Degrees of Separation

Virtual students give school the boot (up)

For many institutions of higher learning, providing courses, and indeed entire degrees, online will be a great source of income. Frank Mayadas, a program director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, has issued over $25 million in grants for AL since 1993, to more than 50 accredited colleges and universities. "At the beginning, I had to convince people to even take the money because the idea of time-lapsed learning seemed so peculiar," Mayadas says. Both the New School's DIAL and another New York State Sloan beneficiary, SUNY, have grown dramatically: DIAL has served 2000 students since its founding in 1994, and SUNY currently has 37 participating campuses. But because AL is even younger than the Web itself, you can almost count the total number of degrees earned on your fingers and toes.

Soothsayer Noam predicts that, despite the trailblazing efforts of the universities, megacorporations like McGraw-Hill and Time Warner will transform the new medium into a competitive industry. However, for the most elite schools, bringing their courses online is about more than creating new revenue; a virtual curriculum must meet high standards in order to avoid diluting the school's prestigious name. Bob Nelson, a spokesperson for Columbia University, says, "The technology is still in its infancy. We will be in, but I just don't know a date." Maybe we can call that time-lapsed learning, too.

The professor makes house calls: student Marie Alexander with her classroom
Michael Sofronski
The professor makes house calls: student Marie Alexander with her classroom

Signal and Noise

  • Turning of the Phrase: Disney's PR department sure knows how to sell their family-friendly tomorrowland. On September 7, Time Digital reported on the company's big "portal" plans with this pollyanna-ish nugget: "On a blustery March day... we could put up a story about what to do with your two-year-old on a rainy day in Chicago," one Disney exec is quoted saying. Three weeks later, Fortune reheats the same 'storm' and toddler: "Log onto the Net one morning, and what do you find?… A local weather report, and a link to a Disney site that tells about great things to do with a two-year-old when it's raining." The future's so similar, you gotta wear a bullshit detector. (Props to Jim Ledbetter for the tip.) —Austin Bunn
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