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The Virtual Professor: A Personal Case Study Greg Kearsley (http://fcae.nova.edu/~kearsley)


Background My transformation to a virtual professor and involvement in distance education began as a matter of necessity. Immediately after completing my doctorate at the University of Alberta (in 1978), I went to the U.S. and took a job as an instructional psychologist. I also started to teach evening courses at local universities in their graduate education programs. (Experts in computer based instruction and instructional design were rare in those days). Like most people with real jobs, I had to travel a lot which meant that I was frequently out of town on the nights I was supposed to be teaching. So I had to develop some strategies for coping with this problem. One was to participate in the class via an audioconference. I would have someone set up a speakerphone in my classroom and call in from wherever I happened to be. I could give lectures and engage students in discussions. It worked quite well. Another strategy was to ask colleagues to "cover" for me by going to the class and giving a guest lecture. I would pick out people with expertise on the topic to be taught so their contribution to the class was usually very worthwhile and enjoyed by the students. I found that having 5 or 6 guest lectures in a course made it much more interesting to the students than being taught by a single person. The third strategy involved the use of computer bulletin board systems to provide a way for students to contact me and each other via email and online conferences. Not only was this useful for me, but it was helpful to the students as well since many of them also traveled a lot and this gave them a way to keep up to date with course work. As time went on, these three "coping" strategies became the core of my approach to teaching...to the point where I could successfully run a course at distance without the need for any on-site classes. Audioconferences could be supplemented by instructional tv with telephone call-in, or two-way videoconferencing. Online guests could participate this way as well or online. Finally bulletin board systems were replaced by the internet and web with more sophisticated capabilities for information distribution and interaction.
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A Day in the Life In 1989 I joined the School of Education & Human Development at the George Washington University and began to teach in their Educational Technology Leadership (ETL) program. This is a Master's degree program in which all courses are delivered at distance. Teaching in this program allowed me to develop and polish my distance teaching skills and ideas. The typical kind of model I used for my courses involved asking students to complete weekly assignments (usually questions or problems) and to post their responses to a conferencing area specifically for that course. Since everyone could see everyone else's responses, students could learn from each other. Indeed I would actively encourage this by assigning some portion of the grade for explicit comments relating to other students' responses. I would also have students work on assignments in small groups or teams to increase the amount of student interaction. Major assignments involved projects, case studies, and reviews that were turned in initially as files and later on in the form of web documents. So all coursework was done electronically. Feedback and grades were sent to students via email. In addition, status of assignments, identified by student numbers, was posted regularly so students could be sure that their work had been received and was being graded. The workload for such a highly interactive course is very high for both students and teachers. Students often complain about this in the beginning until they began to appreciate the value of all this effort in terms of how much they were learning. For the instructor, it means many hours reading through student responses and grading them. There are various strategies that can be employed to reduce this workload, such as having students evaluate each other's work, grading/responding to team/group efforts, using standardized responses, or having teaching assistants (TAs). We used the latter strategy with our large enrollment introductory classes which would often have 100-150 students. These large classes would be divided into sections of 25-30 students, each with a teaching assistant. We normally hired graduates of our own program to be teaching assistants which meant that they were familar with the content of the courses and had a lot of online experience. In this setting, the instructor would supervise the TAs and only grade final projects or disputed assignments. While my main preoccupation is with my own classes, it has become increasingly common for me to be a guest participant in courses and programs at other institutions. Typically, I will join a class for a week or two and respond to email questions or reply to comments posted in an online conference during this period. Alternatively I may join the class via audio or videoconference for a brief 1-2 hour discussion. I will often create a web page to support these activities that provides links to references or resources for the topic at hand. Impact on Teaching and Learning Teaching (and learning) in an online environment is quite different than a traditional classroom setting. First of all, the teaching process is spread out over time instead of being restricted to a specific time slot on a certain day. So there is no need to try to cover a lot of material in a short amount of time. Furthermore, online teaching does not involve a presentation or performance like classroom instruction. Instead, it involves the organization of the class, definition of assignments, responding to student questions and grading their work, and troubleshooting technical problems. There is a lot of one-on-one discussion with students about their work and the course content via email. I believe that the online learning experience is much richer for the student than traditional classroom settings. Since
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students are required to write responses to questions/problems on a regular basis, as well as read the responses of their classmates, they spend a lot of time thinking about the subject matter. In a classroom setting, if I ask a question, I might get 3-4 students to respond with their spontaneous ideas. In the online environment, students get a chance to think about the question and compose their response over a long time period (hours/days) -- and every student makes a response. Not only does this encourage reflective thought, but it also accomodates students who have difficulty expressing themselves in a spontaneous classroom setting (especially if they are foreign students with limited English proficiency). Furthermore, it is my belief that online learning increases the critical thinking and problem-solving abilities of students. Having to read and respond to the views of their classmates requires students to evaluate different many views on a topic or issue. Figuring out how to deal with the inevitable hardware and software problems that arise, as well as the complexities of networks and telecommunications, requires a lot of troubleshooting activity. While the latter may be an undesirable characteristic of online activities, it is nonetheless a reality of computer use at this stage of development. However, neither my course evaluation data, nor research in general, shows this as an outcome of online learning environments -- probably because these type of skills (i.e., critical thinking, problemsolving) are not directly measured by the typical ways we grade assignments and exams. I think this is an aspect of online learning that deserves much more research. The Pros & Cons of Online Education The obvious benefit of online education is lot it allows both teacher and students a lot of flexibility in terms of schedule and location. While there are deadlines for completing assignments in my classes, they allow plenty of time (i.e., days or weeks) to do the work. Being able to participate in classes from any location where there is a phone line, accommodates travel (although it probably requires ownership of a laptop). While online activities do increase the workload of teachers and students, they also make it possible to be much more efficient in terms of getting work done. In the space of 2 or 3 hours online, I can accomplish all my daily teaching and professionals responsibilities, leaving me free to pursue other interests for the rest of the day. The fact that online education allows intensive interaction among students, as well as with the instructor, is probably the single biggest benefit from an instructional perspective. Its difficult to imagine how this could be accomplished in a traditional setting, except perhaps with very small class sizes. Furthermore, it is easy to include others (such as guest experts or students from other institutions) in an online class -- as well as allow students to access resources and information anywhere in the world. Online education really does remove the boundaries of the traditional classroom Finally, one of the benefits of being a virtual professor is that you are sheltered to some degree from the political and organizational turmoil of educational institutions. Many of the issues that result in heated disputes (e.g., facilities, supplies, personnel) are often not relevant to someone who teaches online and has not physical presence at the institution. Indeed, the virtual professor has a fairly weak allegience to an institution. Of course there are disadvantages to not having a physical presence at an institution, such as being left out of meetings and other events that involve on-site interaction. Futhermore, interaction with individuals via online means restricts the bandwidth of communication -- which may result in relationships which are less rich or sophisticated in nature. However, this is another area where research is needed; the psychological and sociological implications of electronic relationships are largely unknown. Implications & Conclusions
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There is no doubt that being an online teacher or student emphasizes certain skills and abilities. Online interaction requires good communications skills (especially writing ability). Good computer skills are also needed, although this does not need to be at a highly technical level. The ability to learn to use new computer software and troubleshoot problems is undoubtedly the most important technology-related skills required. There are certain personality characteristics (such as patience and independence) that seem important in an online teaching or learning environment which some teachers or student may lack. However, we don't know a lot about the attibutes of successful and unsuccesful online teachers/learners. A very important aspect of online learning/teaching are the implications for the nature of educational institutions. Since virtual professors (and their students) don't need classroom or other facilities (e.g., auditoriums, cafeterias, gyms, housing, parking lots, etc), what exactly is the role of the institution? Obviously, the provision of computing facilities is critical -- although these could be obtained privately. Libraries that can get materials out to students are needed, although an increasing amount of current technical/professional literature is becoming available via the web. At some point in the not too distance future, traditional libraries may only be needed for reading older literature. Educational institutions have two functions that are still needed in online education: administration and accreditation. Administration includes the processing of admissions, course registrations, fees, scholarships, and grades. While all of these administrative functions can (ultimately) be done online, they require staff and management. Accreditation in higher education is something done at the institutional rather than individual level (unlike teacher creditentialing in K-12). So both of these functions create the need for a virtual professor to have an institutional affiliation. However, it is conceivable that online teachers could operate through small professional entities, similar to physicians or lawyers, which could address the administrative and accreditation needs without requiring the large-scale institutional infrastructure of a university, college or school system. It should be clear that the practice of online teaching and learning is going to bring about significant changes to our educational system. Some will be good, some bad, and others will just be different. My experiences over the past two decades as a virtual professor have been overwhelmingly positive in terms of the being able to teach more effectively and efficiently. Whether this will be true for most other teachers remains to be seen. Bibliography Bates, A. (1997). Restructuring the University for Technological Change. [ http://bates.cstudies.ubc.ca/carnegie/carnegie.html ] Daniel, J. (1996). Megauniversities and Knowledge Media. London: Kogan Page. Hiltz, S.R. (1994). The Virtual Classroom: Learning Without Limits via Computer Networks. Norword, NJ: Ablex. Kearsley, G. (1997) A Guide to Online Learning & Teaching. [ http://fcae.nova.edu/~kearsley/online.html ] Rheingold, H. (1993). Virtual Communities: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. Reading, MA: AddisonWesley. Some Relevant Links (Virtual Teaching Institutions): Knowledge Media Institute at the UK Open University [ http://kmi.open.ac.uk ]
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DIAL/New School (New York) [ http://www.dialnsa.edu ] Univ Phoenix Online [ http://www.uophx.edu ] National Technological University [ http://www.ntu.edu ] Microsoft Online Learning Institute [ http://moli.microsoft.com ] Motorola University [ http://www.mot.com/MU ] McGraw-Hill World University [ http://www.mhwu.edu ] U.S. Dept Agriculture Graduate School [ http://grad.usda.gov ] International University Consortium [ http://www.umuc.edu/iuc ] Open Learning Agency [ http://www.ola.bc.ca ] World Lecture Hall [ http://wwwhost.cc.utexas.edu/world/instruction/index.html ] [ Top of this page ] [ Articles list ] [ Home Page ] [ Comienzo de esta pgina ] [ Lista de artculos ] [ Pgina inicial ] El profesor Virtual: Un caso de estudio personal Greg Kearsley
http://fcae.nova.edu/~kearsley Introduccin Mi transformacin en profesor virtual y mi compromiso con la educacin a distancia comenz como una necesidad personal. Apenas terminado mi doctorado en la Universidad de Alberta (en 1978) viaj a los Estados Unidos y consegu empleo como psiclogo educacional. Tambin Al mismo tiempo, comenc a dar cursos nocturnos en universidades locales para sus programas de grado (Los expertos en CBT y diseo educacional eran bastante escasos en aquellos das). Como consecuencia de sto, tena que viajar mucho , lo que implicaba que pasaba conn frecuencia las noches en aquellas ciudades en las que deba dar clase. sto me oblig a desarrollar algunas estrategias para enfrentar este problema. Una de las primeras fue participar en clases a travs de audioconferencias : enviaba a alguien con un micrfono al aula y poda de ese modo interactuar con los estudiantes desde donde quiera que estuviese. Poda dar conferencias e inclusive participar en debates y dilogos con estudiantes distantes. Funcion bastante bien. Otra estrategia fue pedir a colegas que me "cubriesen" aquellas clases a las que no poda asistir fsicamente dando una "clase husped" . Yo elega a personas expertas en el tpico de esa clase y esto tambin era habitualmente muy valorado y disfrutado por mis estudiantes. Descubr que haciendo 5 o 6 clases "huspedes" en una materia haca que el curso fuese muchio ms interesante para los estudiantes que si fuese enseado por una sola persona. La tercer estrategia involucr el uso de un computador con un sistema de "boletn informativo" que permita a los estudiantes contactarme por e-mail o dilogos "online". Esto no slo fue til para m sino para los estudiantes que usualmente deban trasladarse para asistir a clase lo que les restaba tiempo para hacer los trabajos prcticos y/o estudiar para el curso. A medida que pasaba el tiempo, estas tres estrategias para "cumplir" con mis mltiples tareas educativas se volvieron el centro de mi enfoque de la enseanza...hasta llegar al momento en que pude desarrollar una materia completa a distancia sin necesitar clases presenciales las audio- conferencias pudieron ser reemplazadas por telfonos abiertos o videoconferencias bidireccionales. Los "huspedes"en "tiempo real" podan participar de ese modo. Finalmente todos estos sistemas fueron reemplazados por el Internet y sus capacidades interactivas.
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Un da en la vida (* A day in a life es una famosa cancin de los Beatles) En 1989 me incorpor a la Escuela de Educacin y Desarrollo Humano de la Geiorge Washington University y conmenc a ensear Tecnologa Educacional en su programa ETL (Educational Technology Mastership) .Este es un programa de Maestra en el que todas las materais son a distancia.Ensear en l me permiti desarrollar y pulir mis habilidades e ideas para educar a distancia. El modelo tpico que empleaba en mis cursos consista en pedir a los estudiantes que enviasen sus trabajos prcticos a un rea "virtual" accesible para todos de modo que podan compartir y discutir sus respuestas a mis habituales problemas y cuestionarios. En la medida en que cada uno poda "ver" las respuestas de los dems a stos, los estudiantes podan aprender adems unos de otros. En realidad yo estaba impulsando stos al asignar una buena parte del curso a impulsar a los estudiantes a comentar y discutir ideas de otros estudiantes. Tambin tena grupos de estudiantes trabajando en proyectos o pequeos grupos para incrementar el nivel de interaccin de mis alumnos. Las asignaciones ms importantes, que involucraban proyectos, casos de estudio y reseas eran habitualmente convertidos en archivos electrnicos y luego en forma de documentos Web. De este modo, todo el trabajo del curso se realizaba en forma electrnica. Los feed-backs y los ttulos eran enviados a los estudiantes por e-mail; el avance de los trabajos asignados, identificados por los nmeros de cada estudiante , eran publicados regularmente de modo de que stos supiesen que su trabajo haba sido recibido y cundo se haban graduado La carga de trabajo de un curso tan interactivo es muy alta tanto para estudiantes como para los docentes. Los estudiantes a menudo se quejan de sto al principio hasta que comienzan a comprender y apreciar el valor de todo su esfuerzo en trminos de cunto ms han logrado aprender que por medios tradicionales. Desde el punto de vista del profesor, esta modalidad requiere muchas horas dedicads a leer y evaluar cualitativamente los trabajos de los estudiantes Hay varias formas de reducir esta carga ,.como por ejemplo hacer que los estudiantes eval]une los trabajo de sus pares, medir la respuesta y efectividad de los esfuerzos grupales , usando respuestas standarizadas o teniendo "asistentes de enseanza". (TA Teaching Assistants) Usamos la estrategia TA con los cursos introductorios muy numerosos (100-150 estudiantes) a los que dividimos en grupos de 25-30 estudiantes con un asistente de enseanza (TA), por lo general graduados de nuestro propio programa que eran contratados con ese propsito ; esto tena la ventaja adicional de que stos estaban ya familiarizados e interesados en los temas de los cursos. En este sistema, el profesor slo supervisdara a los TAs o bien las tesis de graduacin o aquellos trabajos asignados sobre los que hubiese controversia. Si bien mi principal preocupacin siguen siendo mis propias clases, se ha vuelto normal para m participar como profesor invitado en cursos o programas de otras instituciones. Tpicamente, me uno a un curso por una semana o dos y respondo a preguntas por correo electrnico o respondo a comentarios puestos en conferencias "en tiempo real" .Puedo conectarme con la clase ya sea por audio o videoconferencia por 1 o 2 hrs . A menudo creo una Pgina Web para promover estas actividades o ligarlas ("linkeandolas") con referencias o recursos disponibles sobre el tpico en tratamiento. Impacto en la Enseanza y el Aprendizaje Ensear (y aprender) en un ambiente "on line" es muy diferente a hacerlo en el ambiente de una clase normal: en primer lugar, el proceso de ensear se prolonga y distribuye en el tiempo en lugar de estar restringido a una fecha y duracin precisas y rgidas. Esto nos libera de tener que cubrir apresuradamente tpicos para "cumplir" con plazos preestablecidos.
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Lo que es ms, la enseanza virtual no requiere una presentacin o una "puesta en escena" de infraestructura como una clase presencial. En lugar de esto, destina ese tiempo a organizar el curso, definir asignaciones para los estudiantes, responder a sus preguntas y analizar su trabajo calificndolo as como resolver "problemas de tecnologa". Hay siempre mucha interaccin con los estudiantes "mano a mano"sobre su trabajo en el curso y el contenido del curso mismo por medio del correo electrnico Creo que la clase virtual es mucho ms rica que la tradicional por varias razones:

1. Los estudiantes dedican mucho ms tiempo para pensar en profundidad los temas antes los requerimientos
de discutirlos con pares y profesores en forma constante, as como de responder a las preguntas de otros camaradas en forma regular.

2. En una clase presencial, si hago una pregunta, puedo lograr que 3 o 4 estudiantes respondan con sus ideas
espontneamente ; en el aula virtual, los estudiantes tienen ms tiempo para meditar sus respuestas y organizarlas en perodos ms largos (a veces horas o das) y cada uno da una respuesta . Esto no solamente impulsa el pensamiento reflexivo sino que alienta a los estudiantes que tienen dificultades para expresares fluidamente en la clase (por ejemplo, los que no dominan el idioma)

3. Lo que es ms he llegado a la conclusin de que el aprendizaje virtual incrementa la capacidad de


pensamiento crtico y las habilidades para resolver problemas prcticos de los estudiantes. Tener que leer y responder a las opiniones de sus camaradas de curso exige a los estudiantes evaluar diferentes puntos de vista sobre un tema.Incluso lidiar con los problemas tcnicos de redes y PCs los prepara para un mundo en el que la informtica an est naciendo con dificultad de muchas incertidumbres propias de su estado de disciplina en desarrollo.

4. Sin embargo, ninguna evaluacin de mis cursos o investigacin que conozca muestra esto como un
resultado de los ambientes "virtuales" en los que nos estamos moviendo de hecho, probablemente porque stas clases de capacidades (ej: pensamiento crtico, solucin de problemas) no son medidas en forma directa por los medios tpicos a travs de los que tomamos exmenes y otorgamos ttulos. Creo que ste es un aspecto del aprendizaje virtual que merece mucha ms investigacin. "Pros"y "contras" de la educacin virtual El beneficio ms evidente de la educacin virtual reside en que brinda a estudiantes y profesores mucho ms tiempo y flexibilidad en trminos de plazos y desplazamientos. Si bien hay plazos estrictos para entregar los trabajos, los estudiantes disponen de mucho ms tiempo mientras tengan un telfono cerca para poder llevar adelante su tarea (esto agrega das o semanas que antes se perdan en traslados) y permite que la educacin no sea interrumpida tan fcilmente por viajes o traslados (aunque probablemente requiera comprar una laptop). Aunque el monto de trabajo del profesor aumenta, su concentracin en un solo medio permite ahorrar paradjicamente tiempo: esto me ha hecho incluso posible completar en 2 o 3 horas de trabajo virtual online todo un da de tareas de enseanza, dejndome a disposicin las restantes horas. El mero hecho del incremento de la interaccin personalizada entre docente y alumnos constituye por s slo el ms grande de sus logros desde el punto de vista del diseo instruccional; es difcil imaginarse cmo podra lograrse semejante interaccin entre todos los estudiantes en un aula tradicional Adems, de hecho, permite disminuir el nmero de los grupos formndolos por afinidades y adems es posible incluir fcilmente expertos externos. La enseanza virtual derriba las barreras del aula tradicional.
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Finalmente, un beneficio "colateral" de ser un "profesor virtual" es poder permanecer al margen del "tumulto" y la politiquera tpica de toda organizacin, sea sta educacional o no Muchos de los temas a los que se dedican enormes esfuerzos y disputas (ej: instalaciones, suministros, personal) son poco relevantes para un profesor que no tiene presencia fsica en la universidad .De hecho, el profesor virtual tiene muy poca dependencia de las polticas de una institucin. Por supuesto, hay muchas desventajas en el hecho de no tener presencia fsica en una institucin , como estar fuera de las reuniomes o eventos que requieren interaccin personal. Lo que es ms, la interaccin con individuos slo por va virtual reduce la "banda" de comunicacin a un solo "canal" lo que da opor resultado relaciones interpersonales menos profundas y completas. Sin embargo, sta es otra rea en la que hace falta investigar ms, ya que los impactos psicolgicos y las consecuencias sociales de las "relaciones electrnicas" son por ahora ampliamente desconocidas. Consecuencias y Conclusiones: No hay duda acerca de que ser un profesor o estudiante virtual aumenta ciertas habilidades y capacidades . La interaccin virtual requiere buenas capacidades de comunicacin (especialmente escrita) . Tambin hacen falta habilidades en el uso de computadoras si bine no en un nivel muy "tcnico" La habilidad para aprender a usar nuevo software y resolver sus problemas es indudablemente la ms importante habilidad tecnolgica requerida. Hay ciertas caractersticas de personalidad (como paciencia e independencia) que parecen importantes para la enseanza virtual y un ambiente de aprendizaje-enseanzaq posirtivo del cual tanto alumnos como profesores virtuales pueden carecer. Sin embargo, no sabemos mucho acerca de los atributos que pueden distinguir a un profesor /estudiante virtual exitoso de uno que no lo sea.. Un aspecto muy importante para la enseanza/aprendizaje virtuales son las consecuencias que traern para naturaleza misma de las organizaciones educacionales: en la medida en que los profesores virtuales (y sus alumnos) no necesitan aulas u otras instalaciones edilicias (auditorios, cafeterias, gimnasios, dormitorios, estacionamientos ,etc.) cu]al ser exactamente el rol de la institucin educativa ? Obviamente la provisin de PCs se vuelve crtica aunque oueden obtenerse privadamenteLas bibliotecas que pueden prestar materiales a los son necesarias, si bien una creciente parte de la literatura tcnico/profesional est disponible por el Web en algn momento de un futuro no tan distante, las bibliotecas tradicionales slo sern requeridas para consultar literatura clsica.

Pero las instituciones educacionales en mi opinin tienen an dos funciones que son todava indispensables para la educacin virtual: la administracin y el otorgamiento de ttulos habilitantes . La administracin incluye el procesamiento de admisiones, registrar los alumnos, cobrar las cuotas, manejar las becas y otorgar los ttulos. Si bien todas estas funciones pueden en ltima instancia ser realizadas en forma electrnica, requieren personal y gerenciamiento Otorgar un ttulo superior es algo que corresponde ms al nivel institucional que al individual (a diferencia del maestro que obtiene credenciales en K-12). Por lo tanto, ambas funciones hacen que la educacin virtual precise una afiliacin institucional. Sin embargo, es concebible que los profesores virtuales puedan operar a travs de pequeas colegiaturas profesionales como los abogados o los mdicos que puedan cubrir las funciones de administracin y
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acreditacin sin requerir la infraestructura de gran escala de sistema educacional universitario o terciario. Debera resultar claro que la educacin virtual traer cambios significativos al sistema educacional. Algunos sern positivos, otros pueden ser negativos, otros slo sern diferentes a lo conocido. Mis experiencias durante las ltimas dos dcadas como profesor virtual han sido abrumadoramente positivas en trminos de ser capaz de ensear ms efectiva y eficientemente. Si esto ser as para la mayora de los docentes, esto todava est por verse. Bibliography Bates, A. (1997). Restructuring the University for Technological Change. [ http://bates.cstudies.ubc.ca/carnegie/carnegie.html ] Daniel, J. (1996). Megauniversities and Knowledge Media. London: Kogan Page. Hiltz, S.R. (1994). The Virtual Classroom: Learning Without Limits via Computer Networks. Norword, NJ: Ablex. Kearsley, G. (1997) A Guide to Online Learning & Teaching. [ http://fcae.nova.edu/~kearsley/online.html ] Rheingold, H. (1993). Virtual Communities: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. Some Relevant Links (Virtual Teaching Institutions): Knowledge Media Institute at the UK Open University [ http://kmi.open.ac.uk ] DIAL/New School (New York) [ http://www.dialnsa.edu ] Univ Phoenix Online [ http://www.uophx.edu ] National Technological University [ http://www.ntu.edu ] Microsoft Online Learning Institute [ http://moli.microsoft.com ] Motorola University [ http://www.mot.com/MU ] McGraw-Hill World University [ http://www.mhwu.edu ] U.S. Dept Agriculture Graduate School [ http://grad.usda.gov ] International University Consortium [ http://www.umuc.edu/iuc ] Open Learning Agency [ http://www.ola.bc.ca ] World Lecture Hall [ http://wwwhost.cc.utexas.edu/world/instruction/index.html ]

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