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World's first online graduate course

Malmö University in Sweden is the first in the world equipped to offer students an internationally recognized, master’s degree, entirely online.
BY Rajyasri Rao |   28-02-2013

Malmö University’s Communication for Development program provides students who are short on time and can’t travel, with a highly interactive means of distance-learning.

Malmo University, Courtesy:

When it was introduced online in 2000, the Communication for Development course was ‘cutting edge’, and it has continued to uphold this momentum even today, says, Malmö University Head of the Communication for Development (ComDev) Master’s program, Oscar Hemer.

“There never was a discussion about whether it would be web-based,” Hemer says. “It was developed for the web and our intention was to offer a truly advanced course that would be cutting edge both in content and form so that anyone in the world, who wanted to pursue it, could.”

Offered at first in Swedish and from 2002 on in English, the program has had about 150 students from more than 50 countries graduating so far.
Several universities, around the world, are introducing a greater number of online programs.

But what distinguishes the Malmö masters is its combination of web interaction with an academic timeline, similar to that of a regular campus course, says Hemer.

“In order to facilitate students living in various time zones to be able to complete their assignments at a reasonable time, most course work, is asynchronous,” he says. 

However unlike other distance learning courses that centre on the individual and their interaction with a tutor, the emphasis here is on maximizing interaction between lecturers and students and among students, as in a classroom setting.

One way this is done is by making ‘attendance’ at seminars compulsory for all.

“We use a Live Lecture function for our seminars which allows all students, no matter where they are, to watch, listen and take part in the lecture and resulting debates and discussions, in real time,” Hemer says.

The same technology also aids the way students communicate with one another and work on group projects and individual assignments. 

Argentinean documentary film-maker and social anthropologist, Ana Zanotti, was among ten pilot ‘overseas’ students selected in 2002 to take the course online. She says the extraordinary openness on the part of the course administrators to finding innovative ways of enhancing collaborative work was exceptional and inspiring.

“The course coordinators and the course webmaster built the e-learning platform step-by-step, starting with written chat, then sound and eventually a full-range, high-quality, interactive, audiovisual format,” Zanotti says.

“Our participation as students mimicked that path – so that by the time the platform was fully evolved so were our interactions and collaborations for both individual and group assignments,” she says.

In her masters’ thesis work, Zanotti examined her experience as a facilitator of an unusual video project, ‘One Minute for My Rights’ supported by the UNICEF and a local NGO, KINE Foundation,in Argentina. 

It consisted of training through audio-visual workshops, a group of young adolescents from disadvantaged families living in the borderlands of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil in filmmaking and producing ten, one-minute films about their rights.

“I was able to see how the participatory emphasis in the project empowered my ‘target group’ to go from being, students of filmmaking, to film producers in their own right”, Zanotti says.
Since completing her course, Zanotti has been working on a a documentary movie, ‘See you next week’, using a participatory approach similar in style to a series of four documentary films, 'Life at the Borderlands’ she had produced before starting the ComDev program.

Vanessa Vertiz is a Communication for Development consultant with the FAO in Rome – she says the opportunity she had - to be in regular contact with a mix of eager students, teachers, and examiners from all over the world, has given her valuable skills at her highly multicultural workplace.
“Being able to discuss and collaborate with a wide range of students from different backgrounds and countries has helped me be more sensitive in exchanges and debates with colleagues at the FAO,” she says. “It has also made me reflect on what kind of work we do and what we can change.”
Malmö University graduates have gone on to work for the UN, the World Bank, bi-lateral aid programs such as SIDA and DFID and as information and communication officers at various regional and intergovernmental organisations.

Rajyasri Rao has worked as a journalist with the BBC and the UNICEF in India and as a communications consultant for Ericsson in Sweden. She holds an M.Phil. in Sociology, from the Delhi School of Economics.


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