The Global Classroom – Soon to Be a Reality

It’s one of my favorite buzz words of the technical and education world, simply because it promises so much hope to the world.   For decades educators have been trying to use technology to change the way they teach.   In classrooms technology has improved content and the composition of the curriculum.  But it’s perhaps in the late 70s and 80s that the seeds of digital change were sowed in the educational world.   The technology involved was the humble video tape and slowly lectures were recorded and distributed.

Suddenly your education was not limited to the expertise of your specific lecturers, you could benefit from world leaders in education wherever you are as long as you had access to a VCR to play the tape.  In the UK the Open University was bringing education to peoples living rooms, although in the early days you had to wait to fairly unsociable hours to watch a broadcast lecture (unless you had a VCR at home of course).

Today that transition of moving the learning from a classroom in a college or University to anywhere else is beginning to gain pace. Teachers can upload their lectures to the internet where anyone can watch them.  It doesn’t matter where you are in the world you are, you can potentially access that lecture as many times as you wish.  An educational revolution is nearly here, it is very likely to transform education across the planet.

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Another buzzword in the world of online learning is that of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) – these offer free or perhaps low cost, high quality education to the world using the medium of the internet.  At the moment it’s pretty much limited to higher levels of education but there’s little reason to believe that this couldn’t happen to primary and secondary education too.

Imagine a class can be taken by any number of students irrespective of location and ability to pay.  The world’s experts in different subjects can deliver to thousands rather than the privileged few who could afford access to them.   The prospect is exciting and at the moment the world’s leading places of learning seem keen to supply courses at little or no cost to anyone who wants to access them.

The worry is of course that money soon comes into the equation, the potential for financial gain is obvious.  The problem and many would say the beauty of  using the internet as a medium for distributing anything is that it’s hard to restrict access to people on a selective basis.   The ideal would these course would be continued to be supplied and developed to everyone, but I suspect that won’t happen.

The technology already exists in the world of multimedia distribution, the biggest media sites on the web restrict access based on location or ability to pay.  The technology to determine where someone is located based on their IP address is well established, if courses become copyrighted and licensed this will probably happen.  There are ways to bypass these blocks though – take a look at this video on Youtube which explains how Smart DNS works.

In reality this isn’t the only potential barrier that students may face, one of the other concerns is the lack of infrastructure in some less developed country.  The ability to stream video to your computer or laptop may seem trivial in developed countries, but many lack the ability to do this.  Hopefully Governments will see the potential in this technology, and see how investing in communications infrastructure can bring many benefits in lots of different areas including education.

The future certainly looks exciting though!

Eleanor Practice