Letter: Interactive technology presents challenges and opportunities for students

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The Independent Online
Sir: Let us hope you are right in predicting that 'old-fashioned universities will be around long after today's hottest gadgets have been forgotten' ('A distant prospect of bookless colleges', 8 June). Surely no one would wish to replace the social learning and personal development of our traditional degree courses with any form of stay-at-home process of learning through technology.

I also hope your comments will not lull those responsible for running our universities into a false sense of security. While books, lectures and tutorials still have a key role during a student's time at university, electronic networks can now play at least an equal part in the learning process. But the main significance of such networks, which both Peter Cochrane ('Academics under threat from an electronic vision', 8 June) and your leading article may have missed, is in building and sustaining the learning process before and after the student's time 'on campus'. Electronic networking is as much about interpersonal communication as about access to 'book learning'.

The United States is busy networking its schools, universities, government and industry and connecting all of these in networks that people can use in their homes. Universities that have taken the trouble to understand how best to apply the technology are using it to make links to potential students while they are still at school, and to sustain those links with graduates as they disperse to jobs and careers, wherever they may go worldwide. Children in some UK schools already find it easier to connect to American universities than to 'local' ones. One very successful children's learning network, used in UK British schools, runs on a university computer in New York. I wonder why?

Yours faithfully,

HORACE MITCHELL

Director, UK TeacherNet Campaign

Newbury, Berkshire

8 June

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