A panel discussion put four HE students to discuss their current projects, and also the problems and challenges they've noted in their personal experiences with educations - and some ideas for how to solve these.
Our four students came from their countries' top universities, and had access at the University to a wide range of wonderful technology, systems and hardware. However, when they came back to their homes, they often had trouble accessing and taking full advantage of these systems off-campus, and this is something I can empathise with - and which is a far greater problem in countries where not everyone can be sure of a computer and an internet connection.
For the principles of e-learning, networked learning, interactive and collaborative learning to be successfully applied, the actual physical hardware and infrastructure is a problem which must be considered and addressed. There is already some great charity work going on to bridge the digital divide, such as the World Computer Exchange.
A great demand was to have a single access point, which students can use to launch all of their tools and collaborate with one another. Simplification of systems is always a good goal to strive for, and too often content in disparate places becomes hard to work with - too much time is spent familiarising oneself with the tools, and moving between them, rather than working with the content itself.
With many traditional barriers, from availability of material through to access to mentors and infrastructure being tackled by technology, one large physical barrier is still an issue for students - that of the physical location of the University they wish to attend. An Indian student wishing to study at an American University must navigate the visa process, pay for their travel and then also pay for fees - often at a rate far higher than US students would normally pay.
Grants and scholarships can go some way towards resolving this - but they are the exception rather than the rule and a plea from the student panel was to reduce these barriers to education. A lot of great work can be done with simplifying the visas process internationally, and access across borders to international students. Anoop Gupta, hosting the panel discussion, was quick to point out that his native Stanford has already gone some way with this, by promising to never refuse a student entry based on financial ability, if they can gain admittance through academic efforts. Unfortunately they've not been able to fix the visa problem yet.