THE GALLERY - Philosophy


Our open-access undergraduate level course entitled "Principles of Protein Structure" is currently being run from Birkbeck College, here in London, in collaboration with the Globewide Network Academy's Virtual School of Natural Sciences. It was conceived as an experiment in teaching technology and distance education, and is in consequence free and unaccredited.

Birkbeck College has a long and distinguished history of providing part-time adult education at degree level, but this course is unusual in that the course material is provided entirely over the Internet. It is run on a very informal basis: there is no charge for taking part, although students are expected to contribute some teaching materials of their own. Its structure is non-hierarchical - the only difference between students and "consultants" (the nearest equivalent to "lecturers") is in the balance between information provided and information gained. Students range from undergraduates, who may be unable to find such a course in their own institutions, to senior scientists in the pharmaceutical industry.

Much of the course material is available to anyone with access to the World-Wide Web, but people who officially register for the course can also get access to one-to-one advice from the consultants and participate in email discussion lists. Students from China, Columbia, Brazil and Slovenia, besides many Western countries, have registered on the course. Peter Murray-Rust of Glaxo Pharmaceuticals, who is currently a visiting professor at Birkbeck College and closely involved with the course, hopes that it can be used to lessen the divide between "haves" and "have-nots" in the information society.

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