A team of British and Dutch educationists today finished a week's whistle-stop inspection tour of 14 Australian universities aimed at gleaning information on how to use computers more flexibly to cope with growing numbers of students on and off campus.
Australia has a long tradition of distance learning and has made innovative use of computers in teaching and administration.
The team of senior academics, managers and a librarian will split into three to cover the country.
The tour was organised by the Association for Learning Technology +in the United Kingdom and the SURF Education Foundation in the Netherlands, with the assistance of Ascilite, Australia's tertiary education computing organisation.
Rhonda Riachi, ALT director, said: "We are keen to discover new approaches to the use of computers in education. We were excited to discover that distance education in Australia started way back in 1911, so we hope to learn how computers are changing that tradition.
The tour began with visits to award-winning ICT units at the universities of Wollongong, Technology Sydney and Charles Sturt, in New South Wales, before splitting up. One team travelled to Perth, another to Lismore and one to Brisbane before meeting in Melbourne for a final round of visits.
"Universities in Australia are struggling with the same tension between teaching and research as in the United Kingdom. There are also similar funding issues, such as top-slicing versus core funding, public versus private," Ms Riachi said. "These are very hot topics, which affect the uptake of ICT."
The groups have collated their impressions using computer conferencing while on tour and have reported their findings to the Melbourne regional office of education.
Their final reports will feature in a book out later this year. Their findings will be presented at conferences in the UK and the Netherlands.