Let’s flashback a few years. Remember waiting anxiously for those A-level results to see if you’d ever get to punt on the Isis and have drinks at the K.A.?
Pretend, for a minute, that you hadn’t made the cut. How would you have felt about attending, as a substitute, a fictional university I call Oxford.net, right from the comfort of your own computer, where your loving parents could still feed you Sunday roast dinners? That option might not be far off, if developments on my side of the pond are any indication.
For years, we’ve been seeing educators take advantage of the Internet through articles and books published online. That was Internet 1.0, all about aggregating as much information as possible to make it easy for the reader looking for say…an essay answer on the French Revolution to find everything he needs.
Now we’re into Internet 2.0, all about connecting information in unpredictable ways. The best Web 2.0 ideas aren’t information collected for one audience, and Web 2.0 readers aren’t in search of information on specific topics in quite the same way.
Today, the best ideas are written and disseminated to a first audience online, on a blog like this one, and if they’re successful, they end up in everyone’s inboxes. The process is viral—you send this post to your friend, he posts it on his blog, someone reads it there and Googles my name and finds a You Tube video of me at the beach and maybe links back to my posting on You Tube, which might lead someone searching “beach” on You Tube, to this post about education.
The goal of Internet 2.0 is to spread information around, not collect it in one place. Which means the goal of Education 2.0 is to spread education to everyone, and not confine it to university campuses.
As I just described in my column , something like this is happening in the United States: U.C. Berkeley has just launched a YouTube channel , where I can learn from Berkeley professors, even though I’m not an enrolled student. MIT and Princeton are in feud over real estate for the campuses they’ve established in Second Life, a virtual world where users set up a persona, or avatar, who can then buy property, attend movies and interact with other avatars representing real people all around the world.
Professors from each of these schools interviewed in the press argue that the new technologies are more than cool gadgets for them: they are new ways of thinking about teaching, and they are changing the way students learn. you don't have to pay for Princeton to go to Princeton in Second Life. You don't have to get into Berkeley to simulate biology labs by video conference.
A tutorial system like Oxford’s would probably work even better online than an American university’s, where the emphasis is on putting students in classes together.
Reading and writing for tutorial essays is a solo task, and in tutorials, all you really need is your tutor. If digital libraries like Project Gutenberg are putting all your sources online, and your tutor has an avatar too (like the professors at MIT do), how many more young people would suddenly have access to an Oxford education?
This is education, of the highest caliber, universally accessible, yet without undermining the experience for the on-campus select and I think it’s just around the corner.
But is the experience good enough to replace university for a student who can’t afford it? Would you trade in Oxford for an online download? Would you send your children to Oxford.net? And if not, what do you make of the virtual experiments of American universities?