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Distance education: universities go online

Distance education: universities go online

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The FIED ( Interuniversity Federation of Distance Education ) was created on the initiative of the then Ministry of Education and Higher Education. The objective was for France to be represented on the board of the European Association of Distance Universities , created in 1987. We had to be able to make ourselves heard.

Today, about thirty universities, as well as a few Comue, are grouped together within the FIED. Most have a distance learning center, others simply offer some training. But the common point of all our offer is to offer diploma courses . This is one of the points that sets us apart from the FUN (France digital university) platform .

French distance education has the particularity of being supported by universities rather than by a single national structure. Why ?
This is a political choice. In Europe, it is rather the scheme of the open university [university at a distance], created from scratch, which predominates, like the Spanish or English model. But in the 1990s, in France, the events of May 68 still had resonance, and the idea of ​​designing a new university that would compete with the others was difficult to sustain . Especially since some had already embarked on the adventure of distance education, from the 1970s. The University of Franche-Comté, the University of Burgundy, Paris 8 are thus among the pioneers.

At the national level, does the Cned not fulfill this mission?

The Cned is a national operator for distance education in secondary education, but not for higher education where universities have a monopoly on the awarding of degrees. However, the Cned collaborates with many universities to help them set up their training .

With the evolution of educational tools and the advent of digital, in thirty years, distance education has had to evolve a lot.
In the 1990s, the personal computer was in its infancy and the Internet was not yet used by the general public. It was necessary to send the documents to the students by mail, to open hotlines, to organize meetings to exchange…

Since then, the tools have evolved, but the question ultimately remains the same: how to ensure quality distance learning, which is not simply a deposit of documents accompanied by a few exercises? You have to manage to engage the student, to accompany him in his training . Distance is a constraint, particularly in terms of work organization. Ways must therefore be found to minimize these obstacles . This requires new tools, such as forums, FAQs, documents that can be consulted day and night, etc.

For the time being, the constraint still weighs on the exams, which still require the students to come to the campuses…
Almost the majority of universities actually ask their students to travel for exam sessions. This is something we are working on. Experiments with remote monitoring of the tests are carried out at the University of Caen and at Sorbonne University (formerly UPMC). All this raises technical and regulatory questions.

More broadly, the development of distance education calls into question the framework of the teaching profession . Today, it is the hours of lessons in front of students that are counted. We must find other methods of calculation…

Pierre Beust: “Have you ever taken an exam in your pajamas?”

Can the evolution of the Education Code, which took place in April 2017 via a decree implementing the law for a digital Republic, simplify these procedures?
This decree establishes what has been long awaited: distance education is now recognized as a form of education in its own right and therefore no longer needs to have its face-to-face counterpart.

As a result, the university training offer will gradually be renewed , at the rate of five-year contracts. Initiatives are already underway. In Aix-Marseille, the university is carrying out an important reflection to redesign its training offer with a hybridization of courses, mixing face-to-face and distance learning. This mix is ​​still relatively rare in the French landscape, but it is destined to develop.

Distance and face-to-face teaching therefore seem to be becoming complementary rather than competing?

Under the pressure of the number of university enrolments, distance education will certainly be in demand. Added to this is the arrival of new forms of pedagogy and the need for many student-employees to have a flexible schedule: the distance modality opens up interesting prospects.

Under the pressure of the number of university enrolments, distance education will certainly be in demand.
Another essential aspect is the internationalization of higher education. The Internet widens the field of possibilities and some colleagues have already begun to explore this avenue, for example by allowing their students to take courses from other universities remotely.

Does distance education cost more than face-to-face education?

This is a question that comes up very often! If we stick to operating budgets, we would be tempted to say: yes, it is expensive. But we have to look a little further for the points of comparison.

With distance education, one can have a fairly significant increase in the number of students without additional costs . Once a medium is developed, teachers can reuse it to duplicate lessons. The essential question is the following: how to use distance education to respond intelligently to the massification of higher education? From this point of view, when we know what the construction of a building can cost, EAD can be a more economical modality. But all of this is a matter of strategic choices!

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