At the 96th Dies Natalis (anniversary) of Wageningen University on 10 March, Rector Magnificus Professor Martin Kropff announced the intention to seize upon innovative developments in information technology to expand the university’s potential for distance learning. This would allow more students access to the course material of this growing university.
A virtual practical laboratory, group projects for students in New York, Peking and Wageningen, digital lectures: these are just a few examples of the type of distance learning that Wageningen University wants to offer, alongside the physical teaching infrastructure on Wageningen Campus where every student must spend at least part of his/her study time.
Wageningen Campus is the place where lecturers and students interact; during lectures, practical lessons, discussions, project groups, summer schools and even business. Distance learning will soon become part of this. Two MSc programmes are currently being developed and will be ready for the first students in September 2015. Special video clips, texts, exercise material and virtual practical lessons are now being devised. “The quality of the material is good enough to allow students to take the programme without a lecturer,” explains Rector Magnificus Professor Martin Kropff. The introduction of MOOCs in the next academic year will be of particular benefit to students from poor countries, who are unable to afford expensive university programmes. Students enrolled in these distance learning programmes will be expected to spend six weeks in Wageningen.
MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses, which can cater to tens of thousands of students across the world) will spark the competition between universities and can be used to select the best students worldwide. The number of students around the world is expected to grow from a hundred million in 2000 to four hundred million in by 2030. “This would mean that a new large university would have to open somewhere in the world every week”, says Prof. Kropff. It is estimated that student numbers in Wageningen will rise to 12,000 in 2018, which is 4,000 more than at present. “This requires a new vision of education and facilities.”
Students are also making greater demands. They are used to accessing information sources any time, any place, anywhere, and so learning styles have changed. It is now up to the education sector to create a rich, dynamic and personal learning environment that will keep pace with social and global developments.