As distance education and virtual education options expand, most discussion of these topics centers on the positive aspects, such as low-cost, anytime-anywhere learning and the breaking down of discrimination, because virtual encounters mask knowledge of race or gender.
But a recent report by the College Board, [The Virtual University and Educational Opportunity,] suggests a more ominous consequence of these new educational opportunities. They elaborate on a new set of barriers for the traditionally underrepresented in higher education, because computers are less likely to be in the schools and homes of low-income families. They note that [virtual space is infinite, but it does not promise universality or equity] (Gladiuex and Swail, 1999, p. 22).
Many are putting their hopes into Bill Gates's $1 billion program, which is attempting to ensure that all individuals have access to the Internet. But money alone will neither solve some of the problems nor capture the promise of this new technology.
What the College Board report and this monograph point out is that virtual and distance education, in addition to challenging our resources, faculty, administrative infrastructure, and student classroom experience, are also challenging our philosophy of education. The perennial philosophical questions once again emerge, such as who should be educated, what is the purpose of education, what are the social and political commitments to education, and what is a quality education.
Thus, we have been thrust into a time period of philosophical questioning in which challenging traditional assumptions is necessary. Too many people are running toward the new technology without asking some of these essential questions. Not Gerald Van Dusen. This monograph provides thoughtful questioning and forces a reexamination of core values.
Van Dusen, a second-time author for the series (his previous monograph was [The Virtual Classroom]), examines the promise (and some of the perils) of the new digital age. Van Dusen has years of experience with these issues, having worked in distance education at Wayne County Community College. As a faculty member, he is familiar with the applications of technology in the classroom and conducts research on alternative learning and instructional technology.