Online learning conference from Spain to try Miami in 2003
By Paola Iuspa
Hundreds of Spanish-speaking technology scholars will meet in Miami to exchange tips about creating and maintaining distance-learning websites.
The Virtual Educa IV Conference will take place June 18-20 and at least 1,000 attendees are expected. It will be the first time the conference is held outside Spain, where last year about 1,184 experts from the European Union, the US and Latin America met and shared information on providing distance learning, organizers said.
The Universidad Nacional de EducaciŪn a Distancia of Spain, with a satellite office in Coral Gables, and the Washington, DC-based Organization of American States' Inter-American Agency for Cooperation & Development are planning the 2003 conference, said Carlos Paldao, a director at the Inter-American agency.
His group last week formally opened a Coral Gables office at 2655 LeJeune Road, where it shares space with the Spanish university. Mr. Paldao coordinated the creation of the Miami office.
Mr. Paldao estimates more than 3,000 professionals will attend the event in Miami, where participants will analyze new applications, tools, content and products that will help grow e-learning in Spanish.
"Virtual Educa will alternate between Miami and Spain," Mr. Paldao said.
Some educational institutions in Miami offering courses in Spanish said they were not aware of the conference but would be interested in attending.
Luis Rivera, assistant to the chancellor for administrative affairs for the Puerto Rico-based Carlos Albizu University Miami campus, said the US Department of Education recently awarded his campus about $550,000 in a five-year grant to create a distance-learning program. He said the two-day event would be perfect to gather ideas. His university offers bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in psychology, business and education with plans to provide some classes online.
Mr. Rivera said the school's campus in Puerto Rico won a similar grant three years ago and is now developing its e-learning curriculum.
"Distance learning offers minority groups access to education," said Mr. Rivera, who will coordinate the Miami campus online program. "It also offers an alternative to those looking for diversity."
The Washington, DC, group expanded to South Florida to be closer to the 35 member countries it serves and to recruit new public and private-sector partners, including Florida International University, Mr. Paldao said.
In partnership with 1,058 colleges and universities, Mr. Paldao's group provides Internet-based programs aimed at overcoming poverty and closing the digital gap between nations. Through the Educational Portal of the Americas, he said his group offers online degrees, continuing education certifcates, business training and scholarships opportunities.
While this will be the first time the Organization of American States will serve as co-host for the event, it also contributed scholarships to Virtual Educa.
Online educaton seems to be popular among those who work full time and for students who live miles away from a school. Some corporations are also beginning to provide online training to employees, said Angela Lovett, CEO & Founder of World Wide Learn, a Canada-based directory of e-learning providers.
Ms. Lovett said some of the 43 educational institutions featured on her directory show a 50% increase in online class enrollment over the past year. While she could not determine if more Spanish-speaking organizations were beginning to offer Internet-based courses, she said three universities offering degrees in Spanish joined her directory in the past six months.
Mr. Rivera said some students get online degrees in Spanish hoping to come to the US with the right qualifications to get a job. When they get here, they find they need to take a state or federal exam in English. Also, he said, some universities do not accept credits from online courses.
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