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DISTANCE LEARNING NO BARGAIN?
Issue: Distance Learning
University professors, who acknowledge that they may one day have to teach distance learning courses, remain skeptical about the value of a virtual degree. On many college and university campuses, professors are protesting school investments in distance learning courses by signing petitions questioning how distance learning will effect undergraduate students. Universities are beginning "to move away from brick-and-mortar education and toward money-saving strategies like digital education," said James Gregory, one of the professors who signed onto the petition. The biggest criticism of online learning is that it ignores the social dimension of learning. "It eliminates human contact, including contact with professors and other students. The peer community is the most important aspect of learning," said Gregory. Mary Burgan, general secretary of the American Association University Professors said, "We are mainly concerned about the students." The concept of virtual degrees is motivated by "certification, rather than education," she said. While most distance learning is currently aimed at working adults, some academics worried about the inferior education they may be receiving. Carole Fungaroli, an English professor at Georgetown University, said, "What online learners will get is an asterisked degree, which is different from the on-campus degree. Universities will set up a separate but equal campus for single mothers and working adults, while they still have 'A' degrees for their stars." Long-distance learning advocates "confuse information delivery with education. Information delivery is reading an encyclopedia, and that's not learning," Gregory says.
FIRST-RATE ED FOR THIRD WORLD
Issue: Distance Learning
Malaysia, India, Kenya and other developing countries are looking towards virtual universities to train workers for the high-tech jobs of the new millennium. Because virtual universities are cheaper than setting up traditional institutions, international development agencies like the World Bank are eager to jump on the global classroom bandwagon. "We'll see an explosion of virtual universities in Third World countries. It will be a way to leapfrog ahead," predicted Shola Aboderin, chief academic officer of the African Virtual University, an online institution created and managed by the World Bank. Many countries are drawn to distance learning by the fact that their existing educational systems cannot accommodate the vast numbers of students looking for a college education. In Nigeria, for example, only one-fourth of qualified students can get into college, because there are not enough universities in sub-Saharan Africa. Resource-strapped nations like India and Malaysia are attracted to the relatively low cost of online education, both for the students and the universities. "A very good Internet infrastructure costs a lot of money up front, but when you amortize it per student over the years, it makes sense," Aboderin said. She admits that virtual education is not "the magic bullet," but argues that its potential is too important to ignore.
[SOURCE: Wired, AUTHOR: Lakshmi Chaudhry]
COMPUTERS PROMPT CHANGE IN SCHOOLS
Issue: Curriculum Reform
As teachers introduce new technology in the classroom, the teaching process, understandably, is transforming. New teaching initiatives change the basic dynamic of how students do their work. Students in Lauren Jensen's classes at Wisconsin Heights High School, west of Madison, don't just fill binders with notes from her lectures, (although they still do take notes), and they don't just listen to her lectures or follow a computer software program. They use the Internet, graphing calculators and other resources to explore the topics she addresses. For instance, if they are studying pre-calculus, they might put their results in the form of Web pages on which they show their work. In classrooms that many experts would view as the best examples the equipment, the role of the teacher, and lessons taught have all changed. A survey released last month by Education Week found that 53% of teachers say they use software to enhance instruction and 61% are using the Internet. Six out of 10 teachers say it is very or somewhat difficult to find software to meet their classroom needs. While there is little question that a well-run computer-oriented classroom has some strikingly different educational dynamics, one illusion that has pretty much died is the notion that computerization would ease a teacher's burden or lead to classroom programs that were "teacher-proof." Milwaukee Public Schools has created a Web site for teachers called the Curriculum Design Assistant. It includes 60 curriculum plans, with another 120 in the works.
[SOURCE: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, AUTHOR: Alan J. Borsuk]
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