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Multimedia Systems For Lifelong Learning

Success And Challenges (part 2)

Multimedia Systems For Lifelong Learning by Kinshuk;  Jens J. Hansen
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In the editorial for the last issue, we mentioned observations made by Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II where she marvelled, during her New Year’s Eve talk to her nation, at how modern telecommunications bridge distance, whilst, paradoxically, amplifying the separation of families and communities of interest. According to Margrethe, the Internet enables virtual global linkages for exchanging up-todate interpersonal information whilst diminishing face-to-face contact and extending physical and psychological distances. Hence, we reported, family stability – the foundation of communities and society as a whole – has become increasingly undermined by postmodern technologies. Moreover, real-time interpersonal social discourse, the very essence of humanity, has become altered (and perhaps eroded) by a bedazzling spectrum of integrated computing and communications technologies (ICCT).

We also noted that the literature comments that this reality appears to have escaped the attention of those in charge of ICCT systems because in this post-modern era, managers of such enterprises have primarily been charged by their governors with turning a profit (Antonelli, 1992; Ergas, 1986, 1995; Gillespie and Robins, 1989; Gillespie and Hepworth, 1986; Ladbrook et al., 1994; Moss, 1981; Reinecke, 1987; Young, 1981). Furthermore, we observed, service provision is at odds with the imperative of yielding a return, an activity at which providers of ICCT throughout the world have been spectacularly successful, despite occasional hiccoughs such as the recent dotcom disasters! We also purported that the public view providers as often being unexceptional at providing affordable, economically efficient, and technically durable infrastructures and products, and we noted that consumers see providers as tardy in mounting continuous experience enhancing support services. We even concluded that there seems to be a distinct distrust of ICCT by many of those who seek to receive services from it – their suspicion, cynicism and scepticism stemming from too many performance deficiencies.

Though there is a lot of truth in the above observations, we should be mindful of the fact that the latest technologies may simply be becoming beset by similar longer-term effects that have effected earlier technologies. For instance, it can be argued that transport initially weakened family and community ties because it enabled family members to disengage from their family of origin by travelling further afar with relative ease (although at the same time, it must be noted that transport also enables distributed family members to reconnect with ease). Broadcast technology, particularly television, has also contributed to this process of disengagement and to the isolation of individuals, not only within community but also within a family living under the same roof! Robert Putnam (2001), Harvard professor of public policy, reports that TV was the primary form of entertainment for half of the population of the USA. These, then, were the people who volunteered and worked on community projects less often, who attended fewer dinner parties and fewer club meetings, spent less time with friends, entertained others at home less, went out for picnic less, were less interested in politics, gave blood less often, made fewer longdistance calls, sent fewer greeting cards, used less e-mail and experienced more road rage than demographically matched people who differed only in the fact that TV was not their primary form of entertainment!

But is the TV the cause of this behaviour or is it symptomatic of some other malaise? Young (2001) commented that Putnam had said next to nothing about globalisation. And on a global front, decisions affecting all of us are made by multi-nationals, by the media, by kings and queens and by governments agreeing or not agreeing between themselves about matters that are supposedly difficult for ordinary people to grasp. In this complex post-modern world, citizens can, therefore, easily feel powerless. They can easily conclude that power appears to have been reserved for an e´lite that have been puffed up by the education system. Thus, they may as well conclude that it is better to relax in front of the box! To us, it appears quite clear that the empowerment of citizens against forces that are global in nature will require large-scale global co-operation and the intentional formation of virtual communities of common interests across the world. The Internet provides the infrastructure for this to occur and ICCT provides the technology that enables. Moreover, this whole process is increasingly becoming affordable to individuals in the developed world and at least within the community centres (as a shared resource) in the developing world.

It is reasonable to point out, however, that we have not yet had the opportunity to systematically progress the work and harness the true potential of these opportunities due to the sheer rapidity with which changes occur in the underlying technologies, but a rapid pace of change is now almost becoming a norm in all fields of human endeavour. A hundred years ago, one could learn one’s trade and practise it without the need for much re-training. Now we see new professions emerging and old vocations changing beyond recognition. The knowledge life cycle is thus getting ever shorter, requiring frequent acquisition of a far greater amount of knowledge. There is a perpetual learning that is a lifelong activity. In the last editorial, we mentioned an estimate that India will need to build a school a day continuously for ten years just to cope with the illiteracy in its current population. How can such countries achieve higher levels of literacy with a brick and mortar education if resources now also need to be diverted to the phenomenon of addressing the recurring knowledge needs of those who are already educated beyond literacy? We contend that brick and mortar have to be replaced by virtual schools and colleges if this dream is to be achieved. The Internet must be used to enable co-operative efforts and joint production as well as facilitating the sharing of resources. Quite simply, the Internet and ICCT must be used to enable any number of willing institutions and/or communities to engage with these tasks more cost-effectively.

In connection with the recurring need for learning on an almost perpetual basis, we have in this issue an article by Evans and Fan on lifelong learning through the aegis of a learning environment – called the Virtual University by the authors. The Virtual University consists of virtual lectures, virtual seminars, virtual tutorials and virtual examinations! They advocate this approach as it has a number of advantages, such as interactivity, adaptation, simulation, demonstration and integration over the conventional classroom-based and open learning approaches. Interestingly, the survey conducted to assess the effectiveness of Virtual University indicated an enhancement of the overall learning experience.

We also have an article on the provision of education and training for healthcare professionals jointly authored by Beer, Green, Armitt and Sixsmith from the UK, van Bruggen and Daniels from The Netherlands, Ghyselen from Belgium and Sandqvist from Sweden. They describe and discuss a collaborative occupational therapy Internet school (OTIS) and their paper details the design and implementation of a sophisticated on-line system for managing, preparing and delivering courses in an effective manner, throughout which, students can communicate both with the staff and peer learners. An exciting feature of the course organisation is the problem-based approach through which students collaborate internationally in order to propose effective intervention within a given scenario.

In this special issue we have covered some more of the challenges and successes of harnessing multimedia systems for lifelong learning and we trust that this, the second of these two special issues, will encourage a greater appreciation that almost all technology is value neutral; it possesses an inherent latency for doing either good or harm depending on how it is employed. It is for those who are concerned with the greater social good to start employing the available technologies in a socially constructive way. We cannot resist the temptation to quote the California teacher, Paul August, who commented in his review on Putnam’s book on, ‘‘I enjoyed the cyber bashing with terms like cyberapartheid, cyberbalkanization and cyberghetto. The writer needs to spend less time with theories and statistics and go experience a chat room.’’ There is a lot of truth in this too!

Jens J. Hansen
Ashok Patel

Previously published in: Campus-Wide Information Systems, Volume 19, Number 4, 2002

Emerald Publishing Limited; Read online
Title: Multimedia Systems For Lifelong Learning
Author: Kinshuk; Jens J. Hansen

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