Pilot Project in International Electronic Distance Education in Russia

Article excerpt

The U.S. Government, with assistance of public and private organizations, steadily implements policy in cooperation with the Newly Independent States (NIS), a term that encompasses the former USSR, in the areas of education, business, economics and culture. The purpose is to assist NIS countries in their transition to individual enterprise and a market economy. Educational institutions and information technology are playing increasingly important roles in this cooperation.

In the NIS countries, educational reform proceeds in several directions: expansion of access to higher education in part via electronic distance learning; flexibility and responsiveness to the requirements of the labor market; decentralization and relying more on regional educational centers; and revision and expansion of fundamental sciences and humanities courses.[1]

Calif. State Univ. Reaches Out

As a major multicultural educational institution, California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) is reaching out to build more academic bridges in the world. Their Center for Newly Independent States Studies (CNISS) contributes to the strategic goals of building and securing educational, business and cultural links between the U.S. and NIS countries.

The Center's activities encompass electronic distance education and business cooperation between the U.S. and NIS countries. The CNISS collaborates with faculty of various universities in the U.S. and in NIS countries to act as a center for packaging, delivery and administration of low-cost international educational courses over the Internet for students and practitioners. In some NIS universities, the Internet has already established its presence in all three areas of faculty activity: teaching, research and service.[2]

In 1994, one author of this paper (L. Slusky) visited Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU) in the city of Tomsk -- the oldest and largest scientific and educational center in Russia beyond the Urals -- and its Cybernetic Center. This visit became a starting point in a pilot project in Electronic Distance Education provided by CNISS in California to TPU's Cybernetics Center in Russia, held during the spring of 1995.

This paper reports the findings of this pilot project and views of its various participants.

"Why," as well as "What"

Since the printing press was first introduced, there has not been any development that has brought greater revolutionary changes to the education process than that which is contributed by computer technology. Universities are now capable of bypassing boundaries of distance and time, educate more students with less resources, and better relate teaching methods to individual learning capacities. In the future, universities may cease to exist in their current form as physical facilities. They may instead act as middlemen of educational services.

In evaluating high-tech options, universities stand among a new wave of technology consumers interested with "why" as well as "what." Why generate the investments required to bring new technologies on campus? For CNISS, new information technologies are at the heart of its mission to strengthen educational opportunity. The Internet is the embodiment of the power of technology to do just that.

The course selected to investigate electronic distance learning between two countries was "Decision Support Systems" taught by another author of this article (P. Partow.) This course was designed and delivered via e-mail and the Electronic Distance Education System (EDES) managed by CNISS. The course was taught to a geographically remote group of students selected to participate in the project.

Partner University in Russia

Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU), founded in 1896, was the first and is still the largest, technical university in Russia beyond the Urals. The university's advanced engineering programs employ considerable computer resources including some 1,000 personal computers, plus networks with a bridge to the Internet, to Fidonet (a noncommercial global network), and to Relcom (a Russian information network). …