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New paradigms for learning and teaching

Dr Tan said that KDU is also well prepared to face the hazards of online cheats. It implements a fingerprint log-on for students and requires live responses during conferences about their assignments.

"The professor will easily recognize a student who cannot intelligently discuss an assignment. Students doing exams from home will also have cameras on their computers focused on them and be individually proctored via the Internet," he said.

Dr Tan advised prospective students to be wary in their choice of a virtual university with the numerous players popping up. "Avoid any distance learning program that does not exhibit a quality curriculum or teaching methodology and make sure they are accredited."

Online education specialists MahirNet Sdn Bhd has taken a different approach--offering a smorgasbord of courses from selected local and foreign universities. MahirNet acts more as an online facilitator rather than a university, deploying, managing and marketing existing courses over the Internet.

So far, MahirNet has only three programs: Bachelor of Communications and Masters of Human Resource Development from Universiti Putra Malaysia and a diploma course from the Malaysian Institute of Management. But the school is in negotiations with both local and foreign universities in South Africa, Southeast Asia and Europe.

Advisor Dr Vincent Lowe pointed out that not all courses can lend themselves online. "For instance, in medicine, there is an apprenticeship component and doctors need to develop clinical skills which can come from only actual practice under supervision. While virtual learning can do some part of these training requirements, it cannot fulfill all of it," he said, suggesting that law, engineering and accounting had similar stringent requirements.

Dr Lowe believed face-to-face delivery of education via lectures and tutorials will still be a crucial part of the learning process. But he is skeptical that full-time devotion to this form of instruction is necessary or even desirable in future. "It is important to interact with instructors face-to-face, but perhaps not throughout an entire course. Periodical meetings should be adequate to sort out learning issues or difficult parts of chapters," he said.



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