The virtual university

Information technology has changed so much of our world. Smartphones that almost everyone carries are several times stronger than the first computers we had decades ago. Some think information technology will change the way we obtain education in the future, particularly higher education. N.C. State University economist Mike Walden explains.

“Well of course …, when you and I were in college – and we won’t say how long ago – and, of course, even today as I teach college students, we do it the old-fashioned way. Students come to a room. They sit. They listen to lectures. Maybe they ask a few questions. They take tests, and then we pass or fail them based on their performance. But there’s direct interaction there between in-person interaction – I should say between the professor, the instructor and the class.

“Now, yes, we are getting some online classes. And in fact, where some see this going is maybe down the road, maybe down the road, most university instruction will be online. They call it virtual university.

“And … people see several advantages of this. One, you could have the very best, the very best teachers, instructors, professors, in the world teaching classes that students would access. They could access it either live, online, or maybe they could access it through recordings of the professor’s lectures. And secondly, that these would be offered by perhaps the very best universities in the world. So, you’re getting the best of the best.

“Now this is very controversial. Obviously, it may mean a dramatic reduction in the number of universities and colleges in the country; reduction, of course, in the cost of running those; and then people also worry about, well, is there some value to having students in person being talked to or interacting with a professor. That’s, of course, you have both sides of that argument.

“But I think the bottom line here is we’re probably maybe not going to go totally to a virtual university down the road, but we’re probably moving in that direction. So that’s going to dramatically change higher education.”


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