University lecture halls and tutorial rooms could become dusty relics of a bygone era. Developments in online education mean students can now complete degrees without having to leave home. Courses like the Master of Arts in Science and Technology offered by Deakin University in Victoria, Australia, are completed entirely online, with no face-to-face teaching at all. One of the course founders, Wong Kwong-keung, a lecturer in Educational Development at the Deakin Centre for Academic Development, described the degree as a 'flexible, modern teaching alternative' at an online education seminar at Lingnan College in Tuen Mun. Students initially communicate with each other via online discussion groups, but Mr Wong hopes they will soon be able to do so through video conferencing. Coursework, library materials, examinations and even virtual field trips will all be accessed via the website. 'It is great for people who want flexible study, to work full-time or to spend more time with their family,' Mr Wong said. He does not, however, foresee a day when so-called 'universities without walls' will eliminate the need for conventional universities and colleges. 'Certainly not in the near future,' he said. 'Perhaps in 200 years but I think there will always be a need for universities to provide academic research, if not teaching.' While it may seem inevitable that IT applications will revolutionise existing teaching practices, many experts stress the need for caution. 'We need to be sure we are not just using technology for technology's sake,' said Maureen Tam Siu-ling, an educational development officer from the Educational Technology and Development Centre at Lingnan College. 'We need to think carefully about why we are using technology and consider if it is really improving learning.' Certainly, most experts agree it would be quite an ambitious undertaking to run an entire undergraduate degree online and there are some subjects, such as medicine, that would not lend themselves off- campus self study. Another concern is the lack of personal interaction between students and teachers, normally regarded as an important part of campus life. Yet Wong argues studying online opens up new communication channels. 'Not only can students have more one-on-one communication with teacher via e-mail, they can also contact experts in their field of study from around the world,' he said. The United States is the leader in the field of online education with several courses currently available. Hong Kong's further education institutions are investigating possibilities, but so far there are no entirely off-campus degree courses available in the SAR.