Your Master's Virtually
by Vicky Phillips
Graduate schools. Ivy espaliered towers of learning. Dark library walls
graced with bespectacled portraits of academic deans.
This picture is in danger of becoming a memory. A non-digital photo from
yesteryear. Picturesque concepts of the Ivy League are quietly being
challenged by a new vision of the university for the 21st century. The
Brick and ivy graduate schools are giving way to electronic universities.
Today, videoconferencing allows faculty to be seen and heard across
continents. Passionately silent classroom discussions on topics from
network security to the poetry of T.S. Eliot transpire via Listservs.
Managers from Athabasca to London meet with geographically far flung
colleagues in e-conferencing halls to collaboratively tackle the best ways
to motivate their work groups. The pioneering faculty and students of the
Cyber League are fervently at work, creating the first keyboard accessible
graduate schools for advanced learning.
An Old Dog with a New Electronic Bite
Distance learning is not new. University "home study" programs existed
long before the first PC rolled off the assembly line. Distance learning
enjoys a rich heritage, beginning when the printing press met the Pony
Express. The University of Wisconsin, one of the oldest and largest
distance delivery programs in the United States, offered its first
correspondence course via coach and pony mail in 1891. Today, the
university's Department of Continuing and Vocational Education, offers an
Internet-assisted professional certificate in distance education at
Wisconsin's program introduces adult educators and trainers to the
burgeoning world of electronic teaching and learning. Registrants study
everything from designing interactive audio seminars to facilitating
computer-mediated conferences. The entire program may be completed from
one's keyboard, with optional summer attendance on-campus in Madison,
Wisconsin for those who crave hands-on learning in the university's
teaching technology labs
Cable & VCR Add to the Picture
In the 1980s, cable technology coupled with the proliferation of the home
VCR, breathed new life into home study. Cable and video technology allowed
colleges to enhance correspondence programs with live lectures broadcast
to specially equipped remote class sites. Graduate schools quickly began
recording lectures and mailing videocassettes to remote learners for
passive viewing at a later date. For the first time, anyone with an honors
GPA and a VCR could attend a top-notch business school from their easy
Colorado State University's Graduate School of Business
has offered a campus-free MBA for two decades. In the last two years, the
program has moved from being primarily video-based to integrating
interactive Web technology and electronic conferencing. According to Jamie
Switzer, Colorado's Director of Distance Education and Media,
e-conferencing and Listservs actively involve remote learners in classroom
discussions and encourage collaborative learning projects. All course
materials, such as syllabus and handouts, are available from the program's
Web site. Picture Tel technology is used for videoconferencing with remote
Despite its unorthodox delivery, The Colorado MBA offers a traditional and
demanding curriculum, which has been modified, according to Switzer, only
to give the program a more "real-world practical application slant." Entry
into the program is competitive, with independent raters ranking the
Colorado MBA program among the top 25% in the country, whether one
"attends" in residence or through the Net.
Richard Vigilante, Director of the Virtual College at New York
University's School of Continuing Education feels that in today's
electronically networked society it makes no sense for adults to be bound
by time and place when it comes to learning essential new skills.
According to Vigilante, demographics demand a just-in-time approach to
higher education. "With adults over 25 now constituting the majority of
college students in the United States, and with increasing demands being
imposed on them for their professional and personal time, online education
will likely be the only instructional alternative open to them."
As corporations search for more responsive ways to train workers, Dr.
Vigilante sees organizational hierarchies and bureaucracies giving way to
geographically dispersed workers "collaborating in virtual workplaces
created by networked computers." NYU's Virtual College allows business
executives from Tokyo to Los Angeles to learn about network and database
technologies by using them in a richly endowed online environment.
New York University's Virtual College, launched in the Spring of 1992,
turns the Desktop University, once a futuristic phrase, into a current
reality. The Virtual College's advanced professional certificate in
information technology is available via home or office PC (ISDN capability
is required) to any qualified learner in the United States.
Unlike many distance programs, which rely on old-fashioned print-based
correspondence courses with e-mail lesson options as add-on's, NYU's
Virtual College operates from a multi-faceted digital platform. A Lotus
Notes database system forms the instructional backbone. Instruction
methods include video conferencing, collaborative online laboratories, and
hypertext libraries and learning modules. Even the textbooks and final
exams are stored and accessed online. Class discussions are held
asynchronously, with learners reading and posting class commentary
whenever they are online. When learners or faculty want to lean back and
relax, the Virtual Cafe database serves as an informal chat station.
Teaching Old Dogs New Electronic Tricks
Among the first to reserve seats in the new electronic lecture halls were
school teachers seeking to understand how to harness technology in their
classrooms. With technology literacy being added to school curriculums at
break-neck speed, teachers and administrators trained in the Dark Ages of
a pre-electronic era are struggling to keep current.
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)
is a not-for-profit agency working through Portland State University and
the University of Oregon to offer residency-free, Internet-assisted
graduate courses in topics like "Planning for Technology in Education" for
the K-12 teaching professional.
George Washington University, which houses one of the oldest graduate
schools of education in the country, offers a residency-free Master of
Arts in Education and Human Development with a Concentration in
Educational Technology and Leadership through combined electronic and
video platforms. The program, now in its fifth year, specializes in
educating school media and technology consultants.
The Graduate Instructional Performance Technology (IPT) department at
Boise State University teaches professionals how to design and implement
computer-based curriculum for adult learners. A Master's in Instructional
and Performance Technology is available via e-conferencing to any properly
configured learner worldwide. Unless a thesis is opted for, Boise State
faculty and learners "meet" only in their electronic forms -- through
slow-scan video, the telephone, and the viewing of videotaped workplace
Pioneering New Curriculums
The Internet is changing not only how instruction occurs, but what is
being taught. Connected Education's Master of Arts in Media Studies and
Technology, offered through the New School for Social Research in New York
City, immerses learners in the tangled question of what electronic media
will mean in an increasingly knowledge based society. Developed in 1985,
by Dr. Paul Levinson of Connected Education, who has taught New School
courses in-person at the Greenwich Village campus for many years, the
degree may be the first of its kind to explore the uncertain juncture
where technology meets society to produce a new electronic media and
method of communicating.
At the New School, what one studies is as unique as the way it is learned.
Now in its twelfth year, Internet delivered courses include topics like
"Online Journalism" and "Ethics in the Technological World." In the "McLuhan
Seminar," learners revisit Marshall McLuhan's seminal work on the role of
media in light of the personal computer and Internet revolution.
The New School's curriculum and electronic campus were developed by the
not-for-profit company, Connected Education. Founded by Dr. Levinson,
Connected Education specializes in electronic media and educational
delivery. To give geographically disperse learners a feeling of collegiate
belonging -- students have come from Africa, Russian, and Japan --
Connected Education's campus includes the Connected Ed Cafe, an online
conferencing system with real-time exchange, and a virtual library.
Program information as well as announcements of new degree offerings for
the upcoming year may be retrieved from Connected Education.
For Adults Only
Many virtual curriculums are being re-visioned to accommodate a new breed
of learner -- the professionally accomplished adult. While campus programs
have focused on teaching theory to the 18-to-24 year-old learner, the
online market is more likely to be older, more affluent, and considerably
less amenable to being spoon-fed textbook material. In place of theory,
many electronic graduate schools are using online technologies such as
e-conferencing to pair up learners to work on practical projects which
rely on the team troubleshooting model that is prevalent in today's work
George Washington University's Graduate School of Education and Human
Development has taken their Doctorate of Education in Executive
Leadership, one of the oldest such academic leadership programs in the
United States, into cyberspace. Entering human resource professionals
study in teams or cohorts. One weekend each month, learners converge on
the "real" campus in Northern Virginia for "in person" instruction and
mentoring. Between campus visits, cohorts use e-mail and electronic
conferencing to strategize on group projects and problems.
Pepperdine University uses a combined face-to-face and Internet-assisted
distance learning option to educate adult learners in their Doctoral
Program in Educational Technology. MOOs, newsgroups, and e-mail are used
by remote learning teams to address issues raised in mandatory
face-to-face seminars. The face-to-face seminars are held on weekends
three times each trimester at Pepperdine's Culver City, California campus.
The Future of the Cyber League
If busy professionals crave Desktop Universities, and the Internet
continues to proove a rich and convenient interactive campus, what's to
keep most graduate schools from leaping into the Cyber League in the
Jamie Switzer, of Colorado State University's distance MBA program, cites
one key problem in delivering education via the Net: less than ubiquitous
access to advanced technologies. "We are moving toward video delivery of
courses over the Web. We have the technology to do so; the problem lies
with the students. Most do not have the hardware/software capability to
receive video via the Web. Just because we as educators can do all sorts
of really groovy things using the Web doesn't necessarily mean everyone
can access it."
With a 175 year history of building and filling Ivy espaliered halls, and
only a handful of years delivering programs electronically, George
Washington University, headquartered in the nation's capitol, is sold on
the Cyber League movement. According to GWU Television's Assistant Vice
President, Ted Christensen, electronically assisted distance learning is
not a fad or an educational add-on. It is "key to the future of GWU."
Several new electronically assisted graduate programs, one in Public
Health, and one in Engineering Management, will be launched through GWU TV
GWU President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, in an international distance
learning conference address earlier this year, lamented the demise of the
medieval model of education where esteemed faculty in robes talked about
the Classics from a podium while eager-eared, innocents took notes at
Simultaneously, Dr. Trachtenberg celebrated what the electronic university
movement means for GWU in particular and for a knowledge-based society as
a whole. "What the ancients knew as well as we do -- that's what's inside
our heads is completely portable, and can be carried anywhere -- is
suddenly being facilitated by our state-of-the-art technology."
Richard Vigilante, of New York University's Virtual College, has one word
for the future of online adult education and training. That word is
"golden." Aside from an increasing demand from adults themselves and the
corporate world, Vigilante's pioneering directorship has convinced him
that in today's technology-rich, time-crunched world, "this is simply a
better way to teach and learn."