October 31, 2014

Online learning and distance education are alive and well in Argentina

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Traditional dance and costumes

Traditional dance and costumes

RUEDA (Red Universitaria de Educación a Distancia d’Argentina) is a network of 42 public universities across Argentina.

This week I attended their sixth annual international conference on distance education at the National University of Cuyo in Mendoza, close to the Andes in one of the world’s major wine regions.

Distance education in Argentina

Distance and online education has been growing rapidly in Argentina since 1997. Until then, government regulations had severely limited credit-based university distance education.

There are many similarities between Canada and Argentina. Both have very large land masses with a relatively small population (Argentina’s population is roughly 40 million), with some areas of very high density (especially the Buenos Aires region, with nearly one third of the population) and the rest of the population scattered over a very large area. Distance education therefore seems intuitively a sensible solution.

Because of language challenges (no habla espanyol), I was unable to talk to as many people at the conference as I would have liked, but here are some of the main institutions offering distance education programs (my apologies to those that I have missed – any corrections welcome):

  • Universidad de Quilmes (near Buenos Aires) and the Universidad de Buenos Aires: both these universities have several thousand distance education students
  • The National University of Patagonia Austral, which covers a huge, sparsely populated area stretching as far as Tierra del Fuego
  • The University of the Air Force, which started as a purely military university, but whose student body is now nearly 90% non-military; the Army also has a large distance education operation.

Most of the RUEDA members use primarily online learning for distance education, with Moodle as their learning management system.

Of particular interest, the Universidad de Buenos Aires Department of Physics is planning to start using remote labs next academic year as part of its distance teaching program (contact: Mg. Ema Elena Aveleyra: eaveley@fi.uba.ar)

The conference

There were almost 300 participants from across Argentina.

The conference focused on the impact of the convergence of technology on education. The international speakers were:

  • Dr. Dolors Reig, a freelance professor and consultant in social media from Catalonia, Spain, and the author of a highly influential Spanish language blog, El Caparazón, who spoke on the theme of how knowledge is constructed in a digital world (?Como conocemos hoy?)
  • Dr. Nelson Pretto, a professor in the Faculty of Education at the Federal University of Bahia, Brazil, and a specialist in education, communication and culture, who spoke on the theme of how to select, design and develop an educational environment with digital technologies
  • myself, who spoke on the theme of how institutions should respond to emerging challenges in education in times of convergence of technology. I focused particularly on the challenge of effectively managing learning technologies. If you want a copy of my slides (in English), send me an e-mail: tony.bates@ubc.ca and I will send you an invitation to download the slides via Dropbox.

There were many parallel sessions, where papers were presented and the main themes of the conference were discussed. Unfortunately I was unable to benefit from these because of my lack of Spanish.

Los Remolinos: a group of university music professors provide a carnival atmosphere at the conference

Los Remolinos: a group of university music professors provide a carnival atmosphere at the conference

Overall impression

It is perhaps not surprising that a conference in Argentina would include not only the usual social events such as a wine reception and dinner, but also music and dancing.

There was a tremendous camaraderie and sense of energy and enthusiasm among the participants, a phenomenon I have noticed elsewhere when distance educators from different institutions get together.

There was also an interesting concern to integrate technology with teaching in an ‘Argentinian’ way that respected the national culture and values. Hence there was some concern about ‘international’ developments such as MOOCs that have a mainly North American and ‘proselytizing’ perspective (we know what’s good for you, and it’s us).

I have merely touched on what is going on in online and distance education in Argentina, but connections have been made, and I hope to follow up on this. In the meantime, any further information on distance education from you, the readers of this blog (and I know now that are are quite a few in Argentina), will be most welcome.

Lastly, if you are a betting person and are interested in soccer, I’d put my money on Argentina for the World Cup in 2014. They were very impressive against Peru on Friday, even without Lionel Messi and several other star players, and they will not be far from home in Brazil.

Comments

  1. I am really pleased to read that you enjoyed your visit to my country :) It´s great to know that you had the opportunity not only to get a general picture of our efforts to promote distance education in Argentina, but also to experience our rich culture and be surrounded by our warm-hearted people. I am a graduate of National University of Cuyo and I regret I couldn´t attend this conference due to work responsibilities, I would have loved to meet you to exchange some ideas. Thank you so much for this post.

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