Hybrid distance education mechanisms
Internet, Television and Organizations
Project Number 03 – 1994
Director; MA in Telecom
Coalition for Electronic Markets
6603 Pelham Trace
Centreville VA 22020
(703) 968 8229
Fax: (703) 968 8798
Program on Social and Organizational Learning
4084 University Drive
Fairfax VA 22030-4444
(703) 993 1142
Fax: (703) 934 1578
Other Individuals And Organizations Associated With The Project
The course described below will be the initial content for the Coalition for the New Engineer (Peter Denning)
ARPA TRP project to supply a hybrid delivery mechanism between GMU and Virginia K12 institutions.
Similar initiatives are underway with local industry that we hope will lead to a geography-independent vehicle
capable of supporting industry’s continuing education needs, potentially on a global basis.
The George Mason MA in Telecom degree integrates three strands of disciplinary tradition to create an interdisciplinary approach to equipping students and those who hire them with practical solutions to the challenges of information age enterprise. We take these three strands to be the technology-centric emphasis of the telecommunications engineering community, the culture-centric emphasis of interpretive social thought in the humanities, and the individual-centric evolutionary social models of the science community.
I will describe this spring’s pilot deployment of a hybrid course delivery mechanism that we hope to begin expanding this fall. The hybrid relies on television to deliver traditional one to many information to students who may never appear in class. It also uses internet to preserve the two-way aspect of the educational experience that television students would otherwise lose. By conserving faculty and students’ limited time on campus, it can be spent on quality face to face interaction. The hybrid delivery mechanism promises to become a a cost-effective way of extending telecommunications education beyond the confines of the traditional brick and mortar academy.
Our pilot course, “LRNG572; Taming the Electronic Frontier”, relies heavily on experiential emersion in technology, contemporary events, team exercises, market-based grading, and other innovative techniques that challenge the traditional passive role of students in the educational experience. For example, the course features an organizational learning exercise in which teams are are graded on their success in fixing breakdowns they’ve encountered in their institutional environment. Such groups have already made substantial contributions throughout the university, from parking to computing, by fixing intransigent technosocial breakdowns throughout GMU’s technical and administrative infrastructure.
The MA in Telecom student body generally hold full time jobs, so it is often inconvenient for them to attend classes on campus. By lowering this barrier to entry, we expect that distance education costs can be covered through increased enrollment. For example, enrollment in the pilot course doubled when we moved it from the classroom+internet format of last fall to the television+internet format of this spring. This doubling occured in spite of a scheduling snafu that put both of our core courses at the same time. Students compensated by viewing LRNG572 in the library or by setting their VCRs to timeshift the lectures to a convenient time. One student is even participating upon being transferred by her company to a new job in Germany. She arranged for a coworker to record VCR tapes via cable and ship them to her via overnight delivery.
- use technologies that interoperate with the National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET), the global Internet, and the emerging National Research and Education Network (NREN): The course is based on, and heavily exploits, all forms of Internet and NII technology.
- explore how library and other information resources and services can be made available in the networked teaching and learning process: LRNG572 is a paperless classroom. All reference materials, exams, etc are accessed electronically, via email, gopher, mosaic, wais, ftp, etc.
- are collaborations involving different types of institutions, organizations, and agencies: Collaboration with CNE’s ARPA project to integrate GMU and K12. Close cooperation with local industry and government (NIST).
- observe the contemporary economic imperative to “do more with less” while providing an “elegant” approach to networked teaching and learning: Fortunately, most of the technology was already in place, but underused due to ill-directed faculty incentives, which are still our greatest challenge.
- manifest a high degree of replicability and long-term viability We’ve discovered that distance education technology does not just provide a new vehicle for unidirectional transfer of knowledge from professor to student. It also expedites two-way communication by allowing students to be active partipants in and contributors to the educational process, and by conserving scarce time on campus for one on one interaction with faculty and staff. The university provides a relatively safe environment for radical organizational learning exercises from which the students and the academy both benefit.But most significantly given the skill-development requirements of a technology intensive program, distance education technology provides a completely new *source* of knowledge in the experiential learning that results from students actively using the technology during and between classes.
In summary, use of telecommunication technology in the classroom is a subject of knowledge, a vehicle for the exchange of formal knowledge, and a fundamentally new source of experiential and tacit knowledge.
Macintosh capable of projecting large Powerpoint presentations to the audience in full color, TV and VCR.
Section 001 Tues 4:30-7:10PM King Hall TV Studio Section 002 Attend Section 001 on Tuesday 1/25/94 Cable and microwave Tuesday 4:30 PM Rebroadcast Thursday 9:30 AM (except Arlington) Rebroadcast Thursday 8:00 pm Fairfax (Ch48) Video tape in Fenwick Library Floor 2 AV section Cable Networks channel Capitol Connection -- Media General/Fairfax County 48 Arlington Cable 37 Manassas/Manassas Park 38 Woodbridge, Dale City, Occoquon 59 Reston (Rng) 8 or 18 Sterling/Loudoun 67
Information infrastructures such as Internet, Compuserve, America Online and the new administration’s Nationwide Information Infrastructure (NII) are suddenly exploding onto front page headlines. This course is an chance to see why. It is also a chance to encounter the even greater challenges that society faces as the global economy leaps headlong into an information age, an age where property is increasingly composed of bits instead of the atoms that commerce has been concerned with until now.
This course establishs a dialog between producers and consumers of information age goods by exploiting distance learning technologies such as television in combination with email, ftp, gopher, wais and other groupware tools as they become available. These tools provide the basis for electronically mediated organizational learning exercises that challenge traditional power relationships between teachers and students, producers and consumers, universities and customers, broadcasters and listeners. As a broadly interdisciplinary course, it examines the history of major revolutions of the past from the viewpoint of Austrian economics theorists such as Hayek and Mises regarding the use and production of knowledge by society. Their human-centric focus helps to project beyond the technology-centric paradigms of today’s telecomputing establishments to see how the information revolution may unfold in the future.
How can individuals and organizations adapt to a increasingly chaotic, ever shrinking, faster changing world? How will we make money as the economy shifts from the tangible goods of the manufacturing age to the intangible goods of the information age? What does it mean to ‘buy’ or ‘sell’ intangible electronic or intellectual property? What does it mean to ‘own’ goods that can be replicated in nanoseconds and transported at literally the speed of light? Does it make sense to own something that can’t be counted, or seen, or tasted, or weighed, and that can be replicated and transported so readily? If not, how else might we incentivize other individuals to provide information that is timely and relevant to our needs? How can organizations learn to respond effectively to the accelerating pace of change in an increasingly global, knowledge-intensive economy?
Beneath each of these questions loom challenges even larger than in the major intellectual revolutions of history. Electronic goods are made of bits that don’t obey the physical conservation laws of mass, energy and spin that governed commerce in tangible goods made of atoms. This raises fundamental questions with respect to foundation concepts of organized human society such as property rights. Such rights could be taken for granted for the hard-to-copy goods of the industrial revolution because physical conservation laws could be relied on to enforce what we’ve thought of until now as ‘property’. But since natural conservation laws don’t apply for bits, these laws must be specifically invented, considered, debated, adopted, deployed and enforced by social and technological means. What should it mean to ‘own’ computer software, indeed?
Technical specialists, such as students entering the computer science, software engineering, or telecommunications professions, will find the breadth of this course valuable for guarding against the criticism that technologists care more about technology than customers and for anticipating fundamental changes in the way information age workers earn their pay.
Students with non-technical interests will find the course a way of developing sufficient telecomputing skills for understanding the growing impact of telecomputing on the modern office. Both will learn techniques for acting as effective change agents for organizational learning as offices struggle to enter the information age.
In order to make this class more accessible to government and industry in the Washington area, it is offered in two sections. Section #1 meets each week in the television studio in King Hall. This section is recorded on videotape and broadcast on cable and microwave for viewing by Section #2. The videotapes will also be available for viewing in Fenwick library within 24 hours of each Section #1 session. The broadcast signal is carried via microwave and cable throughout most of metropolitan Washington and Northern Virgina, and may be viewed at home or office or videotaped for greater convenience.
The interactive aspects of the classroom experience are preserved with the aid of internet in both sections of this course. Registrants are provided free internet accounts at GMU that can be accessed by modem, via telnet from accounts with external internet vendors, or from computers in the George Mason computer labs.
Students should have (or be able to acquire with assistance) basic familiarity with personal computing sufficient to use a terminal emulator to access the Unix Internet account that GMU will provide for each student (commercial internet accounts may also be used). The account will allow students to communicate with the course instructor, other students, and people outside the university. Class assignments will involve extensive use of email, netnews, ftp, gopher, wais and other internet facilities, as well as advanced groupware systems as they become available during the course.
Since this class relies heavily on computer-based communications, off-campus students are advised to consider the travel implications of relying on campus-based computers for this course. Regular, reliable and uninterrupted access (2-3 times a week for an hour or more each) to an internet-connected (or modem equipped) Macintosh, IBM-compatible PC (286+), or workstation is crucial to getting the most from this course.
Students who wish to take this course for credit towards the MA in Telecommunications should register with the GMU registrars office. Although non-registered students are welcome to view the televised broadcast without charge, registration is strongly advised in order to be added to the internet mailing list that forms the two-directional communication backbone of this course.
All registered students should attend the first meeting of Section #1 of this course to acquire an internet account and other materials which will be supplied at no additional charge.
Contact Linda Atwell at 703 934-1564 or email@example.com with questions about this course or the George Mason MA in Telecom program.
Part 1: Where do we stand today?
The first third of this course brings the class to a basic level of competence with the established tools, methods, and paradigms of today’s telecommunications, computer science and software engineering culture. Subsequent work will use telecomputing infrastructures extensively, particularly internet, to provide first-hand acquaintance with the electronic frontier and the bewildering phenomena that are occuring there today.
In this section students will acquire the basic skills needed to use the internet effectively. These skills are relied on heavily in the remainder of the course.
Part 2: How did we get here?
The second third examines the history of other major revolutions to see how similar frontiers were conquered in the past. By studying the major paradigm shifts of history, we’ll search for insight into how the electronic frontier might develop in the future.
When interchangeable parts were introduced to manufacturing, the belief systems and vested interests of the cottage industry gunsmith establishment came into direct conflict with their customers’ desire for easily repairable weapons. This part of the industrial revolution provides particularly rich examples of the dynamics of organizational learning.
The computer software industry has been on the threshold of a similar revolution ever since the term, ‘software crisis, was coined a quarter-century ago. Software producers defend present practices by proclaiming “There’s no Silver Bullet” in the face of their consumers demand for radical improvement. By denying this hope, could the software establishment be defending its privileged role in society at the expense of our customers’ demand for change?
The dominant paradigm for reasoning about electronic data and especially computer software, constitutes the central belief-systems of computer science and software engineering. The computer establishment’s present emphasis on logic and mathematics is like that of the Ptolemaic astronomers and the alchemists of medieval days. Following Plato, they believed that logic and mathematics were primary means for arriving at essential truths without the deception that could arise through experimental observation of nature.
The Copernican shift to a nature-centered paradigm based on experimental observation is only beginning to arrive on the electronic frontier. But what might it mean ‘observe’ software as Copernicus observed the planets or Lavoisier observed the behavior of oxygen? What corresponds to ‘nature’ in an electronic frontier where everything is routinely fabricated from first principles instead of being assembled from pre-existing components?
Part 3: Where are we heading?
The telecomputing industry evolved in a uniquely puzzling manner. We’ve deployed a remarkably robust infrastructure capable of moving goods around the globe at literally the speed of light. But we have never created a robust market mechanism to encourage the production of goods for the infrastructure to carry.
Users are beginning to ask fundamental questions indeed: “Why should I buy a computer? I want to buy water, but you’re selling plumbing. Why should I invest in telecomputing infrastructure when there are no goods for the infrastructure to carry?” Executives are asking “Why is my organization’s thirst for timely, relevant information not abated now that my company has invested so heavily in information age plumbing?” There are even reports that computers may reduce white-collar productivity by providing noise at the expense of relevant signal.
Possible answers to these questions may already exist within other domains of human experience. For example, the music industry found itself in a similar predicament a century ago as they came to terms with radio and TV broadcasting. An extension of the pay-per-use system that they ultimately adopted might allow software to be distributed for free in return for usage-based revenue collection.
An industry-wide consortium of Japanese computer manufacturers is already exploring exactly such a solution under the direction of a now-retired director of MITI. He calls the approach superdistribution by analogy with superconductivity, because it allows information to flow freely, without resistance from copy protection and piracy.
Finally we will consider the controversial implications if this approach were applied, not just for software, but as an incentive mechanism for organizational learning within the far broader context of white-collar productivity in general.
Internet Regular exploration of the electronic frontier via internet (electronic mail groups, ftp, gopher, netnews and others) is mandatory reading in this course.
Harley Hahn and Rick Stout The Internet complete Reference Osborne Press
Robert Pirsig Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; An Inquiry into Values, University of Chicago Press.