‘Blended learning approach can tackle transitional academic challenges’

MUSCAT: Oman’s school graduates joining higher education face multiple transitional challenges due to a wide range of personal, cultural and academic conditions. They face challenges such as adjusting to a new sociocultural and physical environment of learning that features multicultural teaching and a coeducational academic system, a change in the medium of instruction, teaching methods and approaches, and different requirements of student competencies, literacies and skills, among other things.
To facilitate the students’ academic transfer, improve their English language proficiency, digital literacy and learning skills, and help them better prepare for their upcoming specialisation courses, the general foundation programmes were designed according to Oman Academic Accreditation Authority (OAAA) standards and introduced in Oman’s tertiary education institutions in 2010.
These programmes have been viewed as pathways for Omani students into their future academic studies in a creative, co-operative and flexible environment in which students and staff can learn, grow and fulfill their potential.
In this regard, academics from the Centre for Preparatory Studies at SQU conducted a study to examine the transitional experiences Oman’s school graduates in relation to academic adjustment and performance in the English language and information technology components of the foundation programmes.
The study was particularly concerned with methodological, contextual and practical perspectives and factors, including the interrelations of these components and the extent of their correlation in terms of the learning outcomes specified by the standards and reflected in the materials used to address them.
The English language and information technology faculty at the Centre for Preparatory Studies and its foundation programme students comprised the pool of research participants.
Dr Victoria Tuzlukova, from the Centre of Preparatory Studies, who participated in this study, said that the study results indicate that Oman’s higher education sector and the foundation programmes need to be better prepared in order to meet the adjustment needs of the students, and provide suitable support for their learning, performance transitional experiences.
‘The individual experiences of Omani students during their transition from school to higher education include challenges related to such aspects as socio-cultural issues, language issues, technology issues, issues with learning and content knowledge,’ she noted.
The aspects related to technology, language and content include the students’ content, linguistic and digital literacies.
Content literacy encompasses the content-specific literacy skills needed for the acquisition of new content in a given discipline; linguistic literacy is viewed as a constituent of linguistic knowledge, and digital literacy represents the ability to find, evaluate, utilise, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet.
Another important concept in the study relates to the foundation programme students’ confidence in their ability to employ the appropriate behaviour needed to produce the preferred outcome in the contexts of constantly emerging and developing technology, and of tasks and activities related to the English language classes.
Hranush Ginosyan from the Centre of Preparatory Studies, said that their study indicates that the foundation programme is an excellent means of providing an induction to the academic environment and ensuring a transition from Arabic medium schools to English medium tertiary education. ‘It also has the potential to provide students with valuable learning experiences and enhance their language, computer and study skills.’
However, existing transitional academic challenges which Omani foundation programme students face, include inadequate language, computer and information technology skills that hinder their progress in their course work.