$23m project connects the Outback

October 30, 1998

Australia's first virtual campus was launched in Melbourne this month for students undertaking technical and further education (TAFE) courses.

The Aus$23 million TAFE Online 2001 project means students even in the remotest areas of Australia - and overseas - can study via the world wide web. The new system is capable of handling up to 30,000 students at any one time.

Students are able to select and enrol in courses, pay their fees, access course work and lecture notes, take part in discussion groups and submit their assignments over the internet.

The software was designed by IQ Media, a Melbourne firm. Ed Dale, its director, said the software was unique in the way it was customised for the teacher, student and administrator. Mr Dale said that although the virtual campus used Microsoft products, it was the way these had been linked that made the system so unusual.

"This is completely dynamic," he said. "We believe it is far ahead of anything else now operating around the world. Most online learning uses a campus-based approach to navigation whereas the virtual campus delivers everything direct to the student and the teacher - it is as if you walk through the front gate of your college and there is the door to your class."

A student logging on at 5.30pm on a Monday would be told he was due for a maths tutorial at that time. A click of the mouse and he would link directly to the tutorial group using the virtual campus's chat facility.

Phil Honeywood, state tertiary education minister, launched the project by saying the TAFE virtual campus would ensure that geographic isolation, personal circumstances or even disability were no longer barriers to taking part in education and training.

The launch follows almost two years of research and development involving software experts, educators and industry groups. Some 30 TAFE colleges and private providers have been involved in the project.

Students will be able to access the courses from their home computer, via 10 learning centres. The Victorian government is establishing sites across the state, including public libraries. On-campus students will also be encouraged to use the web site to obtain additional information or complete their assignments and tests electronically.

As well as the Aus$23 million allocated by the government to the project, an additional Aus$10 million will be spent on professional development for teachers while a further Aus$4 million will be used to enhance the existing curriculum and make it available through the web.

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