Survivors guide to 'internet tsunami'

September 8, 2000

Anyone in higher education who thinks that online technologies are not going to affect bricks and mortar institutions should consider an e-business course being taught by Jack Wilson at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York State.

As well as the 55 on-campus students, there are a similar number who join the Tuesday evening lectures online. Professor Wilson, professor of physics and engineering science and dean of undergraduate and continuing studies, can see the distance learners, many of whom are employed by companies such as IBM and General Electric, on his laptop screen.

Professor Wilson said campus-based students benefited from having online classmates because they got the opportunity to collaborate on projects with people working in industry.

This is just one example the interactive learning expert will use next week when he addresses the seventh International Association for Learning Technology's conference in Manchester, to support his argument that the "internet tsunami" is changing the face of education in the same way that it is radically altering the economy and industry.

"One of the things about a tsunami is that there are certain things you can predict and others that you cannot, and while the precise outcome may be unknown, that it is going to be dramatic is very well known," Professor Wilson said.

One way traditional universities can avoid being washed away by the wave is to become pro-active about technology.

His commitment to teaching the e-business course is the prime reason why Professor Wilson will deliver his keynote on a video screen rather than in person.

The other two keynote speeches will be given by Diana Laurillard, professor of educational technology at the Open University, whose widely acclaimed 1994 book Rethinking University Teaching is still a key text, and Betty Collis, professor of tele-learning at the Centre for Telematics and Information Technology at the University of Twente.

Michael Wills, learning and technology minister, will launch BT's lifelong learning awards at the conference on Monday. The awards, which replace the firm's existing higher and further education awards, will run twice a year and can be entered by universities, further education and sixth-form colleges, libraries and community groups. They are worth more than Pounds 500,000 in sponsorship. Applications for the first awards close on November 17.

Alt-C 2000 runs from September 11-13 at Umist.


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