Approximately 200 participants from 40 different countries converged at the MIT Learning International Networks Consortium (LINC) 2010 Conference on May 23-26 to discuss on how universities worldwide can better provide distance education and e-learning resources to current and future students.
The conference, titled “University Leadership: Bringing Technology-Enabled Education to Learners of All Ages,” focused on how online tools can improve the universities’ pool of future applicants and provide resources to adults and working professionals, in turn promoting lifelong learning.
MIT Chancellor Phillip Clay delivered remarks on May 24, expressing his great support of and hopes for LINC. He praised the consortium for its embodiment of collaboration on the largest scale, thereby creating new best practices for reaching diverse populations of learners. He acknowledged that e-learning offers tremendous potential to people of all ages, all over the world.
“It is no longer news that the world is flat,” Clay said. “Those who are not connected [via the Internet] are even further behind today than they were in 2001, [when LINC first began].”
Robert Hawkins, senior education specialist at The World Bank Institute, further expanded on the subject of education beyond the classroom, presenting “The Top 10 Global Trends in ICT and Education.” Among these are the popularity of and demand for mobile devices, cloud computing, one-to-one computing, teacher-generated open content, and gaming — all of which Hawkins described with examples of their implementation as educational tools.
Other plenary talks explored these trends from a variety of perspectives, including presentations by Patricio López del Puerto, president of the Virtual University Tecnologico de Monterrey in Mexico; Bakary Diallo, rector of the African Virtual University; and Catherine Casserly, senior partner at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; among others.
Charles Vest, president of the National Academy of Engineering and president emeritus of MIT, delivered the keynote talk on May 25, describing the continued evolution of globalized research universities in the context of a world in which investments and talent in fields such as engineering, life sciences and economics are rapidly spreading. While the U.S. has the greatest number of young professionals in the life sciences, China has, by far, the most young professionals in engineering. India has the highest number of young professionals in economics and finance.
Vest outlined some of the key efforts currently taking place among globalized research universities, including physical and virtual presences in other countries, strategic alliances and open content — of which MIT’s OpenCourseWare and BLOSSOMS serve as noteworthy examples.
“What we are observing is the early emergence of the meta-university,” said Vest, explaining that this new model for globalized universities will not replicate traditional universities, and will need to be adaptable and flexible rather than strictly regimented and prescriptive.
Vest cited creating opportunity, both locally and globally, as the key role of universities. He acknowledged that beyond this, universities have an important role in inspiring collaborative responses to what the National Academy of Engineering calls “Grand Challenges in Engineering,” some of the most complex and critical global challenges of the 21st century.
The conference featured nearly 90 papers submitted from around the globe, presented in 16 parallel sessions. Authors traveled from five continents and as far away as the Fiji Islands. Papers covered diverse topics such as the role of education on economic growth in Pakistan, information and communication technologies for lifelong learning in Africa, and mobile learning in Thailand — just to name a few. All contributed papers will be published online in the LINC 2010 proceedings.
The tremendous amount of knowledge sharing led to talk of future synergies between LINC and conference attendees. For example, Sunil Wanchoo, assistant professor at the School of Physics at Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University in India, is now pursuing ways to bring LINC’s BLOSSOMS initiative, which creates a repository of open-source interactive video lessons for high school STEM classes, to India. Michel DeGraff, associate professor of linguistics at MIT, said LINC 2010 helped shape his thinking about educational transformation in Haiti.
“Some of us at MIT, including my Haitian-American colleagues Cherie Miot Abbanat and Dale Joachim, are helping MIT set up collaborative projects with Haitian universities for the mutual benefit of both MIT and Haiti,” said DeGraff. “E-learning of the sort illustrated at LINC 2010 will play a key role: online lectures and digital libraries, virtual classrooms and research labs, and so on, will help us create sustainable and capacity-building partnerships between MIT and professors and students in Haiti. Various presentations at LINC 2010 brought up intelligent ways in which e-learning can help bridge the cruel gaps between the “haves” and the “have-nots” of the world. These "e-bridges" will be crucial for us as we help rebuild education in Haiti on firmer grounds — both literally and figuratively — and as MIT's teaching and research start incorporating lessons from our partners in Haiti.”
LINC founder, MIT Professor Richard Larson said, “Over the past eight years, LINC has become a trusting community of international leaders in technology-enabled education, focused on delivering quality education to underserved populations particularly in developing countries. We still have a long way to go, but we are getting closer to bringing to reality LINC’s credo: With today's computer and telecommunications technologies, every young person can have a quality education regardless of his or her place of birth.”