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EFL Education in Saudi Arabia Dissertation


Abstract

Background

The English language has become the lingua franca of the modern world. It is used widely in practically every domain of the modern global environment, including education. The use of group work (GW) and cooperative learning (CL) has recently been viewed as an innovative approach toward encouraging learners to develop necessary skills and to be proactive when participating in classroom activities. However, the process of teaching EFL students essential principles of the English language requires substantial effort and an extensive understanding of the learners’ culture and the factors that compel them to acquire skills in a foreign language. Saudi Arabian (SA) EFL students are not an exception; there is an array of factors that defines their enthusiasm and motivation levels, which means that the subject matter must be studied thoroughly before designing the appropriate teaching strategies.

Problem

Because of a poor understanding of the factors that define SA EFL learners’ willingness to participate in GW and engage in collaborative learning, teachers may fail to help the target population develop the necessary skills and master the English language. Therefore, a detailed analysis of the factors that shape SA EFL students’ enthusiasm for participating in GW and CL should be undertaken so that strategies for reinforcing the effects of the positive factors and reducing the impact of the negative ones can be designed. Without a proper understanding of the factors that define SA EFL students’ motivation and compel them to take part in CL and GW, one is unlikely to create a foundation for their further academic success.

Methodology

To study the subject matter in-depth, one will have to consider using a mixed approach as the foundation for the analysis. The acquisition of qualitative information is crucial for studying the nature of the problem and defining the key factors that shape the SA EFL students’ motivation for participating in GW and cooperative learning. However, an additional quantification of the data will also be required to determine the impact of the factors that have been identified and to rank them according to the magnitude of their impact.

Questionnaires will be used as the primary tool for data collection. The questionnaires will contain Likert-type questions and contribute to the identification of the key factors, as well as the magnitude of their influence on the learners’ motivation and success. Afterward, an ANOVA analysis will be carried out to define whether factors such as peer pressure, time management, or a lack of leadership and negotiation skills, etc., have the greatest impact on the SA EFL students’ motivation for engaging in GW and the CL process. Before the questionnaires are provided to the target population, their parents will have to sign letters of consent.

Results

It is expected that the study will point to an explicit connection between family support and enhancement of positive interdependence (PI) among learners. Furthermore, the introduction of the target population to the concept of cooperation and a focus on using efficient negotiation strategies will contribute to a steep rise in the students’ motivation and, therefore, trigger an increase in the levels of participation in group work and cooperative learning among the target population.

Implications

The outcomes of the research point to the necessity to focus on engaging SA EFL learners in a multicultural dialogue, and also to encourage their family members to provide them with consistent support. Furthermore, the importance of using contemporary social media as a platform for promoting communication among students, successful data sharing, and teamwork should be taken into account when creating comprehensive programs for increasing SA EFL learners’ engagement rates.

Introduction

Background

The unprecedented changes that have been taking place in the realm of the Saudi Arabian (SA) education environment can be considered the foundation for further improvements in the current design of the teaching and learning processes. The increase in the number of educational institutions coupled with the sharp rise in the number of student applicants indicates that the educational environment of SA has been expanding significantly over the past few years. As a result, the diversity level among learners has also increased significantly. Herein lies the need to introduce new approaches toward teaching and learning as tools for prompting faster acquisition of knowledge and skills by learners.

The importance of group work and collaborative learning has been on the rise over the past few years in SA (Alfares 2017). By stressing the need for teamwork, educators contribute to the enhancement of communication among learners. As a result, the latter are enabled to develop new skills and abilities. Furthermore, new strategies for learning can be introduced to the target population successfully. For instance, the environment in which collaboration is promoted actively can be viewed as the appropriate one for introducing the principles of peer mentoring and metacognition as the two key pillars for the successful acquisition of academic skills (Hamdan 2015a).

Metacognition can be viewed as a tool for the further promotion of self-directed learning. Indeed, with opportunities for introspection and a detailed analysis of the learning process, metacognition provides the foundation for the further development of independence among learners. As a result, students become more confident in their academic endeavors. That being said, the recent changes in the SA educational environment have also led to the emergence of new challenges (Hamdan 2015b).

Research Gaps

It would be wrong to claim that the issue of motivation among SA EFL students has not been previously addressed. However, when considering the issues that encourage the target population and compel them to attain success in the specified area, one should mention the fact that external factors are considered for the most part, whereas internal ones are often neglected (Dobao 2014). For instance, problems such as a hostile learning environment, a lack of support from teachers, etc., are often deemed the primary areas of concern, whereas issues associated with internal factors, such as the quality of communication between members of a group, are rarely considered an important factor.

Furthermore, the problems associated with individual factors that define the success of cooperation between learners, such as low confidence levels among SA students, are rarely viewed as worthy of study. Finally, the effect that the relationship between a learner and a teacher has on the further enhancement of collaboration and teamwork among SA EFL students must still be explored in more detail. Therefore, there is a considerable gap in the existing literature that should be addressed through a study based on both the internal and external factors that contribute to the enhancement of cooperative learning and group work. Exploring these factors will help shed more light on the problem and determine pathways toward a successful solution.

Rationale

Since a vast number of students seem to be reluctant to engage in the relevant activities, the current approach toward promoting group work and collaborative learning could use significant improvement. Herein lies the rationale for carrying out this study. Unless appropriate tools for enhancing SA EFL students’ initiative and motivation for learning are designed and used, performance levels among the target population will inevitably stagnate or even drop to a considerable degree.

Therefore, it is crucial to develop a series of strategies that will help learners retain their enthusiasm to engage in collaborative learning. A comprehensive overview of the factors that contribute to the drop in motivation levels among SA EFL learners will help define the further course for the development of the appropriate teaching strategies. Particularly, the programs aimed at engaging SA EFL learners in active collaboration, as well as reducing the barriers between students and educators, can be viewed as potential targets for the changes that this study may suggest.

Purpose and Objectives

This paper aims to study the factors that determine the SA EFL students’ willingness to engage in collaborative learning and teamwork in the course of studying English, with the following classification of the identified factors as either positive or negative. The specified goal will be achieved by meeting a series of objectives, including the following:

  • Surveying the target population to determine the sources of their motivation;
  • Carrying out an analysis of the received data;
  • Presenting implications for additional research aimed at developing the strategies that will contribute to a rise in motivation levels among the target population.

Therefore, this paper is aimed at determining the factors that define the SA EFL learners’ successor, to be more specific, the lack thereof – in their English language studies. It should be borne in mind that, while this study embraces both the positive and negative factors that determine academic outcomes among the target population, it is the restricting, negative factors that will be the primary focus of research. It is crucial to determine the circumstances that constrain the progress of SA EFL learners in their English classes. In this way, tools for removing the negative factors identified in this study can be designed successfully, and strategies for improving the target learners’ performance in the specified area are more likely to have a successful outcome.

Layout

The paper is divided into various sections. This introductory section, where the goals and the essential background information are laid out, is followed by a review of previous literature on the subject matter of this paper. The literature review will explore the current state of the problem and identify the key factors affecting the performance of SA EFL students in English classes. Following the literature review, the methodology section will address the tools for data collection and analysis that provide the evidence for this study. In the results discussion section, the most significant outcomes of the study will be defined and interpreted. Finally, the paper will conclude with recommendations for the design of strategies aimed at improving the motivation levels among the target population, as well as methods for reducing the impact of negative factors. The implications for a follow-up study will also be outlined.

Hypothesis

Perceptions of pressure, an inability to use an efficient time management strategy, a lack of skills for making one’s voice heard in a team context, and the absence of cooperation-related skills including an ability to negotiate and manage information, are the primary factors that define the SA EFL learners’ inability to engage in successful group work and collaborative learning in the environment of SA schools.

Literature Review

The concept of collaborative learning (CL) is fairly simple, yet it requires extensive skills from students and teachers alike, seeing that the former need to participate actively, and the latter must design and implement strategies that will enable learners to become part of a team. By definition, CL is more than completing tasks in a group. For instance, CL may imply that students are supposed to engage in peer support and mentoring (Kwan & Yunus 2015).

Peer support and mentoring are often viewed as an appropriate method for supporting SA EFL learners and encouraging them to acquire relevant linguistic knowledge and skills, while at the same time helping them to develop a stronger bond with their peers and learn the benefits of teamwork. As a recent study points out, when coupled with scaffolding, peer mentoring works exceedingly well as a tool for encouraging learners to not only gain the required knowledge and skills but also to develop strong motivation toward learning the subject: “peer mentoring and role model programs for newcomers” (Ravichandran et al. 2017, p. 768) are viewed as crucial steps toward encouraging the target population to develop the required skills and abilities.

This approach has been proven quite successful for teachers as well as learners: “Much like the mentoring of student teachers, research has shown that practicing teachers can also benefit from having a mentor during their first year, or years, of teaching” (Kissan & King 2014, p. 149). Therefore, there is a need for EFL learners to build connections with their English-speaking peers so that SA learners can improve their academic achievement together with their social skills.

The perception of SA EFL students among peers can also be viewed as one of the crucial factors that define poor performance levels among the identified population. Indeed, studies show that, despite the active promotion of multiculturalism as the foundation for a successful educational process, a significant number of learners tend to be very suspicious about their SA peers. For instance, a recent study revealed that a significant number of learners tend to have a negative perception of their SA peers (Schley & Stinson 2016).

As a result, SA EFL students run the risk of experiencing culture shock and loneliness, being ostracized, or failing to develop a bond with the rest of the learners in the academic environment to a considerable degree (Svinicki & Schallert 2016). This phenomenon can be viewed as one of the crucial factors contributing to the development of reluctance toward the acquisition of the relevant knowledge and skills among SA EFL students, particularly the development of the ability to cooperate with the rest of the learners and engage in any form of team or group work (Challob et al. 2016).

The necessity of coping with not only academic challenges but also personal ones should also be viewed as one of the primary obstacles preventing SA EFL students’ from engaging in group work and collaborative learning. The lack of initiative among SA EFL students when it comes to asking for clarifications from teachers can also be considered one of the primary obstacles that prevent the learners from acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills, as well as developing a general understanding of the subject (Ochoa et al. 2016).

When considering the obstacles that may stand in the way of SA EFL students when they attempt to engage in collaborative activities, one should mention the fact that contemporary student collaboration often occurs in the context of online environments (Raja, Qureshi & Albesher 2017).

A negative side effect of the online environment, however, is a reduction in opportunities for engaging in visible interaction or collaborative content-based writing. Consequently, the prerequisites for creating a mutually supportive environment in which all participants encourage each other, and where peer mentoring and scaffolding can become possible, gradually disappear, leaving SA EFL students feeling helpless (Williams & Sugumaran 2015).

The lack of teachers’ understanding of how the process of online collaboration among SA EFL learners occurs also does not help in furthering the academic process and encouraging the target population to engage in the required activities. For instance, Li and Kim (2016) mention that there is a significant knowledge gap in the understanding of how collaborative online writing may help improve student outcomes: “To provide a comprehensive picture of the collaborative writing process, we need to examine how students first negotiate writing tasks and then construct wiki texts together” (Li & Kim 2016, p. 26).

Therefore, the recent transfer of academic processes into the realm of virtual reality and online discussions has made the process of meeting the needs of SA learners even more convoluted. The significant gaps in understanding of how the processes of knowledge acquisition and collaboration among SA EFL learners work have contributed to the further aggravation of the problem.

Apart from the factors that may jeopardize the success of SA EFL learners in acquiring the relevant knowledge and skills, there are a plethora of factors that have a significant positive impact on the learners’ progress. For instance, much to the credit of contemporary researchers, the problem of cross-cultural conflicts has been addressed in several studies. Strategies have been designed successfully for promoting a better understanding of SA culture among teachers for the further improvement of current teaching approaches. The incorporation of modern IT tools as a means of enhancing cooperation between SA EFL learners is one example of a technique that is currently viewed as viable and efficient. One such IT tool is a ubiquitous platform that has recently been created to meet the needs of SA students with special needs (Sun & Lee 2016).

Particularly the use of Facebook as a platform for distributing information to the target audience, promoting specific learning techniques, and— most important of all—encouraging the participants to collaborate and engage in teamwork, has proven to have a tremendously positive effect on the learners’ achievement (Wang 2014). For instance, the platform creates opportunities for sharing important information about examinations, including strategies for preparing for exams, possible issues that learners may have in the process, and how these issues could be avoided successfully. Thus the very foundation for cooperative learning and building a community of learners was developed with the help of a modern IT platform and the opportunities that it provided (Chan 2011).

The lessons offered by the authors of the study can serve as the basis for developing a comprehensive approach toward meeting the needs of SA EFL students in general. In particular, the emphasis on cooperation, information sharing, and teamwork can become significantly stronger when creating an online community where the participants are not constrained by time issues and can respond to new information whenever it emerges.

The sense of unity that an online community creates is also bound to affect the relationships between SA EFL learners and their peers positively. Indeed, while in the classroom environment, students may form small groups based on specific characteristics, thus ostracizing learners from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. In contrast, an online community provides the grounds for multicultural dialogue and at the same time does not promote the ostracism of SA EFL students.

Among the primary intrinsic factors that are likely to have a substantial positive effect on the students’ ability to excel in their academic progress, one must mention family support. The encouragement received from parents has proven to be a huge catalyst for the further progress of learners in all domains, including the acquisition of linguistic skills. Indeed, studies show that there is a direct correlation between the amount of support that SA EFL students receive from their family members and their ability to cooperate with their peers (Scager et al. 2016).

Furthermore, when considering the factors that can be used to motivate Saudi Arabian students to engage in the active acquisition of the necessary skills and knowledge of English, one must mention the fact that, as learners, the target population can be characterized as extremely driven by the necessity to succeed in the area of their choice (Henrie, Halverson & Graham 2015). As the study by Altasan (2016) points out, Saudi Arabian students typically recognize the utility of English as the language that is widely used for cross-cultural communication purposes in an array of domains (Farrell & Jacobs 2016).

A closer look at how SA EFL learners view the process of language skills acquisition will show that they tend to consider the learning process as an investment in their further success in other areas. For instance, the process of developing the ability to communicate in English can be interpreted by an SA EFL learner as the foundation for later acquisition of professional knowledge and skills, successful negotiation with a possible business partner, rapid career development, etc. (Bertucci et al. 2016). Thus the outcomes associated with a possible impetus for career development can be considered a substantial foundation for building the SA EFL learners’ enthusiasm toward learning the English language.

That being said, viewing the process of SA EFL students’ learning solely from the perspective of the integrative (i.e., outcome-based) approach toward motivational development would be much too limited. As pointed out above, the target population is driven not only by extrinsic factors but also by intrinsic factors that determine their success in acquiring the necessary knowledge. Consequently, an integrative outlook on the motivation of SA learners must also be emphasized. In this way, a foundation for meeting the needs of the target population can be successfully created (Albadri 2012).

By affecting the levels of the learners’ intrinsic and integrative motivation, an educator will be able to contribute to a consistent rise in the efficacy of group work among SA EFL learners. Particularly, the prerequisites for helping the target population to feel more comfortable in the classroom environment and, therefore, engage in activities requiring teamwork will be created. As a result, the CL process will be enhanced successfully, and SA EFL learners will be inclined to share information with the rest of the students, while at the same time taking an active part in group activities.

Furthermore, the increase in the engagement levels among the target population is likely to trigger reconsideration of their role in the team; in particular, it is expected that the learners will take a more active role in the group work process and assume roles that require certain leadership skills, as well as the ability to communicate one’s ideas efficiently and negotiate successfully (Chen, Wang & Chen 2014).

Furthermore, when it comes to considering the extrinsic factors affecting the development of CL learning skills among SA EFL students, one should mention the phenomenon of positive interdependence (PI). Defined as the condition in which “each member has a unique contribution to the common effort and each member’s effort is necessary and required for the success of the group” (Laal 2012, p. 1434), positive interdependence reinforces the connection between participants by linking them with a common goal. As a result, the target population develops not only the skills required to engage in a successful CL process but also positive qualities such as responsibility and independence (Lin, Groom & Lin 2013).

The identified approach should be reinforced with the help of strategies based on scaffolding and involving active support from teachers and educators. Furthermore, cooperation between SA EFL students and the rest of the class must be coupled with peer mentoring strategies. Successful cooperation and implementation of peer mentoring strategies for encouraging students to share information and engage in the active acquisition of the required knowledge are highly likely to have a direct positive effect on the SA EFL students’ academic progress, as the environment of peer support and assistance will help SA EFL learners feel comfortable and therefore inclined to participate in group tasks and activities (Lawrence & Wah 2016).

The concept of PI should be viewed as a crucial constituent of SA EFL students’ success in CL activities and engagement in group work. Furthermore, PI has become especially significant for EFL students who have to engage in group work in an online environment, as a recent study shows: “online group work requires positive interdependence among group members” (Xu, Du & Fan 2015, p. 202). Therefore, group cohesion is critical to the further success of a SA EFL student as far as the acquisition of the English speaking skills is concerned.

The introduction of the concept of PI in an academic context will also allow for the further promotion of independence and responsibility among learners. Furthermore, the framework can be coupled with an approach based on peer reviewing and mentoring, thus triggering a rapid increase in the levels of understanding and enthusiasm among SA EFL students (Sung, Chang & Liu 2016). Specifically, the problems associated with unequal levels of participation among the target population can be resolved successfully with the adoption of this approach.

It should not be assumed that peer mentoring and assessment are the ultimate tools for improving learners’ progress and enhancing their motivation levels immediately. As efficient as peer assessment and mentoring has proven to be when supported by a PI-based technique, it also has its limitations. In particular, the study by Kao (2012) shows that there are several threats to the success of peer-assessment based techniques. While issues associated with learners’ engagement levels also have a tangible effect on the outcomes of a strategy based on peer assessment, the success of the identified approach also hinges to a considerable degree on the teaching strategies used by the educator.

For example, the support that a teacher provides to EFL learners while they conduct peer assessments defines the degree of the learners’ investment and therefore their motivation to learn the necessary information. Moreover, the introduction of peer assessment techniques requires the use of a well-balanced teaching approach, as the use of the identified framework may lead to favoritism and therefore to a drop in students’ motivation levels (Kao 2012).

Nevertheless, when the choice of teaching strategy is carefully considered and the scaffolding process is carried out in a well-balanced manner, one is likely to achieve a positive outcome in maintaining high levels of engagement among SA EFL learners (Kao 2012). At the same time, it is essential to ensure that the target population can develop critical thinking skills that will help them evaluate their peers’ work accordingly. While students will be provided with detailed guidelines concerning the process of assessment and the standards according to which the completed assignments will be evaluated, it will be necessary to make sure that learners are aware of the choices that they make and the considerations guiding them when grading their peers’ papers in a certain way. Therefore, the development of critical thinking abilities that will allow the students to grade their peers’ works will become not only possible but also crucial in the context of the classroom environment (Tafazoli & ‎Romero 2016).

The possibility of unequal participation levels, which the introduction of peer assessment techniques into the classroom environment may invite, will also have to be appropriately addressed so that engagement levels among the SA EFL learners will remain high. In the context of a classroom where some of the learners are less proficient in English than others and less inclined toward acquiring the relevant knowledge and skills, the students that show less success in mastering the language may ultimately end up playing only the role of the students whose works are assessed by others (Hung & Young 2015).

Upon discovering that their role is restricted to being assessed and is not intrinsically engaging, SA EFL learners may be unwilling to participate in further class activities, hindering their development of the required knowledge and skills. Therefore, it will be crucial for SA EFL students to understand the peer assessment instructions and be given a chance to evaluate their peers’ papers to the same extent as the rest of the class is. As a result, a steep rise in motivation levels among SA EFL learners can be expected (Hamdan 2015).

Kao’s (2012) study shows that the willingness of the SA EFL students to participate in group work and collaboration-oriented activities is also determined by the degree of trust that the teacher has for them and their abilities. Educators must give the target population a chance to develop the required skills and gain a significant amount of independence that will be required for their further self-directed learning.

Thus the choice of teaching strategy is one of the crucial factors that affect SA EFL learners’ willingness to engage in group work and develop collaborative learning skills. The scaffolding strategy that the teacher chooses to direct the learners in the assessment process, in turn, should be viewed as an essential factor that will determine the outcomes of the learning process to a considerable degree. In other words, a teacher must support SA EFL students throughout the process of knowledge and skill acquisition so that they can remain motivated. This approach will require the active use of positive reinforcement techniques as the means of helping students to develop the skills associated with the correct use of English grammar, memorizing the usage of new English words and collocations, etc.

It should be borne in mind that the factors that may affect the performance of SA EFL learners in the course of acquiring the relevant English skills are quite numerous and, therefore, are not restricted to the ones mentioned above. That being said, influences such as the support of family members, the choice of teaching and scaffolding strategies, and the management of cultural issues that SA EFL students may have should be listed among the key determinants of their further performance in the environment of an EFL classroom. Therefore, they need to be considered first when defining strategies for keeping motivation levels high among the target population. As a result, significant progress in acquiring the relevant skills and mastering English.

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