We have now reached the half-way point in our first term and as predicted, both students and instructors are learning all the time, and we are finding out more about each other as every week passes. When we were constructing the courses, we clearly had in mind what we wanted to achieve and what we wanted our students to achieve. We have been delighted by everyone’s progress. Nevertheless, some fascinating findings and challenges are emerging. Firstly, it has been a real education for us to experience the wide spectrum of opinions that we are reading from students across the world. So far, in the introductory English course, we have asked students to discuss texts taken from speeches by Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, and we have also asked them to write about the effects of the global economic downturn in their countries. The similarities and differences in their responses, their philosophies and their worldviews are extraordinary. It is a rare thing to look through this special window on the world. Most significantly, there is broad consensus on the importance they place on their education and the opportunity that University of the People is offering them. Many of our students must overcome major challenges in order to study. They have work and family obligations that impinge on study time and often they face practical difficulties, yet their commitment to their education remains undimmed and undaunted. Our thoughts are presently with our Indonesian students who have recently experienced an earthquake that has tested their commitment more than most. Secondly, we are enjoying hearing from the students about their experiences of learning with us. Our inaugural class is playing an instrumental part in helping us hone the university’s virtual learning environment and the content of our courses. As anticipated, we have received some valuable input from students about how we can enhance what we offer. For example, some students have suggested that we include content requiring the latest software and dynamic multimedia, but we know that others would not have access to this because they are studying in conditions with limited bandwidth and reduced technical capabilities. This presents a restrictive parameter within which we must work. Our mission is to maximize the opportunities for everyone to access a quality education, while offering material that engages and stimulates good debate amongst our students. This example alone shows that students’ suggestions and requirements differ considerably. It is a big task and a delicate balancing act to bring them together and incorporate them, and in some cases it is taking time to get the balance right. Nevertheless we’re relishing the challenge and as the university is an ever-changing work in progress, we thank our current students for their insights and their involvement in helping us create the best learning environment we can. We look forward to more lively discussion in the second half of our inaugural term.
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