Editorial Board 2000-2001
A new development on the Canadian post-secondary education scene just got a lot more high-tech with the emergence of a new virtual university, but the issue of getting a degree online is something that needs careful inspection before students start their cyber-learning ways.
Seven Canadian universities have come together to form the Canadian Virtual University, which will allow students to take distance education courses from all the universities involved, without any credit transfer hassles. The idea is fairly simple: students apply to one of the seven schools and will receive their degrees from that school, but can take online courses from any of the universities involved.
An explicit goal of the university is flexibility. The whole thing was set up so students living in remote areas, or students with other obligations, such as employment, could still receive an university education on their own time. Students who may not normally not get the opportunity to study can have the chance many others take for granted. This opens up all sorts of doors for equality. For students with families, this allows them to study at home while looking after a kids or relatives.
CVU is also presents a solution to the problem of accessibility. Accessibility is not only about being able to afford school but also of being able to physically attend lectures. CVU addresses this problem using modern technology to its advantage.
However, a degree based solely on distance education does raise some concerns. What is the quality of education students are receiving? There are many critics who would argue this kind of education is not equal to the one received by attending lectures. Can lecture notes and textbooks substitute a real, live professor?
We take for granted the fact that a professor's intonation of voice has a lot to do with us remembering what he or she teaches. A live human we can see and with whom we can interact plays a big role in the learning process. Try to think about how many times you truly grasped a new concept simply by reading it from a text, then compare that with how many times you've come out of a group study session with a good sense of what's going on.
Also, some future employers might not look as favourably on a degree received solely through distance education. Vital communication and interpersonal skills which are normally gained through interaction with others might not develop as effectively through conversation by e-mail and chat rooms.
The Canadian Virtual University is not for all students this is something the virtual school's own board of directors admits unreservedly. But an Internet education is something technology will most likely facilitate better in the future and the CVU is a prime example of how now means paying attention to 1's and 0's as well as P's and Q's.