Women Helping WomenBy Barbara Jaquish
Professors Barbara Hinton and Kit Brooks have conducted many needs assessments during their academic careers. When they took their skills to the Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco, they became part of a research team of divergent cultural perspectives, united by the desire to create better opportunities for women globally.
On the one hand, the study offered two female Caucasian university professors from the United States the unusual opportunity to work alongside Arabic professional women. At the same time, the project provided young urban Muslim university students an arena for interacting face to face with impoverished native Berber women who have little or no education.
“We conducted a field study that gave us and, as a consequence, our students an in-depth look at women in a culture very different from our own,” said Hinton, professor and head of the department of rehabilitation, human resources and communication disorders. “The 35 Berber women we interviewed exhibited a high degree of community interaction, often sharing their limited resources with one another while living in a harsh, cold environment. I was impressed with their warm hospitality and their social skills. What a wonderful experience this was for us!”
In Morocco, Hinton and Brooks joined colleagues from Al Akhawayn University to assess the needs for services at the Azrou Center in a rural area close to the university. The center, a collaborative project that receives some of its support from the UA King Fahd Middle East Studies Program, serves rural women and youth.
“What a privilege it was to be welcomed into the homes of poor Moroccan families to conduct research that focused directly on improving the lives of women and indirectly on improving the lives of their families,” said Brooks, assistant professor of adult education. “The experience amplified the commonalties that cut across cultural, ethnic, and socio-economic divides. We all share as human beings who care about the next generation.”
Brooks explained that, because women in Morocco have limited rights, researchers had to secure permission from the men of the households and local government to interview the females.
“I have tremendous respect for these very private men and women who embraced this effort and the diverse research team,” Brooks said.
Researchers found that 65 percent of those interviewed had three or fewer years of school. While the women desired educational opportunities, lack of transportation would prevent many of them from participating. In rural areas, most travel is by foot or donkey because there is no public transportation. The roads are unpaved, and the weather and terrain make travel treacherous.
The preliminary study results were presented in Fez, Morocco, at the Women and Education Annual Conference in 2002. Results of the needs assessment will appear in the summer 2003 issue of Convergence, the quarterly journal of the International Council for Adult Education.
From Wombats to Wallabies:It's Different Down Under
By Carolyne Garciá
David Douglas gained a new perspective on distance education last Fall. In July 2002, he traveled more than 8,000 miles to Australia. He taught and conducted research for six months at the University of Southern Queensland, which has an extensive international distance education program.
"USQ is unique in that it has about 5,000 students on campus, but over 13,000 off-campus,” explained Douglas, professor of information systems in the Walton College of Business. "Many of these students are off-shore as well. The largest concentration of students is in Asia.”
At the USQ main campus in Toowoomba, Douglas taught two graduate classes in information systems project management with a total of 90 on-campus and distance students. Both on-campus and distance students obtain course materials, participate in class discussions and take exams online. He found the students intelligent and hard working, similar to those in the Walton College, but the approach to instruction was quite different.
In Australian universities students have more responsibility for learning. At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, they are expected to read more than just the textbook. Exams rarely include multiple choice or true/false questions, relying instead on short essays and case study analyses that allow students to demonstrate the breadth and depth of their knowledge as well as the quality of their writing skills.
Students do not evaluate faculty members. Instead, each course has a faculty moderator who must assess and approve the course syllabus, assignments and examinations. At the end of each semester, faculty members must present their grades for each course in a faculty meeting, where they may be questioned or challenged.
"This approach alleviates the problem of having students evaluate faculty on issues where they are generally not knowledgeable enough to make sound judgements, such as course content or appropriateness of the exams,” Douglas said.
The diverse student population represented many cultures, which posed some challenges. In teaching ethics, for example, the role of culture in ethics became apparent, but this allowed his students to see the impact of culture on business decisions. It also provided insights for his research on software piracy.
"Equity theory says that people develop beliefs about what constitutes a fair reward for their contributions,” explained Douglas. "In developing the Equity Theory of Software Piracy, we found that four types of fairness - reciprocal, procedural, allocation and distribution - were statistically significant factors in software piracy.”
Douglas has extended his theory to include a cultural dimension, based on Hofstead's dimensions of cultural differences, and is testing his theory in various cultures. He is collaborating with Australian faculty on a research project to determine the impact of introducing new learning tools on student performance in a database course.