At Council on January 28, the Interim Provost reported briefly on
progress in the college house system, and on the emerging topic of Distance
Learning. His remarks on the latter:
Steps Toward Distance Learning at Penn
by Michael Wachter
As you may recall, Information Science, Technology and Society
is one of the University's six academic priorities (Almanac
Supplement September 24, 1996). We have enormous strengths in these
areas that we are trying to build upon. One of the important aspects of
Information Science, Technology and Society is that technology will
be truly transformational in the way we deliver educational services.
An important example of this is Distance Learning.
Distance Learning broadly refers to any time that a student and faculty
member are not in the same room at the same time as part of the learning
experience. What we are finding is that a large number of universities
have already started introducing either Distance Learning degree programs
or Distance Learning certificates. Indeed, in our twelve schools, most
have initiatives of one sort or another--although not typically at the
degree level at this point.
I've been chairing a committee that was appointed in December and has
been meeting for the last several months to look into the issues posed
by Distance Learning. There are very complex, interesting, exciting issues
to deal with. There is no question but that this university must lead in
Distance Learning--but we must also do it in a smart way. Most of
you have heard of Phoenix University; there are other examples of that
kind. We are in no way looking to lower our standards to that level or
to dilute fundamentally the kinds of courses and degrees that we offer.
We believe that ultimately--and shortly--all of our peer institutions will
provide some kind of Distance Learning certificates or degrees. Duke already
has one, for example, in an MBA program. So we are looking into this very
carefully and working with the schools on their initiatives.
- At all times, our intent will be to present premier quality distance
learning programs. To that end, a number of questions will need to be answered:
- Who are the students who will be in these programs?
- How will they be chosen?
- How will they be admitted?
- Who will teach the courses?
- Who will monitor the quality of the programs offered, to ensure
that the standards of the University are maintained?
In addition, there are a number of significant legal and accreditation
issues raised by Distance Learning, and we are looking into those as well.
And finally, there are complex issues involved in the funding, development,
distribution and marketing of Distance Learning programs. Certainly one
of the important aspects of it is that while we are used to thinking of
our courses in terms of their academic content, most Distance Learning
will also involve a visual content that will also have to be high
quality. We have to make sure that the kinds of programs we develop not
only have the substantive, outstanding merit that are typically found in
our programs, but also are delivered effectively in whatever form they
take to make the most of the new technologies.