'Computers will never supersede the need for universities'

November 18, 2005

Brian Ford, visiting professor at Leicester University, says technology adds a new dimension to learning

In a Google search of e-teaching, Leicester University rates pretty highly, Brian Ford, the university's new visiting professor, gleefully notes.

Professor Ford, a biologist and seasoned broadcaster, has written about information technology for more than 30 years and has had a web presence for more than a decade. In 1999, he was appointed royal literary fellow at the Open University, developing online materials for writers.

He is bringing his e-learning expertise to bear on Leicester's Beyond Distance Research Alliance. "The amount of research into effectivity and the way we can use this new medium is minimal," he said. Professor Ford, along with a new research team of three, will look at how web-based learning can be integrated into university learning.

"Computers will never supersede the need for universities. People who believe that are misguided. It's simply speeding up access to knowledge,"

he said.

But he added that the web had enormous potential for taking learning into a new dimension. "People thought nylon was artificial silk, Formica artificial wood, and computers artificial brains, but they are not new versions of the old. They give new concepts that are adjunct to the old,"

he said.

The initiative brings together teachers and researchers interested in innovation in teaching and learning, providing a forum for the development of e-learning.

Academic staff were often wary of embracing the latest advances in e-learning, Professor Ford said. "We need to show people how it works, how easy it is."

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