Virtual Symposium examines worldwide growth of online access

Jagganathan pointed out that while the latest technologies have certainly changed the education landscape, those that Bonk discussed are found primarily in Europe and North America. She proposed that some of the more common technologies, such as television, radio, and mobile phones, also have great potential for reaching the marginalized poor in developing countries. As she stated, the number of households having televisions in developing countries increased from 40 percent in 1995 to 60 percent today.

Bonk, too, noted that there are 40,000 new mobile subscribers per week in Rwanda, and 60,000 new mobile subscriptions every hour in India—indicating the clear potential this increasingly common technology has for disseminating information to large populations.

The symposium’s second and third days featured a panel of experts discussing a common theme from various points of view and international locales. Panelists explored what policies, programs, partnerships, and corporate initiatives have had the greatest impact in encouraging or adversely affecting the use of technology to bring education to the underserved and underprivileged around the world.

Four panelists discussed these issues live from four different locations: Drexel University sites in Philadelphia and Sacramento, the World Bank site in Beijing, and East China Normal University in Shanghai, China.

The live events wrapped up with a panel discussion around best practices for expanding educational access through technology. Panelists participated from Beijing, Tokyo, Philadelphia, and Fort Lauderdale.

The scope of participation in the symposium illustrates Bonk’s keynote, which emphasized that the world is truly open. During all of March, approximately 1,500 viewers from 54 different countries attended the virtual symposium (as compared with 19 countries in 2008). Only slightly more than half of the participants (55 percent) were located in the United States, as compared with 75 percent in 2008.

Registered participants were located in 20 European countries, 19 Asian countries, 10 countries of the Americas, and four African countries. One participant, who logged onto the event through Second Life, indicated that he was viewing the live panels from an airplane while en route to Australia.

One of the virtual symposium’s goals was to develop an international network of professionals working in the technology, education, and distance learning fields who will advance the exchange of ideas and promote best practices. The symposium let participants expand their professional networks on an international scale, without the cost of traveling.

The online discussion stimulated during the live events let participants find others with similar goals and interests, and a number of questions related to educational access emerged for further exploration. These included keeping open source technologies free, maintaining quality, and providing credentials. The symposium platform is available for post-event discussion and exchange at

Rebecca Clothey is an associate clinical professor at Drexel University and the director of the Global and International Education program.

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