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 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:
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.
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.