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January 18, 2013

Virtual classrooms

During recent years we consumers have been bombarded with the development of ‘next’ electronic device or gadget designed to make our lives easier. Many of these devices help us to keep in touch with friends, family, classmates and colleagues as well as stay up-to-date with current affairs more easily and while on the move. In fact, there is a good chance you are reading my blog on the latest tablet or smartphone from anywhere in the world.

Given the popularity and technological innovation behind these devices, a new trend has begun to emerge in the higher education industry – the introduction of online courses that lead towards traditional degrees.

Many universities globally, through the use of sophisticated technology, are now able to offer "classroom-like" teaching to thousands of students simultaneously, without them being in a traditional classroom.

Universities like Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have introduced a new platform, edX, which delivers various courses online aiming to "revolutionise education around the world". Recently, UK universities such as King’s College, Warwick, BPP University and the Open University have also announced they will be offering online courses to their students during 2013.

Not long ago, I was asked by my lecturers at BPP University to participate in a user’s acceptance test of a new online interactive platform designed to work on an iPad. For a week, along with a few other students, I had the responsibility of testing the functionality of the platform. The goal was to evaluate the experience a student will have while accessing various activity sheets, watching webinars and complete/submit assignments for each module. At the end of the test drive we all felt the technology had come a long way and teaching had taken a whole new meaning.

After testing this online learning platform, I had the opportunity to experience online learning for real. I watched a few BPP webinars, where the lecturers and the students were spread all over the country. The webinars were arranged for specific dates and times and we all logged on into our "virtual classroom". We had the chance to participate in the webinars, ask questions individually or as a group, and work on problems given by the professors.

The use of the technology certainly made the distance shorter than it actually was, the classroom bigger than physically possible and the communication more relaxed because the majority of the attendees were at home and the distractions were minimised. I really enjoyed this experience as it exposed me to a new way of participating in a lecture.

Of course, some people prefer the traditional way of learning with face-to-face interaction amongst students and teachers, but, in my opinion, times have changed and we have to do our best to adapt. We now have the opportunity to attend lectures where one teacher is able to reach thousands of students at once and spread knowledge as efficiently as possible.

I am really looking forward to participate in my next online learning experience.

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