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Virtual Varsities

The high-tech road

New paradigms

Impact & results

 Educational Resources

Educational resources for educators
By Dr Gan Siowck-Lee, Institute for Distance Education, Universiti Pertanian Malaysia.  

Global Alliance For Transnational Education
Official homepage of Global Alliance for Transnational Education.  

The Virtual University Gazette
For distance learning pros working at adult and post-secondary education levels.  

The MahirNet online
Official site of MahirNet.  

Virtual Campus--links and information
Web sites and mailing lists of virtual campuses and universities.  

Cyber schools: what do we want?
Pioneer Press on how we can learn from past failures and successes.  

But can online technology really improve education in Malaysia?

Dr Lowe believed it could as online technology encourages self-learning. "Too much of learning here is by rote or dependent-learning, not independent learning. With online learning, all learning has to focus on competencies, learning how to learn instead of merely being spoon-fed." Unitar's Dr Syed agreed that online technology works only when students and lecturers embrace the learner-centered approach and not teacher-centered approach.

"From our experience, students ask more questions because they are not intimidated. They also have access to more information and are free to interact with other students and lecturers through online chats and discussion groups."

But not all the news on virtual varsities has been so enthusiastic. At least one study has shown that technology may actually deepen the divide between the education haves and the education have-nots.

Researchers Lawrence Gladieux and Watson Scott Swail, from the US College Board, released a study in April this year that stated that although education is the great equalizer, technology appears to be "a new engine of inequality".

"The playing field remains tilted towards the affluent. The most advantaged citizens-and schools-are most able to benefit from cutting-edge technologies. Advantage magnifies advantage," stated the study.

"The virtual campus may widen opportunities for some, but not those at the low-end of the socio-economic scale," said Gladieux and Swail, suggesting that new technology also tends to be expensive and has a short half-life, and actually strains education budgets rather that relieves them.

"Online courses are works in progress and require ongoing outlays for maintenance. Some institutions are actually charging more for them than for on-campus instruction," said the researchers.

Although the researchers qualified that the data available is limited, and primarily based on U.S. experience, the trends and issues they stated are not far different in Asia, Europe and other parts of the world, as technological globalization is reshaping tertiary education everywhere.

The researchers advised policymakers to ensure a level playing field, especially for the lower-income and less-advantaged citizens.

In August, Malaysia announced the setup of an open university, Universiti Terbuka Malaysia (Unitem), which will spearhead the government's drive for online learning programs. Unitem is touted as a one-stop center for courses offered by the 11 existing public universities. Its plans include developing and delivering applications and tools for Web-based instruction through an Internet portal, featuring live video feeds of lectures, audio and text..

Evidently, in Malaysia, as the Internet becomes more prevalent in people's lives, there will be more avenues to get a degree. Whether the delivery of sorely needed quality education is via desktop or through traditional means or a combination of both, one can only hope the educational experience for the individual will be enriching and far more fulfilling.



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