Summer 1997 Journal Explores “Distributed Learning”

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Spring 1990

For more information, contact:
John O. Harney, Executive Editor, The New England Journal of Higher Education
jharney [at] nebhe [dot] org

BOSTON — The proliferation of the Internet and advances in technologies such as desktop video will increasingly enable New England students to pursue college-level programs without leaving their hometowns or even their homes, according to a series of articles to be published next week in Connection: New England’s Journal of Higher Education and Economic Development.

But this is not your father’s “distance education.” The new issue’s lead author, educational technology expert Chris Dede, observes: “The term distance education will be outmoded 10 years from now. There won’t be any such thing as face-to-face education, either. There’s just going to be something called distributed learning.”

The distributed learning model is based on the idea that no single style of teaching, no single source of information and no single technology promises the best education for every student. But only now is the sufficient range of technologies becoming available to create a true network of learners linked interactively with seemingly infinite information resources and such critical aids as tele-mentoring and tele-apprenticeships.

“Distance education is no longer designed primarily for convenience or for people who lack physical access to campuses,” writes Dede. “All kinds of students increasingly want learning just-in-time, anyplace, on demand. And they want collaborative learning orchestrated across campuses and homes and workplaces and community centers, because such distributed learning more closely matches their work and citizenship responsibilities and because they realize that being able to tap varied resources across barriers of distance and time provides a richer experience than what any single instructor could offer in a classroom.”

In a wide-ranging commentary in the new issue, Boston University Chancellor John Silber slams declining educational standards, particularly in teaching schools, while exposing the political forces that led to the cancellation of the Superconducting Supercollider — a project that Silber says would have ensured America’s technological competitiveness for decades to come while bringing vital research contracts and jobs to New England.

Launching into a critique of higher education’s standards, Silber notes: “Far too many colleges and universities compete for students whose principal qualification is a body temperature approximating 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.”

The new issue of Connection features a major analysis of the latest minority enrollment data, including rankings of New England colleges in terms of African-American, Hispanic and Native American enrollment.

The issue also contains a cumulative index of Connection articles by author since 1986.
A summary of articles in the new issue of Connection follows:

Distributed Learning: How New Technologies Promise a Richer Educational Experience • Educational technology expert Chris Dede, a George Mason University professor who is on leave exploring instructional technologies with the National Science Foundation, examines the promise of distributed learning in the virtual era. “Distributed learning is sometimes face-to-face, sometimes across distance and sometimes involves teaching-by-telling, but often involves other kinds of pedagogy that aren’t now part of our repertoire, yet are needed to prepare people for the incredibly chaotic knowledge-based society we seem to be moving into,” writes Dede. But he adds: “The entertainment industry will give cyberspace both the best and the worst attributes of all prior media. If we don’t want to lose a generation to Super Mario, and the kind of mindless fantasy world they create, we need to think carefully about how to use these kinds of environments for distributed learning.”

Toward a “Student-centric” Culture: Some Options for New England • “A new culture based on the dynamic nature of information technologies and telecommunications makes it possible to deliver virtually any education, anywhere, anytime to anyone, according to George P. Connick, former president of the Education Network of Maine. “The most critical issue affecting the role of higher education in the next decade is not technological,” observes Connick. “The real issue is cultural. Will higher education be able to shift from an Industrial Age culture to an Information Age culture? … How will we calculate faculty workload (and compensation) when a faculty member teaches a course on-line and no longer goes into a classroom three times a week for 15 weeks as the typical three-credit course currently requires? How will we determine student load — for graduation or financial aid — when a three-credit course may be taken at home over a computer?”

Distance Learning Tests America’s Higher Education Dominance • Mark A. Emmert, chancellor and provost for university affairs at the University of Connecticut, urges New England college and university officials to face up to growing international competition in distance learning. “One does not need much imagination to envision technology-based education beaming in from all points of the globe,” writes Emmert. “Indeed, distance education may well become an internationally traded commodity early in the 21st century.”

Lifelong Learning the Workplace • Robert Goldberg, global market segment manager at IBM Corp, and Robert J. Hermann, senior vice president at United Technologies Corp., describe how two major corporations keep their employees up to speed in the age of distributed learning.

The Mortarboard and the Anvil: Higher Education’s Duty to the Workforce • Is higher education addressing the needs of the workforce? “Yes and no,” writes Boston University Chancellor and Massachusetts Board of Education Chair John Silber. “Yes, in graduating educated people capable of assuming highly demanding jobs and professions. Yes, in the provision of basic research. And yes, in the development of technology transfer, which leads to job creation. But no, in our failure to adequately support public schools by setting reasonable standards of admission to our own programs and thereby helping secondary school administrators to insist on high standards in their schools. And no, by failing to limit access to the teaching profession to those individuals who are capable of raising the standards of schools.”

Baccalaureate Bound • Transfer articulation and dual acceptance agreements aimed at easing transfer between community colleges and four-year institutions provide a logical educational continuum in a region whose economy demands ever-increasing levels of education. The arrangements can also put a big dent in the cost of earning a bachelor’s degree. Eleanor M. McMahon, a distinguished professor at the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions at Brown University and chair of the New England Board of Higher Education, explains why a Rhode Island transfer articulation program known as “Baccalaureate Bound” is among America’s best.

New College Grads Could Clean Up: Landing a Job in Environmental Consulting • New England’s increasingly competitive environmental consulting industry will produce new jobs for entry-level workers, even as industry veterans face downsizing, according to Charles Anderson, vice president for human resources at TRC Companies., and chair of the Human Resources Committee of the Environmental Business Council of New England. Anderson sheds light on which college grads the $300 million New England industry will favor.

FOTEP: Initiative Aims to Teach Teachers While It Bolsters an Emerging Industry • As the 1990s dawned, just a handful of New England colleges offered curricula in fiber optics, prompting policymakers to worry that the fast-growing industry might flee the region in search of skilled technicians. NEBHE Project Director Fenna Hanes explains how NEBHE’s Fiber Optic Technology Education Project, or FOTEP, supports the burgeoning New England fiber optics and photonics industries by helping high school teachers and college faculty introduce curricula in the hot field.

A Ticket to Ride: Campuses Look to Forge Public Transit Links • New England college administrators and public transportation officials increasingly share interlocking interests, according to freelance writer Alan R. Earls. But ironically, the region’s largest transit system — the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) — has been largely devoid of “free ride zones” and the kinds of campus-oriented transit initiatives that are on track in Wisconsin and Florida. Earls explains why the MBTA’s new general manager, Robert Prince, is now ready, willing and able to “make a deal” with area campuses.

Minority Enrollment in New England: Progress Amid Threats • African-American enrollment at New England colleges and universities grew by 25 percent between 1990 and 1995, while Hispanic enrollment grew by 45 percent and Native American enrollment by
55 percent, according to a new NEBHE analysis of federal data. In percentage terms, enrollment among all three groups grew faster in New England than in the nation as a whole. But Connection Executive Editor John O. Harney warns that the groups that were “underrepresented” on New England campuses in 1990 are still underrepresented today. Moreover, minority participation is particularly lagging in critical fields such as engineering. And data from Texas and California, where affirmative action is under attack, show the worst may be yet to come.

Think Tanks: A New England Public Policy Collaborative Takes Shape • As many as 200 public policy research centers and institutes are at work in New England, churning out findings and recommendations on issues such as education, health care, welfare, environmental protection, international trade and workforce development — and doing so largely in isolation from one another. These “think tanks” will be in increasing demand, as the devolution juggernaut shifts more and more government responsibilities from Washington D.C., to under-equipped state capitals. NEBHE researcher Laura Christensen outlines a new six-state initiative aimed at promoting cooperation among New England’s public policy centers and institutes.


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