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Online education

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20 Mar 2017

[Update] The online site LBRY has irrevocably mirrored the content removed from the  UC Berkeley site. While already available from a command line, the content will be available to the public in April.

On 15 March, the University of California (UC), Berkeley, will begin restricting access to more than 20,000 audio and video files from its free access to course content. In a statement on March 1, UC Berkeley vice chancellor explained the process and reasoning to the campus community, noting compliance with a US Department of Justice (DoJ) finding that the content must meet higher accessibility standards as a condition of remaining publicly available. The cost of compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act to enable the university to continue to make these free resources publicly available is prohibitive, she said. According to Inside Higher Ed, some other universities indicated that they have no plans to follow suit.

TheBlaze attributed the case to government over-regulation, and a blog post Department of Justice: If Disabled People Can't Use Berkeley's Free Online Courses, No One Can by Robby Soave of Reason criticises the DoJ decision. 

18 Feb 2017
A UK government programme led by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, will train at least 5700 teenagers in the country in cybersecurity skills by 2021 in order to boost Britain's defences against online attacks. The government has decided to do so after warnings of future skills shortage and concerns about security of the country's economy and infrastructure. Officials say the new Cyber Schools Programme aims to support and encourage pupils to develop some of the key skills they would need to work in cyber security and help defend the nation's businesses against online threats. Ministers are making up to £20 million available for extracurricular sessions which will see expert instructors drafted in to teach, test and train teenagers selected for the initiative. A "cyber curriculum" will be drawn up to mix classroom and online teaching with real-world challenges and hands-on work experience.
 
1 Feb 2017

India's Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has presented the 2017-18 Union Budget, which is characterised by a focus on digitisation, infrastructure, and rural India. A number of digital policy-related proposals can be highlighted:

  • An abolition of service tax on digital rail bookings in an effort to push digital payments
  • Connecting remote areas with fibre optic Internet across the country
  • Improving medicine, education, and skills in rural areas through the use of digital technology
  • A new digital pension distribution system, as well as 'smart cards' containing health information for senior citizens
  • The establishment of a dedicated Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) for the financial sector.
  • Digitising payments and promoting cashless transactions through a new app.
  • Online education platforms to help people develop skills and gain employment

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The Internet has opened new possibilities for education. Many different e-learning, online learning, and distance learning initiatives have been introduced; their main aim is to use the Internet as a medium for the delivery of courses. While it cannot replace traditional education, online learning provides new possibilities for learning, especially when constraints of time and space impede physical attendance in class. At the same time, e-learing can support face-to-face education and create new forms of blended learning.

Traditionally, education has been governed by national institutions. The accreditation of educational institutions, the recognition of qualifications, and quality assurance are all governed at national level. However, crossborder education requires the development of new governance regimes. Many international initiatives aim at filling the governance gap, especially in areas such as quality assurance and the recognition of academic degrees.

 

 

WTO and education

One controversial issue in the WTO negotiations is the interpretation of Articles I (3)b and (3)c of GATS, which specify exceptions from the free trade regime for government-provided services. According to one view, supported mainly by the USA and the UK, these exceptions should be treated narrowly, de facto enabling free trade in higher education. This view is predominantly governed by interests of the English-speaking educational sector to gain global market coverage in education, and has received considerable opposition from many countries.

Questions that may arise within the context of the WTO and other international organisations will focus on the dilemma of education as a commodity or a public good. If education is considered a commodity, the WTO’s free trade rules will be implemented in this field as well. A public goods approach, on the other hand, would preserve the current model of education in which public universities receive special status as institutions of importance for national culture. Trade liberalisation could have profound effects on online education.

Quality assurance

The availability of online learning delivery systems and easy entry into this market has opened the question of quality assurance. A focus on online delivery can overlook the importance of the quality of materials and didactics. A variety of possible difficulties can endanger the quality of education. One is the easy entry of new, mainly commercially driven, educational institutions, which might lack or pay less attention to the necessary academic and didactical capabilities. Another problem of quality assurance is that the simple transfer of existing paper-based materials to an online medium does not take advantage of the didactic potential of the new medium. This aspect prompted education organisations to start to develop standards and guidelines for evaluating the design and the content of lectures delivered online.

The recognition of academic degrees and the transfer of credits

Recognition of degrees has become particularly relevant within the online learning environment. When it comes to online learning, the main challenge is the recognition of degrees beyond the regional context, mainly at global level.

The EU has developed a regulatory framework with the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS). The Asia-Pacific region has introduced its own regional model for the exchange of students and a related credit system – the University Mobility in Asia and the Pacific (UMAP) programme.

In the evolving implementation of online learning, there is a tendency towards recognition and transfer of credits following traditional strategies for brick and mortar universities.

The innovation of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is also evolving, as the initial pervasive acceptance and hype cycle have run their course, and resources are being developed to provide the same or better personal interactions that are provided in traditional or blended learning educational systems.

The standardisation of online learning

The early phase of online learning development was characterised by rapid development and high diversity of materials, in the sense of platforms, content, and didactics. However, there is a need to develop common standards in order to facilitate the easier exchange of online courses and introduce a certain standard of quality.

Most standardisation is performed in the USA by private and professional institutions. Other, including international, initiatives are on a smaller scale.

ICT, education, and development

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include an ambitious education goal (Goal 4), which calls for inclusive and equitable quality education and ensuring life-long learning opportunities for all. Online education, e-learning, and blended learning play a crucial role in working towards goal 4 as well as many of the other SDGs. A useful overview of these linkages is provided in the form of a matrix linking the WSIS action lines with the SDGs. This further underscores the importance of ICT for education. 

Events

Instruments

Resources

Publications

Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)

Reports

Online Education: A Catalyst for Higher Education Reform (2016)
Internet for All: A Framework for Accelerating Internet Access and Adoption (2016)
Lifelong Learning and Technology (2016)
Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States (2016)
Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report 2015 (2015)
UNESCO Science Report: Towards 2030 (2015)
The Global Information Technology Report 2015: ICTs for Inclusive Growth (2015)
Paths Forward to a Digital Future for Further Education (2013)

Processes

IGF 2016 Report

 

The role of e-learning and online education in sustainable development was underlined in several discussions at IGF 2016. Digital tools can help overcome physical and geographic barriers when it comes to access to education. But there are several pre-conditions for e-learning to be truly effective: the affordability and availability of infrastructure, devices, and access to the Internet (ICT Implementation in Education: Road-Map to Achieving SDGs - WS121). Quality online education can empower people and can positively change their lives. In this regard, there is a need for content quality ranking and critical evaluation of online education and open/online educational resources. Policies for quality ranking and quality control should be a collective effort among different stakeholders (Empowerment Through Quality Online Education - WS108).

 

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