I read with great interest your editorial, "The Growing Two-Class Education System" (October
2004). Let me address first the assertion that technology can solve part of the problem. While I agree that technology can help somewhat, we know that not everyone responds well to technology- based learning.
In fact, at our institution, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), we have been delivering our MBA via distance since 1979, initially via videotape at sites, later by interactive videoconferencing (1992), then individual videotapes mediated by web sites (1996), and finally fully via the web (1999). What we have learned is that some people respond well to this approach, and others do not, and it is not strictly an issue of motivation or technology familiarity. Some people are very motivated to earn their degree, but they simply do not have the discipline to complete a webbased course that is the rigor equivalent of a campus-based course, which ours are. Others, of course, are able to fly right through. Given that we attract people that are technologyoriented, I think it is safe to say that the argument often advanced-that people are increasingly tech-savvy and will become increasingly better able to handle learning anywhere and anytime-still has holes in it.
I agree that the classic academic model needs to change. WPI recognized that decades ago and, in response, developed the WPI Plan. Since 1972 WPI has focused on student responsibility centered education. We deliver on that in a variety of ways, including projects, no course prerequisites, seven-week terms, and unusual requirements for out-of class work. What is important is the overall bundle of outcomes from these projects. Our students learn life skills, such as negotiation, conversing effectively with people at all levels of organizations, how to research a topic and learn how to learn, how to work in diverse teams, how to think critically and creatively, how to present, how to write, and, for many, how to work in a different culture. These are some of the things that lead recruiters to tell us that our students have an 18 month head start over other college graduates they hire, including those from co-op programs. Over the 30-plus years we have operated this way, we have graduated exceptional students. They are incredible problem solvers, tremendously aware of the world around them, and quick learners. We hear these things, and more, from recruiters all the time. The process is one that I heartily recommend to all colleges and universities, although from a selfish perspective I hope they do not follow us. MCRAE C. BANKS,
Dir., Collaborative for Entrepreneurship & Innovation Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Mass.)
I appreciated your interesting and well-written article on course management systems and the Sakai Project ("New Lessons in Course Management," September). I'm excited about the potential of Sakai to provide a new model for course management systems. However, I'm concerned that the casual reader might make the inference that Sakai, as well as other open-source software projects, are inherently lower-cost than commercial products. For any complex, enterprise software system-a category that certainly includes course management systems today-the costs of installing, upgrading, and providing end-user support are far greater than the cost of the software license. In many cases, opensource systems require higher levels of in-house technical skill to support, or require contracts with third-party vendors to provide this expertise.So while I think Sakai is a wonderful experiment and I support it, nobody should automatically assume that every IHE will find that Sakai will cost them less than a comparable commercial product. Time will tell.
A. MICHAEL BERMAN,
VP for Instructional and Information Technology
Cal Poly Pomona
I thought Tom Warger's article ("The Dark Horses of Campus Computing," October) about new technologies and services on University campuses was well done. I would suggest that he left one very important category off his list: Gaming devices. We have students with Xboxes and other gaming devices asking if they can connect to our network. Articles have expressed that perhaps the computer for a student in the near future will actually be the gaming device. DON DAVIS, Exec. Dir./Deputy CIO Information and Media Technology Azusa Pacific University (Calif.) Revamped Website I want to thank you for critiquing the University of Miami's website in University Business ("First Click: Does This Website Work?" October). I agree with most of what you had to say. In fact, just after the issue was released, so was the University's redesign, where we did address many of the issues that you brought up in the article. I realize that there are still a few problems because there are some things we couldn't tackle at this time, but I was wondering if you would review our new site and let me know what areas you think could still use some improvement.
Sr. Manager, Web Development and Support University of Miami.
Readers can see for themselves the changes made to UM's website at www.miami.edu. -Ed.