EFL Teachers’ Perceptions of e-Learning in a Saudi University during Coronavirus Variants
Coronavirus was announced as a world pandemic in March, 2020 and new variants of the virus were discovered in December, 2020. Other variants spread in different countries including Saudi Arabia that continued suspending universities and schools. A complete change to e-learning seemed the only available option to continue education given the detection of new Coronavirus variants. Such a long time of using e-learning can display how teachers experience this hard time of the pandemic. The researchers performed this study to explore EFL teachers’ perceptions of e-learning in a Saudi university during this period. They aimed to have a closer look at EFL teachers’ perceptions of the sudden shift into e-learning. They focused on the teachers’: (a) benefits of e-learning, (b) drawbacks of e-learning (c) suggestions to enhance such benefits and alleviate drawbacks. Collecting qualitative data was through a questionnaire and an interview that were conducted online to answer research questions. Results showed five benefits and two drawbacks of using e-learning to teach English in that Saudi university. The participants provided some suggestionsto improve the benefits and overcome the drawbacks.
Key words:online learning, COVID-19, Saudi education, EFL context, teachers’observations
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a world pandemic in March 2020. The confirmed cases in the world were 509,167 with 23,335 deaths including 1012 cases with 3 deaths in Saudi Arabia as per WHO situation report 67 (WHO, 2020). Therefore, many countries decided to shut down universities and schools. Similarly, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) suspended educational institutions (Saudi Gazette, 2020).
After months of border closure, the KSA partially resumed air travel in August 2020. Certain precautionary measures were enforced, such as the use of face masks, hand sanitizers and social distancing. The US Food and Drugs Administration issued an emergency use authorization (EUA)for the COVID-19 Vaccine in December, 2020 (“Pfizer-BioNTech”, 2021). The new Pfizer vaccine was used to vaccinate people in several countries including the KSA.
Unfortunately, new Coronavirus variantswere discovered in the UK with more contagious than the original strain (“Coronavirus latest”, 2021; WHO, 2021), and in South Africa and Brazil (“About Variants of the Virus”, 2021). To combat the new variants, many countries shut down borders again and imposed a lockdown to prevent the spread of these new variants (Reuters Staff, 2020). The KSA detected the new Coronavirus variant in January, 2021 (Taha, 2021), and it extended the border closures’ extension till May 2021.
Universities and schools were closed in many countries as a result of Coronavirus pandemic in March, 2020 (WHO, 2020). A sudden shift to e-learning took place to continue education (Hassan, Mirza & Hussain, 2020). Indeed, e-learning was used in many countries including the KSA via various platforms, such as Blackboard before the pandemic (Alshehri, Rutter & Smith, 2019). However, e-learning platforms were used to complement face-to-face learning. Because of COVID-19 and its new variants in many countries, education came to a full online mode.
The problem then was to investigatethe advantages and disadvantages of e-learning from the perspectives of Saudi university EFL teachers in the light of the overnight change to online education as the only teaching option in the near future.This study aimed to describe the teachers’ perceptions of the benefits and drawbacks of e-learning for teaching English during new Coronavirus variants. In addition, it aimed to have a closer look at the teachers’experiences and suggestions to develop the benefits and lessen the drawbacks of e-learning.
It was important to explore EFL teachers’ perceptions of the whole shift into e-learning in a Saudi University during COVID-19. Moreover, this shift to e-learning lasted for a long period of time and was the only accessible option to teach especially after the presence of the new variants (Taha, 2021). In online teaching, teachers are responsible to ensure content offered to students is engaging and not very difficult because students get bored and frustrated easily. Therefore, teachers attempt to make lessons more interesting and easier (Almansour &Alahdal, 2020).