On January 11, 2000 then Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush in his inimitable style put a question to the voting public: "Is our children learning?"
Nearly eleven years later, Americans may well want to pause to ask themselves (grammatically this time, one hopes) this same question. Schools do exist. Teachers, principals, and administrators staff them, Children trundle off at appointed times during appointed months to occupy the desks arranged in them. But do these things mean that children are learning?
This question naturally leads to two additional questions:
To take the second question first, it seems the answer is a resounding "No," if this January 3, 2011 Iowa City Press-Citizen article is to be believed. The classroom has changed quite a bit since Bush's first presidential bid -- so radically in fact that it has largely ceased to exist in what technophiles like to call "meatspace."
The classroom has gone virtual, in other words, and as a consequence has managed to become supremely mobile, able not so much as to bridge nor even to eliminate so much as to harness distance, turning it into a virtue as well as an asset. Advances in technology are helping expand and improve the quality of distance education in Iowa," the Press-Citizen article states.
These technological enhancements have improved distance learning to such an extent that it has seen a dramatic surge in popularity at The University of Iowa (UI). "Distance education enrollment at UI has grown by more than 200 percent in the past five years," the Press-Citizen article continues, "from 1,459 students in fall 2006."
Today, the virtual distance education classroom includes automatic voice- and motion-activated 360-degree or double-mount video cameras, and software that presents visual, audio, slideshow presentations, real-time instructor notes and personal space for student notes on the student's desktop computer screen.
Equally encouraging is the fact that this astonishing growth sprang from what's really a rather modest investment:
UI has a $150,000 budget for investing in classroom technology for distance education, and it appears to be paying off. UI offered the most distance education classes ever this fall -- 282 -- and has the highest fall enrollment ever and the second highest overall enrollment with 4,508 students. Last spring, UI topped out at 4,808.
It's a safe bet that in light of such results UI will steam ahead with further investment and development in this area.
Indeed, it appears that distance learning represents the wave of the future, not only for universities in the American heartland but worldwide. Also enamored of the distance learning's virtues, Mashable.com features a January 3, 2011 piece entitled "The Case for the Virtual Classroom." The piece presents the following six considerations, each with explanatory passages as to why they support this case:
These considerations certainly appear legitimate. It may just be, however, that making a virtue of necessity stands as the virtual classroom's cardinal virtue. Technological development drives change in advanced economies, encouraging creativity and creative destruction in equal measure. Institutions of higher learning everywhere are thus seeing to it that they don't end up on the wrong side of history. And the best means of doing so is by remaining part of the vanguard of the digital revolution, which at this point is anything but finished.