EDUCATION VIA ADVANCED TECHNOLOGIES

Final Report, MIT Committee on EVAT


Executive Summary

The MIT ad hoc Committee on Education Via Advanced Technologies (EVAT) was formed in October 1994 at the request of MIT President Charles M. Vest, to study the opportunities for MIT of advanced technologies such as the World Wide Web.

The Committee considered its charge to be to investigate the educational potential of many advanced technologies, including the Web, the Internet, CD-ROMs, hypermedia, interactive TV, and others. The emphasis was on the technologies for improved communications or connectivity, rather than, for example, those for faster general-purpose computation or graphics, or those that benefit particular disciplines.

The World Wide Web

The features that make the Web (and related technologies) interesting for educational purposes include that it is pervasive, fast, convenient, versatile, popular, and interactive. Of these features, interactivity is not well understood at this time, but is probably of great importance for educational applications. As for the future of the Web, straightforward extrapolations on technology trends indicate that the hardware and software supporting the Web will improve dramatically. However, at the same time the increasing popularity of the Web will place increased demands on the Internet.

The Internet today is used for many purposes, and the Web is one of them. Usage of the Web is growing dramatically. There seem to be two noneducational uses of the Web. One is a form of public relations -- an organization publishes Web pages to tell its story to the public. The other is for more directed communications, to suppliers, customers, and partners, and especially internal to the organization. Educational uses of the Web are much more limited at present, and seem to fall into three categories:

  1. Interaction, e.g., for simulation of various kinds of systems;
  2. Delivery of intellectual resources to students;
  3. Delivery of administrative information (handouts, problem sets, solutions, etc.)
There is much talk about distance education being enabled by the Web and other advanced technologies. The Committee is divided in its opinion about the effectiveness of distance education today.

MIT

The many things that make MIT a special and exciting place do not necessarily confer upon MIT any advantage in dealing with advanced technologies. Indeed, the Web and other technologies are known to all universities. Students at all universities will be as familiar with these technologies as MIT students. Authoring tools will be widely available. Many universities will have facilities, including computer networks, the equal of ours. And we are not off to a rapid start -- other universities have either announced or actually implemented educational activities that make use of the Web.

One can imagine many possible futures for MIT, depending on the extent to which MIT is able to use advanced technologies to support and extend its educational mission. It is likely that the computing environment will evolve, either rapidly or slowly, toward one in which almost all students own computers, and MIT supplies the network and the necessary infrastructure, including print servers, Web servers, data storage, e-mail service, and specialized computers and other equipment.

At the same time, the advanced technologies of concern to the Committee will be evolving. One way of describing these changes is to note that each advance in technology has the effect of making more convenient a student's access to the vast and growing reservoir of information on the Internet. Also, the information available is becoming more reliable and broader in scope. Probably within a few years half of all MIT subjects will make significant use of Web-based resources, and a few subjects will be radically changed in the process. The Committee views with favor use of advanced technologies to permit students to access intellectual resources of all sorts.

It is tempting to think of using the advanced technologies to export MIT education beyond the campus. We have identified three possible new markets: newly admitted students before they arrive on campus; our own students temporarily off campus; and our alumni/ae. However, there are reasons why MIT may not be well equipped or well situated to compete with other higher educational institutions in reaching students besides those with an affiliation already established.

Of all the possible futures for MIT, the most disturbing is the one in which others find out how to offer distance education using advanced technologies, and MIT either does not learn how, or elects not to offer it. The economic strength of MIT could be seriously undercut by competition as a result.

Recommendations

The Committee recommends that some short-range actions be taken to insure that all participants in the educational mission have convenient access to the World Wide Web, and opportunity to use it as a routine part of daily life. It is also recommended that a regular faculty committee be charged with oversight of academic computing.

The Committee recommends several medium-range actions. It calls for a high-level Institute-wide competition for support of technology-related curriculum development. It suggests a specific set of initiatives in distance education, designed to gain experience. It advocates a program of electronic connectivity for alumni/ae. It also recommends procedures by which all MIT subjects make at least administrative use of the Web. Finally, it advocates development of a variety of administrative uses of the Web.

Finally, the Committee recommends that long-range studies should be made of the opportunities and risks associated with new educational markets, as enabled by advanced technologies. The most plausible such new markets are our own alumni/ae and bright high-school seniors.


This page revised June 1, 1995. Your comments about this report are welcome.
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