The University of Birmingham is preparing for a huge expansion of e-learning, following high levels of enthusiasm from students and staff.
The university has been dabbling with the technology for around a decade, but has seen demand soar since 2001 following the launch of its central e-learning service and implementation of a WebCT virtual learning environment.
Birmingham currently has 2,000 courses on the system, and it is used at least some of the time by around 75 per cent of its 29,000 students.
Stephen Clarke, head of e-learning at the university, explained that the existing system could no longer keep up with demand.
"Over the past year, the level of usage has more than doubled and we expect the same to happen over the next 12 months," he said.
"The most significant statistic is that we're now getting around 2,000 people a day using our virtual learning environment."
In order to ensure that the service can keep up with expected growth, Birmingham is implementing the more robust WebCT Vista 3.0 product which will allow it to expand its existing system into a full-scale, centrally-managed environment with plenty of room for expansion.
The university will begin piloting the new system in September. "By October 2005, we expect it to be the standard platform for all staff and students," said Clarke.
He added that Birmingham would be using the system in many different ways, from electronic communications and delivery of course materials to interactive assessments, online simulations and rich multimedia course content.
"For example, we're using video teaching and movement analysis in sport and exercise science," said Clarke.
He believes that the key reason for the success of e-learning at Birmingham has been the enthusiasm of students and staff.
"They have really taken it on board. They see it as improving the quality of what they do. All the courses we have set up were requested by staff and the fact they're asking us for stuff proves the enthusiasm is there," explained Clarke.
"There's huge potential demand and even those who haven't yet done anything with e-learning all feel they will be soon."
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