Towards a New "Distance Learning" University

by Dr. Alexander Schure Reparing America's youth and mobile work force for the current and emerging challenges of tomorrow means all academic programs will require integration of education and technology. By the year 2000, multiple and seamless links will exist between homes and industries, driven by the converging computer, communications and TV technologies. Coupled with telecomputer, telephonic TV, cable and satellite access, such evolutionary phenomena will soon permit widespread availability of diverse forms of information, education, services and entertainment for all. Increasingly, state educational boards, accrediting agencies, educational advisory councils, software purveyors and educational institutions are considering the benefits of distance education. Their surveys cover the variety of technologies that affect the delivery of such education. And the consensus is that rapidly evolving systems are fusing in manners that are transforming, materially and positively, the capabilities that give distance learning the opportunity to become a full partner with conventional schooling. So enormous is the potential for interconnected, large-scale information networks that some scholars predict the death, in the coming decade, of formal schools and colleges. In my opinion, this is unlikely, but distance education will certainly grow. Along with it will come new linkages between schools, colleges and industry. The Vision of NDLU An equally obvious forecast of coming events is that the hundreds of billions of dollars invested in the worldwide electronics market will soon make current TV sets totally obsolete, replacing them with "smart" telecomputers. These new devices will accept, store and make new images or recompute old ones, as well as resend information in digital formats into telephonic and/or cable networks. Likewise, videoconferencing will be simple and convenient, with national and international regions offering multi-millions of accessible locations. The impact on education will be profound and the delivery models varied. Fate is such that I have been given the responsibility of overseeing the design of one such new institution, the "National Distance Learning University" (NDLU). This challenge yields an opportunity to design a university that is highly responsive to rapidly changing technologies and uses them freely as its means to accomplish allocated missions. The dual role of technology within NDLU is for broad use in its delivery systems and as major components of its curricula. Curricula Design NDLU is to be totally modern in its delivery systems and will follow the precepts of the most outstanding of existing accredited institutions offering degrees and certifications via distance learning. It will also supply a range of degree-granting programs designed to yield computer "hands-on" academic experiences. All programs are to be competency based. Student competencies will be overseen by a non-profit center and the university anticipates links to both accredited proprietary and non-profit institutions of distinction. The newest of communications and computer resources tied to high-speed digital networks will deliver computer-competency curricula. Direct access to presentational communications using simulation and visualization are rapidly becoming accepted as important adjuncts to written communications. In addition to the traditional offerings, emphasis on simulation and visual techniques will comprise a substantive portion of degree requirements. A curricula reflecting the applications and computer science disciplines will provide an excellent basis for graduates to compete within the information societies of our time. The NDLU's programs are designed to be brought online quickly by adapting the best of existing software that services government, corporate, in-school and at-home students. It is less than 50 years since the electronically stored program appeared. Over this period, the evolving communications/computer trades have developed their own, new, communications/computer education (CCE) and intellectual disciplines. These range from engineering to art, from scientific visualization to animation to simulation, and from commercial applications to computational science. CCE degree programs at the undergraduate level are highly variable and permit immediate entry-level placements into their many related fields. They possess a fundamental theme built around a core of presentational communications, including art, electronic cinematography, virtual reality, desktop publishing, databases, computer graphics and scientific visualizations. At the graduate level, CCE courses are to be drawn from the following: educational technologies; machine models; algorithms and data structures; programming languages and parsing; graphics, virtual reality and scientific visualizations; numerical analysis; operating systems and real-time programming; artificial intelligence and expert systems. Career institutes, related to new and emerging usage, are another fundamental component of the NDLU design. In Summary Distance learning, which offers access to vast and insatiable markets, often features interactive telecommunication networks. NDLU will also offer: interactive video-based teaching and learning; interactive instructional projects including simulations; telecomputer usage for learning at home or office locales; and asynchronous, long-range, group teleconferencing supervised by qualified mentors. To accomplish the above, the new university will, in its curricula design, use all modern distance learning orientations and current competency-based acceptable accreditation. It is to be free of the conventional campus formats of higher education as well as highly competitive on tuition fees to enable high volumes of students. It will use software adaptations of current and emerging products. Most importantly , it will offer learners access to professional experiences and mentors. Designing technology's utilization for a new educational adventure has proven to be both enjoyable and challenging. Realizing the actual institution should prove to be even more so. Dr. Alexander Schure, a principal founder of New York Institute of Technology, is currently Chancellor Emeritus of NYIT. He served as president from 1955 to 1982 and subsequently as chancellor from 1982 to 1991. Simultaneously, he was chancellor of the NYIT/Nova University Federation, serving as chancellor and CEO of Nova University from 1970 to 1986. He will serve as the Chancellor of the new institution. s, computer graphics and scientific visualizations. At the graduate level, CCE course offerings are to be drawn from the following: educational technologies; machine models; algorithms and data structures; programming languages and parsing; graphics, virtual reality and science.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.