Alice, the College Teacher, and the Rottweiler in Wonderland: The Prospects and Problems of Distance Education

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Thank you, Norm. When Beth Johnson and I first spoke about this panel, we agreed that I should reiterate some of the material I have been speaking about with regard to the future of community colleges. However, as the date approached, we both changed our minds, and this talk will focus on a look ahead at delivery of instruction in community colleges, particularly distance learning. Hence, I have named this speech "Alice, the College Teacher, and the Rottweiler in Wonderland: The Prospects and Problems of Distance Education."

In mid-1997 there were some 19 million individuals who used the Internet at the office. This number jumped to 32 million in 1998. And 37 million homes used the Internet, up from 19 million in mid-1997. Thus the Internet is being used at home a total of 65 million hours per day.

Just a few more quick statistics: 30 years ago there were three computers termed hosts (computers that could be directly reached through the Internet). As of January, 1999, that number was 43.2 million, and it is expected to increase to 100 million worldwide by 2001 (if we get past Y2K). Electronic commerce accounted for $27.4 billion in 1998, and is expected to grow to $978.4 billion by 2003.

In higher education, we have the phenomenon of online courses. Not a day goes by when I do not get a mailing, an article, or a notice about some other electronic development: the issue of Community College Week devoted to the Internet; the announcement that eight community colleges from California to Florida have formed a new distance learning network; the conference held on online learning; the advertisements promising "let us help put your courses and campus online in 60 days--guaranteed."

There is a virtual Niagara of information and an increased speed of communication. Current optic transmission lines can carry 1 to 2 gigabits per second.... At current speeds, the Library of Congress' entire collection of books could be transmitted in just over five minutes. Come to think of it, just consider how much information there is in the air all around us: AM, FM, UHF, YHF, shortwave radio, television, CB radio, walkie-talkies, cell phones, cordless phones, telephone satellites, microwave relays, faxes, pagers, taxi calls, police, sheriff, hospitals, fire departments, telemetry, navigation, radar, the military, government, financial, legal, medical, the media--trillions and trillions of separate little bits of electronic information all about us at all times.

We are in the midst of a learning revolution. In 1993 Peterson's Distance Learning Guide counted just 93 cybercolleges; the 1997 edition lists 762. More than one million students now take courses from those colleges. How much longer before the numbers begin to soar? At UCLA students can work individually on physics problems using a CD-ROM developed there, and students are asked to solve problems on an interactive web site giving the faculty member instant feedback on how well students are doing, allowing her to tailor class time to areas where students need more work. Rio Salado College in Arizona serves thousands of students through distance-learning courses and full degree programs too that begin every other week, and are offered at some of 200 community sites in the region, including credit classes in 20 high schools. The University of California at Berkeley had a 65 percent increase in online enrollment last year in 42 courses; by the end of this academic year, they expect to have 175 courses available. Some are projecting that in the future nearly every course will have a web-based component which supplements and supports the course. For example, all courses will be videotaped and students can review the videotape online.

Let us say these numbers and projections are wrong by half; that is still colossal growth!

Now some of that growth is due to children playing games on the Internet. How does it make you feel to think that a future president of the United States is probably at this very minute standing in a trance at the controls of a video game, zapping rocket ships and destroying worlds? …