Thursday, July 09, 2009

Push for Online Universities

I read an interesting article recently by CHRISTOPHER EDLEY JR, Dean of UC-Berkeley School of Law suggesting that California should go in for a full-fledged Online University.

No budgetary alchemy will allow us to educate the state's future university students in the same way we do now but with less money. The budget cuts caused by the state economic crisis are real and huge, leaving two choices. Educators can do less with less, or we can explore new ways of providing value to California and the nation by doing more — albeit differently — with less.

I couldn't agree with him more. With new technologies emerging (cloud computing, netbooks, online collaboration solutions) every day and relatively established mature technologies such as Learning management systems, VOIP, desktop sharing, online meeting solutions etc. there is no reason why the state of California with all it technology potential can't make this a success.

With a computer (equipped with a headset, microphone and webcam), and Internet access, students and teachers can be pretty much located anywhere in the world. The content (homeworks, course material, tests etc.) can all be available in the cloud using technologies such as Google Apps, for instance. Recordings of each lecture can be made available after the class (much like businesses recording a Webex meeting). Students can collaborate and communicate among themselves and the teacher through IM, Message boards, Email, Twitter etc. The intent is not to replace the conventional classroom but to provide other options for education that takes advantage of available emerging technologies and is in tune with the times.

Britain's government-funded Open University, begun 40 years ago, offers some lectures in partnership with the British Broadcasting Corp. It claims 5 percent of Britain's adult population has taken at least one of its courses, and it ranks second in student satisfaction out of 258 British institutions, with high marks from government inspectors, too. Closer to home, many talented Californians opt for the pricier online University of Phoenix over California's public four-year campuses, presumably for convenience and schedules — or because of our shortage of seats

While businesses have adopted these new technologies for training, sales and marketing, the Universities have been remained slow in doing so. For example, a number of people work from home these days. Email, IM, and screen sharing technologies have become common place in most companies (and even social networking!).

Universities have been slow partly due to bureaucracy and partly because there hasn't exactly been pressure on them from any quarters in this direction. With the shortage of funds, and a dire need to educate the workforce in a globally competitive world, perhaps the time has finally come when the Universities might take more notice than ever before. The move towards Online has been a no-brainer to most people in the industry but its great to see University leadership pushing for education to go online in addition to the traditional methods.