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Education Via Advanced Technologies

Paul Penfield, Jr. and Richard C. Larson
Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Advanced technologies like the World Wide Web offer interesting opportunities for improving higher education. A recent study done at MIT focused on these matters and made several specific recommendations. Since this study was completed, a new center was established at MIT to coordinate and promote the use of advanced technologies in education, and a high-level council on educational technology was formed. After briefly peering into the future, this paper describes the study and the new center. An on-line version of the paper, with linked references to the study report and other Web resources, appears in the CD-ROM that accompanies this printed version of the paper.


It is apparent that the development of modern advanced technologies combining computation and communication will offer exciting opportunities to educators. Electrical engineers and computer scientists are among those who can appreciate the technology most easily, and therefore might logically be in the vanguard of educational applications. After all, this is "our technology." However, the opportunities are also being recognized by those in other disciplines.

Here is how one university has looked at the possibilities, and what has been the outcome of this investigation to date. Both of the authors of this paper participated in the study, and one (Larson) was subsequently appointed the Director of the MIT Center for Advanced Educational Services, a new center whose mission includes the implementation of some of the Committee's recommendations. Larson also serves on the new MIT Council on Educational Technology. The present paper describes the study and its recommendations, and the new center.

First, a fable about a possible future for higher (and other) education.

2014: MIT Cambridge, Massachusetts (fictional)

The MIT Electrical Engineering and Computer Science class of 2014 was being presented with an informal pre-commencement speech by Professor Rachel L., Head of the Department.

"1997 was a watershed year for EECS and for MIT, in general. It was at that time that the second post World War II paradigm shift in engineering education was put in place at MIT 'Engineering Science' was replaced by 'Engineering Know-how.' As the name suggests, know-how implies knowing for doing. Knowing what: knowing the usuals: science and math. Also knowing the unusuals: business management, relevant humanities and other disciplines. And doing what? For doing designs, for building and testing prototypes, for working cooperatively in groups, for using computers to help do just about everything, for inventing new systems and processes. The more technically minded used to say that MIT was great at teaching analysis but poor at teaching synthesis, so synthesis became a core motivator for the paradigm shift."

A student's hand goes up in the audience: "Excuse me Professor, when was it decided that we should all be placed in a 5-year Co-op program?"

Professor "That was also 1997. It was an outgrowth of two initiatives. The first was the 5 year Master of Engineering degree first put into place by the department in 1994. The second was an outgrowth of a strategic analysis done in the second half of 1996. In that analysis it was decided to explore the consequences of a detailed study that would examine MIT as a service industry. The study committee, comprising faculty from throughout MIT, identified three primary customers for MIT: its students, its research sponsors and industry. The committee also identified its primary products: its graduating students and its research findings. The key services provided to produce these products were education and research.

"Industry at the time was complaining that our primary product, graduating students, were no longer optimally matched to their needs. Students often knew lots of theory but lacked practical skills. They hadn't the faintest idea about business, about how business was run, about their roles in the enterprise. Their impressive math skills were often not linked in their minds to the physical world. So EECS, building from its nationally known VI-A Program, made that program mandatory for all of its students. Alternating terms on campus and off campus brought new life and vitality to the department. It was matched with a mandatory placement "in the plant" for one term every three years of each of the EECS faculty members. This had nice side effects: more industry-relevant research, more funded applied research programs on campus, more consulting opportunities for faculty and -- most important -- greatly decreased financial strain for the parents of the students, who now were largely funded by their industrial partners. Industry - now very happy with our "product" - bid up the starting salaries of our graduating "super seniors," our fifth year graduates. The excitement generated by the program, excitement caused by the applied hands-on nature of the program, the reduced tuition burden on parents, and the increased starting salaries, created a doubling of applications into EECS within a four year period, 1998 - 2002. This doubling included a larger than doubling of very qualified applicants from under-represented minorities."

Another hand,: "My sister just completed her Ph.D., working collaboratively via the telecommunications with faculty and students at MIT and five other universities. How was this collaborative distance-based Ph.D. program set up?"

Professor "Initially it was due to a harsh financial reality. By the mid 1990's, Americans recognized that the costs of higher education had grown at about three times the rate of the CPI (Consumer Price Index), making its multi-year cost growth even greater than that of health care. In the early 1990's while the rest of the services industries in the U.S. had embraced restructuring using advanced technologies, higher education had lagged behind. For instance the "labor content" associated with teaching had remained unchanged for decades as new leveraging technologies had been resisted or ignored. So, one by one, universities began making new rules aimed at this problem. One such rule, initiated at MIT's Sloan School of Management in 1995, stated that a faculty member teaching a course with fewer than 15 students would essentially be doing it on her/his own time. Such a course would not be counted in the number of courses taught. With their historically low enrollments, this policy hit hardest the doctoral courses. So, enterprising faculty members started to co-teach doctoral courses with faculty colleagues at distant sister universities, using advanced telecommunications and multimedia technologies. For example, rather than attempt to teach four doctoral courses each having enrollments of ten, each of two cooperating universities would co-teach two of the original four doctoral courses, with each course now having total enrollment of 20 and students having the same menu of courses from which to choose. Then something wonderful happened. Both students and faculty found that this distance collaborative education had many nice side benefits, not the least of which was added diversity of opinion and insight in carrying out research. That in a nutshell is how the distance collaborative doctoral program got established."

Professor "I was one of the first to attend the Turner/MIT K-12 school system in Minneapolis. I didn't switch over until sixth grade. How was this venture put together?"

Professor "Well, as you know, the U.S. Congress in 1999 passed a national education bill that promoted competition in public education. Vouchers allowed parents to select the schools for their youngsters, with some schools requiring passing entrance exams. MIT, in its 1996 committee study, decided that investing in intellectual capital building was an important priority mission for MIT. Such an investment would produce better students at MIT's doorsteps, but more importantly, would revitalize science and engineering education in the U.S. As you might know from history books, the U.S. had fallen behind all other major industrialized countries as early as the 1970's in the scientific literacy of its school age children.

MIT decided to leverage its 1997 decision to utilize its Media Lab and CAES (Center for Advanced Educational Services) to produce world class educational materials for grades K-12, in multi media format and available on the World Digital Pipeline (the first primitive version in the mid 1990's known as the World Wide Web or WWW). Those materials provided the "textbooks of the 21st Century" for a new revolutionary type of school. The MIT label was like the Good Housekeeping seal, a sign in the 1950's - 1980's that housewives and househusbands had used to identify quality household products. The kids liked the MIT approach, as nearly all of them by the year 2002 were extremely computer literate (and video game literate). Choosing Turner Broadcasting as an educational venture partner was a natural outgrowth of this process, a process in which MIT decided to be at the world forefront of utilizing modern computer and telecommunications technologies to deliver its educational services. Turner Broadcasting in 2001 implemented widely an interactive video format for several of its networks and invited MIT to open such a network with them via fiber optic cable as channel 144 on the new 500 channel national system. As you know, the materials MIT has developed and sold under its imprimatur are netting $50 million per year for the endowment and scholarships. And the tuition income from federal payments for the vouchers is fed back to provide special educational services for minorities and disadvantaged to boost their scientific literacy."

Another hand: "Is it true that classroom 26-100 once had blackboards?"

Professor "Yes, once all that MIT had to assist professors in teaching was blackboards, an invention that had been around for more than 500 years. In fact, someone once said that the only difference between blackboards and cave drawings was the invention of the eraser. But with the refocusing of the Media Lab, CAES and the MIT faculty on using new technologies for education, the President of MIT announced a bold initiative in 1998: To have the core subjects in all freshmen and sophomore courses (with enrollments over 100) use multimedia and related technologies linked to the WDP (World Digital Pipeline) to assist in teaching. Chalk talk was eased out of the picture. And most large live lectures were replaced by the upgradable multimedia learning kits that you all know so well, used by most of you in small groups at times convenient to your schedules. That is why much of first year physics is now taught in virtual reality. That is why much of calculus also uses virtual reality, tied to physics with fancy accelerating cars, unbelievable roller coasters and - since this is MIT - with the proverbial water balloons falling past dorm windows. I know you all learned of F=ma using these tools. Now you'll never miss with a water balloon! As you know, 26-100 has been retro-fitted to be a mini IMAX theater, so that students can experience many of the physical things that they study. Our only complaint seems to be that some students get seasick!"

A hand pops up from the large color screen on the right wall: "Professor This is Sanjoy Patel from New Delhi. What were the factors that led to MIT/India?"

"I'm glad to hear from our graduating students in India. As you might know, there is a tremendous desire to obtain world class scientific/engineering education throughout the world. MIT had always been blessed with many more who want to obtain an MIT education than are able to get it in Cambridge, due to physical capacity constraints of our Cambridge campus. The 1996 committee made what was viewed at the time as an outrageous suggestion: To ban all further MIT investments in new "brick and mortar," and to focus all new capital investments in educational technologies and services. We've discussed some of these technologies here already. But in particular, the services committee of 1996 found that MIT was sorely lacking in distributional channels for its services and products. Telecommunications, especially interactive video via the WDP, became the real time distribution channel of choice. In multimedia, digital disks (known as CD-ROM's in the 1990's) were the off line channel of choice. Of course, our student body has grown 100 fold as a result. Not all have the same degree credentials as the 'usual MIT graduate,' but each has the capacity to contribute to the scientific and technological base of her home country, thereby helping to raise her country's standard of living in an increasingly complex technological world. Moreover, Turner/MIT-International has reached remote villages in underdeveloped parts of the world, bringing a new emerging scientific literacy to hundreds of thousands of K-12 kids in over 60 countries to date."

Another hand: "Professor Is it true that MIT invented the Learning Rainbow for hypertext documents?"

Yes, and that's a good one. When hypertext first appeared, there was only one color - usually blue - indicating the existence of a hypertext link. Also, sometimes purple was used to show those sites already visited. It may be hard for you to believe, but all links had the appearance of "being equal" due to the single color. When our students began using the WDP with digital disks more and more in the early part of this century, we found that they often got lost in the maze of information available to them. While we supported the open ended exploratory nature of the learning medium, we also wanted to be sure that a certain core of knowledge was to be acquired by each student. That is why the color red was introduced to certain links, meaning a link to other information in the core. It was easy for us to alter colors in stand-alone digital disks, but more of an accomplishment to do this for MIT students using the publicly available WDP. We had to invent color coding agents that would change the "blue" to the preferred color for MIT learners. Over time, we introduced green to denote a link to analogous information in a different field of inquiry, such a linking diffusion processes in semiconductors to those in fluids and even in queues! Or linear systems analysis of circuits to linear systems analysis of mechanical devices. And then came orange to denote links to historical background information. The concept that the links should have different colors and be student-dependent was a radical idea at the time, but now the "Learning Rainbow" has become an established mechanism for learners navigating the nearly infinite world of linked textual and multimedia information."

A final hand: "Professor My mother just graduated from the Sloan/EECS managerial transition program. Whose idea was that?"

"The 1996 committee found that the average MIT graduate had five different employers in her lifetime and nine different job assignments. The MIT-averaged figures were just about the same for EECS graduates by themselves. Interestingly, by the third job assignment, over 50% of EECS graduates were no longer doing what we might call technical engineering, but were evolving into management positions. Just as we had identified and started working with our extended "learners" in K-12, we decided that our learners were "learners for life." We certainly treated them that way when it came to alumni giving! So we decided to treat them that way in educational services.

With EECS, the Sloan School and with other Schools and departments, MIT opened the country's first EMO: Educational Maintenance Organization. Funded by annual remittances that are actuarially computed, an MIT graduate is welcome back either on the Cambridge campus or on MIT's virtual campus (via the WDP) up to five times (for six months each visit) during her career to become educated in those areas that she will now confront in the next phase of her career. The educational services of the EMO are set up to anticipate these changes as a natural evolution during one's career, and the program is structured so that each six month visit does not require any additional outlay of funds. The funds have already been collected and invested in an actuarially controlled accrual account for all members of the EMO. Employers are so enthusiastic about the program that many pay all or part of the annual EMO fee for their MIT-graduated employees as a tax-free fringe benefit under their benefits cafeteria plans."

All students: "Thank you, Professor!"

Back from the Future: The MIT EVAT Study

The MIT ad hoc Committee on Education Via Advanced Technologies (EVAT) was formed in the Fall of 1994 to investigate the potential for using advanced technologies such as the World Wide Web in MIT education. Both the authors of this paper served on this Committee, one as the Chair.

The Committee issued its final report on July 31, 1995. Unlike most reports, this one was not designed to be printed. Instead, it resides on the World Wide Web at the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) and can be easily read from anywhere in the world, using any standard Web browser. You can read the highlights of the report on paper, but to learn more you have to be connected to the net. Part of the report is included on this CD-ROM.

How We Got Started

During the Spring of 1994 we heard of a few independent ideas that MIT faculty had of using modern technology to deliver education in a more effective way. Jon Allen, of the MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, wanted a VLSI design textbook with imbedded, interactive simulation. Tony Patera, of the MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering, was investigating the use of hypermedia for the exposition and demonstration of fluid flow. Earlier, Tom Cormen, Charles Leiserson and Ron Rivest had overseen the development of a hypercard-based set of animations to accompany their textbook Introduction to Algorithms (as a byproduct of this work, the book itself was converted to hypertext form and appears on the same CD-ROM). Thinking that there might be a benefit if all these people could exchange ideas, we organized a one-day, off-site workshop on the topic. We discovered still other activity at MIT, including the use of hypermedia to express critical reviews of Shakespeare plays in the MIT Literature Section.

About 25 faculty attended the workshop on September 19, 1994. Joel Moses, then the Dean of Engineering, and now Provost, was there all day along with John Vander Sande, the Associate Dean. Joel later reported on the workshop at the highest administrative levels of MIT. Charles M. Vest, President of MIT, deciding that the idea was important enough to warrant a closer look, set up an ad hoc committee, with representation from all five academic Schools at MIT (Architecture and Planning, Engineering, Humanities and Social Science, Management, and Science). Membership included the Chair of the MIT Faculty (Robert L. Jaffe), a Dean (William J. Mitchell) a Department Head (Paul Penfield), and a Section Head (Peter S. Donaldson). Other members were MacVicar Faculty Fellow Harold Abelson, Director of Academic Computing Gregory A. Jackson, Operations Research Center Co-Director Richard C. Larson, and Professors Chris F. Kemerer and Anthony T. Patera.

The first action of the Committee was to select a name for itself: the Committee on Education Via Advanced Technologies, or EVAT. Many people have suggested that they could have chosen a better name. No doubt.

What We Looked At

Advances in electronics technology have given us faster, more powerful computers with more memory and more disk space, in smaller packages. Advances of this sort, however important, were not what interested the Committee. Instead, we looked at technologies that improved communications, connectivity, or flexibility. The principal example today is the World Wide Web, but the Committee recognized that it will not be long before the Web is "old" technology, and something better takes its place.

Accessing the Report

The report was made available in three forms. The master copy is on the World Wide Web, at the URL The report was also made available on diskettes for either Macintosh or Windows computers, whether or not connected to the Internet (internal hyperlinks work fine, but external links, to other sites on the Web, work only if the client computer is connected to the Internet). A printed copy was also provided for the MIT community, but it had the disadvantage that neither the internal or external links worked (even so, printed copies are more convenient in some ways). Part of the report is included on this CD-ROM.

Below we discuss highlights of various sections of the report.

The World Wide Web

The features that make the Web (and related technologies) interesting for educational purposes include that it is pervasive, fast, convenient, versatile, popular, and interactive. Of these features, interactivity, although not well understood at this time, is probably of the greatest importance for educational applications.

The Internet today is used for many purposes, and the Web is one of them. Usage of the Web has grown dramatically. There seem to be two major types of non educational uses of the Web. One is a form of public relations: an organization publishes Web pages to tell its story to the public. The other is for more directed communications: to suppliers, customers, partners, and (especially) to internal members of the organization. Educational uses of the Web are much more limited at present, and seem to fall into three categories: interaction, e.g., for simulation of various kinds of systems; delivery of intellectual resources to students; and delivery of administrative information (handouts, problem sets, solutions, etc.)

There is much talk about distance education being enabled by the Web and other advanced technologies. The Committee was divided in its opinion about the effectiveness of distance education today. For those readers interested in sampling the Web's current educational offerings, we suggest visiting two universities:

Mind Extension University
Open University of the United Kingdom
For more general information on distance learning and the Web, see:
World Lecture Hall
Distance Education World Wide Web Sites
Distance Learning on the Net [by Glenn Hoyle]
American Association for Higher Education
MIT Center for Advanced Educational Services
MIT Council on Educational Technology

Our Own University

The Committee was especially concerned with MIT (this was, after all, an internal study) and its potential uses of these technologies.

The many things that make a university like MIT special and exciting do not necessarily confer any advantage in dealing with advanced technologies. Indeed, the Web and other technologies are known to all universities. Students at all universities will be familiar with these technologies. Authoring tools will be widely available. All universities will have extensive facilities, including computer networks

One can imagine many possible futures for MIT, depending on the extent to which MIT is able to use advanced technologies to support and extend its educational mission. The Committee believes it likely that the computing environment will evolve, either rapidly or slowly, toward one in which almost all students own computers, and the university supplies the network and the necessary infrastructure, including print servers, Web servers, data storage, e-mail service, and specialized computers and other equipment.

At the same time, the advanced technologies of concern to the Committee will be evolving. One way of describing these changes is to note that each advance in technology has the effect of making more convenient a student's access to the vast and growing reservoir of information on the Internet. Also, the information available is becoming more reliable and broader in scope. Probably within a few years half of all MIT courses will make significant use of Web-based resources, and a few courses will be radically changed in the process. The Committee views with favor use of advanced technologies to permit students to access intellectual resources of all sorts.

It is tempting to think of using the advanced technologies to export MIT education beyond the campus. We identified three possible new markets: newly admitted students before they arrive on campus; our own students temporarily off campus; and our alumni/ae. However, there are reasons why MIT may not be as effective as other higher educational institutions in reaching students besides those with an affiliation already established.

Of all the possible futures for MIT, the most disturbing is the one in which others find out how to offer distance education using advanced technologies, and MIT either does not learn how, or elects not to offer it. The economic strength of MIT could be seriously undercut as a result.

EVAT Recommendations

The Committee recommended that some short-range actions be taken to insure that all participants in the educational mission have convenient access to the World Wide Web, and opportunity to use it as a routine part of daily life. It is also recommended that a regular faculty committee be charged with oversight of academic computing, interpreted so as to include these advanced technologies.

The Committee recommended several medium-range actions. It called for a high-level Institute-wide competition for support of technology-related curriculum development. It suggested a specific set of initiatives in distance education, designed to gain experience. It advocated a program of electronic connectivity for alumni/ae. It also recommended procedures by which all MIT courses make at least administrative use of the Web, and it advocated development of a variety of administrative uses of the Web.

Finally, the Committee recommended that long-range studies be made of the opportunities and risks associated with new educational markets, as enabled by advanced technologies. The most plausible such new markets are our own alumni/ae and bright high-school seniors.


It is too early for the Committee's recommendations to have been implemented. Some of the physical infrastructure necessary for pervasive access to the Web has been extended, and there is fairly general agreement that before long every desk at the university should have a nearby ethernet drop. There is increasing interest in the Web as its presence is felt throughout society. Finally, there is increased use of the Web for delivery of administrative material for classes. However, changes always occur slowly, and as yet the faculty oversight committee has not been named.

On the other hand, as the report was being completed, one of the strong supporters of the Committee, Joel Moses, was promoted from Dean of Engineering to Provost. One of his first acts in his new position was to establish a new center on campus to coordinate and promote EVAT activities. This center, known as the Center for Advanced Educational Services, is described in the next section of this paper.

The MIT Center for Advanced Educational Services

On September 1, 1995 a new MIT-wide facility was born, the Center for Advanced Educational Services, or "CAES." The new Center builds from the "old" CAES, Center for Advanced Engineering Study, that operated successfully within MIT's School of Engineering since 1963. The new CAES is an Institute-wide facility, serving all five schools, and providing more services and opportunities for the entire MIT community. In the 21st Century MIT must assume a broader leadership role in education, both nationally and internationally. This is the key premise supporting the creation of the new CAES. Putting into operation this goal requires increased utilization of advanced technologies to distribute MIT's educational offerings -- both current and future -- beyond the Cambridge campus. CAES hopes to build from related efforts at MIT, including the EVAT Committee's recommendations, hypermedia activities within the Mechanical Engineering Department, collaborative distance design efforts in the School of Architecture and Planning, multimedia educational initiatives in the School of Humanities, a new distance learning initiative cosponsored by the School of Engineering and the Sloan School of Management, as well as the long history of video educational services provided by the "old" CAES.

CAES Mission

The mission of the Center for Advanced Educational Services is to create and distribute educational products and services, especially beyond MIT's Cambridge campus. The off campus offerings will leverage the growing capabilities of computer and telecommunication technologies, including interactive multimedia, the Internet, the World Wide Web (WWW), interactive TV, as well as more mature delivery mechanisms such as videotapes and books. The Center will also offer short term (non-degree) programs having both on-campus and off-campus components. These programs will build from the 30+ year old Advanced Study Program (ASP) of CAES and from MIT's Professional Summer Session Program, now part of CAES.

As part of its mission to facilitate the use of the new technologies for educational purposes, CAES includes an applied "research arm," the Center for Educational Computing Initiatives (CECI). Directed by Professor Steven Lerman (the "father" of MIT's Project Athena), the goal of CECI is to carry out research linking the emerging technologies to education, facilitating both the creation and the distribution of educational products and services. The research is focused both on the technologies per se and on the effectiveness of alternative educational uses of the technologies. CECI's research is intended directly to assist CAES in creating new educational products and services. In conjunction with its research aims, CECI will advise industry and industrial consortia on its findings and recommendations regarding the new technologies in education. This advice may include recommendations related to standards or protocols in creation and transmission of multimedia program content over various delivery mechanisms. CAES also includes the Laboratory for Advanced Technologies in the Humanities (LATH), directed by Dr. Janet Murray. This laboratory, working in close cooperation with MIT's "Project Shakespeare" (headed by Professor Peter Donaldson), undertakes applied research leading to new multimedia products and services in the humanities.

CAES plans to assist in the creation of Institute-wide policies, procedures and operations related to MIT's "virtual campus," i.e., MIT's implementation of "distance learning" offerings. Policy/procedure topics to be addressed include electronic cross registration of subjects, distance degree programs, policies regarding public as well as tuition-based distribution of MIT subjects, and guidelines for the presence of on-scene teaching support. The associated operational topics are complex, involving virtually all MIT schools and several MIT support functions.

The educational offerings created by CAES will build upon MIT's leadership in science and engineering, management, economics, humanities, and architecture and planning. The potential audiences for CAES products and services are broadly distributed, by age, geographical location and educational interest. Examples include engineers currently working in industry who require additional technical knowledge; high school seniors in the inner city who may wish to study physics using MIT's new virtual campus; preschoolers being offered "early science" projects collaboratively with their parents; government personnel in emerging countries learning about clean water distribution; students of literature using an indexed database of Shakespearean plays on film to create a multimedia "term paper."

Change CAES "Technology Mix"

The "old" CAES has a long and industry-respected tradition in producing videotape courses. These courses range from short demonstrations of scientific measurements and experiments to multi-semester, complete programs in calculus, systems analysis, digital signal processing, and even such management courses as "Total Quality Management," the "Complete Deming," and the "Eight Pillars of Profit."

Videotapes remain one of the most utilized technologies for delivering multimedia educational products at industrial and home locations. However, more rapidly growing technologies include CD-ROM multimedia offerings -- now available for use with most desk-top computers -- and the Internet and its World Wide Web. Also emerging are video teleconferencing and digitized "video on demand." To capitalize on the emerging technologies, CAES will shift its mix of technologies to become more inclusive and less reliant solely on videotape. Particularly exciting will be educational products and services that utilize a combination of technological ingredients, including videotape, video teleconferencing, the WWW, CD-ROMS, etc. Determining the "optimal combination of ingredients" -- by educational market segment and content category -- will be an active research topic.

Establishing the Virtual Campus

The exponentially growing presence of networked multimedia delivery mechanisms is creating fundamental changes in business practice. The "virtual company" and the "virtual office" are current buzz words describing some of the new changes. We are beginning to see analogous changes in the practice of education, including higher education, K-12 and other venues. (See the references at the end of the paper for a representative sampling of current activities in distance learning.)

Institutionally, change is not coming that rapidly. The uniquely valuable experience of an on-campus education is not likely to be replaced by technology any time soon, if ever. As many faculty have pointed out, the total experience of a campus-based education includes a complex and only partially understood combination of formal knowledge acquisition together with acculturation and socialization. The act of "growing up" within a world class educational and research environment is something that technology enthusiasts can only hope to replicate partially in the years ahead.

But the world does not offer only a binary choice: either totally on campus or totally off in a virtual campus. There exists a full spectrum of possibilities between the two extremes. With our current CAES offerings and MIT's other technology-leveraged activities (e.g., on the WWW), MIT is operating between the two extreme points. The strategic policy question is this: What is the optimal combination of on-campus and off-campus offerings? Once that is settled, either by explicit policy decision or -- more likely -- by the collective outcomes of decisions by many different parts of the Institute, there are operational concerns that have to be addressed. These include policies and procedures for electronic cross registration of subjects, off-campus credit for subjects, the granting of degrees to off-campus students, protection of intellectual property rights, the need for on-site support staff, etc. The totality of these issues is immense; the issues are complex and are bound to provide fertile ground for informed and impassioned faculty debate.

The creation of a strong distance learning capability at MIT also requires enormous coordinated investment in supporting infrastructure, both physical and intellectual. The physical infrastructure includes compatible "electronic classrooms' equipped with video-conferencing, television, computer and multimedia technologies suitable for recording and perhaps transmitting the class off campus. We all will be having to address issues of future investments: investments in "brick and mortar" vs. investments in advanced technologies that could greatly leverage and multiply what we do on campus to points throughout the world. Intellectual infrastructure in support of distance learning focuses primarily on the MIT faculty. The building of this infrastructure involves myriad issues, some only partially understood at this time. It ranges from operational issues such as presentation styles and skills to the creation of alternative teaching/learning paradigms within a distance learning environment. First and foremost, the faculty must decide their level of enthusiastic participation in the new distance learning initiatives. CAES offers workshops in distance teaching skills to inform the faculty about teaching in this new domain.

In order for MIT to become involved in a major way in distance learning, the faculty must become enthusiastically committed. Some are already involved, teaching courses jointly in the classroom and over the World Wide Web, or creating their next "text" via CD-ROM technology, or delivering their next visiting lecture via videoconferencing. Others are still resistant to EMail! (With its volume and junk mail content, we are sympathetic with that feeling!) We have a wide spectrum of faculty opinion, promising active and vital discussions of what could be a major paradigm shift for MIT over the next decade.

Distance learning is not new. By definition, distance learning is learning that does not require the learner and teacher to be at the same place at the same time. Thus distance learning has been institutionalized at least since Guttenberg invented the printing press! But now many colleges and universities, as well as other nontraditional educational providers (e.g., publishers, television networks and large firms), are exploring distance learning. But the majority of current offerings use mature technology (usually television, live or taped, plus printed materials) and deliver via an "open loop pipe" regular campus-based "chalk talk" lectures. A growing minority of offerings go against this convention, for instance using two way videoconferencing, the Internet or some other technology. But the great preponderance of the present "distance learning marketplace" televises routine campus-based lectures to learners off campus. There is evidence to suggest that (1) the regular lecture component of a course is not the most educational part; (2) televised chalk talk lectures do not take advantage of new ways of delivering and interacting with multimedia educational content; and (3) students (and faculty) benefit from interactions, both among themselves and with the course material. We are designing an applied research and development program that attempts to recognize these issues by asking the following question: "For a given academic subject content and set of (distant) learners, what is the best combination of delivery/collaboration technologies and teaching paradigms to reach and educate those learners?"

By focusing here on off campus educational initiatives, we want to make clear that we are not equating the off-campus and on-campus educational experiences. They will be quite different. For some students (e.g., K-12, or professionals working far from a physical campus) the on-campus alternative will not be feasible. For traditional undergraduates, one can argue that there is no substitute for the present campus-based experience. For continuing education of alumni, perhaps there is no alternative other than distance learning. For the foreseeable future, it is likely that the on-campus alternative will be the dominant choice for undergraduates. However, trends are in place that are leading many if not most institutions of higher learning to offer educational experiences via distance learning. We just need to find out how to do it!


It is very likely that advanced technologies will change many aspects of higher education. Other aspects will certainly not be changed much. In many ways universities will be vastly different enterprises, yet in some important ways they will remain the same. The problem is that we still do not know which features that are currently considered essential will remain essential in the future, and which will not.

Different universities are approaching the challenge of incorporating advanced technologies into their educational mission in different ways. We hope that others will incorporate ideas from our efforts into their activities at their universities. Certainly we are trying to do the corresponding thing. We hope that sometime in the future we will be able look with pride at programs at other institutions and recognize aspects that we first saw at our own university.

Some Additional Readings in Distance Learning

1. Atkinson, Pamela H., "Distance Education in Institutions of Higher Education in the United States," College of Engineering, University of California at Berkeley, October 1995. (complete text available on the WWW; see "Accountability Study" at

2. Moskowitz, Robert, "Wired U.," Internet World, October 1995, pp. 60-61.

3. Richardson, Eric. C., "Internet Cum Laude," Internet World, October 1995, pp. 38-41.

4. Schwartz, Rachel A., "The Virtual University," ASEE Prism, December 1995, pp.22-26.

5. Ubois, Jeff, "The Great Facilitator," Internet World, October 1995, pp. 62-68.