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Arabic made Easy
For my final year project I have decided to make an online Arabic tutorial website for non-Arabic speakers. I have chosen this project due to the fact that I myself have recently took pleasure in learning the language, and feel that I can provide users with a different angle of learning. I feel that, due to the fact that I; myself, have once been in their place, can relate to, and value their needs as well as providing them with a good level of content for their tutorial. The project would also give me the chance of revising what I already know, as well as providing me with an opportunity for further learning and research.
I designed and built my tutorial website on the supposition that those users who will be using the tutorial already have some sort of foundation in the Arabic language and are not totally new to it. Therefore, my application would only be there as a means of support and further developing their knowledge in key areas of the language.
For the development of a valuable website which is efficient, I knew that I would have to do an exhaustive amount of research into the learning capabilities, thinking styles and requirements of people. Furthermore, I would then, have to reflect the result of these findings in my implementation and design of my tutorial.
From my first glance at the requirements of students when it comes to learning, I could think of their preference of an exciting and interactive learning environment, as opposed to learning from a book. This thought may be due to the fact that I myself prefer online tutorials rather than reading from a book. Moreover, I would say that the levels of interactivity provided by online tutorial websites can be increased by the implementation of media tools such as videos for example (1). Conventional learning and teaching systems may be overtaken due to the increasing popularity of online learning tutorials and lessons.
In order to construct my website, I tried to make use of as much of the available software as I could. I used the notes on how to use PHP and develop websites from my DCS150: Fundamentals of Web Technology course. These notes helped me greatly in revising what I had learnt in the first year as well as giving me the chance to implement the coding to see if I had learnt it well.
In conclusion, I will be explaining in my report the different steps I took in researching material for the construction of my tutorial site and my findings throughout the course of the project. I will also be going through the different obstacles that I came across and how I dealt with these obstacles before finally moving on to the design, implementation, evaluation and conclusion of my report.
2 Background research
For my background research, I made use of both methods of research; field and desk research to get a good level of understanding of what I'll need to do for my project. This was in order to cover as many angles of research possible and to also lay a good foundation for the design and implementation of my website.
This method of research I used was in the form of:
- Observing lessons in a classroom.
- Interviewing an Arabic speaking student.
- Speaking with an Arabic language teacher as well as the director of the Languages department.
This method of research I used was in the form of going through existing literature on:
- The learning and psychology of people
- The dawn of the internet as a means for online-learning
- The Design of efficient tutorial websites
- The development of tutorial websites
- Analyzing and comparing existing tutorial websites
2.1 Field Research
2.1.1 Observing lessons in classroom
I went to the CMYT centre in my local area, which is a centre that organises many activities as well as courses in the Arabic language. The aim of my visit was in order to explore and get a good feel of how the language is taught. I also wanted to examine and adopt any useful techniques employed by the teacher in order to use in my own website. So, I sat down and analysed a few lessons. Although, I felt like I didn't discover any special technique I hadn't already come across, what I did observe was that the teacher would make use of images and gestures extensively to make the students understand what he was saying. I noticed that the students would almost certainly appreciate those sentences that had images involved in contrast to those without any. This broadened my vision and gave me the idea of including the use of images and gestures in my tutorial to provide a greater level of interaction. Moreover, I was, not only able to visualize how my website would look like with the use of images and gestures, but I had now also seen the results and benefits gained by its incorporation in the classroom.
2.1.2 Interview with international Arabic speaking student
Notes of interview will be available in the appendix
2.1.3 Interview with Arabic teacher
Notes of interview will be available in the appendix
2.2 Desk research
2.2.1 The learning and psychology of people
As my project is based on teaching students Arabic online, the first thing I needed to investigate was the psychology behind peoples learning. This was in order to get an understanding behind the different learning styles of people so that my website could cater for them.
During my research I came across the Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) model (Barbara Allan, 2002) (2) which is a field of study and a powerful body of information concerning how the mind of a human works. The indispensable rule of NLP is that it is in a person's power to alter his own subconscious programming for the better (3). This model draws attention to the different methods that people use to access information in their mind as well as their preferred means of organizing that information. It identifies that people will either use kinesthetic, auditory or visual learning methods, in order to process and learn things. As for the types of learners; kinesthetic learners like to be involved in what they do and generally work well with their hands. On the other hand, auditory learners like to make use of their hearing faculty and therefore listen to and examine things in order to have a discussion. The visual learners, in contrast to both of the other two types of learners, prefer to use information that can be looked at and visually scrutinized; for example images, graphs etc.
This model of study made it evident that in order for me to achieve success in my tutorial website; I would need to incorporate the preferences of the different types of learners into my tutorial. Upon further study, I found that a good way to implement this would be by providing varying learning activities that take into consideration the different users learning styles.
As I looked further into people's learning styles, I came across The Honey and Mumford model (Peter and Alan) (4). This model indentifies that the majority of people are not aware of their preferred learning style; therefore it provides a learning style questionnaire to determine which of the four types of learners an individual belongs to (5). The first types of learners are the activitists. These types of learners are generally keen and eager on executing tasks straightaway. They like to immerse themselves fully in new experiences and carry out actions to only consider the consequences of their actions later. On the other hand, the second type of learners; the reflectors, unlike the activitists, are cautious and like to stand back and watch rather than acting upon things instantaneously. They like to analyze and gather information about different events and experiences. They are not hasty in reaching conclusions but rather use information from different observations to maintain a bigger picture and outlook on things. The third of the types of learners are the theorists. They tend to analyze problems objectively and in a logical manner. They also value wisdom and prefer to stick to basic presumptions and theories to solve things. The pragmatists are the fourth and final type of learners. They are more focused on getting straight to the point when getting things done, rather than lengthy planning and thought. It is therefore important to bare in mind the different styles of learning that people have before moving on to designing any tutorial (6). However, in reality, due to the complexity of our brain, it is highly reasonable to conclude that a person may have more than one learning style rather than just one out of the four. For this reason, I was able to appreciate; having to bare in mind the different categories of learners and also provide them with the styles of learning that best suites them for my tutorial.
2.2.2 The dawn of the internet as a means for online-learning
Due to the rapid advances in technology and the wide availability of powerful media tools for communication; learning is not as it used to be. What we know of people in the past, having to travel to learn and seek knowledge, has been transformed to knowledge and learning coming to them; with the dawn of the internet (7). We have reached a stage of revolution, where the internet plays a major role in the educational systems. There is undoubtedly a great influence in communication through the Internet, growth, and exchange of vast resources by way of this means. Institutions are trying their best to implement and make use with this influential tool. The valuable and proficient use of online teaching and learning has just begun, and endurance will be the assessment for quality assurance.
Schools, colleges and universities have all strived to make use of the internet in order to provide their students with support in their education. Moreover universities have taken a step further by discovering ways of bringing the benefits of lessons in class into an online-learning setting. Private institutions have also made use of this powerful tool by providing online courses. The fact that the internet is widely available has contributed to its popularity as tool for teaching and learning. Furthermore, online-learning has paved a way for the institutions to accept more students as there are no longer the limitations of brick walls; meaning that more people would have access to learning than ever before.
Online-learning, has provided a distinct advantage of flexibility in the learning courses they offer. It has made it possible for mature students to study from home; without having to be away from their families or their jobs. It has also made it possible for them to overcome the feeling of isolation felt by being the only mature student; surrounded by younger students. Furthermore it has also relieved students from the long hours of journeying to and from the place of study. These crucial hours can now be used as a means of constructive learning.
In addition online learning makes it possible for students to learn at their own speed as well as allowing them access to read course material in their own convenience. It also educates students who live in remote places that wouldn't be able to commute to a classroom otherwise (8).
On the other hand, key questions and concerns have arisen concerning online learning. There is still a question as to whether the distinctive quality of the internet and media can promote better learning (Kozma, R. B. 1994) (9). Some have also questioned how teaching support from mere comments put on online websites would improve learning and have criticized that online-learning may replace actual classrooms and possibly corrupt the value of teaching and learning (10). In addition, interactivity is a matter of great worry in front of institutions keen on providing online-learning in terms of its level and form. The answer as to what amounts to 'interactivity' has been and is still rather ambiguous for some people (11). To a number of people, it means facilitating students and teachers to converse and exchange thoughts in an online chatroom; whereas to others, simply writing a question of some sort on a board or forum meets the criteria of interactivity. In any case, I would think as long as the aim of providing that online platform for learning is achieved effectively, it wouldn't be of great concern, as to which of the above two answers one takes. Another criticism that some argue is the social isolation of the online learning environment (Aragon 2003; Misanchuk and Anderson 2001) (12). Nonetheless I would say that these criticisms cannot in any way challenge the benefits of online learning as it continues to show and its popularity is ever-increasing (Allen and Seaman 2008) (13).
In conclusion, I have found in the course of my research the criticisms and benefits of online learning. Furthermore, I have seen that institutions of higher education have taken the idea of implementing distance learning and have given the option of studying courses either in a mixed or dual-mode (14). This gives the student the option of doing the course fully on campus or providing some of the modules online. However, I haven't come across this option of study in Queen Mary as part of my computer science degree unfortunately. I have also understood reasons why people take online courses which I couldn't before. I used to wonder why people would prefer online studies rather than come to a class. I had distance-learning students enrolled in my courses and have learnt from my research the convenience it is for them learning from home; online. As a result, I learnt that my website would have to be a good alternative to a classroom environment, in the sense that there would have to be a level of support like that of a teacher for the students in terms of providing examples and tips to answers. The website would also need to support students with their revision as well as providing some testing to see whether they have benefitted from the tutorials.
2.2.3 The Design of efficient tutorial websites
The design and configuration of a tutorial or learning website plays a critical role in its success. Nevertheless, time and again this factor is disregarded or perceived as insignificant in comparison to the presentation and quality of the learning resources themselves. These are the key success factors in teaching/learning that is oriented towards students, who will become autonomous self-learners using the media and the support services. The good standard and quality of the Internets tutoring method is effective in shaping peoples learning capacities.
Note: I'm sorry to say that, although I have prepared information for the sections after this point, due to a problem that occurred, I wasn't able to write it on time with this deadline and the development is still in progress. However, the final draft will be ready in time for its deadline.
2.2.4 The development of tutorial websites
2.2.5 Analyzing and comparing existing tutorial websites
2.3 The Arabic language
(2) E-learning and teaching in library and information services By Barbara Allan 2002 edition.
(4) Manual for learning by Peter Honey and Alan Mumford 1986
(7) The power of the Internet for learning moving from promise to practice By Johnny Isakson, Robert Kerrey
(9) Kozma, R. B. (1994)]. Will media influence learning? Reframing the debate, Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 7-19].
(12) Aragon 2003; Misanchuk and Anderson 2001. Taken from Successful Online Learning: Managing the Online Learning EnvironmentBy Theresa Ann Middleton Brosche page 147
(13) Allen and Seaman 2008. Taken from Successful Online Learning: Managing the Online Learning EnvironmentBy Theresa Ann Middleton Brosche page 147