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Impact of new information technologies on women’s lives and learning in the United Arab Emirates Al Shamisi, Subha K.

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to shed new light on how young female students view information technology (IT) as it pertains to their perceptions of themselves as modern Muslim women living in a global society. The research was further designed to reflect on the future of IT in higher education and to analyze how IT-based knowledge is being used in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The study also aimed to provide a detailed perspective on how the Internet has affected some UAE women's educational and career aspirations. The impact of IT on higher education in developing countries has been nothing short of astonishing. The Internet has proven to be the favoured milieu for growth in education and careers in the UAE, but as the repercussions of decades of revolutionary changes are felt by all segments of the society, academics continue to question the opportunities and threats inherent in the instruction and use of these applied technologies. The researcher employed a qualitative methodology and interviewed sixteen females from the UAE. Some women were nationals living in the UAE, while others resided in neighbouring Arab countries or the United States. The interviews were done on an Internet chat-line (on the MSN Messenger platform). The primary data used in this study was collected by a UAE-bom, Muslim female researcher who earned the trust necessary to obtain privileged access to otherwise guarded Muslim female respondents. Moreover, because the UAE continues to be in the midst of considerable change, these data provided a snapshot of a society at an important moment in the evolution of its educational institutions. The researcher noted two types of online learning as described by the interviewees: the formal type (under the auspices of a facilitating institution) and the informal type (accidental learning done by the autodidact and the casual web surfer). Most UAE women were informal online learners, but some had chosen to formalize their education and loved the sheer convenience of pursuing degrees from home. Both formal and informal online learning are considered types of distributed learning, as is learning in a traditional face-to-face classroom setting. The boundaries of the distributed learning environment can stretch to include cyber cafes and public libraries with Internet kiosks. Distributed learning opens doors for non-traditional students who work full time or have families to care for, and it brings quality educational choices to those who might otherwise never have the freedom to travel in pursuit of their educational goals. The model Figure 4, as detailed in Chapter 8, concretizes the level to which religion, government and institutional policy and practices have challenged or facilitated the process of building a thriving culture of distributed learning in the UAE. In the UAE educational context, distributed learning is at the centre of three concentric circles, indicating the forces shaping education in the Emirates: the outermost circle reflects the pervasive role of religion in the society, the next circle indicates the role of government, and the final circle represents institutional policy and practice. The three overlapping circles at the centre of Fig. 4 portray "informal" online learning, "formal" online learning and the traditional face-to-face environment. As more traditional classrooms incorporate Internet technologies into their curriculums, the boundaries between these settings for distributed learning begin to blur and, as the study indicates, broad-based access to uncensored global information becomes an everyday occurrence for the UAE's religiously observant population.

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