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Robot teachers, eCourses, eDegrees, eClassrooms, eTextbooks and virtual campuses are altering the concept of teaching and learning and transitioning us to a brand new era with unforeseeable challenges and opportunities.

The new information technology is rapidly propelling us into interactive, portable, individualized and novel modes of teaching and learning. The fusion of telecommunication technology and mass media will not only enable students, teachers and researchers to originate information, but also empower them to access educational materials, entertainment and other contents via a number of channels, including computer networks, telephones and cable or satellite television. The digital technologies also allow them to engage in the process of learning through a variety of interactive modes, including voice, text, video and multimedia formats.

The proliferation of interactive digital media, tailored to individual needs, will help to push higher education toward a new model for instructional delivery.

Although students are largely computer literate, some teachers are not. This lack of training means teachers must become proficient and literate in the use of computer and interactive technologies. They must adjust their traditional lecture-based methods of instruction to a new breed of students who tend to be visually-oriented, rather than print-oriented, mostly as a result of growing up with computers and television.

The good news is that some features of the emerging educational model are already visible in many educational institutions in the United States and elsewhere. Schools and universities have become increasingly computerized, making available an array of services to their students, including interactive video capabilities, Wi-Fi and access to global networks. At most educational institutions, electronic and virtual classrooms are replacing the traditional bland classrooms with only chalkboards.

Increasingly, teachers supplement their lectures through interactive instructional packages that combine text, video, audio, and graphics for presentation to their students. They also use a variety of electronic platforms (e.g., e-mail, podcasting, Facebook, MySpace, Blackboard) to conduct discussions with students.

The trend seems to be toward individualized and packaged delivery of education via a number of integrated channels such as textbooks, videos, fax, telephone, television and computers. Hence, future students might have less or, in some cases, no face-to-face contact with their teachers and classmates!

Currently, most universities in the U.S. and elsewhere offer online courses, and advanced degree programs, and allow students to apply for admission, register for courses, pay their tuition and manage their accounts electronically via telephone or the Internet.

As eLearning is gaining popularity and momentum throughout the world, correspondingly the number of "virtual universities" and virtual degree-granting institutions is on the rise. Students around the world can now participate in virtual classrooms, interact with geographically-distanced students in real-time, share ideas, solve problems, participate in laboratory research or conduct collaborative research.

Through the use of interactive digital platforms, students and educators across the world are now able to participate in discussions with experts on every subject ranging from education and politics to culture and environment.

In the near future, it will be possible for students in many countries, equipped with the technological tools of the information age, to enroll in courses offered, for instance, by a Japanese or U.S. university even if they do not understand the language!

Through the magic of digital technology, simultaneous translations from one language into another or from one language into many languages, students in any part of the globe can participate in the process of learning without even leaving their own homes or countries!

Although the traditional modes of teaching and learning are becoming rapidly obsolete, the significance of knowledge and formal education is gaining greater momentum than ever before. Education is a key factor for individual growth and national development, and, luckily, it will no longer be confined to the geographic boundaries of a nation-state. Education has become transnational and portable, and it can be created anywhere and accessed from anywhere, quite rapidly, cheaply and conveniently.

To ponder other emerging changes, the Japanese reportedly have started using a robot named Saya as a teacher, receptionist, and secretary, a practice which will introduce new opportunities and challenges in education! According to reports, students seem to like their novel, colorful and entertaining robot teacher!

Yahya R. Kamalipour is professor and head of the Department of Communication and Creative Arts at Purdue University Calumet, USA. He is founder and managing editor of the Global Media Journal. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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