Distance Learning; Part-Time Study in Cyberspace ; Distance Learning Can Be Lonely, but Now Interactive Teaching Can Be Done by E-Mail and Students Can Take Part in Online Tutorials. NICHOLAS PYKE Reports
Pyke, Nicholas, The Independent (London, England)
You can do it in the office, at home or at the internet cafe. Welcome to online graduation, the logical conclusion of the online degree. For the past two summers, students completing the Open University's Master's course in Education have been invited to receive their degrees by switching on their computers. They can watch the vice-chancellor take his place before the ceremonial webcam at the university's Milton Keynes HQ and listen to his short address. Or open a few more beers. The students' names flicker on to the screen accompanied by a film clip featuring their achievements, before their status as OU degree-holders is finally confirmed.
Graduation by computer will become the norm, says the OU, particularly for its more distant participants. And from next year it will make the electronic ceremony available for all its BA and MA students.
The Open University is the pioneer of the long-distance degree, and is still the UK market leader, offering more than 360 courses to 200,000 students a year. Since 1969, when it first received its royal charter, it has taught more than two million people. The teaching is delivered through course literature and tutorials conducted by the OU's regionally based academics. The tutors set assignments and are available for face- to-face consultations once a month. There may be a summer school where the students can meet. The courses are based on modules - each worth 30 or 60 "points" - and a full 360-point degree typically takes six years, at a cost of pounds 4,300.
The UK market for distance learning in higher education appears to be fairly static. Around 10,000 UK students qualify every year. But that is changing. The OU has already decided to offer named, specialist degrees rather than the plain old BAs and MAs of the past. From its inception, its flexible, modular system meant you could study any combination of subjects, however wacky, and still end up with a generic OU degree. You still can. But now, for the first time, the university is also offering courses in specific subjects such as psychology, art history, and oceanography where the course content is laid down centrally.
It is also exploiting new technology, with increasing amounts of its course material delivered and taught online. …