What is more important, education or knowledge? And if you put the equals sign between those, why is it so hard for our Master graduates to find decent jobs? On the other hand, can solid knowledge guarantee professional success? Foreign educationalists, who actively promote self-education, are sure it at least raises the chances of succeeding. After all, the knowledge that is obtained by oneself can lead to a critical view of life and the world around, and as a result, to the own search of a quality alternative.
If there are people who cannot afford quality education, at least they have to have a chance to receive the knowledge they want, decided the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). They created a platform, thanks to which anyone anywhere in the world will be able to get acquainted with the lectures given by the university’s professors for free. The first program of such kind, OpenSourceWare, was such a success, that this spring another one starts – M.I.T.x. Except for the study materials, it gives access to virtual laboratories and provides a forum, where online students can discuss the courses and help each other with the tasks.
Four years ago Wasif Haider, school student from Pakistan, realized that the knowledge he is getting in his school is not enough, he is capable of more. The boy was interested in technical subjects, engineering, and artificial intelligence. He started to look for extra sources of knowledge and alternative ways to look at it.
“I needed the knowledge I could not obtain at school. I wanted to go deeper into engineering, I wanted to learn about the alternative methods of work, but my resources were limited,” Haider recalls. “MIT courses materials were at a significantly higher level, and the very ability of using their resources motivated and inspired me profoundly.”
MIT was a pioneer in granting the access to materials of more than 2,000 of its courses 10 years ago. According to the institute’s statistics, more than a hundred million people used an opportunity to take a couple of MIT’s courses.
“We set the improvement of science and technology education as our goal. We helped the Internet technologies and engineering specialists from India to take a different look at their own scientific resources and the education in this area in general,” says Stephen Carson, MIT OpenCourseWare’s external relations director. “This drew our attention to the fact that there is a whole lot of intelligent and gifted people around the world, but since the countries they live in do not provide good education resources, their communication with people with the same mindset is scarce, they cannot develop, and finally their knowledge becomes isolated and their potential reduces to limited.”
They are now saying at the institute about an attempt to unite intellectuals from all over the world around their programs, people, who are willing to study and progress. “Unlocking knowledge, empowering minds” – this is the MIT’s program motto, and this is also an attempt to broaden the borders of education and open the access to knowledge to those, who was deprived of it.
THE MAIN PROBLEM IS GETTING TEACHERS’ SUPPORT
However, during the first years of the program’s existence, the quality of materials that were provided was not flawless. According to Haider, sometimes the lectures lacked consistency, themes, essential for further understanding of the course, were omitted. The institute agrees with the students’ feedback. If at first their main goal was persuading the teachers to grant free access to their materials for everyone, some time later the task was different: how should be the online platform improved to raise the productiveness of the self-education process.
“I studied similar free online education programs created by Harvard and Stanford, but there a certain level of basic knowledge is expected. They are oriented on those people, who want to get some extra knowledge in the area they have studied already, but those who want to enter an absolutely new scientific branch, will not find much for themselves there. Also, as far as I know, the MIT program has provided the most material in the terms of quantity,” Haider comments.
Carson says, when the platform has already started operating, other professors joined this innovative initiative by themselves. It was decided to divide the courses according to the difficulty level in order to structuralize them, and so everyone can choose, according to their background knowledge and the intensity they want to study with.
“We were greatly pleased by the feedback we received from our online students, who have used this platform. But practically it was just a website with publications, without any interactivity, so our students and teachers continued their work on it, adding new things and removing outdated options all the time. We were trying to create a new dimension of learning environment for our students,” Carson reminds. “That is how we came up with the new platform, M.I.T.x. It is going to be put into operation this spring and it will be super interactive.”
The institute representatives say that the biggest challenge for creating such a program is to gain the support of teachers, settle the intellectual property matters, and create a technical platform for the project. “Also it is important to constantly keep the enthusiasm high in those involved in the project, because in the beginning it was pure enthusiasm that started the process,” Carson says.
Though there are two important requirements that need to be satisfied in order for the MIT projects to be used: an ability of technical access to the materials and the knowledge of English. This still can be a problem for Ukrainian students. That is why The Day talked to the representatives of Ukrainian universities and found out if there are similar Ukrainian initiatives. Because our technical specialities graduates have a reputation of good specialists in their areas and are in demand at American or European universities.
THE UKRAINIAN LEVEL OF OPENNES OF KNOWLEDGE
“Over the last couple of years, information technology of computer-based education has been widely employed by Ukraine’s leading universities,” says Yurii Bobal, president of the Lviv National Polytechnic University. “The only difference from the West is that it is employed locally.”
The representatives of Ukrainian universities are unanimous when they define the unsettled copyright problem as the major obstacle. There is relevant legislation, but how well it is observed, and how can it protect a university professor, who agreed to publish his materials in the net? On the other hand, universities are very well aware that any research, article, or book is the result of the teacher’s intellectual work, for which he wants to be paid, therefore, for implementing such platforms it is extremely important that the faculty themselves were more open.
“In my view, we also display a certain level of illiteracy in the sphere of intellectual property. Teachers are worried, yet they don’t realize that their rights have already been violated endless times, when students shared notes from their lectures, or scanned books and uploaded them in the net,” says Andrii Melnychenko, academic secretary, the National Technical University of Ukraine “Kyiv Polytechnic Institute.”
There is another question, however, on a different level: does the faculty of all accredited Ukrainian universities have anything to share with the world academic community? Are there enough innovative courses, which can motivate a student to spare some free time to take up such a course and work on it behind the computer? The process should start at the top universities, which certainly have things to offer and can motivate future students.
THE NEEDS DETERMINE THE TENDENCIES
“Of course, we have the potential. I think our technical universities have designs of platforms, similar to those used at the MIT. This is a global tendency, and we have enough people who can do that,” says Volodymyr Buhrov, vice president for research and teaching, Taras Shevchenko Kyiv National University.
There is a current tendency among universities to try and develop their own online libraries and make them available not only to their own students, but to anyone, since this is a sort of promotion of the school and individual teachers. Therefore at many university sites you can come across lectures and other materials, available to anyone.
The largest Ukrainian project in this sphere is perhaps the Ukraine-wide depositary (an electronic library of sorts). It will be created by merging the electronic libraries of the Ostroh Academy, Kyiv Mohyla Academy, Shevchenko Kyiv National University, and Karazin University in Kharkiv. However, only the students of these schools will be entitled to use the materials of this consortium.
“The depositary of the Ostroh Academy includes more than 20,000 textbooks and learner’s guides. Anyone can use these materials,” says Ihor Pasichnyk, president of the National University “Ostroh Academy.” “We have noticed that they are quite popular. The site is visited by students, young researchers, as well as some advanced high school students. This creates a certain interest in the Academy, since it enables them to assess the faculty’s intellectual potential.”
The representatives of the universities, interviewed by The Day, say that students are less and less frequently attending libraries, as they prefer digital materials, and that future belongs to such electronic libraries. Pasichnyk emphasizes that those universities will have an advantage over others, which will be able to ensure free and easy access to their electronic libraries.
INTERACTIVE SELF-EDUCATION IN UKRAINE
Ukraine also has a project in a more interactive self-education. Last December MIM-Kyiv business school (The International Institute of Management) launched a cross-regional business project “Management Studies.” These are master classes of the school’s teachers and guest experts, who will give presentations in Kyiv for a regional audience. Such events are conducted in remote access format, i.e. are broadcast by special telecommunication equipment to other cities of Ukraine.
“We believe this to be our social role, providing access to quality knowledge on making business outside the capital,” shares Iryna Tykhomyrova, president of MIM-Kyiv business school.
The target audience for these courses are young people who live in the province and cannot afford a trip to the capital to listen to experts’ presentations, or expensive master classes. Anyone can take part in the project “Management Studies.” Moreover, it is free.
“We have noticed that quality business-related information is in great demand, because people who yearn to learn something new, or share their experience, or just talk shop sometimes merely cannot afford traveling to Kyiv and paying the fees,” says Tykhomyrova.
This project, MIM-Kyiv cross-regional business platform, included the installation of specialized equipment which transmits high resolution signal, which allows to create an HD image on the screen and a presence effect, so after a few minutes the listeners forget that the presenter is actually in another city. Now Vinnytsia and Lviv are participating in the project, and soon Donetsk is to join in.
Master classes are held on the first and third Monday every month. The curriculum allows the virtual students to gain specialized knowledge in various aspects of doing business. For instance, one presentation can be dedicated to the motivational component in personnel management, another, to legal aspects of brand introduction. This is not only new, international standard of presenting knowledge, but also innovative educational infrastructure, which allows to influence the quality of business management in Ukraine.