Distance learning gets a tech boost
By Karen Rosemin Director, Distance Learning Secre Thursday, July 5 2012
THE history of distance learning stretches back to the 60s in Trinidad and Tobago. Back then it was called correspondence school and courses were sent to the students in packages via snail mail. Distance Learning has come a long way since then and has morphed into e learning where, through technology, learning can be accessed.
The Caribbean Knowledge and Learning Network, headed by CEO Ken Sylvester, has been driving the process towards making the region, the last in the world, to have connections in terms of a research and education network.
Currently there is a global research and education network that connects all the major regions in the world including Europe, Latin America, USA, Asia, Africa. The objective of the network is to get universities, colleges and hospitals online working together collaboratively in the development of content, courses, programmes and the facilitating of different universities to collaborate and research projects.
Up until two months ago the Caribbean was not a part of that network. Now the digital hole is about to close in this region as, for the last three years, we have been building a similar network, to what exists in other regions. In Trinidad and Tobago, this has been accomplished with the expert technological support of TSTT.
In July Trinidad and Tobago Research and Education Network (TTRENT) will be launched and will allow tertiary level students to connect to any institution around the world for research and collaboration.
The network does not operate on the same links that you would associate with public access to the Internet. It is a secure, private, very highspeed network that you’d use to support something like TSTT’s Telepresence. The objective is to improve the speed and ease with which a greater number of students / citizens can access tertiary education by distance learning. A student could stay in San Fernando and do a course at Mona, Jamaica without having to travel there.
The thing about networks is that people don’t really know that they exist. They use it but don’t have a fair idea that it is the research and education network they are using as opposed to the Internet. The difference is only clear when there is the need to transfer huge amounts of data. So if I have a telescope in Arizona and I have to send those images to another university, the network has the capacity to allow that to happen.
The Research and Education network is not just for distance learning. Just think about what is happening with Facebook and with all the social media, all of that is based on a trend where people are connecting with each other to get information. The research and education networks were built because of that push for knowledge. The initial target audiences, to use these networks, are the researchers, students, administrators.
With the network in place I don’t need physically to go to the library to get the information that I want as a student. The system would allow for me to retrieve and access data that may have been previously stored in the library or existed as someone’s research. If I am a student and I am in the fashion academy and I am doing a design but want to collaborate with some my colleagues in Jamaica UTEC because they have insights that I could benefit from, I can log on to our local network TTRENT and it would allow me to weave my way through the Caribnet network, which is the regional network, to get to Jamaica and we set up a video conference.
Openness is another trend in communication right now. It means that a lot of what would have been considered copyright information is now governed by a framework called the creative common licence. The licence may take on different formats but they all allow for sharing of information with someone else as long as credit is given to the person. Openness also means that there is more value in sharing information than hording it. The value comes back from the fact that it can quickly go into an application which can then become a product and service, which could then bring value in some way to the individual or the economy. That is something we are now moving into.
Research and Education Networks also provide flexibility. If I am a student but I am working and I know my library at school closes at 9 pm, if I enter at six o clock I only have three hours to use the physical library. On the other hand the research network keeps virtual libraries open 24/7 so I have more time at my convenience to do research.
The coming on stream of TTRENT would radically increase access to educational resources and redefine how education is delivered, not just on the tertiary level but at secondary and primary level as well.