In Search of the Virtual Class: Education in an Information Society

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She prefers to talk about the "myth" of the gap between First and Third World: "We use economic measures - production, consumption - but those measures are no longer totally relevant to the new commodity which is information. Information has not got the scarcity value that extracted fuels have. The developing world also has access to the global infobahn. She recalls a visit to an "absolutely poor neighbourhood" in Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, where there were signs on thatched roofs that proclaimed "Computer classes: Join the future".

Introduction

You can link with anywhere in the world if you have a laptop and a cellular phone. Technology costs are falling all the time. If there is a villain in the pages of In Search of the Virtual Class, it is commuting - conventional education's need for students and teachers to travel to classrooms "for a transaction called 'instruction'.


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Such transactions are, Tiffin and Rajasingham argue, "fundamentally inefficient" because "they involve an additional cost for the transport to bring the players together and for the upkeep of institutions". The growth of cities may have taken place alongside the development of efficient, fast transport systems, but "this growth has proved self-defeating by creating urban traffic congestion. Travelling to make transactions has become one of the problems of our time, and education is part of it".

Rajasingham develops this theme. It's because there are just no opportunities in the countryside. But now teleworking can bring different kinds of infrastructures which are not based on pollution and physical transportation.

IESE Business School introduces the Virtual Classroom

Closer family ties, community meeting places and so on. In the old system you had to attend school, and it was totally transport-based.

In Search of the Virtual Class: Education in an Information Society

You were kept in line with your age cohort. It's a factory model - you go in, you are processed and you are churned out at the other end.

She contrasts such a model, which "has nothing to do with motivation", with the virtual class where "the onus is on the student". The vision conjured up, of motivated students calling up for a seminar on Aristotle, say, or a virtual reality demonstration of a surgical procedure, is an idyllic one. But surely not everyone is keen to learn; what about the unmotivated?

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The E-Learning Phenomenon: A New University Paradigm?

But why are the video game parlours full? Because the student can map his or her own way. Still, Rajasingham does not think that conventional classrooms will disappear. The teleclass has got to be complementary, she says; there will still be schools where people from the same locality learn to get along with each other when they are young.

She is, she insists, a sceptic on artificial intelligence: "I don't think AI will ever get to that area of wisdom. A computer lacks compassion, and I don't think learning can take place without compassion. Her own PhD thesis, gained at Wellington in the late s, was on communications technology in distance education.

That quest, to see how opportunities could be expanded irrespective of culture or creed or location, was what set me off. In Search of the Virtual Class is dedicated to New Zealand, "the country that adopted us", because of its pioneering status: it was the first country to give the vote to women, for instance, and now it is the "first country to develop a national telelearning network".

In chapter 9, Rajasingham describes her experience of a New Zealand telelearning project: her university was linked with a rural community technical college and with a school "whose headmaster wanted his staff to be prepared for the future", in a series of seminars.


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  5. The three-way teleconference used two telephone lines for each site - one to link telephones for sound , the other to link computers for pictures. We found it was not just the students the primary teachers who were attending at the primary-school centre. The subject matter was discussed in homes and parents began to sit in on our teleclasses.

    Rajasingham is also enthusiastic about the communications system she designed to link a number of rural Maori schools "so that they could have equal access to databases anywhere in the world - as much as a city child would have". New Zealand has a high proportion of rural settlements, she points out, and the indigenous Maoris - 13 per cent of the population - mostly live outside cities; so she feels that her work in this area might have some relevance for developing countries with large rural populations.

    Why students do (and do not) make use of ICT in university

    But if the "virtual class" is going to be a solution for educational problems in the Third World, who will pay? Technology after all is not cheap. She prefers to talk about the "myth" of the gap between First and Third World: "We use economic measures - production, consumption - but those measures are no longer totally relevant to the new commodity which is information.

    Information has not got the scarcity value that extracted fuels have. The developing world also has access to the global infobahn. She recalls a visit to an "absolutely poor neighbourhood" in Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, where there were signs on thatched roofs that proclaimed "Computer classes: Join the future". You can link with anywhere in the world if you have a laptop and a cellular phone. Technology costs are falling all the time. If there is a villain in the pages of In Search of the Virtual Class, it is commuting - conventional education's need for students and teachers to travel to classrooms "for a transaction called 'instruction'.

    Such transactions are, Tiffin and Rajasingham argue, "fundamentally inefficient" because "they involve an additional cost for the transport to bring the players together and for the upkeep of institutions". The growth of cities may have taken place alongside the development of efficient, fast transport systems, but "this growth has proved self-defeating by creating urban traffic congestion.

    Travelling to make transactions has become one of the problems of our time, and education is part of it". Rajasingham develops this theme. It's because there are just no opportunities in the countryside.

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    But now teleworking can bring different kinds of infrastructures which are not based on pollution and physical transportation. Closer family ties, community meeting places and so on. In the old system you had to attend school, and it was totally transport-based.