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Lifelong education is here in a click

Eleanor Caldwell reports on how the Internet revolution has opened up new horizons and revitalised the concept of out-of-hours studying.

As distance learning revitalises many curricular areas, teachers are being given the chance to benefit from its streamlined approach for their own professional development.

Master of Education courses at the University of Stirling now offer options using the World Wide Web, changing the nature of contact time between lecturer and student. Within a general 12-module MEd programme which incorporates either a 20,000 word dissertation or a 10,000 word research project, for example, the compulsory unit on research strategies can also be accessed through the Internet .

Within existing MEd degrees in adult and continuing education and management in tertiary education, the vocational education and training module is now an online option. Opening up new horizons altogether, an MEd in technology enhanced learning, starting this autumn, is entirely Web-based and is a collaboration between the Institute of Education at Stirling and the University of South Queensland.

Study modules are drawn from two tracks which cover technology and policy. Study of the new didactics of online teaching combines, in the technology track, with examination and critical analysis of Web and instructional design. Within the policy track, a module on the European Union adult education and training policies gives a new perspective on international comparative analysis.

The new look courses mark an increasing trend for recruitment of students to postgraduate qualifications from within a broader band of the educational community and beyond to embrace NHS professionals.

As changing curricular patterns of Higher Still and new provision in minority courses develop growing links with further education colleges, lecturers are being encouraged to take up MEd and MSc courses. Roy Canning, senior lecturer at Stirling University, explains that the pitch of postgraduate teaching is moving away from strict school and curriculum-based study towards a more conceptual and theoretical cross-sector approach.

"Critical appraisal of policy and practice make the courses more broad-based," he says.

The MSc in lifelong learning, taught in conjunction with Caledonian University, is entirely Web-based and is promoting the development of a cross-sector learning community. It includes four courses that are also available to MEd students. These focus on policy, provision and theoretical and reflective practice within the context of lifelong learning.

r Canning says that there is a "whole new market" in postgraduate students in education. As post-16 staying on rates at school increase and cross-fertilisation of Higher Still and FE courses emerges, there is a move among college lecturers to gain further qualifications. Prospective headteachers, too, are interested in topping up specific headteacher qualifications with a more broadly-based postgraduate degree.

The attraction of a reduction in university class contact time through online courses is further enhanced by the increased time for contact between teacher and student and among students via the first class e-mail and text conferencing system.

Students submitting regular 1,000 word assignments to be assessed in the MEd in technology enhanced learning programme, for example, will receive personalised online feedback from staff at either Stirling or the University of South Queensland.

Online reading replaces time spent on lecturer input and leaves greater time for discussion and analysis of students' work. Remote access to library source material also overcomes the logistical difficulties of regularly getting to the university library.

General discussion of key issues relating to the course will take place in virtual staff student committee meetings. Roy Canning particularly welcomes this: "It's really important that we are able to gauge students' responses throughout the course."

The mixed technology and traditional class teaching mode of MEd study is proving popular with 60 per cent of the 180 students opting to take one of the MSc technology-based units. The commitment of two evenings at university classes after a full day's teaching has always been onerous for teachers and has often discouraged otherwise enthusiastic prospective students.

In new virtual mode, postgraduate qualifications are changing shape and nurturing the growth of lifelong learning. As primary teachers e-mail FE lecturers, secondary subject teachers discuss key educational issues with health professionals, and generic advisers contact university lecturers in the southern hemisphere at the click of a mouse, the education world really has started talking. And collaboration takes on a whole new meaning.

The MEd in Technology Enhanced Learning and MSc in Lifelong Learning (web based) cost pound;410 a module. Other MEd courses are pound;274 a module. For further information visit websites (MSc Lifelong Learning) (MEd Tech. Enhanced Learning) Courses begin in September this year and February 2001.

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