Georgia Institute of Technology’s Center for 21st Century Universities encourages online education


Illustration by Abby Jones / Art Director

Carl Robinette

Illustration by Abby Jones / Art Director

Colleges around the world will have to change their business and credentialing models to adapt to emerging technology if they want to maintain their importance, according to computer science professors at Georgia Institute of Technology’s Center for 21st Century Universities.

Online learning is continuing to grow and develop within higher education, and it may be changing the value of a college degree, according to ongoing research at the center.

“It was really convenient,” said Guadalupe Cascillo, senior art major at CSUN, on an art history class she took over the web last year. “You get to stay home and watch your class online.”

There is no question about the value of the online learning experience, Cascillo said.  In fact, she learned more taking a class online than in the classroom, she said. The time and money she saved not commuting made the class a great value too, she said.

“What it means is that the university needs to rethink what it’s doing, how it’s doing it,” said Paul Baker, a professor at Georgia Tech, in a recent Q&A with “And how it innovates in a way of surviving in the face of this.”

The ability for websites like virtually shut down big retailers like Borders, could pose a similar threat to the physical university, Baker said.

“We’re not the same thing,” said Kamiran Badrhkan, deputy dean of the Tseng College.  “We’re not a business in the same sense (as Borders). It’s not Amazon. It’s an educational institution.”

There will always be people who need to go to a physical university, Badrhkan said. Online education is just another option, and those who have the most to gain from it are people who have difficulty going to school. As an example, he cited people who live in remote areas with no college nearby.

Distance learning is a growing part of the future, according Richard Demilo, director of Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities. Social media and other communications advancements over the last decade have made it possible for students in India to be educated by top professors at Stanford, according to Demilo.

“What you’re seeing, for example, is technology enabling a single master teacher to reach students on an individualized basis on a scale that is unprecedented,” Demilo said to  “So when Sebastian Thrun offers his Intro to Robotics course and gets 150,000 students — that’s a big deal.”

The number of undergraduates enrolled in at least one distance-education class in the U.S. increased from 8 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2008, according to a report released by the National Institution for Education Statistics. The number of students enrolled in a distance learning degree program doubled in the same time frame.

The biggest concern for CSUN students like Cascillo is the lack of classes currently offered online, especially for her major’s requirements, she said.

“If there were more classes, I would have taken more,” Cascillo said.  “But there really isn’t.”

CSUN’s SOLAR system lists 111 courses available online. The CSU recognizes the growing need for online education and are in the process of creating a systemwide online education initiative called Cal State Online.

“There are more success stories as online education continues to evolve,” said Michael Uhlenkamp, the CSU’s director of media relations and new media.  “We hope to be able to utilize many of the best practices that are currently known as well as those that are developing to provide a quality educational experience.”

The Technology Steering Committee, the group behind the Cal State Online initiative, is still in the developmental phase of the project.

Experts agree that the virtual world is changing the face of higher education, the big question is what that change will look like.

“I think online education is here, and here to stay,” Badrhkan said.