Final Report:
University Task Force on the Impact of Digital Technology on the Classroom Environment

Virginia Tech, 1989

Executive Summary

As its name implies, the University Task Force on the Impact of Digital Technology on the Classroom Environment was established to identify and examine the impacts of digital technology on the future of the teaching learning environment at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. The task force looked at the current educational model and the changes new technologies will impose on that model.

The traditional method of evaluating education at VPI & SU and throughout the country, particularly at the undergraduate level, has followed the credit-for-contact model, wherein student progress and faculty instructional contributions are measured by hours of contact in lecture hall, seminar room, or laboratory. New digital technologies may make it possible to break this mold as the type of contact changes in three significant ways:

  1. The nature of formally structured contact will shift.

  2. A larger part of faculty/student contact will be ad hoc and relatively unstructured.

  3. The provision of an electronic message system will allow extensive "contact" without requiring student and teacher to be in the same place.
As classroom contact decreases, however, it becomes increasingly important for faculty to interact with students outside the classroom. But the lack of gathering places in the central campus and the failure to weigh such informal interaction with students in terms of promotion, tenure, and salary increases for faculty may tend to negate informal contact, both problems that need to be addressed.

Since graduate students generally are less involved in the credit-for contact model, they should be less affected by the new digital technologies than are undergraduates, whose experience may become more similar to that of the graduate student. But the instructional role of graduate students may change as the new technologies reduce the need for lectures by graduate teaching assistants and increase the need for individual and group tutoring.

The digital technologies already have begun to play a role in various educational pursuits of the University, but the eight colleges have used the new technologies to varying degrees, a result of differing views of the perceived need for such technology and of the financial ability to acquire the necessary equipment. To diminish any demarcation along the lines of "haves" and "have nots," the University must provide all students and faculty equal access to the latest in educational technologies. The implementation of this technology also depends on an increase in support staff for the production of educational software and maintenance of a number of digital learning environments to house state-of-the-art audio-visual and digital technology equipment.

The influx of technology in the educational environment can have significant impacts on the manner in which teaching is accomplished and evaluated as well as on the reward structure for faculty and support staff. As the need for one teacher/one class/one classroom lectures diminishes, the skills required of faculty will shift from instructional delivery skills to instructional design skills. Instructional design increasingly will become a group activity, with the faculty member being responsible for the unit/course content and instructional technologists being responsible for applying the new digital technology to this content. To reward faculty for engaging in curricular development, the University should provide released time for such activities and should reward novel and effective uses of technology in teaching. But not all courses in all colleges will use the latest technologies as some may be precluded by lack of resources and others may be limited to old-fashioned blackboard-and chalk because, paradoxically, their fields are changing too quickly to make feasible the preparation of instructional software, videodiscs, and other types of digital technology.

As digital technology changes the learning environment, the daily life of the student will be altered as well, and the University will be forced to redefine its concept of a student. The new access to mainframe communications ports made possible by the changing technology will increase the numbers of students the university could service without corresponding increases in the need for student daily-life-support facilities. With increasing off-campus classes made possible by the new technology, the University may need to establish two categories of students:

  1. Regular students whose attendance is required at reviews and exams and

  2. Non-degree students who do not go through the selective admissions process and who are enrolled for continuing education purposes.
Another major area changed by the digital technology will be the library. The emphasis of the library must shift from ownership of information to access to information, with the library becoming more assertive and involved in the actual process of scholarship and research. The library also should be equipped to provide interactive media services to those students who lack facilities or equipment.

These changes and others rely on the incorporation of digital technology throughout the University, a move that depends on the ability and desire of the University to make a large economic investment. If the University cannot or will not take this step, it will develop into an environment of digital technology "haves" and "have nots" as the programs and departments with more resources develop in the field and the programs and departments without resources rely on traditional methods of education.

Charge to the Committee

The task force was established to identify and examine the impact of digital technology on the future of the teaching-learning environment. Its task was to crystallize the salient issues in determining how the University can most effectively invest its resources to remain a leader in technology. These issues are identified and addressed in this report, which should serve as a focal point for discourse within the University community. Also included are scenarios that depict how these technologies might be integrated into the pedagogical framework of the University to enhance the educational environment.

Remodeling the Teaching-Learning Process


The overwhelmingly dominant model of instruction in American university education, especially at the undergraduate level, is credit for-contact. In this model, the student's progress and the faculty member's instructional contribution are measured by hours of contact in lecture hall, seminar room, or laboratory. Consequently, genuinely independent study is effectively discouraged, and true tutorial systems like those of Oxford and Cambridge are virtually absent in undergraduate education. (1)

However, the new digital technologies may make it possible to break this mold, thereby permitting the decoupling of contact from credit. A variety of formats should be able to coexist: fairly traditional lecture and laboratory courses, extensive independent study improved by remote access to resources and the ability to submit papers and reports electronically, group and individual tutorials supplemented by self-paced materials available in an assortment of media, and a wide variety of seminars. We hope not simply to replace one mold with another but to find ways to increase freedom without compromising quality.


The credit-for-contact model, of course, ties together student and faculty calendars for the scheduled delivery of instruction and, thus, indirectly constrains the preparation and evaluation time of all concerned. With the diminished dominance of this model, flexibility in time organization should increase for both teachers and learners. However, the dangers of procrastination and scheduling conflicts also will increase.


Extensive adoption of the new digital technologies may result in a change in the distribution of faculty effort across the semester. Preparation and revision of instructional media likely will occur before the term or during the early weeks of the term. On the other hand, one may expect a higher density of tutorials, seminars, and evaluation of papers and projects in the latter part of the term.

There is no reason to expect that actual faculty contact hours with students will decrease, but three types of changes in such contact may be expected. First, the nature of formally structured contact will shift, at least across the faculty as a whole. In large enrollment courses, the replacement of some or all auditorium lectures and demonstrations by video presentations available (on-line or off-line) via the student's own computer (modified to serve as a television set, or Compu-TV) will free faculty time for course development and revision and for individual and small group discussions and remediation. In small enrollment courses, interactive video, software tutors, and CD-ROM will allow more informal interaction, effectively extending the studio model of supervised individual work beyond its traditional applications in art and architecture.

Second, in the future, a larger part of faculty/student contact will be ad hoc and relatively unstructured. With less emphasis on scheduled classroom instruction, one of the most important faculty duties may be the keeping of office hours; i.e., being on call. During the early parts of a semester, most "on call" time may in fact be dedicated to research, revision of materials, or administration.

Third, the provision of an electronic message system linking all students and faculty allows extensive "contact" without requiring that student and teacher be in the same place or that they attend to the exchange at the same time. Students can ask individual questions and submit work at times of their choosing, and faculty can address students either individually or collectively. Within the overall framework of the course and the semester, messages can be transmitted at the convenience of the sender and received at the convenience of the recipient.

In one way, this transformation of university instruction should increase the requirement for faculty contact with students. A university is not just a warehouse of information and technique to be automated with the same eye on a simple "bottom line" as a warehouse of auto parts. A university is a community of scholars. While we can learn much with the aid of books, machines, and other devices, we can understand the life of the mind and the connections between its parts only by sharing that life with others, especially others more experienced or experienced in fields other than our own. A genuine university education thus must include extensive informal and semi formal personal contact with faculty. In some curricula, this contact is a natural part of standard instructional methods (architecture studios, veterinary practice, engineering senior projects). But in many curricula, and at the lower division in almost all curricula, extensive personal contact between students and faculty is relatively rare.

The new technologies must not be permitted to exacerbate this already serious problem. If we are to see less of our students in the classroom, it becomes important that we see more of them outside it. Such interaction, however, requires both location and motivation, and both are in short supply. Few gathering places exist in the central campus, and many department lack even the most rudimentary lounges. Even if such places existed, however, faculty might feel that any time spent in them would be wasted as far as tenure, promotion, and salary in creases are concerned. This problem is neither new nor unique to VPI & SU, and it is not directly connected with the new digital technologies. But it demands attention as part of any at tempt to guide the inevitable evolution of this institution.


The more extensive the provision of self-paced and remotely accessible instructional material, the greater the possible flexibility of a student's schedule within the day, the week, the semester, or the entire academic (and non-academic) career. This increased freedom from specific temporal constraints will bring with it opportunities both for accelerated development and for the frittering away of time on a massive scale.

This wasting of time is not, of course, a new problem. How does one give students all the rope they can use and simultaneously minimize the number that hang themselves? While no general solution exists, the problem can be lessened by a faculty that is both available and concerned. Unfortunately, the new technologies increase the risks and in themselves offer no insurance.


In addition to the fairly obvious ways in which loosening the credit-for-contact standard would facilitate the individualizing of courses of study, there are two less obvious important possibilities. First is the reduction of course time conflicts. When the student can address the material in courses A and B at times and places of his/her choosing, time and place conflicts, an inherent problem in the currently used credit-for-contact system, cease to exist. Second is the possibility of more "offerings" of less popular courses. An undergraduate course requested by only four students each term generally will not be offered and will soon disappear from the catalog. But if it is possible to provide a substantial part of the material in a reusable form by means of the new technologies, it might be possible to offer such a course every term.


Graduate education should be affected less by the new technologies than is undergraduate education. As these technologies decrease the emphasis on credit-for-contact in undergraduate education, the overall effect should be to close the gap between the levels by making the undergraduate's experience more similar to that of the graduate student.

But the instructional role of graduate students may change or at least shift. As delivery of instruction by the new media reduces the need for lectures by graduate teaching assistants, one may expect a correlative increase in individual and small group tutoring by graduate students, thereby improving both undergraduate instruction and the training of future faculty. The current system often places inadequately prepared graduate students into what is probably the most demanding of all university teaching tasks: the introductory lecture. If graduate students can begin as tutors, drawing on their own mastery of the material, they can develop the confidence required for successful public performance. But this process should be supplemented with training across the campus in effective teaching techniques.


To use an industrial metaphor, any shift from credit-for-contact will mean the displacement of hourly wages by piecework pay. This shift means that a change will occur in what is expected of students and faculty and in how it is measured.


If students are provided with essentially unlimited access to adequate materials, the responsibility for attaining mastery of a topic or determining that it is beyond their capabilities is clearly theirs. Of course, adequate materials, usually books, already are available. Yet, students quite often are passive, expecting to be taught rather than to learn on their own. Technology can help by providing more adequate, more timely, and more engaging materials. But technology can offer only the occasion, not the cause, for a change in our pattern of expectations. If we rely on the lecture, we can expect the students to do so as well. And if we expect students to be self governing seekers of knowledge, we must set the example.


Similar remarks can be made about the system's instructional expectations of faculty. The number of contact, or teaching, hours per week (the hourly wage model) is too crude a measure; so is the number of student credits per semester (a sort of piecework model). What we should expect of faculty is that they make important contributions to the education of students (and of each other). Such contributions are made in many ways: lecturing, tutoring, guiding seminars, leading research, pre paring materials, counseling, criticizing, and encouraging. No single measure can possibly capture these different sorts of contributions, and a university needs all of them in abundance. This idea, however, is in contrast to the current emphasis on output measures being instituted across the country.

Assessment of Current Applications of Technology in Teaching

Before examining future technologies and their potential application to the instructional process, the impact of past and current technology on the present educational environment at VPI & SU should be assessed.

The eight colleges within the University have pursued the use of technology to varying degrees. This variation has resulted from differences both in the perceived need for such technology and in the financial ability to acquire necessary equipment. Regardless of the differences, however, it could be asserted that appropriate uses of technology have (1) aided the transfer of information to the student and (2) helped graduates feel less threatened by new technology as they pursue their careers. In other words, the technology has helped people to accommodate the ever increasing rate of change present in most professions.

Throughout the University, the use of such visual equipment as the overhead projector and the slide projector is commonplace, particularly in large sections. With the use of overhead transparencies, the question frequently arises whether to prepare the material in advance. When a choice is possible, students may prefer that the instructor write on the transparency in "real time," a practice that quickly leads to the consideration of using two or three projectors to develop protracted material. In some cases, however, savings in class time may require that overheads be prepared in advance. Nonetheless, for prepared transparencies, production techniques quickly are becoming computer based, which means that the professor must be versed in such production techniques or must have access to such services.

Videotape, either run in the classroom or transmitted from a central location, is another widely-used technology. Typical uses range from showing a short videotape at the beginning of a class to showing an entire lecture. These videotapes can be prepared professionally to show scenes outside the classroom or can be simple tapings of conventional lectures, which can be used repeatedly. For example, the College of Engineering requires every department to possess a short orientation videotape describing the department curriculum. Every freshman student sees all these videotapes as part of a required engineering fundamentals course before the time when he/she must select a department. A different example can be found in the College of Education, whose Child Development Laboratory uses both live and delayed closed-circuit broadcasts. Other examples include supplemental videotapes at the library to enhance student learning in a particular course and recorded laboratory demonstrations. Since its inception in 1971, the University's Learning Resources Center has produced thousands of videotapes.

In recent years, the University has transmitted information beyond the classroom walls via satellite. The Extension Service, which has over 50 field offices equipped with downlinks, makes extensive use of the satellite system to conduct in-service training for field agents and to provide specialized programs for specific audiences. Among program topics during the past year have been market updates, pesticide applicator training, alternative crops in agriculture, AIDS, home equity loans, and the varroa bee mite. The College of Engineering also has been active in the area of remote instruction. In the fall of 1983, the college offered the first remotely televised course via a microwave link to Richmond. Within two years, satellite communication was used to send courses to several downlink sites in Virginia as well as other eastern states. The college sends a wide range of credited graduate-level courses to industrial and government centers; for example, eight courses were remotely available during the fall of 1988. In addition, non-credit short courses, such as the Engineer-in-Training Review Course, are distributed on a national basis for a nominal fee. Another example can be found in the College of Business, which began offering an MBA course via satellite during the fall 1988 semester. Over 125 off-campus students enrolled in the course. Other uses of satellite technology at the University have included at least one cattle auction.

The televised-course experience gained thus far by the College of Engineering is mixed in nature. On the positive side, the college can reach those students unable to travel to Blacksburg or other University sites. On the negative side, many instructors have noted that the average performance of the remote students is substantially below that of students present in on-campus classrooms. If the remote students merely desire non-credit exposure to one course and do not intend to earn a degree, then the substandard performance is not a major concern. However, lowering standards for remote students does not appear to be a viable solution since a percentage of those students are seeking degrees and should be evaluated equally with on-campus students. From the long-term planning viewpoint, the University must decide whether the teaching effectiveness associated with TV courses is sufficient to warrant a major effort in what is likely to become a competitive market. To date, VPI & SU has committed significant resources to the TV effort and is a regional leader in the area of remote instruction. Without continued and vigorous efforts by the University, competitors will capture significant market areas with relative ease. The major question is: Does VPI & SU wish to compete or will it let the teaching effectiveness issue lead to a "high road" stance of demanding student presence? The answer may well be discipline-dependent.

The most important technological change on the University campus has been the availability of computers, either through the direct use of small computers or through terminal linkups to the main campus computer center. For example, since the fall of 1984, freshmen entering the College of Engineering have been required to purchase personal computers, making VPI & SU one of the first universities to institute such a requirement and the first large state university to do so. Personal computer laboratories that offer printing services and supplemental computers were established for both undergraduate and graduate student use, and instructors were asked to phase in appropriate computational exercises in all undergraduate courses. Nearly five years after instituting this personal computer initiative, each undergraduate engineering student owns a personal computer.

Computers can be incorporated into typical classes in many ways. A student might be assigned a problem which, at some point, becomes mathematically intractable or requires the graphic display of results. Thus, an ordinary assignment could evolve into a computer exercise requiring the student to write his/her own program or to use some type of mathematical utility routine. Or a student might be asked to use prepared tutorial or simulation software. The role of the former is that of an electronic text and tutor rolled into one; the latter can show the student, for his/her choice of conditions, things which a textbook or instructor simply cannot--motion, for example.

The preparation of software is labor-intensive; thus, it is not reasonable for every instructor to develop his/her individual software. Rather, academic units must decide what software is needed, determine if it is commercially available, and, if necessary, consider assigning a small subset of the faculty to develop it. At VPI & SU, various faculty members, sometimes aided by outside grants and student help, have written educational software in such fields as thermodynamics, electric field theory, chemical engineering processes, fluid dynamics, strength of materials, dynamics, vibrations, and spacecraft attitude control. This software is made available to all VPI & SU students free of charge. How to credit software authorship is one of the current questions that academic communities have not addressed thoroughly.

Institutional Issues


Perhaps the one essential mission of higher education, one that could be accomplished by no other institution in our society, is that of advanced teaching and learning. Because of this unique mission, colleges and universities must ensure that faculty are recognized and rewarded for quality teaching as well as provided opportunities for improving their teaching. Although new faculty members are advised that the mission of the University embraces teaching, research, and service, research generally emerges as the key to faculty success and survival. Thus, a commitment that fully recognizes and rewards teaching will require a fundamental rethinking, at all levels, of the ways in which teaching can be evaluated efficiently, fairly, and systematically.

At present, teaching encompasses at least three categories of skills and knowledge: (1) content expertise, (2) instructional delivery skills, and (3) instructional design skills. The first category draws from the advanced training that a faculty member has received and thus relates to the degree of expertise in a given discipline that can be expected to be conferred to the student. The most valid judgments of this dimension of teaching will come from colleagues in the department. The second category is concerned with skills and abilities that create a learning environment that promotes and facilitates student learning. Students can render valuable and valid judgments on this dimension of teaching. The third category comprises the skills and knowledge necessary to design instructional materials that will enhance the learning process and to develop appropriate measurement strategies and instruments that will confirm student learning. Faculty colleagues and department chairs can review the appropriateness of course syllabi, handouts, and other support materials as well as the design of examinations and other evaluation strategies.

As digital technologies continue to have an impact on the teaching/learning process at colleges and universities, the skills required of faculty members will potentially shift from instructional delivery skills to instructional design skills. In this context, the application of these digital technologies in "teaching" exposes a potentially explosive issue. Studies have shown that the amount of preparation time for a one-hour lecture increases by a factor of 3 to 10. Since these technologies will bring in their wake a new group of "illiterates" who will not or cannot apply these technologies, (1) faculty must be rewarded for their efforts in using the new technologies and (2) expensive support services must be provided.

With the availability of both the reward structure and support services, instructional design increasingly will become a group activity with the faculty member being responsible for the unit/course content and instructional technologists being responsible for applying the new digital technology to this content. Additionally, the faculty member may no longer be responsible for the delivery of the content; communication specialists may assume that role.

The other members of the instructional design team potentially would include the following:

These communications specialists most likely will be employed through the individual colleges as faculty members with special skills in one or more of these communication areas. However, a determination must be made about who has the responsibility to provide necessary resources and relevant time for faculty or professional staff members to develop the skills for implementing the teaching program.

At this point, it is difficult to estimate the number of instructional technologists and specialists that would be needed to begin the process of systematically incorporating digital technologies into units/courses and, more importantly, to sustain and expand the effort. Regardless of this estimate, there is no question that if VPI & SU continues to expand the use of digital technology in the teaching/learning environment, the size, structure, and function of the current Learning Resources Center must change drastically. Personnel in an expanded Learning Resources Center would play two important roles. The first would be one of support for those faculty who already actively use digital technologies in preparing and presenting units/courses. A second and more important role would be to identify those faculty needing assistance in developing units/courses.

In the process of using digital technologies to develop these new units/courses, faculty would not work with the instructional design team at all times nor would the instructional design team always work together. After the initial planning for the units/courses, the technologists/specialists would work on the actual production, while the faculty would return to their responsibilities in research, instruction, and advising. These development activities by faculty undoubtedly will require an alternative to the standard faculty model of 40 percent for instruction, 40 percent for research, and 20 percent in service. Such an alternative might involve a yearly or multi-yearly performance agreement between the faculty member and the department chair wherein the faculty member might spend a year or more developing pedagogical materials for some basic unit/course. The department chair, in accepting the proposal, would use the evaluation of these materials as the basis for that year's performance review. This process would be comparable to the reviews of research projects proposed by other faculty. Such an arrangement would indicate to the faculty member that the development of teaching/learning materials would be rewarded as directly as research projects.


Administrators seem content with the present system of rewards that essentially encourages the entrepreneurial efforts of the faculty. External funding is seen as a way to support research while generating overhead dollars for the University. Both the researcher and the University are financially rewarded.

However, not all research activities follow this model. In particular, research funding in both the humanities and the arts does not generate overhead dollars. In actual practice, the University will waive its claim to overhead reimbursement as its "contribution" to matching funds, a situation frequently required in grant application.

If the University wants to reward faculty for engaging in curricular development, it should provide released time for such activities. In exchange, the faculty would prepare the kind of performance agreement mentioned above. An additional element of this agreement would be the matter of residual benefits accrued in future years; if a basic sequence of programs were developed and used for five years, for example, the developers should see some return on that investment just as they would from royalties from a printed text. Future rewards could be reflected in salary add-ons or additional released time.

The case for significantly rewarding novel and effective uses of technology in the teaching process can be stated as follows: If such efforts were not rewarded, then teaching innovations would be fewer and might well be concentrated in that subset of the terminal professorial rank that commits major energy to teaching.

Not all courses in all colleges will use the "latest" technologies. Certain "richer" colleges may form a class of "haves," with others constituting the "have nots." But it is an oversimplification to explain a possible partitioning of technology among colleges by their resources. At least one other factor must be included in explaining the effect: How dynamic is the subject matter? Even with course-authoring software packages (such as Stanford's CAT), some fields change too rapidly to make it worthwhile for faculty to develop advanced software with interactive videodiscs. Paradoxically, the fastest moving, most technical fields may be limited to old-fashioned blackboard-and-chalk instruction for this reason. In these fastest moving technical fields, however, prepared media can play an important role in presenting basic concepts and giving examples of theories and principles. Investing in media presentations for such uses is reasonable since basic concepts are unlikely to change rapidly and production costs can be spread over a large number of students.

Course-authoring software packages make it remarkably easy to develop simulations incorporating movie clips and interactive video, for example. In fact, with these Apple-based packages, it may not be much more difficult to develop software utilizing the new technology than it has been for the College of Engineering to develop its own software since 1984. Any assistance could be provided by the Learning Resources Center, which has gained expertise in the evaluation and use of authoring software during the development of contract-related projects. Procurement of the authoring software packages and experimentation with them is a necessary step in acquiring mastery in this area of digital technology.


Under the existing operational scheme, the University controls who may enter the classroom. Implicit in this scheme is the assumption of credit-for-contact; a student must be in official University controlled space (Blacksburg and Northern Virginia, for example) for a specified period of time. Under a high-tech model, however, faculty accessibility would partially replace contact hours. Via modem links to the mainframe, students and faculty would have the potential for virtually continuous access. Changes in assignments could be mailed electronically to students at the convenience of the faculty. Papers or other homework assignments could be transmitted to the faculty member's userid.

Such a process increases the likelihood that University control of new students would become a matter of controlling access to the mainframe communications ports and establishing on-line accounts for students. It could be argued that a genuine open admissions policy would be possible on a scale heretofore unmatched since access to the mainframe would not entail occupying dormitory space, dining halls, and other campus facilities. There would, however, be a dramatic shift to more stringent final examinations conducted under strict supervision and set at times other than the ends of semesters and even at places other than Blacksburg.

One way the University could maintain quality control would be to establish two categories of students: (1) regular students whose attendance is required at reviews and exams and (2) non-degree students who do not go through the selective admissions process and who are enrolled for continuing education purposes.


As suggested in the vision statement for the library, that facility will continue to be a service organization that is driven by the needs and expectations of its clientele. This suggests that the acquisition of information must be more current-demand-driven than anticipatory, a reversal of a traditional research library's collection development strategies. It also implies that the library must constantly assess its role as it relates to the patron and the information required by the patron.

As the very nature of information changes, so must the role of the library. The traditional role of libraries has been to accumulate information in a static format, information packaged in books or papers from which the patron must extract useful segments. Today's electronic information is dynamic; it changes rapidly and can be tailored and assembled to the specific needs of individual patrons.

The emphasis of the library must shift from ownership of information to access to information. Energies must shift from acquiring and housing information to being pathfinders of information. As the traditional structure of the information becomes more ambiguous, the library's role will change, with the library becoming more assertive and involved in the actual process of scholarship and research. It will spend less time organizing packaged information and more time understanding and structuring the objective presentation of information in a coherent form suited to the individual user.


The service level to both students and faculty should be enhanced considerably given the opportunity for on-line timetables as well as registration for courses that could occur either by telephone or through access to the University's communication network.


The Governor's Commission on the University of the Twenty-First Century will examine the public policy issues raised by population growth and the changing economy. It will also consider what people should know and be able to do in the early part of the next century, what it means "to know," and how colleges and universities should be organized and administered in the future to carry out their missions.

The Commission has three broad objectives. The first is to consider how to provide advanced education as the population increases and the economy develops in Virginia. Increases in population, as well as changes in age, income, race and ethnic distribution, and employment opportunities, require new responses in higher education. How can the colleges and universities respond to the needs of new centers of population and wealth without abandoning Virginia's commitment to access for all people who want and can benefit from higher education?

The second objective is to consider various conceptions of knowing, teaching, and learning that might be incorporated into a 21st century university. The Commission's discussions will consider contemporary theories of intellectual and emotional development; ways of teaching and learning; theories of human knowing and understanding implicit in the academic disciplines or areas of study; and scholarship on race, ethnic background, and gender as they influence human development. The Commission will attempt to determine the best ways to encourage the future citizens of Virginia to engage in life-long learning for their own and society's good. The third objective is to reconsider the purposes of advanced education. The national debate over the appropriate ends of higher education in America touches on many of the issues that the Commission will examine. Does higher education preserve or develop the culture? Or should it attempt simply to understand different cultures? Does higher education transmit accepted values or explore alternatives? What are its roles in career preparation and continuing career education, in creating new knowledge, and in developing new technologies?

The Student's Perspective

Knowledge is now said to double every twenty months, and the addition of 1-1/2 linear miles of shelf space each year in VPI & SU's library lends credence to that supposition. For the first time in centuries, a new research paradigm has been added to analytical derivations/proofs and hypothesis-testing experimentation: computer simulations of very complex phenomena.

Access to new digital technology provides students with increased learning opportunities and advantages. Certainly, the University must consider the extent to which OTHER educational institutions equip their students with this technology, giving them the edge over OUR students. Fortunately, VPI & SU has positioned itself to incorporate this new technology through its aggressive pursuit of a fiber-optic infrastructure; a digital switch for voice, video, and data; and the single-system image. Another fundamental issue the University must consider is the cost required to avail students of the benefits of these technologies given our current state.

Digital technology will impact the total gamut of learning. Future students will routinely gather background information for classes via PC (or Compu-TV) from videotapes, relatively few of which will have been produced at VPI & SU. The tapes may contain remedial information, a statement of basic principles, or points of view from world experts. Labs and "homework" will be replaced by sessions with interactive videodiscs, where the student can obtain "hands-on" experience through computer-generated images of the subject matter. (2) "Trips" to the library will be via the personal computer; access to databases stored on media such as CD-ROM will become commonplace. The classroom itself frequently will contain large-screen voice/video hookups with other classrooms or experts throughout the world, providing two-way dialogue capabilities. Even quizzes can become interactive, taken on the PC from the comfort of the students' dorms, offices, or homes.

Some anticipate that the greatest benefit to students will be increased faculty contact time. The incorporation of digital technologies, they say, will free faculty from "straight lecture" preparation, giving faculty time for face-to-face tutorials. Such tutorial sessions might include one faculty member per four to five students. However, additional research is needed to confirm this point since, historically, computer technology has absorbed MORE faculty time in many disciplines. If in creased faculty contact is generated through the infusion of these technologies, the students will clearly profit. If, however, faculty lose contact time with students, such loss will be a major (though perhaps the only) non-economic drawback to converting to these technologies.

If learning is positively correlated with increased exposure to ideas, with more professional presentation of these ideas, and with "hands-on" interaction with the concepts imbedded in these ideas, then any major learning center must provide its students with these technologies on ideological principles. But, as mentioned above, the NEED as an educational unit to fund these new learning facilitators will depend directly on how seriously other universities and industries use the digital technology and thereby create demand for users while DECREASING demand for non-users.

From the student's standpoint, faculty-developed courseware provides several benefits. Faculty can develop sophisticated simulations and scenarios invoking such features as graphics, text, video images, and music, and the only direct cost to the student is the cost of the PC to run the faculty-developed software. Currently, this software runs only on a Macintosh computer, a required purchase only for computer science and architecture students. In the future, if significant courseware were developed for our students, many more would, in all likelihood, be required to purchase this more expensive PC. But, with the exception perhaps of a nominal license fee for some courseware, that would be their only additional cost. The tremendous benefits realized should offset the relatively small cost to the student. | Resource Implications


The integration of digital technology potentially will impact the physical environment of the campus. Fewer large lecture auditoriums should be required as more large-enrollment courses are televised directly to students' Compu-TVs or to college microcomputer laboratories. For those students who do not have access to these labs or who lack the personal equipment to see videotapes and/or interactive media, the library should be equipped to provide that service. For smaller classes that incorporate self-paced instruction with inter active video, interactive CD, or television, a need exists for a large number of multi-purpose "digital learning environments." These learning environments, or classrooms, would house state-of the-art audio-visual and digital technology and would not be scheduled by the registrar for classes. Students could use the facilities, which would be supervised by technicians and used at the students' convenience, to receive televised lectures (for those whose curricula do not have a computer requirement), use interactive video, or run self-paced educational software.

The digital learning environments would not replace all traditional classrooms. On the contrary, a critical need would exist for traditional classrooms equipped fully with digital technology. These classrooms might be used for discussion groups, special demonstrations, and/or help sessions. Included in each room would be an audio/visual closet containing equipment that would allow overhead projection of computer monitor screens, photographic slides, and televised video.

This discussion assumes that all classrooms and the digital learning environments will be fully operational. Yet, the present status of classrooms on campus indicates the need for upgrading before the University spends large sums of money on high-tech classrooms or learning environments. At a minimum, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) must be improved to meet thermal comfort conditions, thereby optimizing the learning environment. Likewise, acoustical considerations and general layout and furnishing of all classrooms should be examined. As the University looks ahead to modernizing its facilities to accommodate the latest technological innovations, then, it is not in a position to expand from a strong base of good classrooms. Thus, the University should immediately adopt a vigorous program to alleviate the known deficiencies while looking to future classroom needs. The appointment of a faculty review committee to address this issue is a necessary first step.

The assumption that much learning will occur in the dormitory environment also requires examination. If students have difficulty concentrating in the dormitory room because of the noise level or other distractions, it is unlikely that learning can occur. A study of the present dormitory environment would identify constraints to the learning process. Such a study could indicate if designs for new dormitories or existing housing facilities require radical changes to accommodate the learning process. As discussed earlier, less formal instruction will increase the need for more informal meeting places such as coffee shops or student/faculty lounges. Incorporation of these areas into many of the atria on campus not only would add visual excitement but also would be economically feasible. With the library playing a new role in providing access to educational media rather than serving as storage of educational material, this facility could face a radical change in its physical design. Provided space is available, consideration should be given to housing the digital learning environments in the library.


The incorporation of digital technology throughout the University environment is dependent upon the ability and desire of the University to make a large economic investment. Increasingly, academic units are incorporating digital technologies on a decentralized basis. Because of the economic and personnel investment, programs and departments are restricting use of such facilities to their own majors. If this trend continues, the University will become an environment of the digital technology "haves" and "have-nots." Yet, the very notion of a major comprehensive university indicates that re source allocation of educational technologies should be egalitarian in nature, providing all students and faculty equal access to the latest in educational technologies. The implementation of digital technology depends on an increase in support staff for the production of educational software and maintenance of the digital learning environments. Without additional support staff on a University-wide basis, the aforementioned problem of unequal resource distribution will result in some faculty making more use of digital technology while others are left with more traditional educational technology. Because of the cost of developing materials, the University could initiate a strategy that draws upon faculty from a number of universities in a combined development effort, thereby allowing costs to be spread over a broader base. The University could also use this multi-university effort as a vehicle to recognize capable faculty.

Scenarios for the Future


Paul Simpson, an 18-year-old resident of San Diego, California, will graduate from high school in a few months. Paul has learned about the technological emphasis of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in instructional, research, and service activities through an introductory interactive video program provided by his high school guidance counselor. Deciding to request further information about the University, Paul contacts the Admissions Office using his home computer and the VPI Nationwide Electronic Network (VPINET). Within an hour, he receives an electronic reply from the Director of Admissions, informing him that a comprehensive interactive video program will be sent the next day. The Director's note also invites Paul to participate in a video conference to answer questions and to provide additional information after he finishes with the interactive program. This program offers him the opportunity to see and ask questions about the internal configuration of many campus buildings, including the new Squires Student Center. It also includes specific subunits for each of the eight colleges of the University. After reviewing information about several colleges, he contacts the Admissions Office using VPINET and requests further information about the College of Arts and Sciences. Tom Linkous, one of several admissions specialists for that college, conducts a live video conference with Paul, answering his questions about the college's offerings. Tom displays a multitude of graphics and facts to help Paul understand the advantages, options, courses, and costs of obtaining a degree in biology. Paul decides before the end of the video conference that he wants to apply for admission, and Tom immediately downloads the application program to Paul's home computer. Paul is told that in addition to completing the application, which takes about two hours, he should have his SAT scores and high school transcript forwarded electronically to VPI & SU. Within 24 hours, all application materials have been received, and Tom electronically transfers this information to the admissions database for analysis. Seven days after making application, Paul Simpson is admitted to VPI & SU as a member of the Class of 2004.

Paul arrives on campus prepared to start classes immediately since course registration has been handled via VPINET from his home in California. However, before classes commence, he decides to review the extent of the library holdings by tuning to the library channel on his Learning and Communications Module in his dormitory room. The library module contains an interactive tutorial that explains that the library's holdings are nearly 100 percent available in the electronic format, including graphics. The module suggests that actual visits to the library building will be minimal during the school year. In fact, the administration of the University is considering converting all library space to electronic workstations to accommodate both those students who live off campus and lack access to the VPI Information Network and on-campus students needing advanced workstation support. Paul decides to visit the University Learning Materials Center (formerly known as the bookstore) to purchase the learning aids for the five courses he will be taking during the first academic session. The learning materials provided for each course are packaged in a digital format using compact discs and high-density 2-1/2 inch computer discs. Paul spends a total of $125 for the course materials. After returning to his dormitory room, he discovers that the course materials, which have a combined weight of less than five pounds, occupy less than eight linear inches on his resource shelf.

Paul's first class is German 1100. Professor Menzel indicates that this German course, like many undergraduate courses, is a highly interactive, self-paced program where the instructor is a facilitator and manager of the learning process. Dr. Menzel demonstrates the use of the interactive materials on the classroom Learning and Communications Module. He indicates that much of the material was produced in Germany so that variations in grammar and dialects are easily learned as the student interacts with the system. He emphasizes the importance of each student programming his/her voice characteristics into the system so that he/she will receive accurate feedback from the computer as he/she speaks German during interactive sessions. Professor Menzel also will teach the students a substantial amount about geography, social customs, politics, and religious practices since many of the course units were constructed around these activities. He stresses the importance of taking the examination (created randomly by the computer from the examination database) at the end of each module. The results are to be forwarded to the professor's electronic mailbox for review and comment. Based on the results, he will request via the electronic mail system that small groups of students needing similar assistance meet with him for special help sessions. In addition, he will periodically request each student in the class of 50 to meet with him for an evaluation session. These oral evaluation sessions will test the students' knowledge of the language and be combined with a computer-generated final examination to establish a course proficiency score for each student. These scores will be electronically transmitted to the master student database.

As Paul attends the first class for each of his other four courses, he discovers the teaching philosophy to be similar to that of his first German class. He realizes that the faculty have devoted a great deal of time and effort to developing and updating interactive learning materials that are based on a mastery concept. Knowing that his progress in each course is primarily his responsibility, he appreciates having a window for each course in which he must demonstrate competence and quantitative progress; however, he derives confidence from knowing that the course leader is available for group and individual support sessions to help with the more difficult and challenging aspects of his education.

During the ten weeks it takes Paul to complete the German course, he discovers that frequent monitoring of the 24-hour German broadcast channel on his Learning and Communications Module in his dormitory room is an important supplement for learning to speak the language. He has discovered that the 400 satellite-mediated television channels linking him to the global information network will serve many educational and information needs as he progresses through the biology degree program. In addition, he has learned that five students enrolled in the course are participating in a project to determine if the course can be taught successfully to students who are not in residence on the campus. These students live 100 or more miles from the campus, with one student living in Nebraska. Professor Menzel has indicated that these students appear to be doing as well as the in-residence students because they have the same study materials and the same opportunity to use VPINET for mail and video interaction with the professor. (3) After hearing about this instructional research project, Paul wonders if "distance learning" might be applicable for some of the courses he intends to take.

Paul also begins to appreciate the enhanced academic environment for faculty since the application of modern technology to the learning process has created ample time for them to actively engage in re search. Also, he notes with interest that most of the faculty he has met have mentioned that they are significantly involved as consultants in the private sector. Professor Menzel indicated that he is a consultant to a German conglomerate with a major facility in Leesburg, Virginia. Paul knows that the involvement of teachers in state-of-the-art research and in private-sector consulting activities increases the quality of the learning environment.


Wednesday morning. Karen's phone rang at 6:45 a.m.; she picked it up sleepily, and as she did, she began to hear a high-pitched screech in the earpiece. It was her Macintosh over in Cowgill Hall calling her through one of the modems in the modem bank maintained by the University. A computer science student had written a little Pascal program that ran in the background under MultiFinder and would dial any phone number at a specified time. He had posted it to the hacker's conference on the campus e-mail net, and it spread quickly. Communication Network Services was furious because every one started using their computers as alarm clocks, and it tied up the ROLM digital switchboard, especially at this time of the morning.

Karen rolled out of bed, got dressed in eight or ten layers of clothes to be able to withstand the late February winds on the drillfield, and trudged over to Owens for a quick breakfast.

When she entered the studio at Cowgill, she ran the protection program on her Mac that unlocked all the files; nearly everyone left their machines on all the time so they could get mail at all hours, but during the night the security program kept anyone from using the machine. She logged onto the campus mail server and found she had several messages; one was from Ron Daniel giving her permission to keep a camcorder out over the spring break. She was going to Florida and wanted to shoot pictures of Miami architecture. Another was from Dave Dugas; she had sent him a question a couple of weeks ago about a watercolor technique she was experimenting with, and he was replying to her question. The last message was from a friend about a rush party that they both planned to attend on Friday night. Did she want to drive? Karen typed a reply, then got out of mail and downloaded the ArchNet messages. ArchNet was the architecture teleconference that was dominated primarily by first and second-year students. The older students, who usually worked in more isolation, tended not to use the system. She browsed through the subject and author headings and looked at one message that argued that deconstruction in architecture represented a century-long decline in style. She then quickly ran through the eighteen replies the message had generated. Most of them were unapologetic flames against the author. Nothing new there. Ron Daniel showed up then and called all the students into the auditorium. She quickly ran her security program and left.

The meeting included progress reports but no new assignments, and Karen returned to her studio about an hour later. She was still struggling with Monday's task, which was to convert a drawing from last week into a three-dimensional form. She had been working with several paper models but was dissatisfied with all of them. Somehow the proportions were not right. She thought for a moment, then picked the one she liked best and went to the Image Lab to digitize it.

This work took longer than she anticipated because the model was made from white paper, causing most of the edges to wash out even with the high-resolution black-and-white video camera. She finally succeeded by creating a backdrop of gray paper. She took the disk back to her desk and looked at the software on Grumpy, the file server. All the College machines were named after one or another of the seven dwarfs. She decided to use Super 3-D and requested a download for twelve hours. She did not keep much software on her machine because it was cheaper to use the file server. Grumpy would download a specially modified copy that would only work for the next twelve hours; after that it would erase itself. The College paid the software companies on the basis of the number of twelve-hour segments used each semester. It was a good system because everyone could use even the most expensive packages right at their desk instead of having to wait in line for one of the common-use machines like last year.

She worked for about two hours on her problem, manipulating with the 3-D package. She was finally satisfied with it. In fact, she was more than satisfied; she was excited about it. She showed it to Ron, and he suggested making a model from aluminum. Since she had never used the numerical control machines in the shop, she down loaded the tutorial stack from Grumpy and flipped through it using hypercard. She discovered that she had to transfer the Super 3-D image to Autocad format before sending it to the shop. There was a button right in the tutorial that would download the translator, so she clicked it and kept reading; the transfer would take place in the background.

Karen also learned that there was a queue for shop jobs, and there was another stack that would help with checking the queue, sending the job over, and checking the work before it started. She clicked for another download and got out of the tutorial. She erased the tutorial stack immediately since she could always get it again from Grumpy. Just then her own computer beeped at her. Since she was in MultiFinder, she first opened the Shop Stack, then opened her alarm/calendar window. The beeping was from an alarm she had set a week ago to remind her to register for classes. Today was the last day.

She sighed because there was just too much to do. She wanted to get the model done today because she had to work on an English paper tomorrow, and the model was due first thing Friday morning. It was only 11:30 a.m., so she decided to postpone registration. She went back to the shop stack. Then she remembered the Autocad translation program; she ran her design through it without any problems, then began reading the stack. The program would do several things: it would ask the shop machine, Sneezy, about the size of the queue, it would send her job to Sneezy, it would ask Sneezy for a cost evaluation, and it would run her design through Sneezy's job checker. She asked for a queue check and sent her design over to the job checker. Sneezy's job checker would verify that, in fact, the geometry of the milling machine would be able to handle her job; if it could not, she had the option of redesigning or milling the problem area manually. Sneezy came back almost immediately with a reply on the queue: there were only two half-hour jobs ahead of hers, so she could have her design back by five o'clock; it would cost about forty dollars to make.

She jumped over to her communications stack and asked Sleepy, the administrative machine, how much money she had in her computer account. Each student got $200 in credit at the beginning of each semester. She had $178.45 in her account because she rarely did much printing since she had a friend with an Imagewriter. She decided to go ahead and spend the money, so she jumped back to the Shop Stack and sent a message to Sneezy to put her job in the queue. Then she went to lunch.

Wednesday Afternoon. Karen returned to the studio about 2:30 p.m. after history class. She had a homework assignment that involved some research. She needed a couple of books on the effect of the English longbow in the Battle of Crecy. She first tried to log on the library computer, but, as usual, it was hopeless. The library system was wheezing along on a couple of relatively ancient Hewlett Packard computers, and since the fall, when every dorm room on campus went on the net, it was impossible to use--you could not get on because of the demand, and if you did get on, response time was glacial because there were so many users.

She shrugged and asked Grumpy for a download of the Resource Stack on history. The Resource Stack was an enormous data stack built by a computer science student and put on the net. Cards were in a standard format, and anyone could create a card on any topic. In just five months, 12,000 cards had been created on just about every topic imaginable. Students with Macs would create summary cards on any significant work that they had done, with pointers to books and articles. After about fifteen minutes of searching, she found two references that might help, one on archaic weapons and the other an account of pre-17th century English history. She would have to go to the library to see if the books were in.

She remembered that she had to register by five o'clock. The University had eliminated opscan sheets, but Karen could not remember what process was used. Joanne, a friend of hers, gave her a stack that formatted all the information and sent it off. You could submit the information through campus e-mail, but it had to be in an exact format, and if you omitted a space or anything else, you would not find out until the next day. Since she had no more time, she used the stack to verify the format for her. She typed in her courses, and the stack sent it off in the correct style to the University e-mail machine. From there it would be delivered to the mainframe.

She went out for a Coke, and when she got back, mail was waiting. It was from Sneezy; her shop job was done. She went over to pick it up, and it turned out just as she had expected. It was 4:30 p.m., so she left for an early dinner. She wanted to come back later and work on her history paper.

Wednesday Evening. Karen had been lucky at the library; both the books she wanted were in the stack. Using the outliner in Microsoft Word, she quickly formatted an outline of the material she wanted to discuss. She thought pictures would jazz up the paper, so she took the book on weapons over to the Image Lab and scanned some pictures. On impulse, she got one of the Landscape videodiscs from the attendant and loaded it on one of the SE/disc player combos. The College of Architecture and Urban Studies videodisc had been so successful that the people in landscape architecture had collected their slides and made a disc, too. Karen hit the jackpot because someone had a series of eight slides on the Crecy area. Two of the slides matched some of the diagrams in one of her history books, so she digitized those. The SE noticed this and charged her ten cents for each slide. Each faculty member was paid half that amount as a royalty, and the other half was retained by the College.

She returned to her desk with her images, put the disk in her machine, and used PixelPaint to tidy them up. She overlaid a diagram of the battlefield on top of one of the landscape slides, showing the position of the English archers. By this time, it was past 9:00 p.m., so she decided to terminate her day's studies. To relax, she started up her network version of Rogue that let her play interactively with eight other people on campus. You never knew who was going to be in the game and had no real way of finding out since everyone used aliases like "Radical Dude," "Hot Wheels," or something equally inane. Karen just used "Magic Pen." She played for about an hour, turned on her alarm program, and ran the security package. Another day done.


Growth in the population of personal computers on campus has continued as the vast majority of students have acquired machines on an individual basis. Although the University no longer supports any computer laboratories, it has increased ten-fold the software and data bases available to students. Each student is given a debit card, which allows him/her to purchase up to $350 in services per year. Purchases above this amount are billed to the student at the end of each semester.


Advances in digital technologies clearly have the potential to change significantly the teaching/learning environment of the University. The impacts of these technologies range from altering the role of faculty to enabling the University to become more geographically dispersed.

When assessing how new technologies can enhance learning, it is also necessary to evaluate the current capacity of the University to adapt. One telling point is that while significant investments in technology are being considered, the current classroom environment often does not meet minimum requirements for comfort and equipment.

A number of issues emerged that were not considered in the report. The discussion would be incomplete without their being mentioned. For example, how will new technologies affect the development of creative processes in students? Will extended interaction with computers alter methods for strengthening team building skills and the general capacity for interpersonal relations? How are factors such as the motivation of students by faculty accommodated? Will it be more difficult to identify students who are experiencing personal difficulties for which they often seek advice from faculty?

Although change is inevitable, it is always accompanied by uncertainty. The advent of the changes in digital technology offers significant opportunities to advance the quality of the educational experience for students and faculty. Technology will never replace those qualities of commitment, intelligence, and integrity that are central to maintaining the vitality of the University. However, it can serve as a vehicle to expand our reach.



The future of educational technology will be based on the evolution of microcomputer systems that support multimedia displays. Interactive multimedia programs often are a synthesis of television images, computer graphics, text, and sound, which are controlled by computer software. Multimedia technologies already have refined and expanded the concept of "data" to include digitized video images and audio, perhaps texture-wrapped over computer-generated graphic structures. Students and faculty will find databases containing such multimedia components increasingly valuable. To the user, it ultimately will not matter whether these data originally were slides, films, video, or computer-generated graphics because they will all be viewed on the same display monitor simultaneously.

Educational uses of such technologies certainly will continually evolve. From today's perspective, there seems little question that laser-based optical discs (e.g., videodiscs, CD-ROM discs) will be important in data storage. More powerful technical integration of various sources of media into a composite presentation format, such as Digital Video Interactive, promises significant possibilities for sharing educational resources across a broader student base. New simulation software should be easier to create because of more powerful authoring tools, often used in conjunction with hypertext environments. This appendix will outline some of these near-future possibilities.


Interactive multimedia programs are developed using computer software that controls the retrieval of graphics, video, and audio. Often, these programs rely on videodiscs and CD-ROM for storage of audio and visual materials. Interactive multimedia programs generally are well-suited to those cases where (1) large numbers of students can use the completed materials; (2) the majority of content is relatively stable for several years; (3) instructional goals cannot be met using conventional methods because of time, cost, and/or safety concerns; and (4) flexibility in time and place is needed to offer the instruction. These cases are predicated on the availability of sufficient time and money for development. The process of planning interactive instruction is challenging because of its many instructional possibilities and technical capabilities. However, this multitude of options can be overwhelming if needs and goals are not carefully specified. At least half of the total time required to produce such instruction must be allocated to needs assessment, analysis, instructional design, and planning, which are especially critical for interactive multimedia simulations. The large number of instructional design variables makes formative evaluation of prototype programs essential, with sufficient time allotted for revision. Materials production can involve the design and creation of video, graphics, and computer software to control the program. A program development team approach has proven successful in planning and developing interactive multimedia programs.


Videodiscs are a random-access, high-density audio and video analog optical storage medium. One side of a videodisc can hold 54,000 still images (e.g., slides, photomicrographs) or up to 30 minutes of high-quality motion video, with two independent soundtracks. Because the disc is "read" by a laser beam, no physical degradation occurs; image quality does not deteriorate with use. The principal advantage of the videodisc over videocassettes is the speed of access to any image scattered across the disc. Any image can be retrieved in three seconds or less. Such retrieval would require several minutes of searching on videocassettes. The high image quality, rapid retrieval time, and high information packing density combine to yield a medium well suited to three typical applications: (1) the distribution of visual databases (e.g., History of Architecture) where conventional duplication, handling, and storage costs for thousands of slides and/or dissimilar media make student use of departmental and college collections otherwise impractical; (2) multi-segmented tutorials containing optional information for enrichment and/or remediation; and (3) multi-segmented simulations, where the retrieval capability can be exploited to show the consequences of various right and wrong decisions or varying degrees of sophistication in the simulations.

10.1.3 CD-ROM

Compact Disc Read Only Memory (CD-ROM) is a digital optical storage format that is a derivative of the compact audio disc. The format is a high-density but relatively slow retrieval device, which is somewhat slower than a computer hard disk. CD-ROMs are capable of storing digital files containing text, graphics, sound, images, computer program code, and data. Storage capacity is 550 megabytes--roughly 220,000 pages of text or 1500 floppy discs. Like a videodisc, CD-ROMs are read by a laser so no disc wear occurs during data retrieval. Since CD-ROMs originally could not be erased, they were best suited to applications where data needed to be unchangeable, such as archives. A variant (Write Once, Read Many WORM) allows appending data to files but not erasing files, although erasable technology is becoming commercially available. While still video images may be stored successfully, full-screen moving video images of high quality are not yet fully practical; full motion video requires data at a higher read-transfer rate than CD-ROM disc players can currently yield. New approaches, such as Digital Video Interactive (DVI), use compression techniques to overcome this problem. However, storage of large numbers of conventional analog television images is better suited to videodisc because of the higher density available. If motion is not required, the multimedia storage capabilities of CD-ROM can be combined, such as in a application that gives a textual description of a bird species, shows a color picture of the bird, and plays a recording of its call. CD-ROM discs and accompanying software currently are used to distribute large bibliographic databases, library catalogs, and encyclopedias (e.g., Books in Print, ERIC, Westlaw).

10.1.4 COMPU-TV

Within the next few years, high-definition television, or HDTV, should replace the television signal-reception system used in this country since the early 1950s. The new system, which will employ six times as many color dots and more than double the scan lines of the current system, will result in sharper pictures, allowing TV screens to double in size without loss of picture quality. This new system also is predicted to have a major impact on the personal computer industry as PCs are modified to accept HDTV broadcast signals, resulting in multifaceted equipment that serves both as a computer and as a television, or Compu-TV. This blending of technologies should make a number of cross-media uses possible.


Simulations allow students to experience processes and devices that are rare, dangerous, or inaccessible. Simulations are especially useful in learning about complex physical or social systems. Examples include applying CPR, life in present-day Japan, piloting an airplane, operating a nuclear reactor, and the politics of 16-century Italy. By teaching with simulations, faculty encourage exploratory learning, letting students experience the consequences of decisions and receive feedback on their actions. Computer graphics, video, and audio can substantially enrich a simulation, producing quite realistic experiences that involve students in unique ways and allowing a more externally valid assessment of performance in complex situations than may be possible through other means of teaching. To create a computer-based simulation, an accurate model of the process or phenomenon being studied is vital. Model conceptualization can be time-consuming and can require extensive verification. To ease the process of constructing and testing programs, special authoring software exists (e.g., Stanford University's ALIAS).


"Authoring" software functions as a "program generator," letting developers concentrate more on the design of the simulation than the technical details of writing complex computer code. Experts agree that in virtually all cases, good quality software may be considered a function of teaching experience, knowledge of the subject matter, creative talent, and a good understanding of the design principles for interactive programs. It is not a function of the particular language or used to create the program. Future authoring software tools likely will provide expert system technology to relate instructional design principles to the instructional intent of the program developer. Enhanced productivity in the process of developing instructional software should result. Moreover, it will be less important for "authors" to deal with actual computer languages, as graphically oriented authoring environments will allow icon manipulation of the dynamics of the program being constructed.


1 One such program still in existence is the Honors Program at the University of Virginia, but it has dwindled to only two departments (government and philosophy) due to the enormous faculty costs per student credit hour. The program has survived only because of the extraordinary dedication of a handful of faculty.

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2 The use of interactive videodiscs has already begun at the University. Recognizing the significant opportunities for improving learning through the use of this technology, the Learning Resources Center has targeted interactive media as a major area of growth and, consequently, is involved in several projects. One project, "A Visual Text: History of Architecture," has already been completed for the architecture program.

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3 Although current experience in the College of Engineering indicates that the performance of off-campus students is lower than on-campus students, future programs may be developed to alleviate this discrepancy in performance.

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