Rethinking The Academy:

The Western Governors Association's Recent Announcement of the Virtual University

A recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education announced the formation of the Virtual University, part of a consortium created by the Western Governor's Association which would be an on-line university with no physical campus whatsoever, nor any faculty.

The article described it in the following way:

The Virtual University, as it is now called, would have no campus and no faculty. It would award degrees and certificates of learning to students who take courses offered by participating colleges and universities, or who have acquired knowledge or skills from unconventional sources, such as educational software.
The governing body would decide policy for the institution, manage its assets, and be responsible for quality control. Each Governor would appoint a trustee, and the trustees would name an equal number of additional trustees.
The franchises, to be located in schools, public libraries, and private businesses, would be places where students could join in distance-education classes or use educational materials on which they would eventually be tested.

Most alarming from an educator's point of view is perhaps the fact that this version of the virtual university will have no faculty; instead, students will go to a number of locations including local colleges and universities and take courses that will, in effect, be transferred to the Virtual University. However, provisions will also be made for students to "join in distance-education classes or use educational materials on which they would eventually be tested" which might include "courses or materials that are delivered electronically and that include an assessment component" (Western Governors).

This is the far edge of the vision of the Cycademy and one that is very alarming on many counts. For many people, the sense of community created by the traditional classroom is very comforting - others argue that this sense of community is transferable to cyberspace.

But both sides would agree that taking a course here and there - or gaining skills from a software package with no other human contact involved - might well have a dehumanizing effect on education.

For those concerned with the possible impact of the job market on graduate student recruiting, and for those on the job market, the possibility of the creation of an entirely new university without the addition of a single new faculty position is one that ought to be resisted.

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Last Modified: August 2, 1996

Copyright 1996 by Keith Dorwick