A Challenge for Any CMS

The installation and maintenance of a course management system is a challenge in most situations. Campus and organizations installing a CMS must add to their existing infrastructure and then address the issues of obtaining and maintaining content, as well as addressing support and technical services.

As difficult as it might be to install and maintain a campus-based CMS, imagine the issues that must be addressed to create a technical infrastructure in areas where none now exists. Then add a critical need to introduce online learning concepts to a population with limited access to personal computers. Finally, and perhaps most important, provide content to address critical societal needs.

This is a challenge that is being addressed by a project involving The African Center Foundation, E-Education Network, and Mount Sinai Medical School in New York with assistance from the U.S. government. The project is being driven by the need to provide HIV/AIDS education to a region severely impacted by the disease.

To address the priority goal of the participants, the project will create 25 to 30 Educational Centers across Africa over the next five years. The first center will open in the first quarter of 2004 in Botswana, a country with an HIV/AIDS infection rate nearing 50 percent. The first E-Education Network Center will house 100 computers connected to the Internet via a satellite link. EEN is charged with designing and implementing the technical infrastructure. With the technology in place, attention will immediately turn to addressing the pressing educational needs of the project.

Using educational material developed by Mount Sinai Medical School, the project will target African doctors and health care providers. The first priority is to provide online course content to help in the fight against HIV and AIDS. The online course content for health care providers will extend beyond the HIV/AIDS material to address the health care issues of the region. In addition to the medical content targeting HIV/AIDS and other diseases, the centers will also provide continuing education courses for nurses.

The E-Education Internet Center is not limited to meeting the needs of the health care segment. The project is currently gathering course content to address the needs of individuals interested in English as a second language, information technology training, and T'EFL preparation.

In the initial phase of the project, E-Education Network is hosting and delivering Mount Sinai Medical Center course content. To facilitate the delivery of content hosted on other course management systems, E-Education Network created a front-end integration to allow other content providers to serve content from their existing CMS systems. To learners in the E-Education Internet Centers, the focus will be on the content, not various course management systems serving the content.

This front-end integration is important to the success of the project. Since the project will extend beyond the content provided by Mount Sinai and hosted by EEN, the project wanted to avoid the porting of course content from other systems. Several participating content providers are operating in tightly controlled CMS environments were ports were not practical. Creating a common front-end with back-end integration permits the inclusion of this content without the need for adding additional course management systems to the mix.

The African Center Foundation is a recognized United Nations NGO and is the only international humanitarian organization dedicated exclusively to the economical, social, and educational development of Africa. The use of online education is an effective means of addressing the goals of the foundation. All the partners are focused on "bridging the digital divide" to the betterment of the countries where E-Educational Internet Centers will be placed.

With substantial progress already made on the project, all participants are looking forward to leveraging CMS delivery systems to address the needs Botswana and other countries in the near future.

The implications of this effort are important. If E-Education Internet Centers can become a focal point for delivering critically needed education to the medical community in Africa, then this project should be considered a significant milestone for online education. Should the centers also succeed in addressing the needs of the general population, the impact of the centers will be significantly leveraged. I am hoping the E-Education Network, the Africa Center Foundation and Sinai Medical School are wildly successful in their efforts.

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