Distance learning must be monitored

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Academics from around the world have gathered in Dubai on 13 November 2012, to address the challenges of the online education, or e-learning.

Under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and President of Hamdan Bin Mohammed e-University (HBMeU), H.H. Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, the International Council for Open and Distance Education Standing Conference of Presidents 2012 (ICDE SCOP 2012), a first-of-its-kind gathering in the Arab region was attended by 150 presidents of open and distance learning universities from around the world.

The technology is being speedily incorporated into the world of education. In these circumstances the academics are facing a number of challenges to ensure quality of online studies, from conventional ones like in any industry being developed and adapted to the environment, to the overcoming of the negative perceptions of e-learning.

This year’s conference is the 74th anniversary of the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE). Upon this occasion, Prof. Tian Belawati, President of ICDE and Rector of the Indonesian Open University has announced a global campaign, to further promote e-learning. ICDE being a network of 100 educational institutions worldwide works in promoting open and distance learning, and provide opportunities for exchange of educational best practices.

ICDE Conference was also addressed by Dr Bader Aboul-Ela, Director of the Commission for Academic Accreditation at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, who emphasized the lack of educational resources in Arabic, and expressed willingness for technical readiness introduction, as well as working on the endorsing of the perception of e-learning in academia.

Sheikh Nahyan, the Minister of Higher Education mentioned that the negative perception of the distance learning comes from the bad example of some sub-standard online programs and the rise of diploma mills. He added that ethical behavior must be emphasized and that it must be insisted on integrity of processes and people. At the same time and no one involved in online education must not lose sight of the responsibility of being an institutions of higher learning. Nahyan explained that the UAE’s experience of e-learning, is not only at its only accredited online university, Hamdan Bin Mohammed E-University, where the conference was held, but at colleges such as the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), where some classes are delivered between a men’s college and a women’s college remotely. He added that it has been very effective manner of offering good courses and sufficiency in saving resources.

At some of the 17 colleges in HCT, there are not enough resources to have separate teaching staff at the men’s and women’s campuses, so conference learning has been introduced to save resources at the federal colleges.This has proved efficient.

Being determined to use e-learning wisely they believe that the success of e-learning relies on teaching, low cost and better content. Dr Aboul-Ela said that they are engaged to have good education, but what is lacking in the region, is the insightful accreditation to oversee such < a href=”>online learning. In this direction a traditional criteria now becoming “outdated” in respect to the new world of e-learning.

The UAE is the first country to address this issue, (it has produced its own set of standards in 2004) and it goals towards online access for everybody.Dr Aboul-Ela believes that the same accreditation body can oversee traditional and online learning, but the standards and criteria will be different in order to maintain the education quality standards in practice.

The International Council for Open and Distance Education Standing Conference of Presidents 2012 is a source of recommendations and initiatives that strengthens the channels of communication between major academic institutions specialized in electronic, open and distance learning worldwide. It facilitates a healthy exchange of information and discussions concerning strategies, covering political trends in its continuing pursuit for solid framework that cultivates a culture of lifelong learning.

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