In April 2001, 350 educational leaders and academics
gathered in Washington, DC to discuss the Internet’s
impact on higher education. As a summit of sorts, speakers
from academe, business, and government grappled with the
fundamental nature of e-learning—the adoption of and
reliance on the Internet for teaching and learning.
Organized around a theme of transformation versus evolu-
tion, speakers such as Columbia University Teacher’s
College President Arthur Levine, VerticalNet Chairman
Mark Walsh, researcher and technology luminary Carol
Twigg, author and New York University professor Neil
Postman, and others presented compelling perspectives on
the topic.
This book draws on the talks given at the meeting, tack-
ling this question: Is the impact of e-learning on higher edu-
cation transformative or simply evolutionary? The genesis
of The Wired Tower—the post e-learning Ivory Tower—lay
in the desire to package the wonderfully diverse, yet inter-
related perspectives that the various authors shared in their
presentations. At a time of change, it attempts to elevate the
microquestions of e-learning often tackled in classroom-
based anecdotes, to a macrolevel of industry history, struc-
ture, and change. The topics are mostly distinct—from
international issues to Wall Street—yet the arguments made
are all critical to shaping a view of the Internet’s impact on
Through my work as chairman of Blackboard Inc., I
have long argued that the promise of the Internet is one that
will likely sustain the traditional campus model, rather than
transform it into something foreign or new. To be sure, over
time small ideas, such as the delivery of courses to alumni
online, may turn into big ideas such as a “warranty” on
knowledge where tuition provides not only the initial period
of degree study, but also an ongoing return—via the Web—
to the campus for additional coursework throughout life.
Indeed, if the dot-com world is truly a guide, near-term evo-
lutionary changes, developed over time, will lead to a
The Wired Tower
fundamentally transformed way of delivering and support-
ing the instructional process in higher education.
As you move from chapter to chapter, the contributors
to this book demonstrate firsthand that a compelling argu-
ment can be made on both sides of the debate. Despite its
image as an enterprise slow to change, if you look back in
history, higher education has indeed experienced periods of
great change and flux, albeit few and far between. Over
time, more facilities, more research, more specialization,
more students, more remedial courses, bigger budgets, and
different recruitment strategies have all changed the face of
higher education; small changes at first, but dramatic ones
by the end.
Looking back at the 350 years since Harvard’s founding,
at least three momentous developments stand out: passage
of the GI Bill, which brought unprecedented access to high-
er education; establishment of land-grant colleges, which
provided a vast new network of research and development
institutions that helped transform the American economy
in the post-Civil War era; and the founding of Johns Hopkins
University, which was to serve as a model for large science-
oriented institutions. Most recently, the creation and explo-
sion of community colleges in the post-World War II period,
and the growth of affirmative action policies with the pas-
sage of the Higher Education Act of 1965, have also fostered
dramatic change.
The Perspectives in Context
To help structure the compilation, I open the book with
a short chapter developed to frame the debate and intro-
duce several of the key themes that emerge throughout.
Starting with a discussion of the many prognostications
made of late about the dire impact that e-learning will have
on higher education, Chapter 1, “Transformation Through
Evolution,” reflects on the track record of similar predic-
tions in the e-commerce world and identifies four key
drivers for e-learning that are core to the future of higher
In Chapter 2, “Higher Education: A Revolution
Externally, Evolution Internally,” Columbia University
Teacher’s College President Arthur Levine identifies key
forces shaping the higher education landscape today and
applies them to the historic mission of universities. Levine
provides a compelling blueprint of what needs to be pre-
served and what will surely be changed, as technology
increasingly has a transformative and invigorating impact
on higher learning.
Next, in Chapter 3, “The Business of Education,” Wall
Street equity analyst Greg Cappelli paints a comprehensive
picture of the current state of higher education and the key
e-learning trends within. He illustrates the size of the
postsecondary market in the U.S., the composition of
The Wired Tower

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