U.Va. distance learning goes
all the way to South Africa
by Tom Cogill
Block (foreground), who becomes UVa. vice president and provost
Sept. 1, Dr. Richard Guerrant, professor of international
medicine (left), and others participate in a videoconference
with the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.
was an unprecedented conference call -- an international videoconference
held Aug. 20 between administrators and faculty at U.Va. and the
University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) in South Africa.
The time was 10 a.m. in Charlottesville, 4 p.m. in Johannesburg.
The purpose -- conducted in real-time, across an ocean and seven
time zones -- was the signing of an academic partnership agreement
between the two institutions for a distance-learning project in
the environmental sciences. A third partner, the University of
Eduardo Mondlane in Mozambique, is also participating.
agreement was simultaneously signed during the videoconference
by Gene Block, U.Va. vice
president and provost, at Zehmer Hall, and in South Africa,
by Norma Reid, vice chancellor of WITS. The agreement opens the
door to new collaborative research and education projects in infectious
disease study, telemedicine, nursing, environmental law, African
American Studies, history and other areas. Project leaders are
hoping to exchange faculty and students as well as develop highly
innovative distance-learning courses.
this semester, 10 videoconference lectures on the ecology of southern
Africa will be broadcast live via satellite between the three
universities. Students at all three institutions will earn credit,
and will interact with lecturers and each other during class.
Six of the broadcasts in the undergraduate/graduate seminar series
will originate from U.Va.'s Zehmer Hall; two will come from WITS,
and two from Eduardo Mondlane.
is nothing short of spectacular," Block said to Reid as he
looked at her moving image on a video monitor. She smiled in agreement,
while a camera provided Block's smiling image to her and other
participants in Africa, including U.Va. Vice Provost for International
Affairs William Quandt. "This is a great beginning to increased
activity between our institutions, and a model for the future
of distance education," Block said.
is a privilege to link up with U.Va. via this technology,"
Reid said. "Study cannot be done in isolated plots. We need
coordinated international investigation, and this partnership
agreement is an agent to further our joint research and education
Department of Environmental
Sciences has conducted research in Africa for more than 12
years in collaboration with several African institutions through
its Global Environmental Change Program. The new partnership with
WITS will expand on and enhance current activities.
believe we have created a first live international distance education
course," said Steve Macko, U.Va. professor of environmental
sciences, and one of the people who spearheaded creation of the
course. "This is not a case of students merely downloading
Web pages. This is real-time interaction using the global classroom
of the future."
idea for a distance-learning course between U.Va. and the African
universities began last fall during a meeting at U.Va. between
environmental sciences faculty from the three institutions.
were looking for ways to expand on our collaborative research
and education, and we came up with the idea of connecting our
schools through video technology," said Macko. "The
idea was greeted with enthusiasm, and we received great support
from Vice Provost Quandt, President Casteen and former Dean Mel
Leffler. The idea fit in perfectly with the university's increasing
new course is also being funded by a National Science Foundation
International Programs grant.
videoconference works through a complex linking of video cameras,
individual microphones, dedicated wideband phone lines, satellite
linkups, and Internet connections. The system was, in effect,
cobbled together by Bob Hutchison, chief telecommunications engineer
with U.Va.'s School of Continuing
and Professional Studies, and Gene Sullivan, director of telemedicine
at the U.Va. Medical
are magicians," said Macko of Hutchinson and Sullivan. "They
were able to take the wild ideas of some wild professors, and
make it happen."
participants agreed that the videoconference, and the signing
of an international research and education agreement, was a special
watching our colleagues in Africa, and interacting with them live,
I was able to see their personalities, to get a sense of how they
think and what their priorities are," said Richard Guerrant,
professor of international
medicine. "It's tremendously exciting to see this bridge
being built to enhance our collaborative work."