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The Virtual University

The Virtual University

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Published by Lewis J. Perelman
Excerpt from Wharton SEI Center symposium, 1995.
Excerpt from Wharton SEI Center symposium, 1995.

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Published by: Lewis J. Perelman on Sep 05, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/15/2011

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••••••••
The
virtual
University
::::::::
--------------------------~
••••••••••••••••••••••••
••••••••
TheUniversityofPennsylvaniaisanappropriateplacetodealwiththefalloutfromtheinformationtechnologyrevolu-
tionbecauseinarealsense,itwasPenn
that'lettheg~nieoutofthebottle.Justfiftyyearsago,theworld'sfirstcomputer,ENIAC,flickeredtolifeatPenn,usheringtheworldintothecomputerage.Atthetime,researchershadnoideathatthisforcewouldbetheagentoffar-reachingchangesintheworldandintheirownacademicenvironment."Oneleadingresearcheratthetimeexpectedthatalltheworld'scomputingneedscouldbemetwithjustsevencomputers:notedGregoryFarrington,DeanofPenn'sSchoolofEngineering,inopeningremarksattheworkshop."Ihopewe
wiD
bemoresuccessful"inassessingthefu-ture,"hesaid.
Provost
Stanley
Chodorow:
TechnologyWillTransformtheUniversity
Initialreactionstotechnologyoncam-pusunderestimateditspotentialimpact.UniversityofPennsylvaniaProvostStan-leyChodorowrecalledstudyingtheim-pactofinformationtechnologyoneduca-tionfortheUniversityofCaliforniajustthreeyearsearlier.Atthattime,heenvi-
sionedinfonnationtechnologyasanen-
hancementoftheexisting"ecosystem"ofclassrooms,labs,andstudentcenters."Iwasthinkingaboutusingnewtoolsintheclassroom,buttherevolutionwearediscussinghereischangingtheclass-roomitself,"saidChodorow.Chodorowcomparedthesituationtolookingovertheprecipiceofarollercoaster."Itisterrifyingtospeakonthe
12
subjectofthevirtualuniversity,notbe-causelosingoldformatsoftheuniversityterrifiesme,butbecausethecrow'snestfromwhichwesurveythefutureisob-scuredbyclouds."Chodorowdiscussedthreekeyobser-vationsaboutthatfuture:fearsfortheac-ademicinstitutionandconcernsaboutrunawayinformation,alongwithanover-ridingsenseofoptimismaboutthelong-termprospectsfortheuniversity.
FearsfortheInstitution:
Theentirestructureandfocusofacademicinstitu-tionsmaybeunderminedbyelectronictechnology."Itthreatens
[0
blowawayourtraditionaldefinitionofcourses,class-es,andstudents,"saidChodorow."Whathappenstotheacademicrepublic'Thelocusofacademicauthoritychangesfromtheauthoritarianfacultytoademocraticflowofinformation."Coursesarenowdefinedbycredithoursandreadingassignments,butwhathappenswhenmostofthecommunica-tionsforthecourseoccuroutsidetheclassroom?Individualsarenowevaluat-edontheirwork,butwhathappenswhenapaperis"builtbyagroupofstu-dentsuntilitisabandonedtothefaculty
member?"
Whoarethestudents'"I'veseencas-esofstudentswhowererejectedforacoursethenhavetakenthecourseelec-tronically,"saidChodorow."Thedistinc-tionbetweenstudentsandnon-studentsisblurred."Thelinebetweenstudentsandalumnialsoisblurredwhenalumnihavecontinuouscontactwithfaculty(notjustathleticteams).Formalstudentex-changeagreementsamonginstitutionsaremeaninglessifstudentscan"surftheInternettofindthe
perfect
course."
13
 
Chodorowsaidheexpectstheinitialreactionoftheacademiccommunitytobexenophobiaandareassertionofau-thoritarianism.Ultimately,however,aca-demicinstitutionswillhavetorecognizethattheseforceshavetransformedtheuniversity.
RunawayInformation:
Librarieshavetraditionallybeentheheartofthecam-pus,andthequalityoftheinstitution
is
oftenjudgedbythesizeofitslibrary
col-
lection.Now,"librariansarelosingcon-trolofinformation,"saidChodorow.Informationtechnologyismoving
li-
brariesandlibrariansoutoftheloopincontrollinginformation."Weareenteringnewoceansofknowledge,andweeitherhavetodevelopnewchartsorchangeourexpectations,"hesaid.This"unolf...cialknowledge"couldleadtomuchbroaderaccesstoknowledgeorbecomea"miasmicswampofknowledgepro-ducedwithoutmarketforcestocontrol
it."
Academicpublishingalsohasbeentransformed.Chodorowhasbeenwork-ingonahistoryresearchprojectover
the
past22yearsthathehadexpectedtore-sultinabook.Butnow,"Iamwonder-ing
if
maybeIshouldputitoutontheInternetasaMosaicpageandkeepadd-ingtoit,"hesaid."Inthe
first
houritwouldbemywork.Butinthesecondhour,itwouldbelongtowhoeverhas
it
andhasaddedtoit.Theconceptofwhatscholarship
is
willbeblownawaybythatrevolution."
optimismfortheFuture:
Despite
the
seriouschallengesposedtobothteach-ingandresearchbyinformationtechnol-ogy,Chodorowhadanoptimisticview
of
thefutureprospectsfortheuniversity.
14
"Ithasadaptedtochangeovereightcen-turies,"henoted.Thereareseveralfunctionsoftheuni-versitythatcannotbeduplicatedbytech-nology,andtheserolesensurethefutureoftheinstitution,hesaid.Theuniversi-ty'sroleas"producerofnewideas"ismoreimportantthaneverinanageofneweconomic,social,andpoliticalchal-lenges.Academia'sroleinteachingandtrain-ingyouthandtheneedfor"face-to-faceinteractionamongcraftsmenoftheguild"alsoareimportant."Theelectronicenvi-ronmentmayenhance,butitcannotre-placetheintellectualsocietyoftheuni-versity,"saidChodorow."Wehumanscannotthriveinbodiless,facelessenvi-ronments.Solongassocietyishealthyenoughtoneednewknowledgeanded-ucatedcitizens,therewillbearolefortheuniversity."
Author
Lewis
Perelman:TechnologyWillMaketheUniversityObsolete
LewisPerelman,authorof
Schoo/'sOut,
agreedwithProvostChodorow'sas-sessmentofthechangesintheenviron-ment,butdisagreedwithhisconclusion.Perelmanfeltthatadvancesininforma-tiontechnologyarenottheheraldofatransitioninhighereducation,butratherthedeathknelloftheuniversityasweknowit.Theprovost'slastpoint,Perel-manasserted,was"anexpressionofhopetriumphingoverlogic.""Thechangesrequiredaresodramaticthat,
if
theuniversitydoessurviveinsomeform,itwillbearaboutasmuchre-semblancetothecurrentuniversityasabirddoestoadinosaur,"hesaid.Birdsmaybegeneticdescendantsofdinosaurs,butwedonotcallthemdinosaurs.
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