The College of the Future Could Be a Mouse Click Away State Education Board to Study Idea of Virtual University

Article excerpt

Byline: Don Thompson Daily Herald State Government Writer

SPRINGFIELD - Going away to college for many suburban residents may soon mean simply going into another room to flip on the computer.

Illinois educators already are using high-tech hook-ups to serve the state's fastest-growing region without building a new state university. But they're looking ahead to the day when students will use computerized voice, video, audio and data links to communicate with professors and classmates who might be scattered halfway around the globe and through a half-dozen time zones.

"There is a coming transformation in higher education," said John Joseph, acting vice provost and dean at Roosevelt University's Schaumburg campus. "It's not on anybody's radar screen, but it's going to be hovering over us like that spaceship in the movie 'Independence Day.' "

In part, the coming changes are designed to meet society's evolving needs, in which a two- or four-year degree is only the beginning of a lifetime of retraining and continued learning. It is those sorts of changes and needs that the Illinois Board of Higher Education will begin to examine today at a meeting in Skokie.

In fact, the suburbs already have a glimpse of the future when it comes to education beyond high school.

In Lake County, students can select from a menu of offerings by the dozen schools that make up a new "multi-university." Students miles apart in Grayslake, Lincolnshire and Waukegan can attend class together, linked by video cameras.

Meanwhile, at a similar multi-university in Oak Brook, students attend classes offered by any of the three University of Illinois campuses, Northern Illinois University or the College of DuPage. They log into the campus' computer from home to check out classes or turn in their homework.

But already that technology is on the verge of being outdated as universities turn to web pages on the Internet and e-mail to supplement and perhaps ultimately replace traditional classrooms with the sort of "virtual university" they expect will redefine higher education into the next millennium.

Can't drag yourself out of bed for that 8 a.m. class?

Have to be out of town on business when your graduate class is scheduled to meet?

No problem.

While today's video links allow students to attend classes in remote locations, they must still all show up at the same time to participate. But with the Internet, they can log on whenever they please.

"The real issue is not distance. The real issue is time," said Roosevelt University's Joseph. "It's mind-boggling."

Already, more than a hundred universities are busy developing Internet-based classes - and that appears to be the direction of the future.

"It used to be if someone wanted to go to the University of Illinois, you had to go to Chicago or Urbana-Champaign," said Charles Evans, the university's assistant vice president and director of statewide programming. …