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June 7, 2001 Hervé Fischer proposes a virtual university for Quebec



by Barbara Black

Hervé Fischer, who holds the Daniel Langlois Chair in Digital Image and Sound at Concordia, has written an essay and sent it to La Presse and Le Soleil proposing a virtual university for Quebec.

The computer-based institution would not grant degrees or diplomas, but would be a means of sharing and generating ideas on the Internet, through training tools, the exchange of research, and a digital library. CREPUQ, the organization of Quebec universities, has been working on a related project since 1996.

“The development of the UVQ (Université virtuel du Québec) would help Quebec’s universities achieve more coherence and substantially reinforce the services it provides to students, teachers, researchers and society at large,” he writes.

Quebec should not be left behind in this rapidly growing field, he continues. While the United States is the undisputed leader, seven Canadian universities created a virtual university last fall, and European and Japanese universities are working on similar projects.

Fischer says there would be many benefits to such an initiative: stronger links among researchers, teachers and students; opening Quebec universities to the world’s diversity and promoting Quebec’s universities abroad; access to information and new technology; addressing Quebec’s growing educational needs; and increasing co-operation among the universities, particularly those outside city centres. It’s also in line with the government’s current emphasis on information technology.

The new pan-Canadian project Fischer refers to is CVU/UVC, a partnership involving Athabasca, Brandon, Royal Roads and Laurentian Universities, University College of Cape Breton, the University of Victoria, British Columbia Open University, the University of Manitoba, and Télé-université du Québec. For more information, please consult their Web site, at http://www.cvu-uvc.ca.

Fischer gave three guiding principles for those planning such network. First, computerized learning shouldn’t be expected to replace professors, but should support learning and reinforce students’ motivation. Second, we should be open to the constant refinement and development of “cyberpedagogy.” Finally, we should keep in mind the true values of education, and not focus exclusively on the short-term needs of business and industry.

Fischer recommends a site developed in London by Martin Freeth called the NESTA Future Learning Lab as a particularly good source of inspiration. NESTA is the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. The Web site is http://www.nesta.org.uk/flash.html.