Google boosts level of learning

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 April, 2007, 12:00am

Google did more than revolutionise the accessibility of information. It transformed the way we teach and learn, and elevated the concept of education to a new level.

The internet gives students the flexibility to study when and where they wish, and online schooling has hooked them up to a safe networking environment to meet international peers.

Universities and colleges are making more use of online space and professors are taking on more of a facilitating role than an instructive one. 'Google has changed the job of educators. With the internet, students can get information at their fingertips,' said Jeremy Williams, dean of corporate programmes and director of research at U21Global, a joint venture between a consortium of 19 universities worldwide and Thompson Learning, that has pioneered online postgraduate education since August 2003.

'At U21Global, we don't like to use words like lecture, teach or instruct because they have no relevance in our classroom.

'The role of the professor has become more of a facilitator to help students learn in a way that lasts,' he said.

The online educator began with its flagship MBA programme and has broadened its scope to include other master's courses including management in international business and tourism, and travel management. More courses including public health and public sector management are in the pipeline.

Student enrolment has charted a similar path of growth, skyrocketing to 3,500 students from 60 countries, from just 400 students from 25 countries on the institution's first year anniversary in 2004.

'There was a certain amount of resistance when we started in 2003-2004, but it is a different world now. People are embracing online much more than before and using technology in every aspect of their lives. Everything is much more technology based. This is how we do business and it makes sense to deliver business education in this way,' Professor Williams said.

Technology has unleashed many options - from iPods to online blogging, media streaming to podcasting - but it is ultimately the pace of technological change and keeping up with it that has posed the greatest hurdle.

'Long term can be defined by just one year because things change so quickly. Things we haven't thought about will be mainstream a year from now,' Professor Williams said.

But the latest technology would be useless if course content and its delivery were not consistently sound. U21Global has in place a stringent vetting process for its course content and teaching faculty.

All professors, seven full time in Singapore and India and more than 100 adjunct professors worldwide, must undergo a three week training programme and be approved by U21pedagogica, the watchdog agency set up to monitor the quality of U21Global's faculty and course content, before they can teach.

Course content is supervised equally meticulously, with the content for each subject reviewed by the author, an independent top professor in the field, and U21pedagogica before it can be used for classes.

'The quality assurance we have in place is beyond reproach. It is not unusual to take up to nine months to a year to design a subject,' Professor Williams said.

U21Global believes preparing students for the real world means engaging them in interactive learning experiences using real case studies for assessment. 'We are doing what universities say they have been doing but don't actually do. We are preparing people for the real world. We make our case studies as human as possible and often use real companies and real people.'

He said, the university was not interested in testing the power of memory during an exam, but wanted to see a student's ability to analyse and synthesise.

At Hong Kong's first online university, Hong Kong CyberU, the online arm of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, professors in the nursing department are starting to use the same teaching approach through implementation of problem-based learning.

Meyrick Chow chum-ming, assistant professor at the nursing school and programme leader of the online bachelor of science nursing course, said: 'We give students problem scenarios and they work in a group to come up with the solution. The lecturer acts as a facilitator to help them solve the issue.'

About 6,000 students have enrolled in the course which was launched as CyberU's first fully online programme in 2002.

While CyberU's mode of content delivery is exclusively online, students are still required to take final exams on campus.

Patrick Leung wing-yin, programme director of CyberU's master of professional accounting course, said: 'There are many challenges to online teaching. One is not being sure of how well students understand the material until they participate in the online discussions because you can't see them.'