International masters of online study

WORKING with talented people from around the world and the flexibility of fitting in study across time zones are some of the reasons students enjoy online courses. All that’s needed is a computer, digital camera and scanner.
At Southern Cross University, a new graduate certificate of recruitment, placement and career development is a distance-education course for people in the employment services and recruitment industry.
Course co-ordinator and lecturer Ros Cameron says Blackboard and Illuminate software are provided by the university. Most communication is done in the Blackboard forum, which includes videos, and assignments are submitted online. Students need to spend five to 10 hours a week studying.
The University of NSW’s College of Fine Arts has been running a fully online master of cross-disciplinary art and design coursework degree for the past 18 months.
Postgraduate course co-ordinator and lecturer Simon McIntyre says the students, aged from 23 to 65, are in locations such as Singapore, Hong Kong, China, the US, Philippines and the United Arab Emirates.
“We have students in outback Australia who only have access to a shared dial-up internet account.”
Lectures are delivered as text and images, videos or podcasts. After lectures, students come together in an online message board to discuss ideas.
Interactive media and design teacher Andy Polaine is in Germany and has been teaching online since 1999. “Face-to-face classes usually suffer from a few dominant personalities, time pressure and being too full. Online class interaction is much more active and engaged,” he says.
“Online students and teachers can take time to think about what they want to say, disagree and debate with more confidence because they don’t have the face-to-face confrontation.”
He says online teaching usually emphasises a collaborative process. “Conversations are automatically archived, so when someone says something brilliant in a particular thread, everyone can go back and refer to it.”
Polaine says a downside is that the life on campus dies out but the weakening of the students’ union through the abolition of compulsory fees has helped that process anyway.
“Universities need to rethink what the physical campus is about and I believe it’s about creating flexible, social and collaborative spaces to meet and work. Otherwise there’s not much point in leaving the comfort of your computer and home.”
Student Lianna Wittenberg, who lives in Singapore, started studying in March. “The interaction can be fast paced or slow. It is interesting in the way the written word can be taken. There have been instances where I have read something, taken offence to it and later realised it may have been written in a different tone,” she says.
“I have found the experience quite a roller-coaster ride. I am often rushing back to the message board to see if anyone responded to my comments. My friends joke that the online course is the new Facebook as I am always on it and checking who said what.”
She describes the convenience as “excellent”. “With time differences, job and social commitments, I can still manage to work online and achieve some great results.”

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