Friday, December 04, 2009

Propose an e-Oxbridge education

Having spent some of the week discussing the future of higher education, with Professor Paul Ramsden and my colleagues at the Australian National University (including my contribution on "Forums and Feedback for e-Learning"), I felt it was time to suggest a way forward. I have proposed an e-Oxbridge educational model for the ANU School of Computer Science (SoCS) .

SoCS has ambitious goals set for "unique", "advanced", "interdisciplinary" and "research lead" undergraduate and masters courses. To achieve this, I have proposed a computer enhanced version of the "Oxbridge" model of education. With this approach at Oxford and Cambridge Universities (where I have given the occasional seminar) students are part of a community of scholars, write and discuss material with their peers and their tutors each week. This can be adapted to the 21st century:
  1. Human communication: I suggest teaching all students how to research, write and report. While most undergraduates will not go on to postgraduate research and therefore not need to write a scientific paper, they will have to write technical and business reports which require similar skills. Therefore I suggest teaching how to write and present an argument in the introduction to undergraduate and postgraduate programs. I have done some of this in Green ICT, where I get the students to research and discuss issues online and write a reports about a real problem.
  2. Self motivated work: In each course I suggest setting the students a task, giving them the tools and then helping them with the work. In practice this would be done by providing learning materials in traditional written form, as well as multimedia, as used by the "Hubs and Spokes" project. This would then free up staff time to work with the students in small groups and individually. This would also force a discipline on staff, who would need to carefully design course materials in advance. Also this would allow administration to be greatly simplified, with less need for timetabling of classes and resources. This would aid social inclusion, with full and part time students could in the same class, along with domestic, international and remote e-learning students.
  3. Interdisciplinary skills: I suggest designing SoCS programs to fit in with ANU wide programs and those of partner universities. In this way students will be able to study subjects outside Computer Science in other parts of the university.
Instead of developing whole, self contained undergraduate and
postgraduate programs which are exclusive to SoCS, I suggest SoCS have modules which can fit with other disciplines and can be used by other disciplines. A student should be able to do a standard undergraduate or postgraduate program at the ANU which incorporates SoCS education. While the SoCS programmes might have fancy names, such as Bachelor/Masters of Advanced Interdisciplinary Computing", they should underneath be made of ANU standard components. Ideally the courses should be able to be tailored by the students themselves, as is done with ANU Graduate Studies Select.

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