Education in the Digital Age

Over the next couple of weeks, I need to give some thought to the next course I will be undertaking as part of my Masters of Science degree. That got me thinking about how the Internet has changed education opportunities for many people including those who work full time (such as myself) and people who may not live close to the place of education.

For the entirety of my degree so far, I have done so via distance education mode (or correspondence as some call it). I have never set foot on the campus and don’t plan on doing so until I graduate given that UNSW@ADFA is located in Canberra. This means that it isn’t a quick stroll or a short drive from where I live.

Putting aside the fact that lectures literally send me to sleep, distance education via the Internet has allowed me to consume information on demand and make effective use of my time particularly with regards to assignment and exam submissions. For someone using snail mail, they would need to submit their assignment or exam several days before the due date to meet the deadline whilst I could submit my assignment the minute before the deadline (if I felt daring). Feedback and results are also published online and course results are recorded in my academic statement.

Now, if there is one thing that I tend to loathe, it would be the group activity. I have been fairly lucky so far that I have only been subjected to this twice in the nine courses I have completed so far. Having said that, the Internet has made the undertaking of those activities somewhat easier for the following reasons:

  • taking notes is a snap when using instant messaging (just save a log),
  • you can save time and money by avoiding long commutes to meet at a central location with other students,
  • asynchronous communication via e-mail or student forums can be of tremendous help when trying to crowd-source information,
  • sharing information is as simple as sharing hyperlinks or content (be it documents, photos, audio files, etc).

The other thing I really appreciate is the ability to browse the available courses for further information before submitting my application and undertaking study. The Google cache is also fantastic when you want to find more information about assessment criteria for a particular course.

The Internet has also been a great enabler for educational opportunities for those that live in remote areas or perhaps interstate or internationally from their selected educational institution. For instance, my wife has undertaken several courses offered by US based universities over the Internet and has even been a part of actual classroom discussions (albeit at 0200 hours in Sydney).

The Internet really does make the world a smaller place for educational opportunities but I would see it as an alternative rather than a complete replacement for classroom-based learning.

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