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A second life for students

Online education has been increasingly used as a tool to help people learn on flexible schedules, and without regard to the distance between teacher and instructor. That much was clear as I researched our package on higher education and the Web that appears Friday. But an interesting undercurrent in many of the discussions that I had was the idea that online learning often has little to do with convenience and more to do with the strength of the Internet as a medium.

Kathleen Harmeyer, who directs the School of Information Arts and Technology at the University of Baltimore, said she thinks computer and web-based applications are going to become a more central part of many types of classes as schools focus on younger students who have grown up online.

Her ideas are interesting, especially since a lot of online learning programs are targeted toward non-traditional students who may not have the time or ability to get to campus.

She cites an interesting economics class that she took through the University of North Carolina at Greensboro that was based around a video game. Students are aliens marooned on an unfriendly, post-apocalyptic earth after a space crash, and have to determine the best way to allocate their resources.

The point, she said, is that the web is giving schools a way to adapt to new ways of learning. That’s one of the reasons students in her program meet for class, among other places, within the computer world of Second Life.

“Our college age students today are not readers. Not that they can’t, they won’t,” she said. “It’s a way of engaging students in the subject matter that the book doesn’t do for the young folks anymore.”

I’ve learned a few things by playing resource allocation games such as Civilization (made by Sid Meier and Firaxis Games in Hunt Valley), but it’s interesting to think of earning credit for it.

ANDY ROSEN, Business Writer

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