FIG Working Week 2000, 21-26 May, Prague

An Overview to Virtual Academy - Methods and Techniques

by Henrik Haggrén and Esben Munk Sørensen

Key words: Virtual academy, distance learning. 


1. Introduction

Virtual academy is an academy which works within an information network. It consists of a common understanding among its members to provide their knowledge, expertise and research products to each other and for co-operative use. The modern information technology is most suitable for this purpose as the academy may function internationally and at any distance. A profound option of a network is that the information only is transferred and not necessarily the people.

The infrastructure of a virtual academy consists of three essential elements of information technology, namely the network, the content and the graphics. The network is the realization of current telecommunication technology whereas the content will be mainly the data produced by the academy. The graphics includes the physical perception of the information to work with.

Referring to a commercial press release by the company AT&T on October 16, 1998: "Virtual academy is an online centralized resource that provides teachers and educators with access to web based professional development opportunities and courses. It underscores AT&T's commitment to support lifelong learning for teachers into the next century by helping them meet their expanding credential requirements – anytime, anywhere." The virtual academy of AT&T's is a collaboration with Penn State University and a publishing company called T.H.E. Journal.

This division of the information technology to its three elements is rather ambiguous. However, it is vital for an academic discipline to distinguish these and develop its own future accordingly. Although the driven force in developing the infrastructure is no doubt the telecommunication society the value of the academy depends entirely on its capacity to accumulate the information, i.e. to collect data, to derive new knowledge, and to use it when educating new engineers or scientists.

As it regards our professional discipline within geoinformation sciences, we primarily produce the information content but we also provide parts of the graphics. Thus the combination of the information technology, the geoinformation science and the education of surveyors would provide a most prosperous basis for creating a virtual academy.

2. Virtual university and distance learning

The virtual university is the concept which was recently adopted by e.g. Aalborg University, Denmark. The word "virtual" in combination with university might at first glance mislead, but is in fact nothing else than effective use of modern information and communication technology. In Aalborg this covers not only education and research but also administration activities. Sørensen describes the virtual university being an "integration within the university as a whole of the technological tools which can prepare, develop and make more efficient the university's services, especially education and research, including those services which support education and research".

The guiding principles in Aalborg have been described as strict demands upon quality, competency and openness. The information technology should not be used for the sake of technology itself but whenever any qualitative boost is expected. The competency of a graduate can be qualified by the level of education, by the level of both professional expertise and cross disciplinary awareness, as well as by individual skills for communication, for creative work, or for socio-economic judgment. The openness is argumented in order to promote both internal and external accessibility to education, knowledge and information.

The strategy within Aalborg virtual university is emphasizing not only the global aspects but also the local ones. The global aspects are essential on the university level in order to complement the local faculties and their expertise. The local aspects are essential on the research level. The university will maintain and enforce its leading role in research fields which are ranked internationally high in the university's strategy plan. The continuity is crucial in attracting capable researchers and in recruiting them to the university in the future.

In Canada, the TeleCampus of New Brunswick is a good example of organized distance learning. It provides to the residents of New Brunswick and other regions cost-effective, equitable access to a range of training, information and educational services. Special priority is given to residents of the more geographically and socially isolated communities of the province. The province not only profits from the educational content accessed by residents, but also by their exposure to and active use of modern media. Among the values upon which the network is based we may find the cooperation and resource sharing, the partnership approach to development and educational innovation, and the openness, creativity and innovation.

Access to distance learning is made possible locally via a network of Community Learning Centres and globally via TeleCampus, which is an online teaching and learning environment. It collects courses from various universities and the access to these courses is managed by a search able database. TeleEducation New Brunswick provides assistance in the development and delivery of distance education programmes.

3. Plans for FIG

The FIG Working group 2.2 on "Virtual academy - distance learning" is specifically projected for information dissemination concerning the virtual academy issues relevant to FIG, by collecting hyper links to web sites relevant for distance learning in surveying education, and by creating an educational database on Internet as it regards respective tools and experiences. We are also establishing contacts with the Internet and multimedia experts outside FIG. Results will be reported to the XXII FIG Congress in Washington in 2002.

The WG aims to organize an FIG Workshop on "Virtual academy - distance learning" where current activities within the topic will be presented. The workshop will be held in Finland, Espoo in June 2001. According to the main theme of the workshop, we try to accomplish it by organizing at least one special session for online "distance learning" together with some remotely locating group. As it regards the content of this special session and the selection of co-organizing counterparts we will be happy to have any response.

In order to prepare the program for the workshop we will meet during the FIG Working Week in Prague.

Prof. Dr. Henrik Haggrén
Helsinki University of Technology
Institute of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing
Otakaari 1
FIN-02150 Espoo

Prof. Ph.D. Esben Munk Sørensen
Aalborg University
Department of Development and Planning
Fibigerstræde 11
DK-9220 Aalborg
E- mail:

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