LASPAU New Directions

A Decade of Technology Training for Latin American Higher Education

by | Dec 19, 1999

Since the advent of the computer, the ratio of cost to processing speed has doubled every 18 months, resulting in equipment that is increasingly powerful and affordable. This exponential growth in computing and networking capacity has given Latin American universities an enormous opportunity to leapfrog from two decades of decay to unprecedented capabilities for quality research, teaching, and learning. Equally abrupt and significant is the challenge to assimilate this pace and volume of change. The results to date have been mixed, a concern LASPAU is working hard to address through its technology programs for the region.

A nonprofit organization affiliated with Harvard University, LASPAU designs and implements academic and professional programs for the Americas. The organization has been involved in technology-related activities since 1989. With support from IBM and the Mellon Foundation, LASPAU provided training in academic applications of the Internet to over 4,000 Latin American professors, librarians, and researchers throughout the region. These LASPAU workshops helped serve to introduce to universities, often for the first time, the Internet and its potential. Today, however, the need has moved from simply promoting awareness of the Internet to developing the ability to harness its capacity.

Although many individual students, faculty, and researchers use e-mail and the Web, truly robust use of the Internet and, more significantly, the production of on-line content (databases, research results, and publications) has been extremely uneven. While some Latin American universities have enjoyed the resources and the leadership to invest in networks and train faculty and staff in their use, most universities, especially institutions servicing non-elite student populations and those outside of large capital cities, remain fundamentally unchanged by the “Information Revolution.”

LASPAU’s first step taken to address this concern was the Seminar on the Strategic Use of Information Technology by Environmental Organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean (IT-Eco), held from May 29 to June 1, 1998, at Harvard University. The seminar, sponsored by the United States Information Agency and hosted and taught by staff members from LASPAU and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, included both on-site and extended on-line components. The IT-Eco seminar brought together 19 grantees from the Amazon Basin Scholarship Program and the Central American and Caribbean Ecology Program, two Fulbright ecology programs administered by LASPAU.

The nineteen Fulbright grantees arrived with an “end-user’s” perspective of information technology (IT). However, they departed with a strategic and managerial understanding of how to harness IT to expand the reach of their home institutions and of how to use these resources more efficiently. They also gained a better understanding of how they, their institutions, and their societies will be impacted by the “Information Age.” As one participant wrote to us: “I never realized the impact that IT can have on my everyday work-it [the workshop] completely related to my studies and professional work.”

Currently, LASPAU is developing new training programs in distance education and the strategic use of IT, designed to provide Latin American higher education institutions with the capacity to make genuine improvements in teaching and research through technology. The Aragón-LASPAU Distance Learning Program delivers course content from U.S. universities to Argentina via videoconferencing and Internet technologies. A new Fulbright workshop in information technology is being developed for June 1999 for Latin American university faculty participating in the Fulbright-LASPAU Faculty Development Program.

Winter 1999

 

Winthrop Carty is Senior Development Officer for New Programs and Technology Initiatives at LASPAU. Information about the Aragón-LASPAU Program in Distance Education can be found at http://www.laspau.harvard.edu/aragon.htm. For more information on LASPAU’s IT-Eco workshop, visithttp://www.laspau.harvard.edu/IT-eco/contents.htm. For those interested in sponsoring or collaborating in LASPAU’s technology programs, please contact the author at: winthrop_carty@harvard.edu.

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