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MIT course beamed to Africa

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Elizabeth A. Thomson
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MIT Resource Development

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Over 190 students from eight sub-Saharan countries are taking an MIT course without leaving their continent thanks to a joint initiative of MIT's Center for Advanced Educational Services (CAES) and the African Virtual University (AVU). Participating countries are Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

The collaboration began when AVU, a technology-facilitated higher-learning institution, contacted CAES. AVU uses modern information and communication technologies to give students in sub-Saharan Africa direct access to some of the highest-quality learning resources from around the world.

CAES put together a six-week curriculum loosely based on MIT Course 1.00, which teaches the Java programming language. The resulting course, Java Revolution, can be uniformly distributed regardless of equipment and bandwidth.

Java Revolution features videotaped lectures delivered via satellite, a web site for course materials, e-mail moderated by teaching assistants, and two live videoconferences with Professor Steven Lerman, director of CAES' Center for Educational Computing Initiatives (CECI), and Dr. Judson Harward, a CECI principal research scientist. Lerman is also affiliated with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

MIT faculty members also directed students to a Java User Group web site specific to the users of Java in Africa so that live interaction can continue long after the course has ended.

"There is a tremendous hunger for knowledge, particularly in the areas of science and engineering, in many parts of the world. We hope that this is just the beginning of a partnership between CAES and AVU to bring MIT intellectual content to wider audiences," said Professor Richard Larson, director of CAES.

According to Sidiki Traore, senior program officer at AVU, "AVU has a five-year history of beaming quality education to university students and professionals in Africa from the best institutions around the world. We are pleased to announce that another distinguished institution, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has joined AVU. The availability of Java Revolution is a historic event in education in Africa because, for the first time, students will be able to receive course certificates from world-renowned universities such as MIT while remaining in their own countries. Thirteen Learning Centers are currently participating in MIT's Java Revolution course, and we expect to enroll more African students in MIT courses in the future."

AVU students include university students and staff, professionals working for information technology companies, and unemployed individuals trying to find their way into a new career. At least 15 percent of the participating students are women.

Established in July 1997 as a World Bank project, AVU has just completed its first phase and is now a premier provider of technology-based distance education with 31 Learning Centers across the continent. This year, AVU was established as an independent non-profit organization with headquarters in Nairobi.

James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, will be MIT's 2002 Commencement speaker.

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