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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №1 - 2005

Автор: Бэлласт Д.

The Internet can trace its very origin back to higher education institutions. The initial concept of a computer network was developed in 1962 by J. C. R. Licklider of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mr. Licklider developed a concept he called the Galactic Network. He envisioned a globally interconnected set of computers through which everyone could quickly access data and programs from any site. Basically, the concept was very much like the Internet of today. In 1969 host computers at the University of California Los Angeles, University of California Santa Barbara and the University of Utah were connected together to form a network called the “ARPANET.” This was the beginning of a network which has grown into the modern Internet. As the Internet has changed and evolved over the years, universities have continued to lead the way in its evolution and development. For example, it was largely people at Stanford University that developed the modern Internet communications protocol known as “TCP/IP.”

Today, practically every higher education institution in the world is connected to the Internet. This represents enormous potential for sharing resources and accessing a massive library of information. Unfortunately, however, this capability is rarely tapped, especially by universities in developing countries. This can often be traced to some commonly accepted myths. This article will explore some of the myths and, in doing so; attempt to unlock some of the missed opportunities.

MYTH #1: Internet educational resources cannot be utilized at low connection speeds

Many universities in developing countries assume that they cannot make use of distance education opportunities over the Internet because of their low connection speeds. The reality, however, is that many distance education courses being developed today do not include “live” video or audio, but instead, rely heavily on message boards, chatting and e-mail. This describes the “blackboard” technology used by many universities. These kinds of distance education courses only require an ability to send and receive small files of text. Most of the curriculum is studied “off-line” making use of textbooks and lectures stored on CD-ROMs. At the same time, these courses should not be considered “self-study.” Students are able to frequently share their tasks and their opinions with their teachers and their fellow students. Feedback is given regularly via e-mail and message boards.

At the Kazakh-American Free University, we first connected our student computer classes to the Internet in 1999. At this time, we simply had one dial-up connection multiplexed across an entire computer laboratory. Nevertheless, we were able to successfully offer a number of distance education courses hosted by American universities.

Another complaint of slow connection speeds is that it seems impossible to successfully browse the World Wide Web. It is true that slow connection speeds make “surfing” difficult, but this does not mean that many excellent educational resources of the Web cannot be made available to students. Universities can create their own “home pages” with links to a number of useful libraries and other educational sites. They can also turn off the display of graphics and pictures and only show text on their browsers. This is an excellent option for educational users with slow connection speeds, since most educational resources are stored as textual information. This option will often greatly speed up the ability to retrieve textual information.

Furthermore, universities can download public information onto their own servers. In this way, this information only needs to be downloaded once from the Internet. Then, when students desire to access the information, they can simply access it as an electronic file on their university’s own local network. This practice can result in a university eventually having large electronic libraries available to students from their own servers.

MYTH #2: The Internet is too expensive for universities in developing countries

Although the Internet can indeed be costly in developing countries, a more important question remains: What is the cost of NOT connecting to the Internet? Universities that do not connect to the Internet lose a number of cost saving abilities as well as revenue generating opportunities.

For example, once a university is “on-line” and has its own web-site, many paper-based materials can be made available to students over the Internet and the university’s local network. This can significantly reduce the need for paper and copying.

Another modern reality is growing demand for Internet-based distance education courses. Today, more and more students want the flexibility of distance education as part of their education experience. The flexibility of distance education courses allows students to study at their own pace and according to their own family and work schedule. This is obviously appealing; especially to students with busy personal schedules. Thus, a result of distance education has been a great increase in the number of people interested in higher education. Suddenly, older students, working students, and students living in remote locations can all consider getting a higher education.

This fact has been demonstrated by universities all around the world. One example is the University of Nevada in Las Vegas (UNLV). The Rebel Yell News at UNLV reported that enrollment in distance education classes has increased significantly during each year at UNLV since the program has been in existence. The program, which was instituted at UNLV in 1996, began with a 200-student enrollment during its first year. During the 2003-2004 school year, the program enrolled 13,000 students who were taking at least one distance education class, an increase that has almost doubled in each successive year.

The newspaper went on to say that this increase in the number of students taking distance education classes at UNLV matches a rising trend at the national (in the United States) level. National enrollment for distance education classes increased from 1.3 million in the 1997-1998 school year to 2.9 million in the 2000-2001 school year.

Studies show that at the national level, distance education courses are more likely to attract older women with families and jobs. Students taking distance education classes say that the courses make it easier for them to manage their time between school and other priorities.

I like distance education classes for the convenience, business major Leta Rose, who is enrolled for a three-credit English distance education class in the Spring, said. I'm an athlete who is trying to start my own business, while taking 18 credits. Not having to sit in class twice a week makes just makes things easier.

We can easily see that on-line courses represent significant new sources of revenue for universities. But, only those universities connected to the Internet and with the ability to develop on-line courses, will be able to take advantage of this growing opportunity.

On-line courses represent more than just increased revenue for universities, however. They also represent an amazing opportunity for cost savings.

As universities develop their own distance education courses; this greatly reduces the need for physical facilities. Even if 25% of a university’s student population is taking courses “on-line,” the cost savings from maintaining 25% less classroom space can be enormous. And, on-line courses allow a university to grow without significantly expanding their physical facilities. This is an unprecedented opportunity for many universities in the developing world.

Another fact of our times is the potential for the Internet to replace the traditional library. This obviously has huge cost saving implications for universities working hard to maintain large numbers of paper-based volumes, magazines and journals. Already, the information that is available on the Internet rivals that in most university libraries.

An announcement made by Google Inc. in December, 2004 underlines this fact even further. In this announcement, Google, a popular web-based search engine, said that it is working with the libraries of Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan, and the University of Oxford as well as The New York Public Library to digitally scan books from their collections so that users worldwide can search them in Google. Even before we started Google, we dreamedof making the incredible breadth of information that librarians so lovingly organizesearchable online, said Larry Page, Google co-founder and president of Products. Today we'repleased to announcethis program to digitize the collections of these amazing libraries so that every Google user can search them instantly.” Mary Sue Coleman, President of the University of Michigan, added, We believe passionately that such universal access to the world's printed treasures is mission-critical for today's great public university.” Very soon, we can see that universities will be better off giving their students access to the Internet than by spending their money on paper-based library volumes.

A connection to the Internet does not only save money for a university, but it can also generate revenue. The simplest example of this is charging students for Internet use, especially those students who want to use the Internet for non-academic pursuits. Also, maintaining a good web-site is an excellent recruitment tool. A university that hosts an informative and colorful web-site can be guaranteed greater enquiries from student applicants.

In addition, the Internet allows for new possibilities in sharing resources between universities. As universities pool their electronic resources, the quality of education can be increased without significantly increasing the cost. For example, the Kazakh-American Free University is developing a joint MBA program through a partnership with Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) in Idaho. Through this partnership, students at the Kazakh-American Free University have access to NNU’s MBA library and to a number of distance education courses offered already at NNU. As a result, students in Kazakhstan have access to unprecedented resources at a very low cost through the sharing of resources between our respective universities.

MYTH #3: Distance education on the Internet lacks useful interaction with teachers and other students

Many opponents to Internet-based distance education site the fact that distance education lacks significant interaction and discussion with teachers and other students. However, based on our experience at the Kazakh-American Free University, the opposite has proven to be the case.

The Kazakh-American Free University is part of an alliance that allows us to receive Internet-based distance education courses from three American universities: Seattle Pacific University, Indiana Wesleyan University, and LeTeaurneau University. These courses utilize “blackboard” technology, which relies heavily on message boards, electronic homework submission and e-mail. While students in a traditional classroom setting can often choose to not participate during a class, non-participation is not an option in these distance education courses. In each course students must weekly post their ideas and opinions to a message board read personally by their teacher. Then, the students receive comments directly back from their teacher. Often, a high percentage of a student’s grade is based on their involvement in message-board discussions.

At the Kazakh-American Free University, students enrolled in distance education courses will also work with a local teaching assistant. This is obviously a person knowledgeable in the subject being studied. We have found that this arrangement also serves to promote meaningful interaction. In traditional classes, a great deal of class time is usually spent with teachers giving lectures. Lectures, although useful, rarely result in meaningful interaction. However, in distance education courses, students review the lectures outside of class. Then, they discuss their questions, insights and problems during class with a teaching assistant. This has proven to be a very effective way for helping students to work through the concepts of a particular subject.

Another great advantage of the distance education courses offered at our university is that students are enrolled in the courses from all around the world. This has given our students the opportunity to study a particular subject together with students from Africa, Europe and the United States. Often, our students are put into groups with students from around the world to work on various projects. As a result, our students are able to interact and share ideas with students from different countries and cultures. In Kazakhstan, students rarely have the opportunity to study together with students from other countries in their traditional classrooms. But, now the Internet has made this possibility a very real reality.

Another excellent example of the Internet promoting interaction, instead of discouraging it, is our International Leadership Program. In this program, top students are involved in a leadership training curriculum which includes extensive work with a leadership mentor. In most cases, mentors live in a different country and are people in significant positions of leadership. Under normal circumstances, our students would never have the opportunity to interact with such people. But, thanks to e-mail, the Internet, and the genius of this program, our students maintain constant contact with their mentors, sharing ideas, discussing problems and seeking solutions.

In our experience, we have also observed that a connection to the Internet promotes extracurricular learning as well. Thanks to the global e-mail system and the opportunity for Internet “chatting,” many of our students at the Kazakh-American Free University maintain contact with friends, teachers and mentors from around the world. Some students have even made friends over the Internet, thanks to various “pen-pal” style programs. In many cases, without even realizing it, our students are growing in their knowledge of the world and cultures around them.

Today, the Internet is a very real part of all our lives. Millions of young people in developing countries already use the Internet at home and in thousands of “Internet Cafes.” Interestingly, many universities around the world are still trying to decide if the Internet is really worth it. Soon, students will make the decision for the universities - as they will only choose to attend universities that actively participate in the world wide exchange of information we know today as the “Internet.”


1.Google Press Center at http://www.google.com/press

2.The Internet Society at http://www.isoc.org/internet/history

3.Rebel Yell News at http://www.ryunlv.com/news

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №1 - 2005

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