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Tradition vs Technology

Joan Bongar, Executive Director HQnet
Joan Bongar, Executive Director HQnet

Tradition vs Technology

Technology has changed our lives giving us the freedom to conduct these activities from the comfort of our homes

When I look around today at the conveniences produced by information and communication technology, I often pause to reflect on past decades when we didn�t have any of this. How did we ever get anything done? A document that now takes a few seconds to attach and send by email took several days by regular mail not to mention that you had to address the envelope, put a stamp on it, and deliver it to the nearest post office. As for banking, you were required to adhere to the hours of the local bank when you wished to deposit your paycheque, pay bills, or withdraw funds; thank goodness for direct deposits, preauthorized payments, and automated tellers! Technology has certainly changed our lives by giving us the freedom to conduct these activities from the comfort of our home and at any time we choose.

This same technology is now providing more choice when it comes to education. It is no longer necessary to attend lessons in a classroom in order to further our learning. The widespread use of the Internet has globalized education and enabled educational institutions to be able to offer courses to students anywhere in the world. E-learning has changed the way that courses can be taught and distance education has removed the traditional barriers of higher education. Since I have always been fascinated by computer technology and keen to try the latest trends, I was eager to experiment with new teaching modes: first of all as an instructor at Loyalist College in Ontario, and later as a student at Athabasca University in Alberta.

As a computer technology instructor, the resources that I needed were readily available in the classroom including access to the Internet. In the earlier stages, students were taught how to use the Web to access and gather information, and to use email for communications and to send and receive assignments. Then some of my colleagues began to set up websites for their students to access and I was just starting to entertain the idea when along came WebCT (www.webct.com) � a much more user friendly e-learning tool that could accomplish the same task, and I didn�t need to spend hours deciphering HTML code to set it up; it actually only required a few hours of training to get started. Developed at the University of British Columbia, the software helps instructors and students have an integrated teaching and learning experience and thousands of colleges and universities in more than 70 countries worldwide are now employing it. WebCT allows instructors to easily engage with students, manage their assignment and assessment submissions, and evaluate their performance. Another popular e-learning program is called Blackboard (www.blackboard.com).
The Glenora Ferry is still a free ride for travellers to Picton Ontario.
The Glenora Ferry is still a free ride
for travellers to Picton Ontario.
Blackboard Inc., a Washington, D.C. based company, offers a complete suite of enterprise software products and services that power e-Education.

In the first couple of years after WebCT was introduced, only a handful of instructors at my college utilized it but gradually more faculty became interested, especially when textbook publishers began to offer software that integrated with WebCT and included on-line tests, assignments, and grading. Students can access the material from any computer system with Internet access but the instructor can control how much they can see at any given point in time. What more could you ask for? This fall, sixty faculty at Loyalist College employed WebCT into over two hundred courses. The Faculty of Nursing has chosen to use WebCT as a communication tool for their students; this way students have a common resource that they can utilize from anywhere and individual instructors can also use it as a delivery tool for their courses.

At the same time that I was experimenting with different forms of e-learning, I also began to take notice of distance education. This was an electronic version of traditional correspondence courses and certainly an innovative departure from conventional learning. The introduction of this Web-based resource opened the door to higher education for many individuals who lack the resources to do it any other way. It allows individuals like myself to gain a degree while still working full-time, it allows stay-at-home mothers to earn their credentials while raising their children; it allows people to study without leaving home. But is distance education being taken seriously by major educational institutions? Just take a cruise on the Web and it won�t take long to realize that most post-secondary establishments around the world have adopted this technology and are competing with each other for the global student market. While some institutes offer distance education as an option to their regular classes, there are others such as Athabasca University where the majority of the students study remotely. As technology advances, they are able to offer students more options such as video and web conferencing, and discussion forums and live chat. Many e-learning tools are also integrated into the course delivery in order to provide as many educational resources as possible for the distance learner.

If information technology continues to impact education at the same rate that it has in the past ten years, I can�t wait to see what will happen in the next decade. Perhaps distance ed and e-learning will become the standard and traditional teaching methods will become as old fashioned as �snail mail�. Only time will tell.

Joan Bongard
Executive Director


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