Letter: Dangers of over-dependence

07 April 2003
Professor Danie Visser's product endorsement for WebCT is testimony to the creativity in teaching and learning that can be enhanced by the use of information technology in a university (Monday Paper March 24). We should, though, be careful of the consequences of locking into a proprietary courseware product. While WebCT has its advantages, I have found it restrictive, hierarchical and difficult to modify to our "classroom culture". Other universities have found the consequences of proprietary monopolies expensive down the line, as licencing fees and other costs rise in excess of expectation. We will shortly see major developments in open source alternatives to proprietary IT platforms for university teaching. These developments are being led by MIT, Berkeley and the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, and may offer the possibility of using home-grown alternatives, on an open-source basis, that are better alternatives to imported courseware. In addition to using the WebCT platform for my own teaching, I've also had the opportunity of using the Multimedia Education Group's OLE platform - a far more "friendly" environment than WebCT's design assumptions. Derek Keates and his group at UWC have developed a similar platform, and there is considerable potential for collaboration, on a regional basis, through the Cape Higher Education Consortium. We will need to be careful not to foreclose on such open source alternatives by becoming over-dependent on the closed environment offered by one software company.

Martin Hall
Deputy Vice-Chancellor

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