FROM THE PROVOST Report on Distributed Learning

To the University Community

Last winter, a subcommittee of the Academic Planning and Budget Committee, expanded to include faculty and staff possessing particular expertise in information technology, was established to consider the rapidly growing area of distributed learning and the role that Penn should play as a premier teaching and research university. The report that follows describes the potential for distributed learning to revolutionize higher education and the issues that need to be addressed as part of Penn's involvement. It also provides a set of recommendations that will enable Penn to best participate in this dynamic area in a manner that supports our strategic goals as outlined in the Agenda for Excellence.

--Michael L. Wachter, Interim Provost

Report of the Provost's Committee on Distributed Learning

Executive Summary

We have entered one of the most challenging and creative periods in Penn's intellectual history, due in large part to the dramatic advances in information technology. The electronic revolution offers bold opportunities for academic institutions. Nowhere is this more evident than in the rapidly growing area of distance or distributed learningthe delivery of educational programs over the Internet, including the world-wide web and video conferencing.

Penn has begun exploring this new electronic terrain in a variety of ways, including the creation of engaging 24-hour classroom discussions

among faculty and students, a new pre-freshman course which introduces students to Penn even before they arrive on campus, and a variety of new courses for professional, master's and certificate programs. The value of these new tools is apparentthey allow us to extend teaching beyond the physical boundaries of the traditional classroom and provide greater flexibility in how and when students can learn. They also allow both faculty and students to take advantage of some of the most up-to-date research results anywhere in the world. In addition to their augmentation of our traditional residential programs, the new electronic tools also allow us to reach new students anywhere in the world.

This new environment carries with it both enormous promise and considerable riskthe inherent risk in doing nothing and the risk in doing something, but not doing it well. Those institutions that can change, innovate and lead are likely to thrive; those that cannot are in danger of losing their preeminence. We affirm that in distributed learning, as in residential learning, Penn must retain its position as the institution of choice for the very best students.

The number of distributed learning programs offered is growing rapidly; over 700 accredited institutions in the United States now offer some form of distributed learning. However, most of these programs are held in community colleges or in state universities and represent an expansion of their traditional extension programs. A few of our peer institutionsDuke, MIT, Cornell, Stanford and Oxford for exampleoffer master's degree or certificate programs. Penn, like those institutions, is just now entering this rapidly-emerging network-based educational field. Although we offer web-based courses and audio lectures-on-demand, degree-granting and even certificate programs are still rare.

The new technologies also provide opportunities to expand continuing or life-long education, including certificate, executive education and pro-fessional recertification programs. Pre-college programs and intellectual enhancement courses aimed at older students are of increasing interest as well.

On the other hand, while distributed learning should significantly enhance the way we deliver our traditional residential programs, initiatives currently underway among our peers do not include undergraduate and Ph.D. programs. For the foreseeable future, undergraduate and Ph.D. degree programs will remain the domain of residential instruction among institutions of Penn's caliber.

Penn does have a potential competitive advantage in distributed learning. We are, and have always been, entrepreneurial. And we are already strong in the established fields where distributed learning is making the greatest inroadsbusiness, health, and engineering fields where knowledge changes rapidly and practitioners cannot easily find time in their careers to pursue additional education full-time.

The proliferation of distributed learning educational programs raises a number of important questions: What admission criteria should be used in enrolling students? Which faculty should teach the courses and on what basis should they be compensated? Who should monitor the quality of the programs? What is clear is that in distributed learning Penn must aim to be among the very best, maintaining established University levels of excellence.

Distributed learning also raises complex questions regarding the funding, development, distribution and marketing of such programs. Their development involves real and recurring costs, including significant technology infrastructure. Some universities have made expensive investments in equipment and personnel in order to maintain control of the development and delivery of their programs. Others have formed collaborative agreements with for-profit firms raising questions about the control over course content, admissions, and the choice of learning sites. Finally, distributed learning also raises significant legal and accreditation issues including copyright and intellectual property, and the impact of state and international regulations.

Penn is already exploring the new technological terrain of distributed learning through individual schools initiatives. As we sort through the significant academic, legal and financial questions raised by this new technology, we advocate accountable experimentation and innovation.

We recommend the establishment of an internal fund to provide planning and startup costs for new academic distributed learning programs. In addition, we propose the creation of a small facilitation unit in ISC to assist faculty and schools with the development and implementation of such projects and to serve as a clearinghouse for "best practices." Finally, we strongly urge project developers to seek advice from the General Counsel's staff on likely legal and regulatory issues, including accreditation in non-traditional jurisdictions, consistency with rules related to the University's tax-exempt status, rights to use the University's name and other trademarks, and intellectual property rights in course content. The General Council's office must approve all agreements with outside parties, as it currently does. The use of the University's name, as always, requires special attention.

In addition to these central initiatives, we propose that each school extend its approval and monitoring procedures to distributed learning courses, certificate programs and degree programs. These procedures should take into account the novel elements raised by distributed learning. All distributed learning degree programs, including those having the same academic content as existing residential programs, should be approved by the Academic Planning and Budget Committee which will use its established procedures for approving new degree programs. A three-year school-based review process should be instituted to assess each distributed learning program and determine whether it is meeting its stated goals and remains consistent with Penn's academic mission.

Finally, each school should indicate its plans for distributed learning degree and certificate programs as part of its regular report to the Provost's office on the strategic plan of the school and the Agenda for Excellence. While there is no presumption that every school will engage in distributed learning in the near future, we do hope that each school will give serious thought to the possibilities it presents.

 

I. Introduction

Through the Internet, scholars, students, and researchers can now regularly study, interact and present their work throughout the world. Recently, there has been a dramatic acceleration in "distance learning" or "distributed learning"educational programs delivered from a home site to students in remote sites anywhere around the world through the Internet.

Penn is committed to innovation wherever it enables us to strategically position the preeminence of our educational programs. The Agenda for Excellence states that the University "will creatively deploy new technologies, recognizing that technology is revolutionizing the ways in which knowledge is acquired, created, and disseminated" and will make "strategic investments" in new programs across the arts and sciences and in the professions.

Penn is, above all else, a premier academic university. Our admission policy has long held that selectivity is the appropriate strategy for maintaining our status as a leading research and teaching university. This strategic vision should be applied to the challenges posed by the new technologies. Our preeminent goal must be to offer the finest programs to the finest students. The world has many superb students who are not able to study at Penn in a residential sense but would be wonderful Penn students nevertheless. Distributed education tools can bring Penn to them and, in the process, maintain and increase Penn's stature as one of the finest institutions of higher education in the world.

 

II. The Landscape of Distributed Learning

A. Distributed Learning Defined
Distributed learning takes a myriad of forms. It includes synchronous learning, such as two-way video and audio-conferencing and asynchronous learning, where the student and teacher do not need to learn and teach at the same time or in the same space. There is little doubt that the most effective learning takes place in a highly interactive personal format. For this reason, synchronous learning is the most widely used method of teaching in a distributed format. State-of-the-art video-conferencing technology can mimic traditional classroom interaction quite effectively. Asynchronous learning also has a key role to play for students learning at home and at work. New educational programs that are developed, whether for residential students or non-residential students, will most likely use a mix of synchronous and asynchronous techniques.

B. Distributed Learning Initiatives in Higher Education
In the past several years, institutions of higher education have accelerated the pace with which they have adopted distributed learning tools. From 1991 to 1996, the number of private, four-year institutions with distributed learning programs more than doubled. Duke, M.I.T., Cornell, Oxford, and Stanford are now offering distributed learning master's degree programs and many other institutions are developing such programs.

Clearly, the distributed learning market has great potential. A 1995 national survey of U.S. adults conducted by Washington State University showed that regardless of income level, 81 percent of respondents viewed gaining additional education as important to success in their work. To this group, the advantages of nonresidential distributed learning are obvious. For established professionals, enrolling in a residential program can be disruptive to a career and home life. Distributed learning, on the other hand, allows students to study wherever they might live and work.

Distributed learning programs are particularly appealing to those who work in fields where knowledge is changing rapidly, such as engineering, science, medicine, and business. In fact, a disproportionate number of the existing distributed learning degree and certificate programs are in engineering and technical fields. Notably, seventy five percent of the master's programs offered by the most highly selective universities are in engineering and computer science.

Another 25 percent of distributed learning master's programs at research universities are in business administration. As with engineering, business students are in a field where keeping up-to-date is critical and where knowledge of the distributed learning technologies is likely to be high. Both fields also attract large enrollments and produce graduates who work in a wide range of leading corporations. In these fields, distributed learning programs can be marketed directly to and through employers.

Distributed learning is also attractive in continuing education or pre-college programs. In continuing education, such programs are typically aimed at nontraditional undergraduates who tend to be older and established in jobs. These students may or may not be seeking a bachelor's degree and are often solely interested in further intellectual development. For example, Brown University has just introduced its CyberLearning Community program consisting of non-credit courses open to all students interested in humanities courses ranging from Homer's Odyssey to Buddhist Thought and Practice. In pre-college education, Stanford has an Educational Program for Gifted Youth offering multimedia, computer-based undergraduate courses such as mathematics, physics, and expository writing to secondary school students outside of the classroom. These talented students can then move into university-level courses with advanced placement credit even before finishing high school.

By contrast, none of the top undergraduate institutions offer bachelors degree programs via distributed learning. In undergraduate education, the residential experience is vital because it brings students together in a new living and learning format away from home. Residential undergraduate education will thrive for many decades to come. The real challenge facing undergraduate education is how to exploit the power of the new teaching technologies to enhance the quality of the residential experience.

Ph.D. education is also unlikely to move to a distributed learning format. Outstanding Ph.D. education requires individualized intellectual interaction between the professor and the student. As of spring 1997, no distributed learning Ph.D. programs were offered by the top fifty universities with the exception of an unusual program in engineering at the University of Virginia. However, distributed learning technologies will certainly affect Ph.D. education in their ability to create more timely intellectual collaborations across universities and more flexible teaching arrangements within a university.

C. Distributed Learning Initiatives at Penn
Today at Penn, most distributed learning programs are in the experimental or start-up stage. Individual distributed learning courses are certainly more prevalent than degree or certificate programs. As successful results are achieved, individual courses will likely be aggregated to form certificate and degree programs. For example, Penn's School of Engineering and Applied Science, supported by Sloan Foundation funding, is converting its master's program in Telecommunications into web format. At this moment, Penn has only one degree program offered exclusively through distributed learninga masters degree program in nurse-midwifery offered by the School of Nursing to a small number of students across Pennsylvania. The program uses the Commonwealth's HealthNet video-conferencing network and is generously supported by the Bureau of Maternal and Child Health.

New information technologies are providing substantial instructional enhancements for faculty who adapt their teaching techniques to the new media. Such technologies are beginning to enrich Penn's residential programs. Entering students who arrive each fall are already familiar with emerging educational technologies and these students are eager to use computer, video and audio to enrich the courses they take at college. Students also have the ability to network with our faculty before they come to Penn. In the Class of 2002, 64.3 percent of the students admitted early reported an e-mail address on their applications. Taking advantage of this electronic accessibility, Professors James O'Donnell and Alan Filreis started a lively writing course to introduce these students to Penn.

Penn is also experimenting with pre-college programs. The goal, in part, is to attract the brightest college prospects to our residential program. Full-fledged distributed courses for pre-college students under development at Penn include a calculus course and an anthropology course.

Additionally, a number of schools are entering the distributed learning continuing education arena with certificate, executive education and professional recertification programs. Among these programs is a new Wharton certificate program that targets individuals who hold a bachelor's degree and are interested in advancing their business careers.

D. Distributed Learning Initiatives Among For-Profits
Producing a successful distributed education course can be far more demanding than preparing a traditional course for classroom delivery. Like our traditional residential programs, distributed learning courses require excellent content. But given the nature of the student body, the needed content may require a different mix between theory and up-to-date application. In addition, they require an effective integration of visual material, text, audio, and video.

Given these differences, for-profit companies are increasingly playing an important role in distributed learning. Firms that own video-conferencing facilities and equipment as well as the necessary production and marketing expertise are particularly well positioned in this emerging field. Some of these firms actively seek universities to collaborate with them in creating distance learning programs. Caliber Learning Network, for example, does not seek to compete with universities in creating academic content but instead specializes in converting traditional educational material into multimedia format, and then presenting it through their network of remote-site studios. Other companies, although potentially interested in collaboration, are more likely to be competitors in creating content. Firms such as Microsoft and Motorola provide advanced technical training to their own employees and are now interested in attracting professionals in other firms who wish to upgrade their skills.

Collaborating with for-profit companies has potential advantages, including their capacity to provide considerable expertise in visual content and technical abilities. It also eliminates the need to make expensive investments and costly upgrades. Such collaboration also carries with it risks. Existing distributed learning initiatives are still in their early stages of development and as such, important philosophical and practical considerations need to be considered. Will such programs limit a university's flexibility? At the other extreme, will the collaborating firm simply be able to adopt the academic content and do its own programs? Who will have control over the course standards, admission standards, and the choice of sites? For these reasons, collaboration with for-profits need to be closely monitored by the schools and the University.

The landscape of distributed learning programs is likely to include an array of traditional universities offering their own programs, universities collaborating with for-profit companies, and for-profit companies breaking new ground on their own. Based on Penn's goals of academic excellence, our highest quality and most challenging competitors are likely to continue to be universities such as Stanford and MIT. Penn will certainly not compete with the Internet equivalent of the diploma mills that have long existed. Nor will we compete with for-profit firms that forgo high content standards in order to appeal to the widest possible audience.

 

III. Issues

The new tools of distributed learning force us to rethink our approach to educating students. This is not only a challenge that must be accepted, but an opportunity that we should embrace. This environment of enormous promise does carry with it considerable risk and forces us to address some difficult and groundbreaking questions.

(1) What technologies work and how will they differ across programs?
The visual and audio content of distributed learning programs can be critical to their success. To date, distributed learning programs have experimented with a mix of two-way video-conferencing, web-based audio and video formats, e-mail, video tapes, and short-term face-to-face instruction.

(2) What type of infrastructure will be needed to support these programs and make certain that they are successful?
Production of any educational program using the Internet will require new investments in computing equipment and personnel.Video-con-ferencing requires remote classroom facilities and equipment, and on-site remote technical support staff. Providing these resources often leads to the formation of business relationships with for-profit firms or other educational institutions that possess the needed facilities, equipment and staff.

(3) How will these distributed learning collaborations be structured?
The details of the structure are of great importance to the University as well as the ultimate success of the venture. In general, a joint venture with a for-profit entity will pose significantly greater legal challenges for the University than will a more traditional vendor relationship, particularly in the area of tax law compliance and intellectual property rights. From the outset, schools and programs should prepare a detailed business plan of any proposed relationship with an outside entity.

(4) What types of courses should be developed?
Courses can be developed across all of Penn's schools and must meet established University levels of excellence. Optimally, courses should be based on existing residential courses and complement scholarly research interests of the faculty.

(5) What standards will guide admission to the program and how will students' progress be monitored?
It has long been a cornerstone of Penn's admission policy that our selectivity helps sustain our worldwide recognition as a leading research and teaching university. The core clientele of distributed learning courses may differ significantly from Penn residential programs. They are likely to include busy executives and professionals with many years of on-the-job experience who may be outstanding students yet not perform as well on traditional measures as do students just out of college. Schools and programs, however, should not deviate from Penn's long-standing practice of selectivity in admitting students. One important way of assuring student quality is to establish admissions standards of equal selectivity to those applied to students in residence. A judicious use of some residence requirements should help to ensure the quality of distributed learning programs.

(6) How will faculty be chosen to teach in distributed learning programs? If standing faculty are used, what is the best way to compensate them?
A key indicator of excellence in distributed learning will be the extent to which standing faculty are involved in the teaching of courses. The essential research and teaching goals of the University should not be compromised. Over-load teaching of distributed learning courses has some advantages, but may be a distraction from in-load teaching and research commitments. Thus, the mix of in-load and over-load teaching must reflect the needs of the program and the interests and availability of the faculty.

(7) Who will monitor the quality of the programs offered to ensure that the reputation and standards of the University are maintained?
The faculty of each school must be responsible for the maintenance of high quality instruction, but the new technologies require a new type of vigilance over presentation and content. All of Penn's twelve schools have an interest in maintaining the excellent reputation of their own programs as well as those throughout the University.

 

IV. Recommendations

To be successful, distributed learning programs must contribute to the Agenda for Excellence's overarching goal of having world-class students taught by world-class faculty. In addition to this superordinate goal, the Agenda also specifically envisages the development of strategic masters programs and the deployment of the new technologies that are embodied by distributed learning courses. To attain these goals, we believe it is important to support and encourage accountable experimentation in distributed learning programs. We thus make recommendations in five broad areas relating to distributed learning programs at Penn:

1. Create a Penn Distributed Learning Venture Capital Fund
We advocate that arrangements be made for the University to sponsor an "internal venture capital fund" for new distributed learning programs. A subcommittee of Academic Planning and Budget (AP&B), expanded to include faculty and staff possessing particular expertise in distributed learning, should direct this fund and oversee its administration. Funds should be used to provide planning and startup costs for individual schools or groups of schools with meritorious programs. In providing this funding, the University should act as a partner with the schools: distributed learning programs that receive internal venture funding will, in addition to any division of revenues, in accordance with standing University policies, return a share of their revenues as a royalty to fund successor programs. Like all good venture capital firms, the University will actively support and hold accountable the management of the distributed learning programs it supports.

2. Form an ISC Distributed Learning Facilitation Unit
To preserve the quality of Penn's entries into new educational markets, a small working unit should be created in Information Systems and Computing (ISC), within existing budgetary limits for 1998-99, to support and facilitate distributed learning programs in the schools. Working under the Vice Provost for Information Systems and Computing and with the guidance of the subcommittee of AP&B, this unit should offer a full range of assistance on the technology, marketing and distribution of distributed learning programs. The unit should work to help schools define and implement program ideas in the ways that most effectively meet their particular business objectives. It should provide information on distributed learning programs offered elsewhere, including markets, competitors, formats, and media. The unit can coordinate acquisition of equipment and software across schools to take advantage of possible economies of scale and quantity discounts. The unit should maintain updated knowledge and contacts in the areas of vendors and potential collaborators, which may include both for-profit and not-for-profit companies who offer technology, marketing and distribution services, or who seek academic content for the distributed learning market. In sum, this unit should serve as a clearinghouse for "best practices" and an adviser for programs that need assistance. In performing these functions, the unit should work closely with the Office of the General Counsel on legal and regulatory matters, and with the Office of the Provost on institutional policy and strategy.

3. Monitor Contract Formation through the Office of the General Counsel and the Executive Vice President
Distributed learning initiatives will often benefit from collaboration or contracting with for-profit firms that have expertise in areas of visual presentation and technology or in network facilities and off-site facility staffing. Collaborations with for-profit firms raise both important opportunities and novel questions that need to be carefully considered. The business and legal aspects of all such collaborations should be evaluated by the Office of the Executive Vice President and the Office of the General Counsel. The University must protect its right to control the academic content, the form of presentation of that content, and Penn's tax-exempt status in any collaborative agreement.

The General Counsel's office should devote resources to the development of expertise in and responsiveness to requests to handle distributed learning contracts on behalf of schools and programs. The office, using outside counsel when necessary, should be prepared to act expeditiously on requests from the schools or programs. General Counsel's staff should advise project developers on legal and regulatory issues, including accreditation in non-traditional jurisdictions, consistency with rules related to the University's tax-exempt status, rights to use the University's name and other trademarks, and intellectual property rights in course content.

The starting point for contract formation should be the University's existing policies on these matters. The General Counsel's office, in collaboration with the ISC facilitation unit, should also work to adapt and streamline these policies to conform to the new realities of the distributed learning era. Although a single standard form contract is unlikely to fit the needs of all programs, the interests of the schools and the University are best protected by a unified approach to the general issues that are raised. The goal of this effort should be to develop alternative standard forms that represent the interests of the University and its faculties and to ensure compliance with all applicable legal requirements.

4. Establish School Strategic Planning and Reporting on Distributed Learning Initiatives
To maintain high levels of excellence in our programming, it is necessary to establish a strategic approach to advance Penn's distributed learning programs. In order to fulfill that need, each school should report regularly to the Office of the Provost on its plans in the distributed learning degree and certificate programming areas. The reports should show how the prospective distributed learning plans address both the strategic plan of the school and the
Agenda for Excellence and provide answers to the issues raised above. There is no presumption that every school will engage in distributed learning in the near future, but there is every reason to hope that each school will give serious thought to the possibilities it offers.

5. Approve, Monitor and Evaluate Distributed Learning Programs
Each of Penn's schools should adopt school-based procedures for evaluating all distributed learning courses, certificate programs, and degrees. In particular, these procedures should address the issues raised above and explicitly review a detailed academic plan and a business plan of any proposed relationship with outside entities. We also recommend that for the foreseeable future all programs be reviewed by the originating school on an on-going basis to assure quality and to guide planning for the future. Finally, given the potential global impact for certificate programs taught via distributed learning, we recommend a careful re-evaluation by school leadership of all current certificate programs prior to their distribution by these new media.

Through the established procedures of AP&B, the University and the proposed distributed learning subcommittee of AP&B should adopt specific, comprehensive procedures for approving all degree-granting distributed learning programs, even when those programs have the same academic content as existing residential programs. These procedures should be based on and congruent with current procedures, but should be expanded to incorporate the novel elements raised in distributed learning programs. Since the trustees of the University grant all degrees, the Academic Planning and Budget Committee should forward all degree programs it approves, including those that are similar to existing residential programs, to the trustees of the University for their approval. This would establish extra safeguards on the adoption of distributed learning degree programs.

For all distributed learning degree programs, the University should establish a three-year review process to assess their fulfillment of the stated goals of the programs. These reviews should be rigorous, normative, academic, and market-based. They should be guided by the academic and business plans put forward at the initiation of the distributed learning programs. Finally, the reviews should ensure that all distributed learning programs are consistent with Penn's academic mission and capacities.

 

V. The Future of Distributed Learning at Penn

The future is upon usand it is moving faster and in far more significant ways than we could have anticipated. Not only are the new network and information technologies transforming the way we teach and interact, they are also challenging our traditional student markets even while they foster new ones. They are also pushing academic institutions into a convergence with the private sector. Guided by the Agenda For Excellence, Penn will move forward into this new educational era with a deliberate entrepreneurial deployment of distributed learning technology. With the curriculum review structure and the technical resources proposed here, Penn will put forward the best of its educational programs to take full advantage of the strengths of the new media. We will thereby ensure that Penn's stature will remain world-class in both its traditional residential programs as well as its new, innovative distributed learning ventures.

 

Provost's Committee on Distributed Learning

Michael L. Wachter, Interim Provost (Chair)
Gregory Farrington, Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science
Eduardo Glandt, Heuer Professor of Chemical Engineering
Richard E. Kihlstrom, Miller-Freedman Professor of Finance
Walter Licht, Professor of History and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies, School of Arts and Sciences
Janice F. Madden, Professor of Sociology and Vice Provost for Graduate Education
James J. O'Donnell, Professor of Classics and Vice Provost for Information Science and Computing
Jerry Wind, Lauder Professor of Marketing
Michael Eleey, Associate Vice Provost, IS&C
(ex officio)
Bernard Lentz, Director of Institutional Research and Analysis (ex officio)


Almanac, Vol. 44, No. 30, April 21, 1998

 FRONT PAGE | CONTENTS | JOB-OPS | CRIMESTATS | BETWEEN ISSUES | APRIL at PENN