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The virtual University
The University of Pennsylvania is an appropriate place to deal with the fallout from the information technology revolution because in a real sense, it was Penn that'let the g~nie out of the bottle. Just fifty years ago, the world's first computer, ENIAC, flickered to life at Penn, ushering the world into the computer age. At the time, researchers had no idea that this force would be the agent of farreaching changes in the world and in their own academic environment. "One leading researcher at the time expected that all the world's computing needs could be met with just seven computers: noted Gregory Farrington, Dean of Penn's School of Engineering, in opening remarks at the workshop. "I hope we wiD be more successful" in assessing the future," he said. Provost Stanley Chodorow: Technology Will Transform the University Initial reactions to technology on campus underestimated its potential impact. University of Pennsylvania Provost Stanley Chodorow recalled studying the impact of information technology on education for the University of California just three years earlier. At that time, he envisioned infonnation technology as an enhancement of the existing "ecosystem" of classrooms, labs, and student centers. "I was thinking about using new tools in the classroom, but the revolution we are discussing here is changing the classroom itself," said Chodorow. Chodorow compared the situation to looking over the precipice of a roller coaster. "It is terrifying to speak on the subject of the virtual university, not because losing old formats of the university terrifies me, but because the crow's nest from which we survey the future is obscured by clouds." Chodorow discussed three key observations about that future: fears for the academic institution and concerns about runaway information, along with an overriding sense of optimism about the longterm prospects for the university. Fears for the Institution: The entire structure and focus of academic institutions may be undermined by electronic technology. "It threatens [0 blow away our traditional definition of courses, classes, and students," said Chodorow. "What happens to the academic republic' The locus of academic authority changes from the authoritarian faculty to a democratic flow of information." Courses are now defined by credit hours and reading assignments, but what happens when most of the communications for the course occur outside the classroom? Individuals are now evaluated on their work, but what happens when a paper is "built by a group of students until it is abandoned to the faculty member?" Who are the students' "I've seen cases of students who were rejected for a course then have taken the course electronically," said Chodorow. "The distinction between students and non-students is blurred." The line between students and alumni also is blurred when alumni have continuous contact with faculty (not just athletic teams). Formal student exchange agreements among institutions are meaningless if students can "surf the Internet to find the perfect course."



Chodorow said he expects the initial reaction of the academic community to be xenophobia and a reassertion of authoritarianism. Ultimately, however, academic institutions will have to recognize that these forces have transformed the university. Runaway Information: Libraries have traditionally been the heart of the campus, and the quality of the institution is often judged by the size of its library collection. Now, "librarians are losing control of information," said Chodorow. Information technology is moving libraries and librarians out of the loop in controlling information. "We are entering new oceans of knowledge, and we either have to develop new charts or change our expectations," he said. This "unolf ... cial knowledge" could lead to much broader access to knowledge or become a "miasmic swamp of knowledge produced without market forces to control
it. "

"It has adapted to change over eight centuries," he noted. There are several functions of the university that cannot be duplicated by technology, and these roles ensure the future of the institution, he said. The university's role as "producer of new ideas" is more important than ever in an age of new economic, social, and political challenges. Academia's role in teaching and training youth and the need for "face-to-face interaction among craftsmen of the guild" also are important. "The electronic environment may enhance, but it cannot replace the intellectual society of the university," said Chodorow. "We humans cannot thrive in bodiless, faceless environments. So long as society is healthy enough to need new knowledge and educated citizens, there will be a role for the university." Author Lewis Perelman: Technology Will Make the University Obsolete Lewis Perelman, author of Schoo/'s Out, agreed with Provost Chodorow's assessment of the changes in the environment, but disagreed with his conclusion. Perelman felt that advances in information technology are not the herald of a transition in higher education, but rather the death knell of the university as we know it. The provost's last point, Perelman asserted, was "an expression of hope triumphing over logic." "The changes required are so dramatic that, if the university does survive in some form, it will bear about as much resemblance to the current university as a bird does to a dinosaur," he said. Birds may be genetic descendants of dinosaurs, but we do not call them dinosaurs.

Academic publishing also has been transformed. Chodorow has been working on a history research project over the past 22 years that he had expected to result in a book. But now, "I am wondering if maybe I should put it out on the Internet as a Mosaic page and keep adding to it," he said. "In the first hour it would be my work. But in the second hour, it would belong to whoever has it and has added to it. The concept of what scholarship is will be blown away by that revolution." optimism for the Future: Despite the serious challenges posed to both teaching and research by information technology, Chodorow had an optimistic view of the future prospects for the university.



"The fabric of learning and the community of learning have been drastically transformed," he said. "If you shed all the artifacts most people associate with the university - credit hours, attendance, classrooms, textbooks, libaries, tenure, and diplomas - but retain the spirit and process of a learning community, should we keep calling that a "university"? My answer is, no, if only because consumers in a competitive marketplace would Ilnd it too confusing." Perelman compared the situation d the modem university to the horse-andbuggy industry a century ago. "If we were having a conference in the 1890s and I told you the horse is going to II&appear fairly soon, your response WOI*I be that the horse has been here for years and half the jobs in the United States depend on the horse." He ooted that people struggled with the 1anguaae, then as now, calling the new invention "horseless carriage" just as we have adopted the term "information superlDgbway" or "edutaintment," using old mdaphors to attempt to describe a radir:ally new phenomenon. "I think, by and large, this 00rea1lfDCJ' cannot adapt for the same reason !he S0viet Union had to collapse," he said. "It couldn't mix the structure of centralizOO command-and-control with the realities d decentralized hypermarkets." To i1lustrate, Perelman quoted a recent New yOft Times article on "virtual classrooms" which reported that California State University administrators could not figure out how to assign credit hours for telecourses in a system whose campuses mix quarter and semester schedules, and that the SUNY faculty union opposes teleleaming if it threatens to eliminate professors' jobs.

Perelman said he did not expect this revolution to be a smooth transition, but rather to a "fairly chaotic" sharp break. He said the true transition to the information age just began in the early 1990s (with the Gulf War as a visible sign of the power and implications of advanced technology) and "we ain't seen nothing


Perelman said his view, which has been called radical, may not be as radical as it sounds. "What is really more radical, given what we know about this explosion' Isn't it radical to suggest that an institution like this is going to continue unscathed while everything else in the world around it is completely changed?" Questions and Answers Perelman's presentation was followed by questions and answers from the audience.

Q: Is the revolution you described a shift in the public perception of information technology (as in the widely broadcast images of the use of hightech weapons in Desert Storm) or is it a shift in the reality of the technology' Both. The perception and the reality are changing. This also brings up the issue of validation. The most important growth industry in the Third Wave, post-industrial economy is going to be validation. When everything is virtual, what is real and what is not real' Somebody has to be in the business of defining that line between real reality and virtual reality. In the area of instruction, if you are learning about the virtual stock market, how do you, or an employer, know the



things you learned from that experience are valid in the real world? Q: It seems that the concept of validation provides a bright future for the university, doesn't it? Not really. The university has a set of prejudices that are not what the market is looking for. I recently wrore an article for Forbes ASAP about c0mpanies that are implementing just-in-time learning systems [dubbed "kanbrain" in reference to "kanban," the term for just-in-time manufacturing systems of Japanese manufacturersl Companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Apple have replaced over 90 percent of classroom training with a web of knowledge delivery systems. Instruction is replaced by collaboration, and is not within a room but within cyberspace. If every business in the world is a university, how do you distinguish the university from that? Q: There is an inherent tension between research and learning at universities. I think schools are going to have to address this much more seriously than we have. In a Wall Street Journal story about school reforms in Kentucky, a parent was upset because, as she put it, "the public schools gave up on education and are doing all this learning stuff instead. She understands that learning and schooling are two different functions. The purpose of schooling is status, entree, attending the right schools. This is very different than the process of learning.



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