The Wired College


Posted to HotWired 9 Feb 98

Who was it said that new technology should make it possible to do new things, and not new ways of doing old things? Wiring the college dorms is a good idea, I suppose, but it falls into the latter category. But wiring your education means a lot more than a modem jack in your dorm.

The arrival of the internet raises much deeper questions. Like: instead of asking whether the dorm should be wired, we should be asking, should there be a dorm at all?

Thousands of students are today taking college courses online, not from their dorm room, but from their living room. And while tuitions haven't dropped a lot, they are still saving thousands: they don't have to travel to the college, rent a dorm room, eat (ugh) cafeteria food, or even quit their job.

Much of what constitutes an education may be conducted over the internet. Hosting traditional educational activities online, such as lectures, seminars, forums, and conferences, has become commonplace.

The internet is also extending education in ways not considered possible before. It used to be, only a few major institutions could afford significant research libraries. But as online publication expands, students from any institution may access the latest and greatest publications, even if they are located in obscure journals.

Student - teacher interactivity is also changing as a result of online learning. It's not really possible to exchange comments with the instructor in a large lecture theatre. Online, however, the level of interactivity is much greater.

It is true that an online education cannot do all things. I still want my brain surgeon to practise on real brains, and my mechanic to work in real grease. But even in these very skills-oriented disciplines there is a lot of theoretical work which can be done online.

So I think that in the end, wiring the dorms won't be seen as a great advance. When you're right there it's hard to see how having net access will help a lot. The real difference will be measured not from the perspective of the people in the dorm, but rather, from the perspective of people in remote communities and around the world.


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