As costs rise, colleges digitalise

The past few years of university-level education have been marked by numerous student protests against tuition increases.  With the unrest caused by the most recent protests in California still fresh in educator’s minds, some experts are turning to technology for the solution.  Across the globe, a number of universities and secondary schools are embracing the open-source and intuitive nature of the Internet to try and promote education. 
Though the majority of schools, especially in largely developed countries, have been shifting more and more of their resources online, the greatest benefit may come from increased accessibility to lower-income populations. 
This benefit is partially to do with the fact that technology, specifically the Internet, is largely intuitive for many young children.  In 1999 Dr Sugata Mitra conducted the “Holes in Walls” experiment, which placed small touch-screen computers in various walls throughout the slums of New Delhi.  After just a few weeks it became clear that children as young as eight years old were capable of basic computer operation and were quickly teaching themselves more. 
This realisation has driven educational innovators to introduce more and more Internet-based teaching. In Europe and North America, for example, and to a lesser extent Asia, iTunesU has become increasingly popular.  iTunesU is a programme that allows any person with an iTunes account, the popular music-downloading program, to listen to lectures from a wide variety of universities.  Trinity has a number of lectures uploaded, as well as Oxford, Cambridge and many other international universities. 
Some schools have moved even further online and have already seen the benefits.
In the Cempaka Schools in Indonesia students are required to have a MacBook, as well as an iPhone (which is provided by the college), that are fully integrated with the school’s servers.  This meant that during the recent A(H1N1) scare, school officials were able to send everyone home, but classes proceeded as normal, albeit on the internet.  Attendance was still mandatory to the online classes and assignments were still given out and completed. 
The administrators responsible for these measures argue that the higher use of technology not only affords them a greater degree of independence from the classroom, it also helps their students become more familiar with the sort of technology that is likely to become more and more prevalent in the workplace.  In this way, they believe, they are teaching very practical skills to their pupils. 
Massachusetts Institute of Technology has now stepped forward and moved over 1,900 recording of their lectures online, including assignments and syllabi.  The service is called MITOpenCourseWare and it is completely free to anyone with a web browser. 
In defending their decision, MIT refers to their University Mission that states, in part, “to advance knowledge in ways that will best serve the nation and the world.”  By placing so much of their material online then, administrators hope to promote this goal.  Of course, they also state that because MIT emphasises “hands-on experience in instruction” there is no danger of the typical, paying student becoming irrelevant. 
However these new technologies are implemented, whether in high-income private universities or in less well- funded public institutes, they are sure to dramatically change the way in which education is delivered in the coming years.