduate Saudi students at Waikato University. Those students from both genders were granted scholarships from the King of Saudi Arabia “King Abdullah”. They had experience in studying in two different cultures, in Saudi Arabia and New Zealand. They had a good experience with the mixed-gender situation at Waikato University.

Action research followed to make out the importance of social networks in the education system for Saudi females. The segregation between genders in Saudi Arabia is a big issue at the universities but with the appearance of social networks such as Facebook, both genders were able to interact easily without being present physically in the same place. The action research took place at King Saud University and Imam University in Riyadh. The rapid development of technology has provided a new dimension to how people accomplished their daily activities.

Social networks represent a technology that is prevalent in modern society, as they have simplified interactions between people of all ages in society. A social network is designated as a social system that is composed of individuals or organizations which are connected by explicit brands of interdependency. The interdependency can be in terms of affinity, friendship, common interests, dislikes, common beliefs, knowledge, or financial exchange, among other interests. The major social networks that were embraced included: MySpace, Orkut, Bebo, Facebook, and Cyworld, although others such as Wikis, Blogs, and Simple Syndication (RSS) have gained prominence in the institutions of higher learning. Social networks provided simple accessibility because they have been built on the Web.20 platform (Schepp and Schepp, 2009).

In universities, social network technologies have presented great potential in their capacity to transform learning. Perhaps this is due to its nature of interactivity, prompt and holding of ubiquitous abilities. This means that they can be used to provide avenues for both the student’s and the instructor’s participation, create pressure for new institutional arrangements, and result in practices and frameworks that will establish collaborative participation in the learning process (Cox et al, 2003).

MySpace, which was introduced in August 2003, and Facebook in February 2004 were the major players in the social networking platform. To state the popularity of these platforms, MySpace today has over 34 million users as of March 2011 and revenue over the US $ 385 million while Facebook leads the pack with over 600 million users, revenue over the US $ 2 billion and ranked as the number 2 most visited website in the world. With the recent implosion of microblogging websites such as Twitter (200 million users, March 2011), the online social networking space is seeing some heavy activity.

Social media tends to be short and informal, unlike emails. Additionally, search engines and crawlers are not able to access email records due to privacy but profiles of bloggers and social networking website members are optionally available to be indexed.

And as the logic follows, where there is honey the bees are sure to follow. Corporations, individuals, and entities from all walks of life joined in to the bandwagon of social networking where every website had a blog or Twitter feed that others follow or a MySpace, Facebook fan page that people could “Like” and comment on. The educational sector has also taken up social networking by storm and this is reflected in the discussions that students have of a particular topic and the willingness of peers to blog and contribute about certain topics. Social networking has become one of the most powerful tools; universities, as well as school students, are using these tools to interact among themselves and with the institutions; thereby, representing a mesh type approach. As time passes on, the average age of these tool users decreases and it is not surprising to see primary school students using such means of communication in their formal educational lives.

By the year 2011, a large number of Facebook users were in their teens and represented primary, secondary and university students. Hence, with an appropriate understanding of the role that these technologies play in the lives of the students, colleges and schools can interact constructively and market selective information thereby achieving many goals at the same time. Moreover, Al Bawaba (2011), reported that the number of Arabs using Facebook increased drastically by the mid of the year 2011. They reached 27.7 million users according to the second report of the social media in Dubai. He suggested that this incensement was attributed to the changing of the social network purpose. The Arab people found Facebook to assist them in political practices regardless of its real purpose as a social network (Al Bawaba, 2011). Twitter also had a noticeable focus from the Arab users as it reached 1.1 million users by the mid of the year 2011. The report listed some countries that have great users of Facebook such as the Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Lebanon.

The attendance was given much consideration in the classes and there was special consideration for the number of absences in each semester. After three absences the student was given a warning and with the fourth absence, the university did not agree to the student to continue attending the subject, hence, the student failed the paper, unless there was a medical report explaining the reason for her absence. The female supervisors played a noteworthy role in the class as she kept an eye on the class sessions, took attendance, and checked the identities of the students just to make sure that they were the right students registered in the paper. The male lecturer depended on the supervisor’s observations because he could not imagine the situation on the female campus. The lecturer mainly called out the names through the microphones and asked each student to read a chapter of a book while he interpreted. Moreover, the supervisor was responsible for spreading the test sheets for the students and observing them during the exam time.

The students were registered at the start of the year and were given the subject’s materials to study at home. Later, the students were required to sit for the exams at the end of the year on the university campus. The education system realized the difficulties for the students through that way of learning and they introduced distance learning to help the students to be more connected to the university. The university altered the traditional way of home-based students to online learning. The new courses were online and linked to all the students who could not find a place in the university. This improvement made a great difference in the students’ life. The students were more likely to be involved in the subjects and could see the lectures online. The problem here was that there was no much interaction between the lecturer and the female students. Also, female students could not hear their peers’ voices during their participation. Furthermore, all the online courses were carried out by the male lecturers; the female lecturer was not engaged in this type of learning even if the students were all females.

Complexities were facing Saudi students in handling online applications at Waikato University; on the other hand, the use of social networks, for instance, Facebook in the learning process proved to be very prosperous. Both the male and the female students agreed that Waikato University had to have an online application for the students but they said it was hard to guide and they thought that they desired a lot of tutorials before starting the university. The male students were more involved in the online learning process than female students. This was because they dared to use new ways of learning than females. The online experience for the female students was limited, as it was technical for them to use or navigate into the social networks, add papers, and submit assignments. Both the male and the female students who participated in the online learning process said that there were pros and cons for using the online process.

According to them, they considered online papers to provide an easy way of transferring knowledge. The online paper also suited female students more than their male counterparts because they were more involved with the family at home. Also, the online paper suited the New Zealand education system more than the Saudi system because the students in New Zealand depended on themselves. It is also true to say that the online papers suited the female students to solve the problem of mixing with the opposite gender. It also suited the graduated students, who were more responsible than the undergraduate students. Moreover, the online papers suited the Saudi culture especially if the lecturer is male and the students are females.

In contrast, the online papers presented some challenges to the students. The students had the idea that a person might lose his/her speaking skills by using the online paper. Moreover, online papers prevented students from enjoying the experience of learning in the same class with their classmates. Also, some of the online papers are outdated since they

were recorded a long time ago and have not yet been updated. Online papers do not provide an opportunity for the students to make presentations in the class, hence, not boosting their presentation skills and personal confidence. Nonetheless, online papers do not pay much attention to the attendance of the students which is one of the main aspects of the education system in Saudi Arabia and they found it hard to adjust to online paper.

Both genders were fond of the idea to use social networks especially after their experience overseas. They appreciated the technologies that linked them with their families and friends back at home. There are some applications, such as Skype, that helped them to connect with their families and friends in other parts of the world for 24 hours. They added that Facebook and Twitter were the most common and important social networks which were available on I-phones and this made it simple to access them anytime and anywhere. A male participant said, “I feel that I am carrying my friends with me all the time as I have the Facebook application on my I-phone”. A female participant also added, “I attend most of the events in my Family house electronically which is great, I saw my sister at her wedding electronically!” Both genders used their real names in the social network but there were some restrictions in adding their real pictures especially for the female students. The female students were stricter than the male students in adding the opposite gender to their friends or contact list.

The students contacted their lecturer through emails if there was a need, but it hardly ever happened. If they had any query or matters arising, usually they contacted their supervisor; for instance, if there was an adjustment on the lecture time or the exam schedule. Thus, they contacted the supervisor more than the lecturer. The students pointed out that the subject was not so demanding, thus, class attendance was not an important element. Instead, they wished to have an online paper that did not require their physical presence in the class. The lecturer did not support the idea of giving the students a research assignment because they might allocate it to someone to do it for them. As an alternative, the lecturer liked to ask the students to read a chapter of a book and summarize the main points. The lecturer was conscious of the relevance of using social networks in the study process even though he did not support the use of Facebook in the education system.

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