texte -- publications


The Virtual University: Education in the Cross Light between Economy, Politics, and Society. Paper for the Unesco Conference "Role of Universities in the Future Information Society" in Prague (Sept. 1997). By Stefan Krempl.

The paper deals with the new demands of the coming "knowledge society" on the university. It is concerned about the standing of the university between its traditional role as a spreader of knowledge and its disappearing in cyberspace. Chances for the integration of new media technologies like the Internet into curricula are shown and combined to two models: the single mode, that gives way to a purely virtual university, and the dual mode, that seeks to integrate traditional and hypermedial learning. In conclusion, the most urgent needs for restructuring university in the face of the commercialization of the education "market" are pointed out.

1. New Demands on Universities

In a time of profound technological and social change, in a time passing from industrial to information age, in a time of an ongoing process of commercialization of all areas of life, the traditional structures and methods of teaching will have to change tooóAlter the foundations of the university, and the whole system will stumble. Or to speak with Eli Noam (1995): "Change the technology and economics, and the institutions must change, eventually."

Restructuring of education seems unavoidable. It is not only invoked by scarce state economies. Enterprises as the main later employers are calling for a more professional and practical education too. Practical in an information age usually means that workers are computer literate, techno-savvy, and that they know their way around the Internet. Otherwise the frequently invoked "life-long-learning" does not seem to be realizable in enterprises. Additionally, such a training on the job is getting more and more important in a world of high-speed production of information, to keep pace with the fast development of computer hardware that ñ according to the law of Gordon Moore ñ seems to double its performance every 18 months. And therefore not only Peter Denning (1996) is demanding new "business designs for the new university".

Studies have shown that a normal employee in his/her career has to acquire two or even three times the amount of knowledge that he/she gathered in his primary education. This is the reason why also enterprises themselves raise the question upon the effectiveness of forms of further training. Additionally, enterprises would prefer forms in which training could be settled "by the way": They would appreciate, if knowledge and skills would be "delivered" just-in-time, right in the moment when they are needed by a decision maker, over the Internet or CD-ROM. The theme is widespread and can often be found in advertising for institutions concentrated on distance learning: "You learn while you earn" (selfpromotion of the Distance Education and Training Councils 1996)


2. Virtualization or Realization -- Alternative University Models

Right at the moment, educational institutions all over the world try to cope with this task in two general ways: a first group of institutions bets on continuation and prolongation of the classical attempt of distance learning. Other universities and training institutions see their chances and the future in a mix of traditional and hypermedial teaching and learning methods. Offers in this sector are spreading all around the globe, mainly in the United States and in Canada, but also to an increasing extent in Australia, South Africa, and in Europe. To gain an overview of all these offers is a hard task. But there certainly are common traits in the diversity. So we can differentiate between two basic models :

2.1 It's all and only Virtual (Single Mode)

In this model, the student will never enter the university by his own feet; the Internet is classroom, campus, library, and cafeteria all in one. Only the canteen and "aprés study-life" in "real" bars still hardly is to mirror purely virtual. In the best case, all stops of the technological possibilities will be pulled out by using Internet Relay Chat, graphic or texture based Multi User Dungeons or MOOs, or java-scripted online questionnaires. But be carefulóa "cool" designed homepage does not host a didactically well designed curriculum in the realm of distance education, inevitably. And some of the final degrees offered, indeed distinguish themselves by fantastic names, but not that much by their practical usability or their reputation in later professional life.

All in all, these purely "virtual universities" still are relatively seldom. In Germany, besides some smaller institutions, only the "Fernuniversität Hagen" (http://www.fernuni-hagen.de/), which is in the business of distance learning since quite a long time, offers courses of study as a purely virtual institution. Some of its courses are working quite traditionally with mailed papers and books, but others are accessible over the Internet too. In the United States the "Virtual Online University"ófounded after the boom of the Internet in 1995óplaced itself in the same sector and protected itself the meaningful domain name "Athena".

More frequently to find are subordinations of this model, in which a "real" and probably well known university or college offers additional virtual courses. Even in this case, it is often not necessary to visit the university building at all. But most of the universities engaged in this model, call in their students for exams at least, like the City-University in Seattle (http://www.cityu.edu), or even for selections. This is true for an otherwise purely virtual institution in Hongkong, that luckily has protected itself the domain name "online.edu" and now cooperates with some "real" universities from all over the world, for example with the University of Paisley in Scotland.

Extensive offers "out of beta" you are also supposed to find at the Canadian Athabasca University (http://www.athabascau.ca/) with more than 46 online courses, at the Algonquin University (http://www.algonquinc.on.ca/distance/e-mail.html), which is "located" in Canada too, and is specialized on courses in economics and computer science, at the University of Phoenix (http://www.phoenix.edu), at the University of Kansas (http://www.cc.ukans.edu/), or at the University of Arizona (http://www.cmi.arizona.edu/). Just to be sure, most of these courses are only open to students from North America.

Grown to quite a large institution in the realm of online education is the University of South Africa (http://www.unisa.ac.za/) on the African continent. In Europe, the "Open University" in London (http://www.open.ac.uk/OU/) does it's name great credit and offers facilities for online studying, but mostly single classes without a possibility to gain a full degree. In Germany, a lot of universities have their virtual courses under construction too. But really "marketable" and in series production are only a few of them. Well represented are, above all, courses in economics or computer science, for example at the Universität des Saarlandes (http://lehre2000.iwi.uni-sb.de/) or at the Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (http://www.wi1.uni-erlangen.de/wi1.html).

To make the variety of all these offers a bit more transparent, unions of individual universities with emphasis on online education, as well as councils or simple indexes in the World Wide Web have been founded. The Electronic University Network (http://www.wcc-eun.com/index.html) is such a kind of a union of many, mainly US-based colleges that opens up a choice between 32 possible degrees and about 300 coursesófrom "Agriculture" to "Metaphysics", to "Women in the Workplace" for eager distance students. Also an important list function occupies the Global Network Academy (http://uu-gna.mit.edu:8001/uu-gna/), that records more than 10 000 courses with online education in its index. Who has not found what he/she is looking for yet, can find further lists and indexes, as well as many linkpages at the Adult Distance Education's Surf Shack (http://www.helix.net/~jmtaylor/edsurf.html), at the Internet University-Guide (http://www.caso.com/), or at indexes, that are searchable by countries, at the University of Kansas (http://www.cc.ukans.edu/~sypherh/bc/onctr.html) and at the Distance Education and Training Council (http://www.detc.org/).

An extensive analysis, both in these superordinated lists, as well as at the homepages of the different universities and colleges is highly recommended , because almost all offers are covered with highly varying study fees, and further commercialization of the sector of online education seems to be well underway. The highly reputated Duke University School of Business in Fuqua, Texas, charges 82,500 Dollar for its Global Executive online MBA-program, that attracts many foreign students. But the same program costs "only" 50,000 Dollars if the student comes to Texas and conventionally follows the course. Bargaining in the net can become a difficult task for other reasons as wellóyou have to calculate with loading sessions, and also study fees often seems to be hidden well on many sites. And even if the costs are mentioned, you will have to take a sharp look at your calculator. The Australian Correspondence Schools (http://www.qldnet.com.au/acs/) tell you on their website that they charge 30 Dollars for each exam. Sounds all right, doesn't it? But if you continue reading you will discover that you have to pass 21 of these examinations for a final degree. Besides, they charge an additional "distance fee" for european students of 125 Dollars for each exam: altogether, this sums up to 3255 Dollar ñ if one passes each exam at first time.

With a smaller budget one normally gets along in courses offered in America. Prices for training classes, that are listed in the Electronic University Network (http://www.wcc.eun-com/index.html) move from 150 Dollars at the Brevard Community College to almost 1000 Dollars at the Heriot-Watt Universityóall prices naturally are subjects to change and given without assurance.

2.2 The Add-on- or More-Quality-Model (Dual Mode)

In the add-on-model, the possibilities of hyperlearning and multimedia (for communication, simulation and cognition) are integrated into normal courses in "real" universities. Aim is to link traditional and virtual learning (and teaching) methods complementary, as well as a connection of physical and virtual learning places: experts are coming into the classroom by videoconferencing over the Internet, or are tuned in via ISDN. Experts, that can broaden the knowledge of the students with intercultural and hand-on experiences about , for example, advertising in different cultures or about the difficulties of self-employence in varied countries. Two-hour video-lectures with one single, soporific camera angle, that the student has to download at own "risk", stay outside these curricula.

Instead, the Internet is used for the prolongation of seminar discussion, and for providing a deeper insight into class materials. Hyperlinked summaries and links for further reading help to integrate the cognitive advantages of hyperlearning into the curriculum, students can talk to their teachers per E-mail or in Chat-session. But they do not have to miss personal communication in the classroom ñ neither with their teacher, nor ñ perhaps even more important ñ the informal talk with their colleagues.

The philosophy of the add-on-model is basically experienced within european projects of online education. The symbiosis between virtual and traditional teaching is practiced, for example, at the Virtual College Berlin Brandenburg (http://virtualc.prz.tu-berlin.de/) or at the Donau-Universität Krems (http://www.tim.donau-uni.ac.at/Lgtele/). In these examples too, the trend is running towards charging additional study fees. And again, there is a wide field of choices: about 20,000 DM one must pay for two terms of an upgrading course in telematic management at the Donau-Universität Krems. Anyone more interested in the systematic research of information and communication technology can explore this field at the Technische Universität Chemnitz (http://www.tu-chemnitz.de/home/iuk/aufb-inf-kom-sys.html) after a remittance of 3000 DM for a two-year course.


3. Competition for the University: Education Goes on the Market

The employment of hyperlearning in its different forms and models seems to be already pushing the traditional concept of education to new directions. Perhaps it even can impart knowledge better according to the social and economical demands in the long run (what has to be proven first). "Yet to conclude that the global academic village is all gain and no pain ... would be naive" (Noam 1995). As hyperlearning and distance education make possible an almost "perfect" and total virtualization of teaching institutions, all the way is opened up for publishers, telecoms, or media giants to an education market, that is been recognized as very lucrative by more and more corporations: "Software companies may well become competitors of universities" (Casper 1995). Virtualization of universities and teaching institutions seems to fit perfectly with the commercialization and privatization of the educational sector. Or as Perelman (1993) puts itóthe "free market" in the educational sector will become "the greatest business opportunity since Rockefeller found oil". Therefore universities should be aware of the new competition. It is time to look for niches in an uprising market and to rethink the role of university for society. Should studying become more and more expensive in the future? How can the main tasks of the university ñ the creating, conserving and teaching of knowledge ñ be performed in an information age, and under market conditions? These are questions universities as well as society have to face right now.



Denning, Peter J. (1996): Business Designs for The New University. In: Educom Review 6/1996 (http://www.educom.edu/web/pubs/review/reviewArticles/31620.html).

Krempl, Stefan (1997): Die virtuelle Zukunft der Universität. Zukunft für die Universität? In: Schröder, Hartmut/Gerhard Wazel (eds.) (1997): Fremdsprachenlernen und interaktive Medien. München (forthcoming, online at http://viadrina.euv-frankfurt-o.de/~sk/Virtual-College/ZukUni1.html)

Krempl, Stefan/Hartmut Schröder (1997): Virtual College ñ neue Lehrformen im Praxistest. In: Mediengestützte wissenschaftliche Weiterbildung. Erfahrungen und Perspektiven beruflicher Bildung und Weiterbildung. Fachpublikation des Arbeitskreises Hochschule und Weiterbildung e.V. in Zusammenarbeit mit Zentralstelle für Weiterbildung der TU Braunschweig.

Noam, Eli (1995): Electronics and the Dim Future of the University. Science, Volume 270/October 1995, 247-249 (http://www.ctr.columbia.edu/vi/papers/citinoa3.htm).

Perelman, Lewis J. (1993): Hyperlearning. Would you send your Kid to a Soviet Collective? In: Wired 1/1993 (http://www.wired.com/wired/1.1/features/hyperlearning.html).