The Evolving Virtual University

Colombia University professor Eli Noam sees a reversal in the historic direction of information flow: "In the past, people came to the information, which was stored at the university. In the future, the information will come to the people, wherever they are. What then is the role of the university? Will it be more than a collection of remaining physical functions, such as the science laboratory and the football team? Will the impact of electronics on the university be like that of printing on the medieval cathedral, ending its central role in information transfer? Have we reached the end of the line of a model that goes back to Ninevah, more than 2500 years ago? Can we self-reform the university, or must things get much worse first?"

This recent quote from the October 13 issue Science magazine sums up in general terms the issues I wish to address via the dramatic changes taking place in the whole nature of scholarly communication and thus on the teaching and learning process. The individual user can now become the centre of the information Internet world. In the changes to come the whole university will become enmeshed in significant change, not least libraries. Indeed in the devolution of access to knowledge one commentator has recently expressed the view that the universities appeared now to be in a similar position of the English monastic houses in the 1530s, ie awaiting dissolution! One ponders who will be the Australian Henry VIII?

The teaching and learning environment will change. Carnegie Mellon, in a recent study, anticipates that by the year 2001 many course units would be almost completely "remote in space and time". Leading scholars throughout the world will interact with students outside their own university in a real time environment. Professor Richard Lanham (1993) of UCLA has argued on a number of occasions that the whole process of learning will be radically changed as knowledge moves away from linear access. Irrespective of the disappearance of the non sequential learning process, the merging of educational and information technology will see teaching and learning patterns changing dramatically.

As one of the leading IT proponents Professor James O'Donnell, a classicist of Pittsburgh, has written "Tools as powerful as networked computers are going to transform human communication. This transformation will bring with it both loss and gain. Every revolution in communication has both added to the power and range of what is communicated, and taken away some of the intimacy. Writing began the long, slow disestablishment of the face-to-face community of people who all knew each other, and every communication technique introduced since then has furthered that process".

The changes we are seeing at the present time with the conversion of telecommunications, computing and Net publishing with association indexing and retrieval tools is bringing about a revolution which may have indicated is similar to the transition which took place in the fifteenth century from manuscript scriptoria to print. As Professor Elizabeth Eisenstein has indicated this fifteenth century change had profound societal effects and effects of the Net revolution will be as profound as we enter the twenty first century.

It is interesting to note that the term digital is now replacing the term electronic or virtual in information technology because we are looking at digitized forms of information being available as never before. But with much information still present in traditional print sources, we need to challenge the dominance of the major multinational publishers, particularly the scientific ones. We now need to revert to the intellectual preeminence and ownership of information by the academic community, eg. returning to the publication sponsorship of learned societies such as the Royal Society in the 1660's or to the universities themselves.

I'm not going to go into any great detail here re library issues as I've addressed them in my 1995 UK Follett lectures (Steele) but the economics of information being given away by the scholarly community to multinational publishers, who at vast expense sell it back to University libraries and individuals, is becoming more and more absurd. Elsevier/Reed, one of the major academic publishers and information providers has recently announced a £358 million profit and a significant double digit inflation/increase in serials subscriptions in 1995-6 in the United States. Tenure has always been one of the criteria in terms of publishing in print journals as well as academic respectability. However, electronic refereeing is no longer dependent on print. It is medium independent and will be increasingly used in electronic journal or access provision.

The Higher Education Funding Council in the UK in its response to the Follett Report allocated £15 million to modernise the UK higher education information system. In Australia the $5 million allocated in 1993 following the Academies Scholarly Communications Forum runs out in 1996 and future grants need to be provided for national initiatives. Individual universities are notorious for a lack of support for naturally co-ordinated library and information activities - as the spirit of individual competition prevails. The DEET programme which has been split into Datasets, Network Information Co-ordination and Electronic Publishing, has been innovative and stimulated national co-ordination. In the national datasets initiative ISI's Current Contents has been taken up by 35/38 of the universities after seeding funds; the ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) database has so far been taken up by 28 of the 38.

Here I would like to cite Richard Heseltine, the Librarian of Hull University, who also has the title of Head of the Teaching and Learning Unit. He states "learning is coming to be regarded as a life-long activity. The range of qualifications providing access to higher education is being extended all the time, and students will be increasingly free to move from one institution to another, to be credited for prior experience and learning, and to construct a qualification from multiple institutional sources. Distance learning is becoming more and more important, not only as universities enter a global educational market but as they become more integrated locally, entering into collaborative arrangements with local and regional businesses and with local and regional providers of secondary and further education. Indeed, the boundaries between further education and higher education will become increasingly blurred, and the concept of the university having an identifiable physical location will break down as the campus becomes more and more virtual.

It is inconceivable that traditional models of teaching and learning will be generally sustainable under these conditions. We need to construct fundamentally different teaching and learning environments, and this will have a great impact on the nature of the training which needs to be given. In particular, we shall need to adapt to a much greater diversity of users, with different expectations and different learning styles: a more flexible system of education, in which people learn how, where and when they want; and to a form of higher education which places more emphasis on skills and competences than on subject knowledge.

Clearly technology and networked information resources are going to be important parts of the teaching and learning environment of the future. But in thinking about educational roles, we do not need to be technology driven but rather capitalise on the fact that the individual becomes the centre of the information universe".

Libraries in the past have concentrated on the outward cover of the book, ie, bibliographical detals but in the fact they will provide access to the contents of the book or article.

To achieve these changes of access successfully, academic libraries will play a major role in determining and implementing policy on

  • information access and dissemination throughout their institutions.
  • integrating their information into networks, campus, national and international.
  • training and developing the members of the institution to make effective use of this information.
  • providing networked access in addition to information originating outside the institution.

Good networked access (internal and external) will require effective access tools on the student's or researcher's terminal showing what relevant information is available and what charge (if any) has to be made to the individual or the institution for providing the information. Site wide licences will increasingly be the norm.

In this context it seems likely that there will be a move away from designing courses and then expecting the library to supply appropriate learning materials to designing courses around the availability of appropriate electronic documents and networked resources. Librarians will need to develop a high level of comprehension of the educational perspectives of academic staff and find a suitable mechanism for appropriate dialogues,

In the new electronic world each academic can be a publisher. The essential elements of "deconstructing" the print journal will allow an expansion of access to material eg., numbers of articles on a server in a subject or chronological framework being available to specialists eg., in history or chemistry. Students will be able to find their articles, and course work in customised electronic format. Some of this student course material may well be given out in small credit card format with data encoded and the cards slipped into hand held "reading screens" as currently postulated by the American Publishing Association. Such readers will have variable list screen and changeable typeface to aid those with visual problems.

To turn to information provision and control and to use one discipline to provide one subject vantage point. Odlyzko (1994) has argued that half of the world's mathematical papers (circa one million) have been published in the last ten years. There is no way the traditional library structures can cope with such a rate of production, i.e., the doubling of the world's mathematical literature in the next twenty years. A sophisticated combination of scholars and librarians co-ordinating learned societies input and output of articles on the Net could displace print specialist print libraries as we know them today.

The Australian National University has one of the "best" mathematical serial collections in the world - how much longer will it survive in its present print form? Efforts have been made in the last few years to see it identified as a "para-national" library for Australia but its print location in Canberra is little use to a researcher in say Darwin unless there is relatively easy network access and cost effective distribution of data. Odlyzko has estimated that a mathematics library that spends US$150,000 on books and journals per annum costs $500,000 to run. Retooling of finances by access to global mathematic servers from the desktop will change the traditional economic structures of libraries. Odlyzko argues "technology will solve the librarians' problem, but will also eliminate most of their jobs"!

Recent grants (May 1995) issued under the aegis of the UK Electronic Libraries Programme includes a wide spectrum of electronic initiatives in training, document supply and publishing. Included in the latter were 'Electronic Seminars in History and Review in History', with the Institute of Historical Research being the lead institution, and 'Sociological Research Online' with the lead institution being the British Sociological Association. Similarly in the USA the American Association of University Press/Coalition for Networked Information initiative includes a wide variety of subject topics such projects as 'SCAN - Scholarship from California on the Net' with an initial focus on nineteenth century literature and classical antiquity.

This author is on the Editorial Advisory Board of the new electronic Australian Journal of the Humanities funded by DEET via the AVCC Electronic Publishing Grants Scheme which is based at La Trobe University and will not be available in print form. Electronic article access will also allow flexibility in searching and a timelessness of access which is impossible in a print environment.

The UK SuperJournal Consortium announced this month in UK has a grant of £833,000 to develop multimedia electronic journals. The UK Higher Education Funding Councils will fund the work over three years. Project work begins immediately, and the first electronic journals will be ready in March 1996. The SuperJournal Project is a major collaboration between publishers, librarians, and universities. The aim is to develop the electronic journals of the future that researchers, students, and librarians find useful and usable. Electronic journals in the project will be based on quality refereed journals that exist in print today, but with innovative electronic features such as interactivity, hypertext linking, video, animation, and 3-D graphics.

An important feature of the project will be to use industry standards and off-the-shelf tools to develop the electronic journals. Standards for structuring the information, like SGML, and standard file formats will be used. Vendors of user interfaces, browsers, and search/retrieval programs, and multimedia handling tools will be invited to provide software for the project.

Project partners include the 21 publishers of the SuperJournal Consortium, University of Manchester, and Loughborough University of Technology. Each publisher will contribute journals and be involved in developing the multimedia features. The University of Manchester will develop the host infrastructure to make them available electronically to user sites.

Of particular interest for the future is answering the scaleability questions: How do you handle large quantities of multi-media content? David Pullinger, Project Director, has said in the press release 'The project is unique because of its scale and collaborative approach. By teaming together, publishers, researchers, and librarians, we can achieve what none could do alone. The critical mass of journals, the testbed environment and network of users will enable us to translate the printed journal into new electronic paradigms. It's a real opportunity to redefine the scholarly publishing process, from author, to publisher, to library, to reader.' We need to be part of this process in Australia.

Fewer academic monographs are being bought each year as prices rise to maintain revenue or profits. Cambridge University Press publish 500 copies of each academic monograph. Increasingly we will be able to access published electronic archives and download parts of books, eg, chapters, or articles in symposia, directly to the desktop via individual payment or site wide licenses. The Head of Australia's Copyright Agency Limited, Michael Fraser controversially postulated, at the Australian National Scholarly Communication Forum in June, the transformation of libraries into electronic bookshops where customers buy licensed articles or chapters thereby supplementing or even replacing the traditional academic bookstores. Copyright is protected by site wide license fees or password access.

Universities will become Internet publishers. The US Copyright Clearance Center (on the Web at offers an automated academic permission service for obtaining the rights to course parts, ie custom designed anthologies for class. Australia has recently seen unsuccessful legal action by CAL over course related material sold by universities. In the USA Richard McDaniel, President of the National Association of College Stores has said that at Cornell University, sales have soared from less than $70,000 in 1989 (when virtually all the product was produced elsewhere) to over $700,000 in 1993 (when the product was largely produced or controlled internally). McDaniel has warned, customers will get what they want, if not from him, then from someone else. The future will be high tech and campuses must use that technology to get close to the customers and give them what they want.

Libraries at the moment are in an a difficult position as they try to balance the control and organisation of existing print collections with the need to make available information electronically both locally and then to provide links to related international information. Users generally still want both forms of information while budgets remain static and are declining in real terms. The only flexibility in a stale or declining budgetary framework is to redistribute elements of the print vote to electronic access.

Issues which need to be addressed is the organisation of material on the Net, the effectiveness of the organisation in your local CWIS and not least network infrastructure. The problems of printing and network delivery printing on a campus need to be addressed. One US commentator Dr Clifford Lynch has commented at the Washington April 1995 Coalition for Networked Information meeting that "printing is the problem from hell". Most users however still want to keep print copies, from Net access, so that we need to factor in effective network delivery and highspeed printers all of which have significant cost components.

Digital library developments will ensure the independence of place via appropriate access mechanisms, apart from heavily used items. It is also accelerating the campus convergence of relevant access and delivery structures, because unless the network access and delivery infrastructure is in place user effectiveness will be reduced. It is clear that relevant university structures must also evolve or universities will be left behind. The form this will take around the world will mean radically different organisations in the future as authors, publishers, libraries, computer network, and multi-media centres come together to provide more integrated and comprehensive storage, production and access facilities.

What are the network infrastructures required to enable the best facilitation of such facilities. Some universities have Pro Vice-Chancellors Information eg QUT and Griffith, two universities, rightly or wrongly - Tasmania and UNSW no longer have a University Librarian. Some have binary systems eg ANU where the Librarian and Director ITS work together and are on each others respective peak bodies, although they currently report to separate Deputy Vice-Chancellors. We need to provide for

  • training eg. How do academics and students learn about the Net eg. its access and organisation
  • technology upgrade paths - greater power to desktops
  • software access - evaluation - the most appropriate tools

Information overload, however, is becoming a pre-eminent feature in every single field of knowledge, let alone cross-disciplinary foci. Nicholas Negroponte (1995), the Head of the MIT Media Laboratory, has made analogies in this context with an "English butler", who provided a physical sifting mechanism for entrance to a home (including presumably referrals to the tradesman's entrance - the equivalent of junk on the Net!) and that now we require them for the digital environment! As Negroponte has said digital changes - eg. are not simply affecting computing but essentially society as a whole.

We may now be able to reinstitute the University Press in electronic form. The ANU press for example has long since disappeared as a reality even though there may still be somewhat obscure links with Pergamon. I chair the University Electronic Information Access Committee. I'm very pleased Professor Paul Bourke, President of the Academy of Social Sciences and Professor of History in the Research School of Social Sciences, has agreed to be the Chair of the Electronic Publications Committee, which will examine and foster various elements of campus electronic publishing eg. to follow the Virginia University concept of placing articles as pre-prints on the local area server and articles where the authors on campus owns the copyright. We clearly also need to establish uniform strategies in preparing documents and making them available on the Net to avoid duplication of input and indexing tools.

It is not the place here to go into detail on copyright. My paper for the National Scholarly Communications Forum earlier this year organised by the Copyright Agency cover some of these points in the published papers (Steele 1995). The ANU has pioneered an electronic reserve, with copyright procedures in place, so that when AVCC and CAL finally negotiate a suitable remuneration access package, the data can be successfully incorporated. The twenty four access has been an major success despite costing $100 per item - costs have been high as we have been taking print originals, scanning and providing hypertext links. Obviously this will change as we increasingly receive suitable electronic originals from the academic community who also place course notes etc. on the CWIS.

Students have been extremely appreciative of this password protected service also available from home or via the Halls of Residence. Twenty four hour access is the key to obtain access to information to the library when is closed as well as when it is open. There is really no impediment now to moving on to network access "reading bricks" in the future. I believe libraries and developments operating this electronically will allow better useage, better control and perhaps better direct copyright remuneration to the authors than they have at present.


Professor James O'Donnell mentioned earlier publishes online book review journals (Bryn Mawr Classical Review and Bryn Mawr Medieval Review), uses networked tools in his teaching, and bring the world (from Hong Kong to Istanbul) into Penn classrooms by adding carefully managed e-mail lists to Penn courses. He has even taught advanced Latin to tuition-paying students as far apart as Georgia, Texas, Idaho, and Japan. He writes it's still "more effective to teach face-to-face, but if there's a market consisting of one Latin student per town in North America going untaught right now, classicists have every reason to think about how we can reach that audience; and if we can reach it - say if we can teach the thousands of school Latin teachers who soldier on in relative isolation, giving them curricular inspiration and refreshing their linguistic skills - we can make a real difference to the larger education process of which we are a part".

Dr Matthew Barritt, a visiting Fellow at ANU's CEDAM from Michigan University, has seen how students prefer IT access as it is "modern" with Web based resources to a variety of subjects, and hypertext links allowing a "feeling of control" which is time and place independent. A Forestry Unit at ANU allows a variety of approaches to a unit, eg a concept map, and random non sequential approaches. Network approaches are far preferable to a CD-Rom networked approach. My colleague Tony Barry has stated that on several overseas as the roadfill of the information superhighway.

We may be witnessing a philosophical switch in the learning process but we do need an appropriate "landscape" of support structures which spans the whole education infrastructure as never before both on and off campus. Students now borrow audiotapes to listen to lectures at their own pace In future they will have videotapes on demand either by borrowing cassettes or by accessing appropriate Net sites with suitable bandwidth capacity to pull down Quick-Time clips. Students will be able at any time of the day or night see info clips on the Net. In the future there will be no essential problem in accessing information from leading experts in any subject around the world. Thus if a student wishes to see/hear a lecture in Harvard or Oxford this will be possible given the appropriate technology. Issues of suitable accreditation and remuneration are relevant here.

Getting the mass markets in education that will bring about economies of scale will depend upon the quality of instruction being better than that which is possible in classrooms. With millions of paying students it becomes possible to invest in courseware development, hunt out the latest research, find the best authorities on a subject, contract top instructional designers and create imaginative virtual realities of the phenomena under study. With the incentive of global markets, we could imagine knowledge-base companies investing in the design, development and marketing of virtual environments for education in an information society in the way that the car industry now invests in manufacturing. How could a conventional teacher with conventional resources compete?

These are scenarios promulgated by New Zealand academics John Tiffin and Lalita Rajasingham (1995) in their book In Search of the Virtual Class. Structures need to evolve which enable students after graduating to be in an environment of life long training and one which provides a flexible freelance environment for employment. In future 'paced' remote learning will be the norm. Rajasingham has said the virtual class won't replace the Industrial technology of the classroom rather it will supplement it. Teachers won't be replaced by Web pages but will have their interaction teaching time enhanced.

It will be less a matter of top-down inculcation of knowledge and more a matter of helping students find their own way through information. Tasks like marking and registration, they argue, will be taken over by artificial intelligence programs, and teachers will also be liberated from the custodial function. All this is just the beginning. The end could be universities in virtual reality - students around the world logging on to 3D virtual campuses, even pay-per-learn courses. Summer semester use of campuses will be irrelevant.

John Julian (1995) at OLA has queried recently some of the issues via an e-mail on the current state virtual universities:-

  1. "Can I get a full range of degree and higher degree qualifications from my desk? [No not yet, but significant instances are starting to appear and there is no doubt you will in the next 12 months or so]
  2. How many are properly certified/accredited? How do I check? [Qualifications - There are very few today, but real soon now. Courses - lots, and you use the usual appropriate checks for the country of origin. The trap is that it is harder to tell on-line what is respectable and what isn't since many of the usual referents like local knowledge are missing]
  3. Who will recognise them? Universities for regular courses? Employers? [In Australia, only courses taught by the granting institution, plus any existing crediting arrangements they may have with the provider institution, but probably subject to an individual pleading case. For employers I simply don't know. On-line professional material in a given industry will probably be considered and formal activities like the Deakin Australia programs are clear]
  4. How quickly can I do them? Fast track possible? [Depends on the provider's policy. A probable yes and of course there is nothing to stop you taking more than one set of offerings at a time subject to suitable accreditation assurance]
  5. What will it cost? [Lower bound of $100 per credit point seems common for US courses. Rises for professional and post graduate courses.
  6. How long have these courses been going? [Most will be about 6 (now 9) months old at most if Web based but some on-line activity has been going on for years. Really commonplace on-line qualifications for credit are probably about a year off (allowing for the usual academic process)]
  7. How many students are currently studying entirely or mainly on line? A - We don't know.
  8. How fast are new degrees and unis coming on line? [My guess is we will see a lot of activity over the next 12 months but to my knowledge there are only a few (<10?) accredited qualifications on line and nearly all in fairly specialised areas. Given that it is already in the business of distance learning, it's no surprise that the Open University is enthusiastic about the arrival of the virtual class. Last year it ran a virtual summer school and the OU Web page currently has speculative pieces about the paperless study of the future"

The Open University on its Web page indicates under the teaching "The Virtual Study"

Every student needs a place to work. Why not a 'virtual study' where everything that computing power can provide is available, on tap - and without having to learn to think like a computer? This virtual space contains everything you need - course material in video, text or other formats, full multi-media display facilities, an 'intelligent' notebook, video-conferencing facilities, sophisticated CAD (and other computational) tools and all the storage capacity you'll ever need. And there's not a menu or a Microsoft Window in sight. Everything happens by manipulating the virtual objects in the space. If you want to view a videotape, then just reach for it and bring it to the laptop. Likewise if you want to study a printed text. Or a multimedia document. If you want to highlight a passage or a movie clip, pick up one of the highlighters from the desk and mark it. If you want to contact your tutor or a fellow student, click on their photographs on the pinboard and a video-conferencing or e-mail call is automatically launched.

The Intelligent Notebook

This is the core of the Virtual Study. it's the ultimate tool for supporting academic work, providing powerful facilities for gathering, organising and communicating information. Some things happen automatically: for example, everything you annotate, highlight or focus on while studying original material gets automatically copied to the notebook with a time and date stamp. It is, of course, a multimedia device - so video and audio clips are treated exactly the same way as text. Sophisticated retrieval tools to help you locate anything you want. you can search in all kinds of ways - even to find everything you studied on a Thursday between January and June, or everything highlighted in red. Powerful organising tools help you to re-order, link, graph, summarise, calculate. You can create a set of summary notes, and a linked spray diagram. And when you want to communicate what you've learned or prepared - whether as a note or a Tutor-Marked Assignment or an all-singing, all-dancing multimedia presentation, then the notebook has writing and presentational tools to help you do all of that, and more".

Some of these issues are picked up in the recent excellent CAUSE publication, Transforming Higher Education: A Vision for Learning in the 21st Century, by Michael Dolence and Donald Norris (1995), which has been distributed to every campus in the United States. The authors assert that the changing needs of learners in the Information Age demand that institutions of higher education transform or risk being replaced or diminished by more effective competition. The importance technology and networks will play in the transition to a globally networked learning organization. As an aside it is ironic that in the recent five week ANU blockade it was e-mail that largely kept the intellectual process going with all mail held up - a revision of the position that revises the electronic ephemerality labelled by print supporters.

We already have Internet access tools such as the "Virtual Classroom" where numbers of Universities place teaching modules on the Net at the University of Texas We may in fact be seeing a burgeoning export market also. Will there be the equivalent of electronic Super league Universities with educational Packer's and Murdochs attempting to dominate the global educational market - buying up the "superstar" lectures for the Net!

We need to guard against the Americanisation of the Net- North Carolina and IBM run the Institute for Academic Technology which aims to reduce the time and place constraints on the teaching process. There are already a number of Net extensions services which Universities offer - from the University of Alberta to the University of California. The University of Alberta has had experience with computer assisted learning courseware, audio conferencing, postal correspondence and recently video conferencing delivery. These technologies are continuously being improved and becoming more cost effective. These tools create enhanced learning environments that allow the University to expand its teaching capacity, while maintaining high educational standards. Their ADI initiative is described as follows:-

"The Alternative Delivery Initiative (ADI) assists the University Community by demonstrating, evaluating and supporting learning and teaching using high quality, accessible and cost effective techniques and technologies.

The initiative is based upon a belief that a variety of educational technologies - in combination with meaningful social learning opportunities, will enhance the teaching and learning processes. specifically technology improves learning when it:

  • involves the learner in the active creation of knowledge
  • allows the teacher to express the content in more than one way
  • increases access to the educational experience for those students who, due to constraints of time, distance or physical restrictions are not able to participate in face-to-face classes
  • increases the opportunities for interaction between and amongst learners and teachers
  • reduces the barriers to learning support services
  • increases the cost effectiveness of educational delivery"

The world's first Virtual campus has apparently come into life in Catalonia, north-eastern Spain. The Open University of Catalonia (OUC) combines multimedia applications, electronic mail, videos and tapes with the more traditional pen and paper, to allow people to take a distance degree. using new technologies to improve the quality of distance education is nothing new. While Canada's Tele-Universite in Quebec and Mexico's Item Seis, for example, have already experimented with sending students pre-recorded classes via satellite, the Catalan project, however, is allegedly the first teaching institution to be entirely built around interactive communications technology. The first intake of 200 students are, according to their publicity, taking degrees in either business studies or educational psychology. In the years to come, law, engineering, English, Catalan and statistics will be added to the prospectus; and by the year 2000, student numbers will have reached 11,000.

This new brand of cyber student, argues Catalonia, will use a personal computer, a modem and the telephone line as essential study tools. Although basic course materials still arrive on paper in the post, the students, scattered throughout the region, will hand in essays, receive corrections and communicate with lecturers and other students via electronic mail. Students also have access to the Internet, a virtual library and even a virtual cafeteria to lessen feelings of isolation! Study meetings held twice a semester will provide face-to-face contact, but otherwise students, most of whom hold down full-time jobs, study at home, setting their own timetables. Every big Catalan city will apparently soon have an OUC resource centre, linked up by fibre optic cable. Here students may gather to take part in live video conferences and debates. Staff and students will be able to access information on a twenty four hour basis irrespective of location. Future integration of text, graphics, animation, sound and digital video clips will take place on the Net.

One of the primary strengths of the Web is the ability to deal with diverse data types, the ability to support multi-media objects. Complex data objects may be sent across the network, "unwrapped" and "displayed" at desktop browsers. In the future, these objects will become even more complex. For example, an electronic forma and its associated processing rules might be delivered directly to, and processed locally on, the client workstation. Vendor developments, such as Sun Microsystems' Hot Java, demonstrate the ability to deliver secure program code as an integral part of a Web transaction. This capability will redefine distributed computing, allowing host servers to deliver machine-independent code to desktop clients for just-in-time processing.

A review of Web capabilities highlights many of the advantages Web development offers over traditional application development methods such as.

  • Multi-platform: Web clients exist for DOS, Windows, Mac, Unix and other popular operating systems
  • Low cost: Commercial Web browsers are available to educational institutions at no cost.
  • Mixed media: Web protocols supports images, sounds and video clips as well as text, allowing character-based administrative data to be merged with these rich data types.
  • Common User Interface: Although web browsers run on disparate platforms a certain look and feel is maintained across platforms providing an easy-to-support Common User Interface.
  • Software Distribution: Web browsers themselves may be easily and inexpensively distributed across the network, using the Web itself.
  • Self-Documenting: Hypertext capabilities allow application help and tutorial routines to become an integral part of any Web application.

They also plan "Lycosville" which they want to make the largest community site on the web with shopping, chat groups, interactive audio/video phone service, etc.

In Lycos' charter from Carnegie Mellon they are obligated to always be free - this puts a lot of pressure on subscription services. They believe that the Web will basically be free or supported by advertising, that subscription services of any kind are unlikely to make it except in small niche markets.

Such developments help move the role of teacher from a sacrosanct source of knowledge to a guide to the learning process both in access and content analysis.

Lenin was once said that the library was like liberty, such a precious thing it needed to be rationed. What is needed in the future is a mix of intellectual rationing or control as the user in teaching and learning and research explore their own individual pathways to the vast array of information. The net access tool Lycos ran 30 million searches this month, by June 1996 it will be 100 million searches a month, Lycos catalogs 9.3 million URLs, this is 92 percent of the web. They will have 98% of the web by December. They add or update 400,000 urls a week. This is a phenomenal activity in indexing and control access. 67% of Lycos users are under 35. Therefore the ground is shifting under the older lecturers and administrators who do not user or are unaware of the almost daily dimensions of change.

Dolence and Norris suggest that administrators should adopt the following strategies:

  • perform strategic thinking before strategic planning
  • fuse technology push with learning vision pull in a five to ten year horizon
  • use current learners to develop the competencies needed by the information age learner
  • be aware that the final choice is clear - transformation or stagnation!

Lecturers will aid the information process of understanding and not simply provide the fixed parameters of learning. The process will be more fluid and perhaps create more organisational challenges but the process of information gathering and learning will be place independent and pace flexible. We must guard against over enthusiasm but the potential is evident for information and education far more than entertainment in the cable roll out.

It has been argued that if those with the highest ideals who are often closest to despair, we must also remember there is no more distant country than the immediate past. Where will the physical university stand as we enter the twenty first century?


  1. Dolence M.G. & Norris D.M. (1995). Transforming higher education. A vision for learning in the 21st century Ann Arbor: Society for College & University Planning.
  2. Heseltine R. (1995). 'The Challenge of Learning in Cyberspace'. Library Association Record. 97 (8), 432-33
  3. Julian J. (1995) Email 'Some Big Questions About On-line Universities' 25/8/95
  4. Lanham R. (1993) The electronic world Chicago: Chicago University Press
  5. Negroponte N. (1995) Being digital. London: Hodder & Stoughton
  6. Noam E. (1995) Article in Science 13 October, p. 247
  7. O'Donnell J. at URL
  8. Odlyzko A. (1995) 'Tragic Loss or Good Riddance? The Impending Demise of Traditional Scholarly Journals'. In Peek, R.L. and Newby, G.B. (ed). Electronic Publishing Confronts Academia. Cambridge: MIT Press
  9. Steele C. (1994) New Romances or Pulp Fiction? Do Libraries and Librarian Have an Internet Future?
  10. Steele C. (1995) Copyright: Some Electronic Dimensions. Paper delivered to the National Scholarly Communications Round Table on Intellectual Property Issues in Scholarly Communications. 19-20 June. Available from The Secretary, Australian Academy of the Humanities.
  11. Tiffin J. & Rajasingham L. (1995) In search of the virtual class. Education in information society. London: Routledge.

Updated:  20 March 2013/ Responsible Officer:  University Librarian/ Page Contact:  Library Systems & Web Coordinator