Virtual Symposium examines worldwide growth of online access

The Virtual Symposium focused partly on keeping open source technologies free.
The Virtual Symposium focused partly on keeping open-source technologies free.

Online learning, open courseware, eBooks, wikis, and many other innovative technologies have forever affected education by connecting any topic in any discipline to any learner in any place. Even individuals in remote communities now can access unlimited information free of charge, if they have an internet connection. This also provides more possibilities for international collaboration, knowledge building, and sharing of best practices.

Drexel University’s School of Education capitalized on these possibilities during its second annual live and online Virtual Symposium, in conjunction with Wainhouse Research and the World Bank Institute’s Global Development Learning Network (GDLN). This year’s Virtual Symposium built upon the theme Education for Everyone: Expanding Access Through Technology.

The symposium highlighted education technology innovations, and it examined challenges to access—for example, among poor and rural communities—and possibilities for overcoming them. A major feature of the symposium was the ability for participants to share experiences among peers in both developing and developed countries.

The symposium’s live events were hosted in two locations: at the World Bank Institute in Beijing and at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Having two centers created a format that encompassed different cultural and regional perspectives as a starting point for the discussion, and these perspectives were woven through the entire program.

A virtual symposium was a perfect venue for hosting a conference of this theme and scope, because of the internet’s ability to overcome the practical limitations of space. Eliminating geographic barriers meant that individuals could participate regardless of their location. As the web helps to overcome the barrier of geography, the number of internet users also has increased, to more than 1.46 billion worldwide—creating unprecedented opportunities to connect with people in every continent and of different social classes.

Thanks to corporate sponsorship from Adobe and Sonic Foundry, participation in the event was completely free. The virtual nature of this symposium enabled organizers to expand the reach of expertise, drawing from a worldwide group of experts in the education technology field. This proved to be particularly important, as many of the confirmed panelists and speakers were traveling during the live events and had to participate from remote locations themselves.

Curtis Bonk, a professor of instructional systems technology at Indiana University and author of The World is Open, opened the live events with an engaging keynote on the role of various technologies in open education. He discussed open courseware, open-source software, open-access journals, open educational resources, and open information communities as some key technologies that have changed the education landscape. Bonk presented from his home campus in Indiana.

With such technologies, thousands of organizations and scholars are sharing their course materials, expertise, and teaching ideas globally, thereby expanding learning opportunities and resources even further. One of the symposium’s registered participants stated that she was in awe at how diverse the opportunities are, even though she spends all day, every day on the internet and teaches online.

Sheila Jagannathan, a senior education specialist focusing on eLearning at the World Bank Institute, provided a formal response to Bonk’s presentation. Although based in Washington, D.C., Jagganathan was working in the Philippines during the symposium. Fortunately the virtual nature of the symposium meant it was still possible for her to participate from the World Bank offices in Manila.

"(Required)" indicates required fields