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How Will the Internet Impact University Qualifications?

June 11, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 160

Will learners soon dictate their learning qualifications? That option could soon be coming our way if universities follow the research of Philip Duchastel, Nova Southeastern University. He says that university education needs to adapt to the new eLearning technology in a number of ways.

Instead of the traditional approach, he proposes a new learning model that includes:

  • Students who define their own learning goals and outcomes
  • A move away from common (course) learning goals to acceptance of diverse outcomes
  • Students who produce their own researched hypotheses rather than rewritten course content
  • Evaluation tasks that ask students to apply their learning
  • Students required to demonstrate they can build learning teams (collaborative learning) instead of (competitive) individual learning
  • Universities actively encouraging global internet communities (virtual scientific communities) beyond their own walls

Duchastel says this proposed model is best suited to online education. An online model of learning based around discovery learning removes the onus on course leaders or tutors to define what is legitimate knowledge and approved sources. The students, working in collaborative teams, would have to provide the evidence that their arguments (presentations of information) come from legitimate sources. They would also have to argue logically that their conclusions were logical, given the evidence they had gathered.

1. What are the checks and balances?

Surprisingly, there are several checks and balances inherent in this model of learning.

First, there is the learning team. The online environment allows some quite rigorous debate to take place because there is no body language involved to skew the frankness, unless it's taking place in a video format (like Skype groups). Team members will understand that allowing someone to come up with poor research will damage their case. They will want to challenge and analyze the research themselves, and will follow-up anything that could be suspect.

Second, the students' evidence of success is not so much on the amount of content or evidence they have gathered, but the conclusions they have drawn from the evidence or research. Any tutor worth their degree will be able to sit through a presentation and discern whether the evidence is sufficient and whether the conclusions drawn are valid. Very little marking involved.

2. How will the tutor's role change?

Tutors would become brainstorm leaders and guides when learning groups were stuck. They would teach critical thinking skills rather than facts that students could find out anyway. Their weekly (online or face-to-face) tutorials could be model presentations of the tutor's own research, and their teaching goals would be to show how they applied scientific method to ascertaining the credibility of the evidence.

3. Is online research credible?

The concern over credibility of research and information is a valid one. We only have to look at the victims of online hoaxes to know that if everything looks legitimate we are likely to accept that it is. Online we have to quickly ascertain what is purely for entertainment and what is worth considering. Critical thinking is a skill most needed by students, online or off.

4. Does critical thinking rule out intuition?

Intuition is a human quality that deserves more credence in the way we evaluate knowledge. It can let us down badly, because we rarely want to disbelieve old knowledge or be forced to take on new knowledge that lies contrary to what we 'know to be true'. However, the greatest advances in science have come from the scientists, explorers and astronomers who trusted their intuition and refused to be bound by old knowledge. They took a very little new knowledge (observation) and allowed their intuition to move them forward into what might be.

5. Where are universities going online?

The Internet can provide us with ways of interconnecting to further our knowledge and universities are showing definite signs of realising this potential. 'Online Nation', a 2006 report by Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman, looked at 'Five Years of Growth in Online Learning'. The authors say that in the US about one-third of higher education institutions account for three-quarters of all online enrolments. "Future growth will come predominately from these and similar institutions as they add new programs and grow existing ones."

These figures indicate that the early adopters of online (eLearning) have become the industry giants among universities. The investigation did not get deep enough to uncover how these online courses are being delivered - are they merely old text books to be read online or downloaded.

6. How must online course change?

Online courses are more likely to need strategies that hook students in because the tutor is not physically there to motivate. Instead the learners must become active partners in the learning process rather than empty-vessels-that-must-be-filled.

Maybe the success of education in decades to come will come, not from text books (on or offline), but in the critical thinking skills that students are taught combined with the encouragement of their intuition.

Heather Sylvawood is an educational and training resource developer who has created course resources for face-to-face and distance learning courses, including web-based and CD accessed training. She now runs a website called eBrainz ( ) where members of the public can have recreational and home-skill courses hosted for free.

Source: EzineArticles
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