Aboard the good ship Learning

September 25, 1998

Claire Sansom reports on the maiden voyage of a webcast that circles the world.

The Internet will carry what could be the largest educational webcast ever next month.

Global Learn Day II, a global showcase of web-based distance education, is the brainchild of John Hibbs of the Franklin Institute of Global Education. It will run for 28 consecutive hours on October 10 and 11.

Hibbs explains: "By 1997 it was clear to me that existing technology would permit a worldwide Internet conference. It was equally clear that the number of courses delivered via the Internet would explode." The first Global Learn Day, held in October 1997, attracted more than 12,000 education professionals, students, technologists and others. A keynote speaker was Open University pro-vice-chancellor Richard Lewis.

This year's event uses the image of a 19th-century clipper ship. After an address from the governor of Guam the ship will "sail" westward with 70-minute stops in each of 21 "ports" spanning six continents. The event will follow the sun so that each stop takes place on Sunday afternoon at approximately 2 pm local time. At each port there will be real- time audio and video presentations in one of five subject areas: teaching English as a foreign language, access and disability, lifelong learning, appropriate technology, and globalisation. Participants will be able to discuss the presentations in real time over the Internet. The discussions will be open to anyone who has access to a computer capable of running a modern Web browser and a reasonably fast modem.

There are many parts of the world where this level of access is not yet common. To attempt to address this problem a MOO - a text-based communication environment which can be accessed with simple computers and software - will be made available for real-time discussions alongside more sophisticated Java based tools. All presentations will be available in text format.

Eric Baber of NetLearn Languages, convenor of the "teaching English as a foreign language" section, says: "One of our aims is to encourage investment in the Internet in the third world. In the long term this will be much cheaper than importing expertise from the West."

Global Learn Day has no sponsoroship and so relies on volunteers; it will be webcast by the US provider Broadcast.com free.

Margaret Grieco of the University of North London Business School is one of the hosts around the world who will open their computer facilities to give all users, particularly those from disadvantaged communities, free access to the GLD site.

Professor Grieco says that GLD will be "a day for experimenting and learning, for finding out the range of distance learning possibilities on offer".

GLD II is at www.bfranklin. edu/gld2.html.

Clare Sansom is honorary teaching fellow, Birkbeck College, London and associate consultant, Venus Internet Ltd.

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