Powerful forces lie behind the current drive to reengineer
higher education. Although economic factors are central, a digital
revolution that is changing the way we think about the world is
playing a significant part in the many initiatives underway. Successful
transition from the present instructional model to a learner-centered
model will require large-scale development of new learning materials
and tools. This article paints a brief portrait of trends, production
models, and new learning tools and environments.
Higher education is in crisis. Over the past 30 years, the nationís
leading universities have dropped many of their course requirements
and adjusted standards to accomodate students who are less well
prepared for academic life than ever before. Students bring
to universities different value systems and work ethics from
those of their parents.
To complicate the picture, what we are seeing today, and will
continue to see in the next several years, is a downsizing of
higher education. We can expect the number of Ph.D. programs to
shrink and some undergraduate departments to vanish. All of this
is happening at a time when there is an increased demand for higher
education. The capacity to respond to these challenges
is severely constrained by dwindling resources, the high costs
of a university education, a growing student population,1
and, some claim, by outdated institutional and public policies
(Vision Statement and Goals for a Virtual University, 1996).
During this same thirty year period tuitions, on the average,
have risen by between three and four percent above the average
rate of rise of middle-class family incomes. These disparities
have not been lost on parents who harbor a growing suspicion that
the institutions to which they have sent their children are more
interested in research than they are in teaching. Universities
have lost the trust and respect of the American tax payer; something
they have enjoyed since the Second World War (Bromley, 1996; NAC,
Unable to visualize a promising future by continuing current
policies which will deny hundreds of thousands of citizens the
opportunity to attend college, the governors of 11 U.S. Western
states have proposed the creation of a new university, the Virtual
Regional University. The solution is technologyóthe availability
and capability of information technologies offer a powerful means
to address these issues and, at the same time, offer the opportunity
to create state-of-the-art educational and assessment services.
Through the Virtual Regional University, the governors, members
of the Western Governors Association, propose to make higher education
more accessible and affordable to students by curbing further
expansion of individual colleges and universities in their home
states. The Virtual Regional University would have no campus and
no faculty of its own. Degrees and certificates would be awarded
to students who have taken courses at participating colleges and
universities, or who have acquired knowledge or skills from unconventional
sources, such as educational software (Blumenstyk, 1996).
The governing body of the Virtual Regional University, trustees
appointed by each governor, would determine administrative policy,
manage assets, and provide quality control. Franchises created
by the states would be located in public schools, libraries, and
businesses, thus providing places for students to meet, participate
in distance-learning education, use educational materials, and
be tested. Participating accredited institutions would be responsible
for certifying that students had achieved established goals, that
their degrees would meet the satisfaction of both employers and
The Virtual Regional University would direct students to other
colleges and businesses, and to course-material producers. ìOne
thing that would help to bind this new institution together, planners
say, is a ìvirtual catalogue,î designed to ìinterviewî
prospective students about their location, the kind of technology
available to them, and their choice of education in ìreal
timeî or on their own scheduleî (Blumenstyk, G., 1996,
p. A31). With this and other information, it would be possible
to assess studentsí academic interests or skills needed
to advance careers and match them with courses or training modules.
The Western Governorís Association is expected to outline
in greater detail just how the many aspects of the Virtual Regional
University would function. In the meantime, they have been able
to raise money from such external sources as International
Thomson Publishing and from a subsidiary of Simon & Schuster,
implying that the production of learning materials will also be
an important activity.
While there remain some important unsolved issues in the Virtual
Regional Universityís workplan, the underlying criteriaódemonstrated
competence, market oriented, client centered2óare
interesting ideas. They represent an attempt to tackle issues
at their roots in order to produce new paradigms of education,
and therefore reengineer academic education. Shifting the focus
of education to the actual competence of students and away from
ìseat timeî and standard evaluative measures raises
the question of the role of assessment and how evaluation procedures
may be advanced. The Virtual Regional University hopes to ìdemonstrate
new approaches to teaching and assessment that can be adopted
by more traditional colleges and universities (Vision Statement
and Goals, 1995).î
Taking the governorsí idea of more closely aligning their new Virtual Regional University with the needs of a transforming economy and society as an underlying theme, this paper begins with a discussion of the current development of potentially useful ìin-houseíí courseware (A New Era of Software Development). Next it focuses attention on developing learning materials for delivery over networks and collaborating with others on the Internet (Web of Human Knowledge and Assistance). It continues with the exposition of a philosophy of learning and applications that support that type of learning (A Philosophy of Learning) and follows with research on learning (New Tools for Learning). It concludes with a vision for the future (A Look into the Future).
In the early 1980s, it was still possible for faculty members
to design, develop, program, and even publish educational software
packages alone or with minimal assistance. Computer-Assisted Instruction
(CAI) courses were largely text-based and contained few graphics
and little animation due to the limited power of the computer.
Today, software authorship has become a team endeavor in both
the educational and commercial sectors. It took 60 people at
D.C. Heath and Company, a publishing house with many specialized
talents, to produce a CD-ROM calculus course containing graphics,
animation, and QuickTime movies. To create something similar,
faculty would need access to TV footage and actors, sets, scripts,
directors, and graphic artists. They also would need specialized
equipment, such as an editing suite, and technical help to integrate
sound, graphics, and special effects. Thus, evolution of hypermedia
pretty much spells farewell to the sole developer, who
was once able to do it all from his/her study3 (Owen,
Although some cutting-edge software was created using the team
approach in the early ë80s, few products were adopted outside
the campuses where they were developed. Costs, platform specific
software, and reticence, indeed, resistance on the part of departments
toward educational computing, were some of the reasons given for
failure either to adopt a product or to adapt it to the needs
of most institutions. Development costs were rarely recovered
either by universities or by commercial companies, creating a
dry period between 1986 and 1994, after many developers realized
that their courseware was being used as an enhancement rather
than an integral part of a course, (Drury, 1996) and that their
best efforts were not scaleable to a much larger population.
But something happened between 1994 and 1995. More faculty were
integrating computing into their courses than ever before, although
on a very basic level. They began using e-mail to communicate
with students, bulletin boards for discussion groups, and the
Internet to post course assignments and resource lists. The powerful
communication and resource features of the Internet started to
stir renewed interest in what, where, and how students would learn
in the years ahead as no other technology has been able to do.
The single biggest use of networks by faculty continues to be
human com-munication, particularly e-mail. It has increased the
connections between faculty and students about the subject matter
of a course and between students. Being able to answer students
questions quickly through e-mail enriches the quality of the faculty-student
interaction. Timely questions, like these, are rarely brought
to office hours, for they are soon forgotten when students go
on to other concerns.
Other types of communication applicationsócomputer conferencing
and bulletin boardsóare being explored with the idea of
improving the quality of the undergraduate experience. Using the
communication features of networks, for example, the University
of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) has set up a ìkind
of bulletin boardî so that students at their institution
could meet others within the same discipline and share academic
interests. Students are usually brought together by sharing a
dormitory, a common race, a sport, but not often enough by focusing
on some academic experience. This project at UCLA, the Virtual
Learning Project, is an attempt to reshape the learning environment
by breaking up large classes of 300 into smaller groups whose
members meet independently through information technology (Wilson,
1996, May 17). The success of the project is yet to be reported.
In the networld, students engage in group learning projects,
share ideas and resources, access information on any subject,
and interact with peers and experts from around the world. A sharing
of interests and concerns by connecting with others through the
Web is rapidly changing the way we learn. Students of all
ages are finding that a surprising range of people, from Nobel
Prize winners and business executives to hobbyists seem to have
time to answer their questions. This willingness to be of assistance
is found on many different levels. For example, many high schools
and universities are using volunteers to help students with their
homework or to serve as mentors over the Internet.
The number of potential volunteers is extraordinary. Imagine,
there are 30 million members of the American Association of Retired
Persons, a currently untapped, ready-made teaching force, many
with the time and knowledge to assist. ìMaking just that
enormous body of knowledge and wisdom accessible to young minds
could close the generation gap with a few keystrokes,î says
Nicholas Negroponte (1995, p. 203), founder of the Media Lab at
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Networlds offer a new place for people to meet, form new friendships,
and communicate on issues important to them. Networlds promise
new forms of social discourse and communities, altering the way
we perceive and communicate.
In increasing numbers, faculty are coming to academic computing
centers looking for help with the construction of Web pages. They
have used their sites to post course syllabi and assignments,
giving prospective students a chance to look a syllabus over before
even registering for a course. Current information, lecture outlines,
exams from previous semesters are also posted with links directing
students to additional resources.
In astronomy, for example, some Web sites are updated weekly
with current events to be seen in the sky or with press releases
from ongoing research. By pointing to these, the students can
browse exciting new material even before it may become known to
their professors, says Larry Molnar, a University of Iowa professor.
He routinely downloads images from the Web for his astronomy class
and inserts them into his next dayís lecture. Molnar collects
these images in an ìElectronic Slide Catalogî and
uses Netscape to view them. (See http://www-astro.physics.uiowa.edu:80/~lam/lectures/)
There are many interesting examples of instructional applications
on the Web. Some are complete courses; others represent a first
step in electronic publishing and serve general information purposes
for students who are taking the course. At the moment, course
development is somewhat hindered by lack of tools. The Web was
designed to be simple and limited in its initial implementation,
with the idea that it would evolve as new features were added.
As new tools become available, the design of courses will take
on a new level of sophistication.
Linking With Caution
The hypertext links on the Web that we create and the cross-referencing
technique invented by scribes and scholars, who copied out of
the Bible over a thousand years ago, give rise to the idea that
everything in the world is connected. Medieval manuscripts contained
links directing the reader to cross-references from one biblical
passage to another, sometimes written a hundred years after the
first. Where these two systems depart is in what the connections
Reading a manuscript of the Book of Exodus, for example, one
would find a note in the margin that would lead to another manuscript
which would give new meaning to the verse from Exodus. Hyperlinks,
on the other hand, connecting pages of the Internet ìsuggest
a world where connections are everywhere but are mostly [sometimes]
meaningless, transient, fragile and unstable (Mendelson, 1996,
p. 35).î 4 Connecting your home page,
which acts as a table of contents for all the pages linked to
it, to someone elseís home page isnít always straightforward.
There are no assurance that the other personís page will
display the same content from one day to the next or that suddenly
a password or a cost may inhibit you from further viewing, not
to speak of what happens to a site when the owner retires.
But the greatest difference between the cross-references in the
Bible and the links on the World Wide Web is the difference between
words written on parchment or paper in books that were meant
to last forever and words written on the transient phosphorescence
of a computer screen, where they will soon be effaced by others.
(Mendelson, 1996. p. 35)
A further word of caution. Anyone with Internet access can create
content. Thereís a wide gulf between data and information.
Clifford Stoll (1996), an astrophysicist, writes that ìthe
former lacks organization, content, context, timeliness and accuracy.
The Internet delivers plenty of data and precious little information.
Lacking critical thinking, kids are on-screen innocents who confuse
form with content, sense with sensibility, ponderous words with
weighty thoughts (p. E15 ).î As with television programming
and ads, children need to become aware of the validity of the
source and the meaning of the message.
Will the Right Tools Make Us Developers?
Right now, designing instructional-interactive Web pages is time
consuming. Creating layouts with Hypertext Markup Language (HTML)
editors and producing high-resolution graphics and animation is
a labor-intensive process. All of these factors may soon change.
Pagemill and Blackbird 5 were two early publishing
tools that allowed faculty to create and maintain applications
without extensive knowledge of HTML. Whereas these packages eased
some of the difficulties involved, they lacked desired features
that would advance instruction over the Internet. Companies are
assiduously trying to fill this gap. The Houghton Mifflin Company,
for example, is in the process of developing a new Internet template.
Intended for secondary school teachers and higher education faculty,
it will make it easier for authors by building in features that
are part of the instructional process and allow them to integrate
other software packages into the development of their Web pages.
A strong competitor, Microsoft plans to make more tools available
to users. It has begun to absorb into Windows various Internet
capabilities, for example, the companyís Explorer browser
for the WWW and Front Page, a set of tools for creating Web Pages.
(This will be in direct competition with Adobe Systems Inc., producers
of Pagemill, the Web-page designing software mentioned above.)
Microsoft is also planning to include security and privacy
specifications in future versions of Windows.6 In addition,
they are setting specifications for virtual reality systems and
are trying to reposition Active VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling
Language) as a technology for viewing multimedia images
on the Webóan approach, suggests Markoff (1996), that would
compete head-on with an increasingly popular technology called
Shockwave from Macromedia Inc., a leader in software tools used
by multimedia developers.
Java allows users to ìpull down special programs for playing sound or video at the same time they are downloading the contents of a Web page (Wilson, 1995).î It is a powerful tool for building transportable multimedia applications and providing security and networking capabilities. Sophisticated applications such as spread sheets, as well as animated Web pages, can be written with Java. When running a Java ìappletî on a Web
browser, the applet is referenced in an HTML file; the browser
then loads the program separately and runs it. Java applets can
deliver real-time updates from any data base, for example, stock
quotes or sports scores (Leland, 1996). A future release of Java
will support real-time and continuous audio streams, sound management,
http://www.ora.com/info/java, http://www.gamelan.com, and http://www.ktx.com).
If the Web does not afford the kind of interactivity that you
want without programming, there are other ways to provide it.
One might consider, for example, using an instructional product
like The Electronic Trainer, an authoring system for developing
instruction-centered, interactive multimedia materialsóand
running courseware on a local server with links from the Internet
to the server. The Electronic Trainer was developed by the
ID2 Group under David Merrill at Utah State University and requires
no knowledge of programming. (See http://www.coe.usu.edu/it/id2/
for further details.)
However, whatever product is used, the development process still
remains labor intensive, and the questions raised by this activity
In the next few years, it is likely that most faculty in their
home institution will be engaged in a more rudimentary sense,
namely, creating presentation materials, identifying suitable
Internet materials, sharing instructional materials with other
institutions, and downloading 3-D graphics and such from the Internet
for their classes. We may not see a critical mass of sophisticated
faculty developers until the Nintendo generation enters our colleges
and universities as faculty members around the year 2015. The
majority of this generation, however, may simply be better users
of information technologies, leaving the development of electronic
courses to national centers of excellence or commercial developers
A Role for the Educational Brokerage?
What will happen if universities are unable to align themselves
rapidly enough with the needs of a changing economy and society?
Educational brokerage already exists to some extent on the Internet
and has a head start in that much of what it does or proposes
to do is administrative. Its clients will be students, educational
institutions, companies, and non-profit organizations. The ìjust-in-time,
on demand approachî to education offered by virtual universities,
for example, may come through such intermediaries as education
In the model proposed by Hämälainen et al. (1996),
the broker begins with an analysis of market research to determine
market trends for certain courses and training modules. With that
information, the broker matches the customer needs with appropriate
subject areas and approaches to learning, customizing combinations
of course elements. To do this effectively, brokers have to establish
standards and procedures that meet certification requirements.
They must contract with suppliers of educational materials to
ensure that standards developed are followed, and they must stay
abreast of new developments in various subject areas. The educational
broker can also provide accreditation and assessments services,
access to course materials and to digital libraries. The process
and technical logistics issues described are similar to those
being debated by the governors for the Virtual Regional University.
In short, a broker can customize educational products, provide
study tools to assist in the learning process, supply applications
for collaborative work and communication between students and
between students and instructors, and provide tools for self-evaluation,
feedback, and instructor assessment. The convergence of computing,
communication, document technologies, and networking will transform
education to meet the need for customized, on-demand learning,
and the educational broker stands to gain significant inroads
into the audience for lifelong learning, just-in-time education
on the job, and undergraduate education where the delivery of
distributed education is more practical (Hämälainen,
Whinston, & Vishik, 1996).
A prototype of the educational brokerage has already been implemented.
An international coalition, called Project CODE (Collaborative
Distance Education) recently applied its proposed educational
brokerage model to an Internet-based production and learning environment.
The electronic course broker, WebCourser, is currently being refined
at the Espoo-Vantaa Institute of Technology in Finland. The projectís
goal is to create customized courses matching the needs and profile
information of its students and customers.
Springing up in gold-rush fashion, as if to fend off the educational
brokerage, are numerous consortia of regional colleges and universities,
harbingers of the future, with plans to share and develop courses,
and accept credits with members of their alliances. The primary
motivation for establishing a consortium is economic, say college
officials. Producing courses for television broadcast or for transmission
over the Internet is an expensive business. Educational institutions
are looking for collaborators to share the costs. Where collaboration
may be immediately successful is in sharing courses with other
institutions in disciplines not currently represented or where
budget constraints have led to the elimination of a department.
One of the concerns about sinking huge amounts of money into course
development is the competition that might soon come from for-profit
organizations such as the Microsoft Corporation or from educational
The Alliance of Remote Instructional Authoring and Delivery Networks
for Europe (ARIADNE) is another example of collaborative partnerships
on a slightly larger scale. It is part of the European Commission
Telematics for Education and Training program and aims at the
development of tools and methodologies for producing, managing,
and reusing shared knowledge pools of course materials. (See http://ariadne.unil.ch/main.htm)
Today, ìjust-in-time, on-demand learningî in the
workplace is becoming one of the fastest growing research fields.7
Companies and educational brokerages are looking for ways to provide
just-in-time rather than in-advance learning in areas that are
continually changing. Early examples of just-in-time learning
were developed for army maintenance men who had to repair tanks
but were unable to carry a huge manual into the field when troubleshooting.
They wore video monitors attached to their helmets with connections
to a computer located somewhere else. With wireless voice communications
back to base, they described what they were viewing; a picture
of the trouble spot was then projected onto their video monitor
with a list of potential problems to be checked. Today, we are
looking at maintenance personnel who will wear the computer on
their bodies while they inspect a building or an airplane (Finger
et al., 1996). It can take the form of an expert system and be
connected via wireless communications to a constantly updated
information base. This type of research raises many questions
about what it is that we will have to know in order to be hired
for a job, as well as the future value of some certificate and
Collaborative Professional Growth
The rapid expansion of networks has outpaced the capability of
Americaís teachers to make use of its educational potential.
The cost of wide-scale training and professional development particularly
for K-12 teachers is prohibitive. Teachers need hands-on experience,
follow-up support, and relevant material that can be used in their
classes tomorrow. These ideas became the cornerstone of the Online
Internet Institute (OII). The OII is a repository of curricular
prototypes for use by K-12 teachers and an emerging paradigm for
ongoing collaborative professional growth. Created by classroom
educators and supported by proponents of educational reform, the
OII demonstrates the networkís power to help change the
way people teach and learn, from teacher-centered classrooms to
student-centered collaborative experiences. (See http://www.oii.org/contents.toc.html)
The OII is an expanding virtual community of practitioners and
others who care about reinventing teaching and learning, by reflecting
on teaching practices, supporting peers, and fostering a knowledge-building
learning environment. Participating teachers form investigative
groups based on interests and search the Internet for information.
Information is checked for completeness, accuracy, and timeliness.
In the process participants are introduced to a variety of Internet
tools and resources and become seasoned collaborators, identifying
well-organized sites and sharing their discoveries. They then
replicate their experience at the appropriate grade level for
use with their students. Each participating teacherís project
is published electronically, inviting commentary from other teachers,
and contributing to a data base of important curricular prototypes
available for adaptation by their colleagues (Murray, 1995).
What is exciting about OII is that it was started by two individuals,
Ferdi Serim and Bonnie Bracey. Now it is in every state, and soon
it will be in every community in America. It is by definition,
an act of shared creation and of shared discovery. It represents
a new model for professional development and for the production
of significant learning materials.
Mixed TechnologiesóBringing the World to You
In 1990 I wrote a paper suggesting
that students who entered universities would soon be given a personalized
CD-ROM, containing their entire curriculum with books, reference
literature, tutorials, and examsóeverything they would
need for the degree program. Of course, I blatantly ignored copyright
laws. (With the expanding Web, intellectual property will likely
lose a lot of its market value making more material available
for educational purposes.) Since then, however, the capacity of
CD-ROMs has increased 10 times and with the use of voice compression
technology may hold over 100 hours of instruction, opening up
even more possibilities.
The creation and marketing of CD-ROMs is being targeted to the
home. Enthusiasm for educational technology has reached new heights
because of growing use in the home. Parents engaged in home schooling
are constantly searching for quality instructional materials;
many already act as evaluators of educational CD-ROMs, making
their findings available to other parents on the Internet. Direct
on-line sales over the Internet will increase the market, helping
bring the price of such educational programs well below the current
price of CD-ROMs in media stores. Without the cost of packaging,
marketing, and retailing, educational CD-ROMs could sell for less
than $5. Dramatically reduced costs and the fact that personal
computers are now shipped with CD-ROM drives as standard equipment
will greatly expand the home market for instructional programs.
In 1997 many systems will include a CD recordable (CD-R) drive
letting users print their own discs. (Gateway 2000ís P5-200CDR
system is already on the market.) With a CD-R drive the user can
back up files, run presentations, or download programs directly
from the Internet. One could, for example, listen to various pieces
of music on the Internet and download only those cuts that are
desired. The result would be to create a personal ìLP record/musicî
CD with just your favorite musical groups, artists, or compositions.
In the near future, it will also be possible to download onto
a CD-R complete courses or specific modules for ìjust-in-time
learning,î for continuing education, and for teaching.
What will keep universities in business will be the creation
of effective learning environments. As the number of students
grew in universities, we adopted a business model that emphasized
a product rather than the process of education. We lost sight
of the many great teachers and researchers who have shown value
in having students participate in ìauthentic tasksî
óPestalozzi, Alcott, Bruner, Piaget, Resnick, and others.
A look at Alcottís theories will show their similarity
to those of current-day constructivists.
Bronson Alcott, a genuinely creative thinker and teacher, began
his teaching career at the age of 24 in 1823. Later, he became
the master of one of the outstanding schools in Boston and the
first to use a conversational method of teaching American children.
On the first day of class, Mr. Alcott asked each student what
idea he or she had of the purpose of coming to school?
To learn; was the first answer. To learn what? By pursuing this
question, all the common exercises of school were brought up
by the children themselves; and various subjects of art, science,
and philosophy. Still Mr. Alcott intimated that his was not all;
and at last some one said ìto behave well,î and in
pursuing this expression into its meanings, they at last decided
that they came to learn to feel rightly, to think rightly, and
to act rightly. A boy of seven years old suggested, and all agreed,
that the most important of these three, was right action. Peabody,
1969, p. 2
The aim of education, he declared, was ìthe production
and original exercise of thought [not the learning of facts and
the production of right or wrong answers] (McCuskey, 1940, p.
Conversation was no mere question-and-answer-session
for Alcott. It was a mood, an atmosphere; it was a work of art
as surely as were paintings or symphonies. Alcott especially
liked the analogy to a symphony. He believed that the ideal conversation
developed a single theme and presented it in a variety of ways,
providing the greatest scope and freedom for the genius of the
participants. Each of the participants would contribute his
or her ideas about the theme, thus presenting differing expressions
of the theme like the various instruments in an orchestra. All
would blend together in beautiful harmony as the session progressed.
Dahlstrand, 1945, p. 216
In Bronson Alcottís mind, learning was insufficient as
were schools; ìonly life alone, life like a torch who,
if they [the students] did not find life in the schoolroom, were
eagerly seeking at every shop and fireside.î For
Alcott, ìAll New England and the West formed an open college,
admitting old and young alike, and he could foresee newspapers
and magazines superseding primers, text books, and professors
(McCuskey, 1940, p. 151).î
All these influences Alcott would bring into the schoolroom.
He wanted to illustrate the work with the new art of photography,
and he wanted a newspaper or magazine suited to boys and girls.
He thought the magazine should have in it something of sports,
of biography, science and discoveries, accounts of libraries,
museums, and the theater, as well as politics and government.
McCuskey, 1940, p. 151
His theory was that of the ìtrue teacher,î who ìdoes
not play the cook and spread the tables, but whets the curiosity
to leap straightway forth upon the mountains and bring home the
game which he has started and given the scent of.
Dahlstrand, 1945, p. 216
Alcott was considered a progressive in his day, but his methods
amplify many of the same themes as the constructivists of today:
building and reconstructing knowledge out of experiences in the
world, being engaged in personally meaningful activities and projects,
emphasizing discovery rather than the teaching of facts, and recognizing
diversity, that learners can make connections with knowledge in
many different ways. He sought depth rather than breadth producing
multiple views on the subject.
Clearly the 20th century has no monopoly on new ideas, new methods
or great teaching. It, however, marks a time where we are focused
on a industrial model of mass production rather than on the development
of an individual. In recent decades, cognitive psychologists have
published a great deal on how students learn. Unfortunately, their
findings have had little effect on the educational community.
Current academic teaching has remained basically traditional in spite of some efforts to change. Professors have almost exclusively learned on the job ìwhat and howî to teach. Based on their classroom experiences, they hold definite goals for learning and a definite concept of what it means to ìunderstandî the subject matter (Bain & McNaught, 1996). They must, or feel they must, transmit large amounts of factual information in a short time to students who they often barely know. The presentation and delivery systems employed fail to accommodate diversity in terms of multiple intelligences 9 (Gardner, 1993) or preferred learning styles,10 or modern theories of learning.
One of the primary reasons why Alcott and other progressive reformers
couldnít carry out their ideas in the early nineteenth
century is that they didnít have a delivery system that
would accommodate individualized instruction. They wanted students
to be in control of their learning but lacked the tools to create
such an environment. With todayís information technologies,
we can empower the learner
The new information technologies enable many of the ideas presented
above to be carried out. Based on what we know about the learning
process, we should begin creating electronic learning materials
that assist students in acquiring knowledge and skills by giving
them multiple paths to the learning objectives. We can do it,
but it will requires large sums of money, and it may well require
the establishment of a national institute to get the job done.
In the meantime researchers are focusing on designing tools and
learning environments that will make learning pervasive in all
our activities. Selected examples of this research follow.
Creating Environments for Learning
Advances in modern knowledge of human cognitive performance are
providing a foundation for how learning occurs and leading us
to improve instructional designs and educational applications.
To learn science, Stella Vosniadou (1996) from the University
of Athens argues that we need to keep in the forefront implications
of cognitive-development research, which shows that learning requires
reorganization of prior knowledge, the revision of old beliefs,
and the creation of new representations. She questions why it
seems so difficult to understand concepts in science and asks
whether a learning environment could be constructed that facilitates
the learning of science. Her research has led to the development
of the computer visualization learning environment (CVLE), an
intelligent microworld and problem-solving environment. CVLE is
a collaborative learning environment where students working in
groups are engaged in a great deal of communication.8
The environment combines computer activities with hands-on
science experiments and observations, visits to the library, and
In a process similar to Bronson Alcottís 1823ís
teaching methods, students are asked to solve problems that arise
from everyday experience such as the day/night cycle, the seasons,
or the phases of the moon. They solve these questions by ìflyingî
to different parts of the globe and making predictions regarding
the time of the day or the season of the year and explaining their
In addition to the collaborative environment that CVLE supports,
CVLE is designed to promote cognitive flexibility and representational
growth. Because understanding science concepts is difficult and
time consuming, students explore only a few key concepts. The
strategy focuses on depth rather than breadthócovering
a great deal of material. It introduces concepts in a relational
order based on cognitive science research, which provides information
about how students actually acquire these concepts. CVLE facilitates
metaconceptual awareness by allowing students to express their
representations of a phenomenon and then compare them to others.
Students soon become aware of what they know and what they need
to learn. Further, they are provided with the type of information
that will help them view complex problems from multiple perspectives.
We need to encourage the development of many more learning environments
such as CVLE in order for us to move to new levels of thinking
about educational environments that promote learning. The research
on learning environments and new tools for learning offer a motivating,
engaging approach to the problem of learning. But will we have
to wait for Virtual Reality before such educational applications
find their way to networks and larger audiences?
Designing Tools for Learning
There are two types of software being designed for learning.
One allows the student to control and manipulate worlds in the
computer and is more familiar to us. In SimCity, for example,
students can create and manipulate simulated urban worlds, constructing
houses, roads, and factories, and adjusting tax rates accordingly
for the city.
The other allows children to control and manipulate computers
in the world and is the object of experimental work being undertaken
at the MIT Media Lab. Here they have designed the Programmable
Brick, which is a small portable computer embedded inside a LEGO
brick about the size of a wallet. This brick has the capability
of interacting with the childís environment in a number
of ways with its built-in sensors and infrared communication.
Children can, for instance, attach a tiny computer to a door and
program the computer to make the lights go on and off as a person
enters or leaves a room. To program the Programmable Brick, the
child must first write a program on a computer and download it
to the Programmable Brick. These bricks are not ready-made mechanical
objects but something that the user must first build out of LEGOs.
The goal behind the Programmable Brick is to encourage children,
ages 11-16, to see themselves as designers and inventors and to
change how they think about computers and computational ideas.
Mitchell Resnick (1996) said at a recent conference that he believes
that ìchildren are much more likely to make deep connections
to scientific thinking and scientific ideas when they use computation
in a new way, continually designing and redesigning their own
Constructionism and the Professional Community
If the Programmable Brick makes it possible for children to see
themselves as designers and inventors, the MediaMoo affords adults
an opportunity to explore similar experiences in virtual reality.
The MediaMoo, project developed by the MIT Media Lab, is a text-based,
networked virtual reality environment. MediaMoo is designed to
bring people with common interests together for the purpose of
interacting with colleagues in much the same way that one does
at a professional conference. Conversation is a primary activity.
However, participants can also build new things that add value
to the system such as a research directory created by a participant,
which searches through all membersí research interests.
There is also the opportunity for creative expression in designing
playful objects, for example, new costumes for the clothing rack
in the Media Ballroom. One moves from success in creating contributory
objects in a particular space to programming objects. The idea
behind these activities, which go beyond the conference format,
is to facilitate learning, to build and program new objects in
a virtual world. MediaMoo is based on the philosophy of constructionism
that argues for ìlearning by doingî in meaningful
projects, and extending this philosophy beyond applications for
children to applications appropriate to the adult world.
If we are to make a breakthrough with this technology, ìusers
must be the creators and not merely the consumers of virtual world
(Bruckman & Resnick, 1996, p. 221).î The authors believe
that constructionist principles are of central importance to the
design of virtual reality systems. (See Guernsey, 1996, for more
on College MOOs).
By the middle of the 21st century, the work in virtual reality
begun in such places as the Massachusetts Institute of Technologyís
Media [Lab] and the University of Washingtonís Human Interface
Technology Lab will be just one of the dramatic changes
in learning that will take place. By then learners (children,
their parents, and grandparents) will not watch a video disk
of the Civil War but will be totally immersed in it. Wearing
special goggles and body suits they will experience the smells,
the sights, and sound as if they were there. Lemonick, 1992, p.6
Part of the change in learning will come from information technologies.
Powerful computers will bring the world to the desktop, putting
the learner in touch with on-line tutors, libraries, data bases,
and other information essential to new needs and new priorities.
Information filtering methods will automatically present only
that information relevant to the learnerís interests. With
it will be a blurring between high school and college and among
degree programs. Learners will be able to specialize earlier
and arrive at different points in their education at different
Replacing high school grades will be achievement goals and a
reintroduction of work-study programs and apprenticeship programs.
Advancement into college or a trade will be based on competency
tests. Because of the cost of a college education, more students
will be working part-time or moving between work and college.
Many will look to distance education to fulfill most of their
college education. Others may never set foot on a college campus
but choose to complete their program using a variety of technologies
and receiving recognition for work experience. There will be plenty
of opportunities to shop around for the right educational programs,
emancipating the learner from many traditional restrictions.
Once personal computers are as ubiquitous as bicycles and access
to the Internet is readily available to everyone, education will
change dramatically. The government will lead the revolution in
learning, as it did in imposing universal education in the 1850s.
Political, social, and economic issues will provide the impetus,
as they have for the Virtual Regional College mentioned at the
beginning of this paper. No country can compete in a global market
when the quality of its work force lags behind that of other industrial
countries, or when 22 percent of its citizenry are illiterate.
ìIn America a growing, uneducated, unemployable and mostly
minority underclass will put increasing pressure on society to
pay more than lip service to education (Lemonick, p. 59).î
To such pressure, slight and superficial alterations will certainly
Much more learning will go on in the home. The dominant goals
will be self-realization and improving oneís qualifications
for new positions or to learn new skills in order to continue
in a present position. The significance of scientific knowledge
and technology is expected to assume even greater importance in
the new era. Learning, a life-long necessity, will flourish in
the home, in the workplace and on learning vacations for some
Just-in-time, on-demand learning will be key, since specialized
knowledge will become obsolete so quickly. Programs will be tailored
to individual needs and learning styles, continually qualifying
and updating learners. Technology will make it possible for learners
to pursue multiple paths to the same learning objective. Competition
to get and retain a job will become greater, and those who lack
self-determination or the necessary entrepreneurial skills for
self-employment may be without work.
Networks will make collaboration a dominant mode of teaching
and learning, research and service, facilitating interdisciplinary
learning. Fewer foreign students will be studying abroad, for
capable students will be able to take degree programs over networks
from the institution of their choice. Others, who choose to study
in foreign countries, will find it convenient after obtaining
a degree to return home, where their future may be brighter job-wise,
knowing that they can continue to stay in touch with their professors
Higher education will have to determine what it can offer students
face-to-face that will be better than the technology that students
will already have in their homes. We can expect that students
will come to universities for shorter periods of time, that they
will pursue their education in different locations and over networks,
and that they likely will have other teachers thousands of miles
away who will be competing with on-campus faculty.
People of all ages will look to the Internet for personal support.
Greater use will be made of our retirees in helping the next generation
through some trying times. They will have a presence in counseling,
mentoring, and assisting life-long learners achieve their educational
goals and objectives.
In the new model of education, faculty will become brokers of
resources. They will have to be more flexible and adaptive to
the needs of students, guiding them toward important resources
that will help them discover their own pathway toward their educational
objectives. Faculty will teach students who will drop-in
and out-of school over an extended period of time.
Along similar lines, universities and colleges will have closer
ties to the different communities they serve as the distinction
between high school and college, between degree programs erodes,
and as we shift toward lifelong learning. Collaboration with other
institutions will be a priority to support the changing roles
and connections among students, faculty, librarians, citizens,
technologists, administrators, government officials, and vendors.
In a knowledge-based economy that requires intensive information
exchange, the ìGateway to the Good Lifeî may hinge
on personal characteristics: motivation, desire, determination,
perseverance, and commitment so necessary for self-directed learning
extended over a lifetime. Students will have to assume a greater
responsibility for their education. All generations will realize
that ìnothing can be more fashionableóand essentialóthan
doing oneís homework (Lemonick, p. 60).î
1 The baby-boom echo is expected to increase
the number of traditional-age college students by 15 percent with
the next few years. According to a recent survey, 80 percent of
workers would like to take a college course (Monaghan 1996,
2. The criteria outlined
by the governors include: demonstrated competence; market- oriented,
client-centered, independentónot controlled by established
interests with regard to either the delivery of education or certification,
accredited by regional and appropriate specialized accrediting
bodies for degrees and certificates, non-teachingónot providing
instruction directly, but drawing upon needed capacity wherever
it exists, high quality, cost-effective, etc.
3 Richard Wagner, were he here today, would be an exception
to this argument for he wrote the music and text, designed the
sets, the costumes, conducted his 15 operas, and even built the
Bayreuth Opera House. He most likely would have handled hypermedia
with ease. Nevertheless, for the majority, hypermedia introduces
a whole new look to the software frontier out there.
4 Some improvements to the Web would be ìpop-up
and footnotesî links to additional information without the
reader having to leave the context of the current page and ìlink
traversal semanticsî whereby meanings can be added that
make it clearer to the reader following a link what the relationship
exists between the source and the destination. (For more issues
see: Hypertext ë96 Workshop on Hypermedia Research and the
World Wide Web. URL: http://www.cs.bgsu.edu/)
5 The Blackbird Internet publishing system consists
of two major parts. It has a design environment with an integrated
project editor and client software for browsing and viewing Blackbird
titles over the Internet. The client downloads only the information
needed to run a particular title over the Internet, which has
been published to an Internet server.
The software lets faculty create and maintain interactive applications
without extensive knowledge of HTML. Blackbird has drag-and-drop
layout features, simplified development procedures, and open extensibility
which allows users to integrate other software packages in the
development of Web pages. Because Blackbird separates the design
process from the content behind the design, updates are seamless
and information is easily added or changed. The components actually
needed to run a Blackbird application are downloaded over the
network, thus reducing costs and providing a more efficient means
of delivering graphics over low-speed communication lines to repeat
users of the application.
6 For more on the security and privacy specification
plan of Microsoft see: (http://www.microsoft.com/intdev/security/swpintro.htm)
7 See Representations of Work. (September 1995).Communications
of the ACM, 38(9).
8 Recently there has been a resurgence of interest
in Vygotskyís theories on social interaction and cooperative
learning. Vygotsky believes that symbolic expression originates
in ìsocial interaction and then becomes intrapersonal.î
Many instructional theorists have focused on technological applications
that promote social interaction and cooperative learning.
9 In his model, Gardner frames diversity in terms of multiple intelligences. He includes seven types of intelligence: spatial intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic, logical-mathematical intelligence, musical intelligence, linguistic intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, and intrapersonal intelligence. Linguistic and mathematical intelligences have dominated traditional pedagogy in western society. Can we take advantage of the inter-relatedness of the different intelligences and create experiences that increase our students opportunities to achieve? Hilary McLellan (1994) and many others think so. An early proponent of virtual reality, she describes ways in which virtual reality can actually promote learning that engages all of Gardnerís intelligences.
10 Along with different intelligences, students have
preferred learning styles. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
is a tool for determining preferred learning styles. Four patterns
emerge: concrete-active, concrete-reflective, abstract-active,
and abstract-reflective. In recent studies, fifty percent of our
high school seniors fell into the abstract-active and ten percent
were abstract-reflective. College students tended to be concrete-active
and learned best from experiences that begin with practice and
end with theory. Whereas faculty prefer the abstract-reflective
mode, creating an incongruity between teaching and learning. If
we are to redesign teaching, we should capitalize on the advantages
of having a better understanding of how humans learn.
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