Overview
Letter from the editor
Developments in higher education - the virtual university
Exploring the phenomenon - the background study
Sharing the lessons - the web publication and resources
Supporting interaction - discussion forums and Communties of Interest
Building capacity and promoting informed decision making
The Virtual University and e-learning
Project Overview

Letter from the editor

This web site contains the information on all of the activities related to the IIEP project on the virtual university and e-learning. It has been redeveloped and now has four sections:

The Project Overview
The Web Publication
Forums
Links

Project Overview
Both the project and this website have expanded in scope significantly since their inceptions. This section provides the background of the project, from the original research on virtual universities, to the current focus on supporting the Communities of Interest that have evolved from two of the forums – on Open Educational Resources, and on Free and Open Source Software for education.

Web Publication
The web publication is now available in a second, updated version. Updates on the case studies highlight developments since the original publication of 2003. They can be downloaded, either from the case updates page, or from the main publication overview. The publication is also available for the first time in print. To order a copy, contact UNESCO Publishing.

Forums
The forums section has been expanded to reflect the increasing focus on supporting interaction through discussion forums and Communities of Interest. Each forum (or community) now has its own “homepage”, with background information and news of new discussions and developments.

We would be grateful for any comments or suggestions you would like to make about the site and its content. You can contact us here. We look forward to hearing from you.

Susan D'Antoni

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Developments in higher education - the virtual university

The virtual university constitutes an important example of the use of ICT to deliver higher education in both developed and developing countries. New initiatives are growing steadily as universities seek to reach a broader, and in many cases, an international student body. Indeed there appears to be an economic imperative in some initiatives.

Various organizational models exist, from the online arm of a traditional university to a university operating completely in cyberspace, from respected and well known institutions to private profit making ventures. Most of these institutions base their instructional delivery on the Internet. They seek students regardless of their geographic location, and they teach and evaluate these students in a different manner from the traditional academic procedures established for on-campus students.

Because of the different teaching and learning methods, virtual universities must develop policies and planning, management and financing procedures that are appropriate to their organization, resources and modes of operation. And because of their potential international reach, these institutions operate outside the higher education policy environment at the national level, with significant policy implications.

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Exploring the phenomenon - the background study

In 2001, IIEP initiated a study to identify and illuminate the main policy, planning and management issues associated with the virtual university as indicative of a growing number of ICT supported initiatives in higher education.

The exploratory study was based upon case studies selected to represent the main emerging institutional models:

newly created institutions;
evolution of traditional universities;
consortia;
commercial enterprises.

Cases were selected to represent different geographic regions as well, since differing situations may give rise to different problems and different approaches, and eventually, different policy and planning concerns.

The case authors focussed on policy, planning and management related issues and were invited not only to describe their situation, but also to reflect upon lessons learned and to comment upon their implications.

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Sharing the lessons - the web publication and resources

The publication was designed for presentation on the web in order to widely disseminate the information and the lessons learned. The release in 2006 of the second updated version of the publication in print is actually the by-product of the web publication, rather than the reverse. Designed to make the information easily accessible for the reader, the web format facilitates the updating and enhancing the content.

The web publication contains four background chapters and ten cases studies. The cases make interesting and informative reading, and although there was a high level of diversity among them, a number of important requirements were identified as essential to promoting effective programme planning and implementation and these are summarized in the final chapter.

In 2004, the site of the web publication was redesigned to serve as a resource site with three sections:

20 Web Publication
20 Forums
20 Links

The revised format was designed with both individual users as well as Communities of Interest in mind. The Forums and Links sections are intended to be dynamic and they are updated from time to time.

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Supporting interaction - discussion forums and Communties of Interest

The web publication was intended to disseminate the information and intelligence collected. However, it was also intended to actively stimulate reflection and debate on the implications of the virtual university and e-learning at the national and international level. This is being achieved through a series of Internet forums on key topics.

20 2004: Virtual universities and transnational education: Policy issues - What are they? And whose are they?
20 2004: Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) for e-learning
20 2005: Open Educational Resources (OER): open content for higher education

The FOSS and OER groups have continued to interact on a more informal basis as international Communities of Interest. Both are open to new members. You can find out more information by following the links above.

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Building capacity and promoting informed decision making

The dissemination of the information collected will contribute to supporting capacity building and informed decision making in an area that is burdened with high expectations and equally high challenges – the use of ICT to provide greater access to affordable high quality higher education.

And taken together, the publication and the forum series constitute a strategy that is directly related to hold a the main functions of UNESCO:

a laboratory of ideas;
a clearinghouse;
a standard setter;
a capacity builder in Member States
a catalyst for international cooperation.

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