Pioneers leave trail to follow

April 27, 2001

The 29 postgraduate students on Form-Ami, an innovative course in advanced multimedia and information technology, are truly at the cutting edge.

As pioneers in the European Commission's initiative to promote university courses in the skills required by information industries, their practical projects include an e-guide setting out the programme for their successors.

The €757,575 (£470,000) pilot is run by a European consortium led by the Marseille School of Journalism and Communication at the Universite Aix-Marseille II, the Universite de la Mediterranee. The consortium includes academic institutions from across Europe and information companies such as Cegetel, Sun Microsystems and Gemplus.

The project is characterised by "radical teaching innovations", said EJCM director Patrick-Yves Badillo. He heads Form-Ami and is responsible for developing the programme, which includes the use of information and communications technology in pedagogy, in particular distance learning and the creation of multimedia products.

Students follow a common syllabus in ICT; art, design and ergonomics of multimedia information products; and the information market. They also choose one of three specialised modules: geographical information systems, security or pedagogy. All courses are in English.

Students apply the theory to practical projects such as creating a comprehensive CD-Rom and online guide to the programme, which will be distributed by the EC.

"In this way, we will be able to multiply the training and direct it at people in different countries," Mr Badillo said.

The ages of the students, who must have masters-level degrees or relevant work experience, range from 22 to 50. Half are French and the rest are mostly from other European countries. But among their numbers are an Armenian, a Chinese, an Israeli, a Palestinian and an Indian.

Their year's training, which includes a placement abroad, leads to a post-masters degree in art and mechanics of information from the Universite de la Mediterranee and opens access to European doctorate studies. The European Commission pays course fees and some other financial aid.

Daniel Brittain, who is specialising in pedagogy, is one of two British students on the programme. He found the course on the internet by chance while working for a European project after teaching English in France.

Kate Sapir discovered Form-Ami while surfing for information for her boss at the Israel Science Foundation. She and other students are designing an online interactive children's game. Working along the same lines is Portuguese student Filipe Silva, who has a masters in communications science and wants to make software for kids. His team has been developing an educational video game about time for six to seven-year-olds.

Form-Ami also has activities aimed at a wider public, such as videoconferences that link about ten universities to debate themes ranging from football to media in the digital era. It also works to counter the digital divide, notably through collaboration with L'Ecole de la Deuxi me Chance, an experimental school set up three years ago by the European Commission for pupils who have quit the traditional education system without qualifications.


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