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Perceptions of Saudi male and female postgraduate students regarding the impact of social networking sites and apps on their academic life and social capital: A study of Umm Al-Qura University - Makkah

posted on 05.03.2017, 22:50 by Abdulelah Ahmed Alghamdi
The use of Social Networking Sites and Apps (SNSAs) in Saudi Arabia has been reported as extensive, even on a world basis. Saudi Arabia presents an important context for exploring the use of social networking, as while technologically equipped to enable intensive engagement, the social and cultural mores of the country present challenges that are distinct and little researched. University students, and particularly postgraduate students, appear to be most engaged with social networking, and while an extensive body of Western literature has examined the academic and social impacts of SNSAs use on students’ lives, there has been little comparative research conducted in non-Western settings, and particularly in contexts such as Saudi Arabia, where cultural traditions are quite distinctive, even within the Arab world. A particular area of interest within this context relates to gender, as educational segregation has often presented challenges for mixed gender research.
   Within the existing body of literature examining the impact of social networking within the university student population, two main areas have been studied – academic and social impacts. In terms of academic impacts, both academic engagement and academic relationships have been focused on, while social impacts have often been examined in relation to social capital, which can be measured according to domains of life satisfaction, social trust, civic participation, and political engagement.
   The current study was a case study of one large university in Saudi Arabia. Utilising a mixed methods approach, both qualitative and quantitative data were gathered, and a concurrent nested triangulation design was used to analyse the data. The second generation of Activity Theory (AT) was used as a theoretical lens to guide the data analysis and present the findings relating to the use of SNSAs by Saudi male and female postgraduate students. Within the framework of data collection, 606 students completed surveys, 16 students participated in semi-structured individual interviews and 61 students participated in 8 focus group discussions.
   The quantitative and qualitative findings indicated moderate use of SNSAs for academic and social purposes by both male and female postgraduate students in the study. The students perceived more positive than negative impacts associated with the use of SNSAs in both the academic and social contexts of their lives. Interestingly, gender differences were not extensive however, the quantitative analysis highlighted more prominent involvement with SNSAs by females for the purposes of academic engagement and for developing their academic relationships. Male participants reported higher use of SNSAs for the purposes of civic and political participation. Although the domains of life satisfaction and social trust did not show any statistically significant differences between genders, the qualitative findings highlighted distinctive levels of experiences in these two domains. These differences in both quantitative and qualitative findings are not unexpected within the socio-cultural context of Saudi society.
   Correlational analysis illustrated the existence of positive correlations between all the main domains. Large correlations existed between academic engagement and academic relationships and between civic participation and political engagement, with medium correlations found between academic relationships, civic participation and political engagement and between life satisfaction and social trust. These correlations revealed strong relationships within the domains of academic life and social capital of participants, which was also supported by the findings of the qualitative data analysis. AT, as a theoretical framework, provided a valuable tool for understanding the different associations among the various components in the use of SNSAs by Saudi postgraduate students.
   Overall, this study provided a large range of data relating to perceived academic and social impacts associated with the use of SNSAs. Designing a study within a cultural context involving gender segregation resulted in a number of distinctive challenges. However, it was important to be able to provide comparative data to help fill the identified gaps in knowledge resulting from the dearth of mixed gender studies in Saudi Arabia regarding social networking. As such, the study provides a viable framework for mixed gender studies in segregated contexts. The findings illustrated that while males and females engaged with SNSAs on a frequent basis, the focus for females was academic, while males engaged with SNSAs for social purposes more often than females. This finding is of interest, in light of social restrictions experienced by females in Saudi society. Gendered differences in relation to civic and political involvement through SNSAs were also an important finding, but possibly not surprising, within the context of the study. A particularly significant aspect of the study was the support it provided for the use of second generation AT as a valuable theoretical lens, resulting in the identification of three levels of interaction related specifically to the Saudi context but possibly of broader applicability.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Michael Dyson

Additional supervisor 1

Margaret Plunkett

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Gippsland (FUA)


Faculty of Education

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