High-speed networks, even faster than the Internet, are rapidly emerging. One example is Internet2, a consortium of 146 universities and 44 corporate members, organized to develop uses for high-speed networks and to build better network technologies. This new super-fast data pipeline will link the institutions at speeds 45,000 times faster than the best telephone modems now used. Internet2 relies on two ultra high-speed network services: Abilene and the Backbone Network Service (vBNS). It is expected that some 70 of the member universities and research facilities will be connected to Internet2 by the year 2000.
Internet2 is already being used in many ways. To name only two types of applications, Georgetown and Gallaudet Universities are using Internet2 to broadcast sign language instruction, and Duke University is using it to advance research on distance learning and telemedicine.
Like most other rapidly emerging technologies, many applications spawned by the advent of Internet2 will be available to other networks. Some of the applications being developed include:
- Media Streaming. Internet2 will allow distance learning instructors to use high-quality audio and video illustrations in their courses and let them post those materials onto the course website. Students will be able to view video illustrations even if they are using a 28.8k modem.
- Live Video Broadcasts. Through Internet2, instructors will be able to capture live video and audio, convert it to a computer-compatible format, and "broadcast" it to multiple users who have standard Windows software with a Netscape browser plug-in.
- 3-D Brain Mapping. Watching the Brain in Action. This application will allow real-time visualization of brain activity during visual and memory tasks while the study subject is in a MRI scanner in a different location. It also provides audio and video links for demonstrators to interact with scanner operators.
Historically Black Colleges Cooperate to Enhance Technology
Recognizing that wired campuses are essential for survival, many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are accelerating efforts to bring technology to their institutions. However, since the cost of computer technology is often prohibitive, especially for smaller colleges, many institutions are working with private foundations and each other. Many HBCUs have developed several projects during the past few years to improve technology on their campuses. These include:
- The Virtual Institute for Technology Advancement in Education (VITAE). VITAE--a consortium of 13 institutions, including Hampton University, Winston-Salem State University, and Delaware State University—focuses on development in three areas: faculty, curriculum, and infrastructure.
- Technology Transfer Project. Established by the Executive Leadership Foundation, the Technology Transfer Project is a consortium of six institutions that promotes technology planning, access to hardware and software, faculty development, and summer internships.
- The Gateway 21 Project. Established by the Southern Education Foundation, the Gateway project is a consortium of 22 institutions, including Fisk University, Spelman College, and Morehouse College, dedicated to improving technology on each of the campuses. The consortium has been awarded a $2 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to ensure that all 22 campuses have e-mail services and Internet access.
University of Nebraska Offers High School Courses Online
The University of Nebraska at Lincoln has created a for-profit company to provide distance education to high school students. The company, called Class.com, is expected to begin broadcasting courses and complete curricula over the Internet by the end of 1999. The recipients would be individual students, high schools, or entire school districts. For the past three years, the university has been creating online courses based on the curriculum of its own Independent Study High School, an accredited, correspondence-based high school that has operated since 1929. Class.com could eventually broaden its offerings to higher education courses and training courses for the private sector.
University of California Establishes Digital Library
In January 1999, the nine-campus University of California system opened its tenth library, the California Digital Library. The Digital Library is designed to be the online gateway to the system’s card catalog, and includes at least 20 electronic databases for journal articles and hundreds of digitized documents and photographs. All materials in the library are available to university professors, students, and staff members. In addition, some of the library’s resources are available to the public, including the California Periodicals Database, which lists 863,000 serial publications held in more than 555 libraries around the state.
II. Issues in Distance Learning
Two Reports Raise Concerns About Information Have-Nots
In April, The College Board and The Institute for Higher Education Policy released reports suggesting that policy makers proceed with some caution with regard to distance learning. The College Board’s report, The Virtual University and Educational Opportunity—Issues of Equity and Access for the Next Generation, targeted access as its theme. Focusing primarily on Internet-based distance learning courses, the report argued that information "have-nots" are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to taking courses online. A major barrier for the traditionally under-represented in higher education—African Americans, Hispanics, and people with less education—is the lack of computer or online service both in the home and in elementary and secondary schools. For instance, three-quarters of households with incomes over $75,000 have a computer, compared with one-third of households between $25,000 and $35,000, and one-sixth with incomes below $15,000.
The report recommends that institutions make access a fundamental goal when designing online courses. Other recommendations include the caution that institutions should strike a balance between traditional and technology-based delivery, and be prepared to alter the balance over time as the needs and expectations of students change. The report urges government policy makers to take steps to ensure equality in distance education, while suggesting that the communications industry look beyond the bottom line to increase access to technology for lower-income, less-advantaged citizens.
The Institute’s report, What’s the Difference? A Review of Contemporary Research on the Effectiveness of Distance Learning in Higher Education, reviewed the research on distance learning since 1990. In addition to noting that much of the original research was of questionable quality—which rendered many of the findings inconclusive—The Institute identified several gaps in the research that need to be addressed. The report stated that the research:
- has tended to emphasize student outcomes in individual courses rather than for total academic programs;
- does not take into account differences among students;
- does not adequately explain why the drop-out rates of distance learners are higher;
- does not take into consideration how the different learning styles of students relate to the use of particular technologies;
- focuses mostly on the impact of individual technologies rather than on the interaction of multiple technologies;
- does not include a theoretical or conceptual framework; and
- does not adequately address the effectiveness of digital libraries.
The report concluded that while technology is having a profound impact on colleges and universities across the nation and around the globe, the higher education community still has much to learn regarding how and in what ways technology can enhance the teaching/learning process. Nevertheless, technology has helped to renew the academy’s focus on pedagogy and, as a result, either implicitly or explicitly, the fundamental question of how best to teach students is being asked.
The Digital Divide
The "digital divide"—the gap in the ability to receive Internet service based upon where in the country one lives—is an issue that is receiving a great deal of attention. While the aging patchwork of thin wires and microwave towers is adequate to bring telephone service to millions of residents in remote areas of the country, it can barely transmit at speeds of 28.8 kilobits per second or less, assuming Internet service is even available. Meanwhile, people in other parts of the nation are using 56K modems, or have adopted one of the new broadband telephone and cable company services that provide access to homes and businesses at speeds up to 100 times as fast.
Although the digital divide is particularly acute in the western states, areas in states such as Mississippi, Georgia, and Maine also lack the ability to access the Internet. Some parts of the rural West have as few as a half a dozen households per square mile, providing phone companies with little incentive to invest in new lines. Satellite and other types of high-speed wireless technologies may narrow the digital divide. In February 1999, Motorola and Cisco Systems announced a joint effort to contribute $1 billion over four years to create wireless high-speed Internet networks. AT&T, among others, is experimenting with cellular-like services that compress data and bring high-speed Internet access into rural homes.
Teachers Lack Technology Training
In a follow-up to its 1997 report documenting poor teacher training, the CEO Forum on Education and Technology has found that most teachers still lack the training to use computers effectively in their lessons. According to the report, only one-fifth of teachers say they feel comfortable teaching with technology. The CEO Forum, a partnership of 20 top business leaders, wants teacher colleges to improve their technology programs. Currently, 25 states require computer education for teacher licensure. In addition, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education has issued technology guidelines. However, nearly one-third of teacher colleges still report that they lack facilities to train teachers to use technology.
The Battle Over Encryption
Encryption—the process of mathematically scrambling computer data to ensure security—has been a subject of debate for several decades, but the growth of the Internet has heightened the debate. Opponents of government control of encryption argue that it is an important privacy tool and is vital in using the Internet. However, the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) contend that government must control encryption, mainly to prevent criminals from keeping too many computerized secrets. Until approximately 25 years ago, encryption had been the sole domain of the NSA. However, critics such as Whitfield Diffie—co-author of the book Privacy on the Line: The Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption—believe that encryption, like free speech, belongs to everyone. Diffie has expressed concern that society is moving into an environment in which meetings, conversations, and financial transactions will be handled via machines and, therefore, could be monitored by machines.
In a recent case, Bernstein vs. U.S. Department of Justice, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco ruled in favor of an assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Illinois at Chicago who had sought to use the Internet to show the source code for an encryption program called "Snuffle," which he had developed as a graduate student. At the time, Bernstein had inquired of the State Department if a license was needed to publish his research; the State Department responded that under federal regulations, his program was considered a "munition" and, therefore, he would need a license to "export" his material.
Fundamentally, the government is concerned that criminals and terrorists could use encryption software to hinder law enforcement’s use of wiretaps and electronic intercepts, while mathematicians and computer scientists contend that restricting the publication of software code would censor their research and teaching. Addressing First Amendment protection, the government argued before the court that the code is not a form of expression, but actually a device because it can be used by computers to perform a function. The court ruled that the restrictions on publishing data-scrambling software in electronic form violate the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech, saying that computer scientists use source code in "much the same way that mathematicians use equations or economists use graphs." The court did not rule on whether all computer code is protected by the First Amendment; rather, it decided that the government’s licensing regulations constitute an "impermissible prior restraint" on scientific speech in this case.
The debate over this issue will continue. Vice President Gore has already made the issue a part of his 2000 presidential platform. The 106th Congress is considering bills facilitating the use
of encryption by individuals.
III. Virtual Universities
Virtual University Accredited
In March 1999, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools accredited Jones International University (Jones), the first institution to be accredited by a regional accrediting body that offers its courses and services entirely over the Internet. The university, a subsidiary of Jones International, Ltd., headquartered in Englewood, Colorado, began offering courses in 1995 and now offers two degree programs (a bachelor’s and master’s) in business communications, in addition to several certificate programs. The programs target adult students who have already attended college but have not completed a degree. Of the 56 faculty members employed by the university, two are full-time, and the part-time faculty members generally hold academic posts at other universities. "Content experts" help develop the subject matter and structure for the courses, and "teaching faculty" execute the courses from locations around the world.
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) sent a letter describing its concerns about the accreditation of Jones to Steven D. Crow, executive director of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. The protest was based upon what AAUP saw as a lack of quality, particularly given the high number of adjuncts the university is using. In addition, AAUP cited the short duration of the university’s courses, the lack of learning resources—such as libraries and research laboratories—and the small proportion of students who seek degrees from the institution. In response to AAUP’s claim that many of these shortcomings violate North Central’s own criteria for accreditation, Crow stated that Jones International University met the requirements in other ways.
Demise of California Virtual University
After failing to secure additional funding, California Virtual University (CVU) has ceased most of its operations, effective April 1, 1999. The venture partners, which consisted of California’s three public college systems and the association of the state’s independent colleges, balked at contributing more than $1 million over the next three years for estimated operating costs. However, the listing of courses from more than 100 participating institutions will continue to be posted on a website maintained by the California Board of Regents. California Virtual University was initiated by former Governor Pete Wilson as an alternative to Western Governors University (WGU). It has been reported that the board of the defunct enterprise has no plans to affiliate with WGU.
Western Governors University Update
According to a spokesperson from the Western Governors University (WGU), enrollment is now in the hundreds and the students come from 26 states and 7 foreign countries. The university now offers four degrees: an Associate of Arts degree in General Education, two Associate of Applied Science degrees in Network Administration and Electronic Manufacturing, and a Master of Arts degree in Learning and Technology. Working with the Interregional Accrediting Committee (IRAC), a group composed of representatives from several regional accrediting bodies, the university currently is conducting a self-study and anticipates a site visit later this year.
WGU recently asked Congress for $8 million to be used for curriculum development, hiring academic advisors, and building local centers where students could log on to their online courses or take tests. The financing request has the endorsement of Congress’s Western Caucus.
Harcourt Creates a For-Profit University
Harcourt General—parent company of Harcourt Brace, the textbook publisher—has announced that it is creating a for-profit university to offer courses entirely through distance education. Called Harcourt Learning Direct, the school plans to offer degree programs in the fields of business, health care systems and administration, information technology, and general studies. This new venture will be based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, (the same location as Harcourt’s corporate headquarters) and will begin offering classes by the fall of 2000. Currently, the university is hiring administrative staff and expects to begin the search for part-time faculty in the coming months. The new institution will apply to the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education in September for permission to grant degrees up to the master’s level and then seek accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
A spokesperson for the company stated that accreditation is important because it would lend credibility to the university’s programs. The institution hopes to avoid the criticism that arose recently when the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools granted accreditation to Jones International University. Measures are under way to ensure adequate support to students and faculty, including library resources.
Project Envisions Everyone Online, All the Time
In April 1999, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Laboratory for Computer Science unveiled an ambitious $40 million research project that envisions everyone being able to be "connected" to their computer at all times. The integral element of the system that would allow individuals to be a node on the network, reachable anytime, anyplace, has been dubbed Oxygen and has four components:
- Handy21--a portable unit with a high-contrast screen, a digital camera, a Global Positioning System module for determining location, an infrared detector for transferring and synchronizing data, and a powerful microprocessor for processing complex demands;
- Enviro21--a "fixed" computer with all the capabilities of Handy21 that would be used in an office, at home, or in a car;
- N21 Network--a World Wide Web that would link all users; and
- A natural speech processor, which would allow users to communicate with the computing system in ways that are similar to actual human speech.
An important element of Oxygen is the network’s ability to know where individuals are and what kind of device needs to be used, at any time. Oxygen marks a leap forward in one significant way: It emphasizes people-to-people interaction, rather than people-to-machine interaction.
IV. Update of Federal Activities
The February 1999 edition of Distance Learning in Higher Education provided information about Public Law 105-244, extending the authorization of programs under the Higher Education Act (HEA). The following is an update of federal activities following the reauthorization, specifically developments in the Distance Education Demonstration Program, the Web-Based Education Commission, and the Learning Anytime Anywhere Partnerships provisions that were included in the law.
Distance Education Demonstration Program
The Distance Education Demonstration Program, which will allow pilot projects to test the quality and viability of expanded distance education programs that are currently restricted under Title IV, was the subject of Marianne Phelps’ testimony at the January 26, 1999 meeting of the federal Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance. Phelps, special assistant for postsecondary education at the U.S. Department of Education, announced that a maximum of 15 institutions, systems of institutions, or consortia of institutions (including Western Governors University) will be selected during the first year of the program, which seeks to test how federal law and regulations might be altered to allow for the expansion of aid to distance learners while still ensuring program integrity. Selection criteria will be based on several factors, including diversity within the program and the significance of the distance education program the institutions offer.
A notice inviting applications for participation was included in the February 4, 1999 Federal Register. The notice stated that "the Department also anticipates working closely with accrediting agencies and states to determine how their respective roles contribute to assuring quality and integrity. Accrediting agencies will play a sub-stantial role in monitoring the demonstration programs, consistent with their responsibilities."
Web-Based Education Commission
The reauthorization of the HEA created the Web-Based Education Commission, which was charged with conducting "a thorough study to assess the educational software available in retail markets for secondary and postsecondary students who choose to use such software." In the February 1, 1999, Federal Register, Secretary of Education Richard Riley announced plans to form the Commission. The secretary said that hearings would be conducted nationwide to assist the commission in its work. Members of the 14-member body will be selected by the leadership in the House and Senate, the President, and the Secretary.
Learning Anytime Anywhere Partnerships
Learning Anytime Anywhere Partnerships (LAAP), authorized at $10 million, will provide grants to or enter into contracts or cooperative agreements with eligible partnerships, to enhance the delivery, quality, and accountability of postsecondary education and career-oriented lifelong learning through technology. To be eligible, applicants must include two or more independent agencies, organizations, or institutions, including institutions of higher education, community organizations, and other public and private institutions, agencies, and organizations.
A January 26, 1999 notice in the Federal Register from the Secretary outlined the following invitational priorities for applications:
Priority 1: Projects to address the need to ensure that significant development costs can be justified by wide-scale applicability and long-term sustainability of technology-mediated distance learning, and the need to find new ways to overcome the barriers that may inhibit faculty across institutions from working collectively.
Priority 2: Projects to address the proper balance of interactivity, flexibility, and cost in order to ensure that educational opportunities are as convenient as possible but still instructionally effective and affordable.
Priority 3: Projects to develop high quality, interactive courseware that can be implemented to achieve the scale necessary to recoup large investments, but is modular and sufficiently flexible for faculty to shape and modify academic content.
Priority 4: Projects to package courses and programs to assist students who wish to draw from the offerings of multiple providers and to assist institutions with cooperating and sharing resources.
Priority 5: Projects to use skill competencies and learning outcomes in order to measure student progress and achievement in technology-mediated distance learning programs.
Priority 6: Projects to improve quality and accountability of technology-mediated distance education to ensure that credentials are meaningful, that educational providers are accountable, and that courses meet high standards.
Priority 7: Projects to create new technology-mediated education opportunities for underserved learners, especially those who have not always been well served by traditional campus-based education or common forms of distance education, including individuals with disabilities; individuals who have lost their jobs; individuals making the transition from welfare to the workforce; and individuals seeking basic or technical skills or their first postsecondary education experience.
Priority 8: Projects to improve student services for students seeking technology-mediated distance education to ensure that they have complete and convenient access to needed services such as registration, financial aid, advising, assessment, counseling, libraries, and many others.
For further information on the resources cited in this report, please contact:
State Policies for Distance Education
State Higher Education Executive Officers
707 7th St., Suite 2700
Denver, CO 80202
The Virtual University and Educational Opportunity
The College Board
1233 20th St., NW, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20036
What’s the Difference?
The Institute for Higher Education Policy
1320 19th St., NW, Suite 400
Washington, DC 20036
The CEO Forum
The CEO Forum on Education and Technology
1001 G St., NW, Suite 900
Washington, DC 20001