I have always been intrigued by the promise of online education. It is easy to see how geographic and economic boundaries can be overcome through technology. Educational institutions can compete for students well beyond their traditional local boundaries, growing nationally and internationally while bringing down their per-seat costs. Schools no longer need expensive classrooms and dormitories to grow.
Small, innovative institutions can grow globally and as rapidly as they dare to dream. High-quality teaching faculty can be recruited from anywhere on the planet -- to teach thousands of students simultaneously. Students can study anytime and attend classes from anywhere. In addition, growth of free, high-quality education sites such as Khan Academy
and open-source courses such as Opencourseware at MIT, along with global satellite and broadband communications networks, have removed economic, social, and geographic barriers to high-quality education.
However, several additional transformations are underway as well. Instead of printing expensive academic books that quickly become obsolete, newer forms of interactive online books and educational and testing materials are being created. These books are not only easier to keep current, but they can also be brought to market rapidly at a much lower cost.
We can conduct literature reviews and browse the collections at several libraries (as well as at Google Scholar) on any topic while sitting at our computers -- and we have a far richer experience than we would ever have at a traditional library.
Libraries themselves are undergoing dramatic transformations. Instead of being quiet places with no food or drink allowed, they are becoming major hubs for collaboration, with cybercafés, conference facilities, multi-media rooms equipped with high-quality technology, and specialized digital collections.
Additionally, traditional student lab spaces are giving way to lower cost and flexible virtual labs, accessible anytime from anywhere, with hundreds of custom software configurations possible.
However, what has been most impressive to me, recently, has been not just the technology or the access, but a fundamental change in students’ learning experience. Technology has brought people together in a more powerful way than ever before, similar to what social media did to global communications.
My fellow students in my doctoral classes at Capitol College
are scattered all over the map geographically. We have never met. Yet we have built an affinity and a relationship, and we can talk and discuss issues and ideas far more powerfully than I have experienced in a traditional classroom.
During class, we have audio and chat. Video is not enabled yet, though we have had video meetings and discussion sessions on Google+. The entire class session is recorded. We can use it for review or to attend asynchronously if we missed the class for some reason.
Class work is done in a collaborative manner. Since everyone in my class is a seasoned information technology professional, we have a lot to learn from each other. Our work papers and dissertation project ideas are posted for everyone else to comment on and critique in a helpful and constructive way, and we are graded on the quality of our suggestions to our peers.
We can review and comment on the work of others, at our own pace, anytime during a given week. Instead of receiving feedback from one professor, we receive high-quality feedback from 18 additional experts. We provide helpful references and knowledge based on our own expertise in the field. Our work product is refined in a dramatic way that simply would not have been possible in a traditional classroom.
What a fabulous new world to learn in!
Mansur Hasib has served in CIO/CISO and other leadership roles in the public, private, and education sectors.