Unlocking the Gates: How and Why Leading Universities Are Opening Up Access to Their Courses

By Taylor Walsh | Go to book overview

2
EARLY EXPERIMENTS:
FATHOM AND ALLLEARN

In the late 1990s, leaders in higher education—as in many sectors of the economy—were deeply interested in the internet’s power to fundamentally transform all aspects of doing business. Universities were eager to harness the networked environment to their advantage, and were particularly intrigued by the internet’s potential to transform education. Fathom, an online effort led by Columbia University, and AllLearn, a concurrent initiative of Oxford, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale, were two of a group of similar projects conceived in the late 1990s and launched around 2000, including California Virtual University, eCornell, NYUonline, UNext, and Virtual Temple.1 Speculation was rampant that education would be the next “killer application” for the internet, and a number of higher education institutions were eager to explore the possibilities: a November 2000 article on online learning initiatives quotes a dean at the Wharton School as saying that “at least 75 percent of universities of any significance are looking at this, or dabbling with it to some extent.”2 Fathom and AllLearn reflect the dot-com era’s confidence in the enormous moneymaking

1Fathom and AllLearn were unique among these in that they dealt with the liberal arts core of their host universities by publishing content related to undergraduate courses or developed by popular undergraduate faculty, rather than zeroing in on preprofessional or certain graduate programs, as UNext or NYUOnline did with business curricula.

2Cisco Systems chair John Chambers gave the “killer application” quote to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (Friedman, Thomas L., “Foreign Affairs: Next, It’s E-ducation,” New York Times, online edition, November 17, 1999). For the comment from the Wharton dean, see Singer, Karen, “Distance-Learning Ventures Propel Top Universities into For-Profit Sector: Harvard, Cornell, and Stanford among Those Lured by $10 Billion Potential,” Matrix: The Magazine for Leaders in Higher Education, online edition, 1, no. 4 (November 1, 2000).

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