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 specialization courses, the general foundation programs were designed according to Oman Academic Accreditation Authority (OAAA) standards and introduced in Oman’s tertiary education institutions in 2010. These programs 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 programs. 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 program 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 programs 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, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the internet. Another important concept in the study relates to the foundation program students’ confidence in their ability to employ the appropriate behavior 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 program 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 program students face, include inadequate language, computer and information technology skills that hinder their progress in their course work. To illustrate, the results indicate that many of the students surveyed demonstrated a level of general computer self-efficacy that is insufficient for the English language courses’ tasks and activities, and need improvement in word-processing, formatting, typing, editing, online information search skills and such essential study habits as the use of online resources for academic purposes. On the other hand, insufficient English language proficiency hinders the students’ progress in their information technology classes, and adds to their challenges, creating stressful and negative conditions within the classroom.
Dr. Victoria Tuzlukova added that the results of their study demonstrate that cross-disciplinary dialogue of the faculties of English language and information technology and a blended learning approach of using both online and in-person learning experiences in teaching can help students engage in course-specific tasks that require intense application of language and computer skills. “Such an approach should help the students improve their literacies and contribute to their adjustment to university life. These solutions will give students more opportunities to apply the necessary skills in a more balanced and effective way, and promote a positive teaching and learning environment in which students feel more comfortable and gain confidence, which is essential for foundation program students’ smooth transition to tertiary education”, she said.