A virtual dilemma

July 19, 1996

Mike Fitzgerald ("Polar bores miss multimedia point", THES, July 5) is right to be concerned about the polarisation of views on information technology and education. As a computer specialist, I ought to be one of the "Beam me up Scotties", but I worry that virtual universities may be convenient for mature life-long learners and those engaged in professional updating but will not provide the sense of community inherent in conventional institutions that is so valuable to younger students.

The "Luddites" equate the introduction of IT with the lowering of standards and quality. This is a genuine worry. Simply replacing lectures and lecturers with computer-based materials (no matter how sophisticated) is not likely to improve learning by itself. To try to bring the two poles closer we should not be focusing on IT as an end in itself. Rather, we should be building on the experience gained in open and student-centred learning to develop a mode in which IT can play a major role.

Effectiveness is the key. We need effective technology-enabled learning and teaching strategies so that we can enhance the student learning experience. Once this is done, efficiency gains from the use of IT may follow. This should satisfy not only the "Luddites" and the "BMUSs" but also higher education managers.

Ray Jones School of computing University of North London

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