Citekey: @Porcaro2014

Porcaro, D. S. (2014). Educational change in Oman: a design research study of personal, institutional, and societal reactions to collaborative knowledge building. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 23(2), 199–223. doi:10.1080/1475939X.2013.802993


I am reading this article when reviewing literature on knowledge building. However, knowledge building is not a central concept in this article as its general sense is applied here. Maybe constructivist collaborative learning is the general approach here. What’s relevant is FLE4 is applied in this study. What’s very interesting is that when introducing an educational innovation to one culture, there are so many different things that come into play to determine whether this innovation would be successful. This applies in knowledge building as well as documented in efforts introducing it to Hong Kong, mainland China, etc. This article would be suitable to be included in review on KB.


Students were responsible for gaining expertise in some aspect of their role through independent research and sharing that expertise with their group to collaboratively build multimedia kits relevant to the local Omani context. During the task, students formed knowledge-building communities of their own using Moodle as well as FLE4, an open source plugin for WordPress blogs (see Muukkonen, Hakkarainen, & Lakkala, 1999) which is based on the framework of Knowledge Forum (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1993, 1996). Students’ collaborative work was conducted online, so that mixed-gender groups could collaborate. (p. 6)

To address my research questions, I employed a variety of research methods to understand the ways institutional structures and students’ educational philosophies affected the introduction of innovative curricula (see Table 1). (p. 6)

My own cultural background is not rooted in Arabic language traditions, Islamic religious traditions, or Middle Eastern ethnic traditions. The closest I can claim is my Sicilian family heritage, since as the Sicilian proverb runs, ‘Scratch the skin of a Sicilian and you will find an Arab.’ Though my cultural worldview has been shaped by my upbringing in the United States, and educational training in the United States and England, I have long studied the history, languages, culture, and religions of the Middle East, and have lived and travelled in many different Arabic-speaking countries. I recognise my limitations in this setting as a cultural ‘outsider’, and turn often to many ‘cultural translators’ for help interpreting and making meaning of my own observations. (p. 9)

Findings: Omani culture’s effects on collaboration (p. 10)

This article focuses entirely on one of these factors, culture, and the many ways the culture of the teacher and student affected the adoption of CSCL. (p. 10)

Oral culture in Oman (p. 10)

One area where culture was most present in learning was in students’ preference for oral traditions of learning. An Omani faculty member suggested that students in Oman preferred discussing rather than reading, learning by speaking rather than writing. (p. 10)

this could be a challenge for KB and CSCL for sure. Interesting that these factors have been less reported in the literature. (p. 10)

Physical setting of the class (p. 11)

To a Westerner, the most noticeable aspect of many SQU classrooms is the separate entrances for males and females. Male students come from inside the building and enter the first two or three rows of seats, and female students enter from the outside (women only) corridor and sit on the back two or three rows of seats. There are often two or three rows of empty seats between them. (p. 11)

Teacher–student relationship (p. 12)

Traditionally, in the Qur’anic schools the teacher represented the absolute authority in the classroom. (p. 12)

The changing role of the teacher and student in Omani society has produced a range of reactions in faculty and students. (p. 12)

While some students and faculty have welcomed this new-found student freedom, others feared the lack of control in the classroom. (p. 12)

This distance between student and teacher is highlighted well in Eickelman’s (2002) review of traditional religious education in Oman. He noticed that there was much quiet memorisation, while questioning was rare and corporal punishment was common. (p. 12)

Hall (2009) suggests that due to the strong role of the teacher and the hierarchical role of the class, constructivist learning in Oman should begin teacher-centred and progress to more learner-centred. (p. 12)

Gender (p. 12)

Omani society has clearly defined views on women in society and the interactions between men and women. (p. 12)

The views of the role of women also reflect the ways women interact and collaborate in the classroom. For the students, there were varied and conflicting expectations for the voice of women in the classroom. (p. 13)

Another female student confided with me that she was afraid to ask questions in class if a male answered. While this was not true of all female students, in fact several female students were quite vocal in class, for many students, the cultural norms for women in society placed restrictions on their ability to discuss, collaborate, or present ideas in the class (p. 13)

gender restriction in some cultures
interesting that such reality exists in some cultures. it totally runs against KB and many western approaches. how to deal with them?
it reminds me of introducing KB to China. even though there was less restrictions on gender, cultural dynamics like this are common. (p. 13)

The physical separation between males and females also affected the way students were able to participate outside class. (p. 13)

Both male and female students noted that because the female students lived close to each other they were able to collaborate more often outside class, which often led to better-quality collaborative projects. (p. 13)

In the course under study, the differences between male and female students often manifest themselves through higher technical interest and ability of the male students, while the female students generally demonstrated more focused collaboration and problem-solving, creativity in applying theories to their projects, attention to detail in design, and quality in presentation of materials. (p. 14)

In a collaboration-based classroom, however, the societal limitations of male–female collaboration were a strong concern to the students. When asked if the students felt that culture affected their ability to succeed in the class, this male–female interaction was mentioned 42 times – 37 of those times the students stated they could not work with students of the opposite gender. (p. 14)

Many faculty and students pointed to various reasons for the separation between male and female students, including cultural, governmental, religious, and social. This is similar to the declaration of Al-Lamki (1999) that gender differences in Oman were social and not religious. (p. 14)

All the students in my study, however, agreed that online collaboration provided a place for them to share ideas in a socially safe space. Similarly, Khan (2006) found that computer-mediated communication lessened the male-dominant role of face-to-face communication and empowered women in the class discussions. This idea was confirmed by students who used the CSCL environment in this study. One male faculty member suggested that ‘the online kind of tools will even break, to a great extent, this separation between genders’. (p. 15)

One faculty member noted they often used online tools to invite male–female discussions on academic topics, something he felt was not possible in the classroom. This confirms the feelings of Jordanian and Emirati educators and students who felt that the ‘barriers’ between the genders were lowered online (Tubaishat, Bhatti, & El-Qawasmeh, 2006). (p. 15)

Cultural beliefs toward technology (p. 15)

Some students were less optimistic, and realised that some aspects of technology did not conform to Omani culture. (p. 15)

the idea of ‘misusing’ technology was a concern in the schools as well as within the home and needed to be controlled by parents and teachers, just as the internet was controlled by the government. For most Omani students and faculty, the most important aspect of technology was that it be used within the cultural traditions of Omani society. (p. 15)

Religion (p. 16)

In addition to indirectly affecting the separation of genders noted above, religion had an impact on the way students accepted collaborative learning. For example, one student noted that the idea of collaboration was a religious value. (p. 16)

While students realised that religion played an important part in their education, they felt that religion would not stand in the way of their learning. (p. 16)

Additionally, religion played a role in how students connected their collaborative work in the course with future skills they would need in the workforce. In Islamic culture, the idea of ‘Inshallah’ or ‘if God wills it’ is engrained into the mind-set of the students. It is not only a part of every conversation, but shapes how the students foresee the future. When asked what the students planned to do after graduation, most could not articulate a clear plan or direction. (p. 16)

Although foundational to Omani society, the results did not necessarily show religion playing a major overt role in students’ adoption of collaborative learning per se. However, it did have indirect influence on other aspects, such as gender, adoption of technology, and classroom layout, as noted above, as well as how Omanis viewed collaboration in general. (p. 16)

Collaboration in Omani society (p. 16)

The idea of collaborating is not new to Omani society. Many of the students and faculty mentioned that co-operation and collaboration were hallmarks of Omani society. (p. 16)

However, in many ways Omani culture is communal and collaborative, as Hall (2010) highlighted. It was on this idea that she built her design principles for social constructivist learning in Oman. But in other ways Oman society is competitive and individualistic, as noted above. (p. 17)

This idea also highlights the role of the family in Omani society and how the family, not the individual, is the basic unit of society. Students often talked about families, rather than individuals, making decisions about culture in their lives, such as technology use. (p. 17)

Furthermore, Omani society is fashioned on building relationships and appearing kind and agreeable. When students were in situations where their ideas disagreed, they often found that building the relationship was more important than refining an idea. (p. 17)

This was further manifest in students not feeling comfortable providing critical feedback, especially to the teacher. (p. 17)

Reaction to cultural elements (p. 18)

If there was conflict between teacher, student, or institution, the conflict may have been dismissed and the student or teacher continued to hold on to their cultural beliefs, often complaining about their instructor, or the institution in the process. (p. 18)

Student adaptation (p. 19)

One area where students had to make the largest change for themselves was their cultural understanding of the teacher–student relationship. (p. 19)

The students slowly changed their understanding of the teacher’s role in the classroom, eventually limiting their use of honorific titles that were common in Arabic culture, for more peer-based ones. (p. 19)

In the end, as students adapted to my own cultural expectations of the role of the teacher and student in the classroom, they found themselves more comfortable with the new learning environment. (p. 19)

Teacher adaptation (p. 19)

my expectations of the students (p. 20)

However, underlying all these issues was the cultural preference for oral over textual learning. Try as I could to introduce the Western concept of ‘term paper’ to my students, the necessary alignment between educational philosophies was not there. (p. 20)

Thus I was forced to adapt my expectations for these students in terms of reading and writing for class. (p. 20)

Course adaptation (p. 20)

Conclusion: cultural adaptations (p. 20)

Figure 5. Principles for designing for culture in Omani higher education. (p. 21)

One of the most obvious cultural influences on CSCL adoption was gender, since many felt male–female collaboration was not appropriate. However, the use of online communication platforms showed that the computer-support element of CSCL could play an important role in fostering collaboration in Oman. In terms of cultural acceptance of technology, students accepted the role of technology, including online communication, as long as it benefits Omani society. Religion was one area that on the surface separated the students from me as the teacher, but had the least impact on the adoption of CSCL. As long as the values of Islam were recognised and accommodated for, the congruence between students and me was ignored. Lastly, the role of collaboration in society meant that students were well prepared to discuss, argue, and work together in learning as they do in society. (p. 22)

Porcaro, D. (2011). Applying constructivism in instructivist learning cultures: A conceptual framework. Multicultural Education & Technology Journal, 5(1), 39–54. Porcaro, D. S. and al-Musawi, A. S. (2011). Breaking barriers: Lessons learned from adopting Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning in Oman. Educause Quarterly. 34(4). Retrieved from (p. 25)

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