What have we learnt so far?

John A. Venables

Dept of Physics and Astronomy, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA
CPES, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK
 
Points to inwardly digest include:
 
Is there a market for specialist web-based graduate courses?
Undoubtedly there is, but presentation, back-up and assessment need a lot of thought. For small numbers, informal web pages are excellent as a resource, but email alone is not enough as a motivator, except for a few. It may be better to think of such courses as 'reading, conference and project' activities. You may also aspire to become a portal in your own subject area?
Web-assisted (undergraduate and graduate) courses are here to stay
Everybody is doing it, so what is there to say? The quality varies greatly, and ways to involve students need to be thought about carefully. My own approach is to use students to produce web-based material which is widely useful; it must not be seen as being in the 'make work' category. In general, students run out of time before they exhaust their interest, and it is hard work to persuade faculty that this is the way forward.  
Have we solved the accreditation and costing of 'off-campus' students?
Everbody thinks collaboration is a good idea in principle, but does it pay? Is it in anyones' interest/ job specification to spend time on such matters? Note the evolving role of web-based online extended education departments and colleges, the recent launching in Arizona of the Tri-University Master of Engineering degree and the pre-eminent worldwide position of the UK's Open University in distance learning, mostly at undergraduate level. Are there going to be any equivalent providers at graduate level?  
The enjoyment of spreading the word, the pictures, the music...(?).
E-mail contact with and between students is essential, but what are the real virtues of conferencing, chat rooms, etc? Are they worth it, and if so in what circumstances? A list of recent developments with some comments and questions are given on my Education page.

This talk is available at the /grad directory from my home page.