Paul Penfield, Jr., Committee on Education Via Advanced Technologies: Final Report Available on the World Wide Web, The MIT Faculty Newsletter, vol. VIII, no. 1, pp. 13, 37-38; October 1995.

Committee on Education Via Advanced Technologies: Final Report Available on the World Wide Web

Paul Penfield, Jr.

The MIT ad hoc Committee on Education Via Advanced Technologies (EVAT) was formed in the Fall of 1994 to investigate the potential for using advanced technologies such as the World Wide Web in MIT education.

The committee issued its final report on July 31, 1995. Unlike most reports, this one was not designed to be printed. Instead, it resides on the World Wide Web at the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) and can be easily read from anywhere in the world, using any standard Web browser. You can read the highlights of the report here, but to learn more you will have to be connected to the net.

How We Got Started

During the Spring of 1994 I heard of a few independent ideas that faculty had of using modern technology to deliver education in a more effective way. Jon Allen (EECS) wanted to write a VLSI design textbook with imbedded, interactive simulation. Tony Patera (Mechanical Engineering) was investigating the use of hypermedia for the exposition and demonstration of fluid flow. Earlier, Tom Cormen, Charles Leiserson and Ron Rivest (EECS) had overseen the development of a hypercard-based set of animations to accompany their algorithms textbook (as a byproduct of this work, the textbook itself was converted to hypertext form and appears on the same CD-ROM). I concluded that there might be a benefit if all these people could exchange ideas, and asked Dick Larson (EECS) to organize a one-day, off-site workshop on the topic. Dick discovered still other activity at MIT, including the use of hypermedia to express critical reviews of Shakespeare plays, in the MIT Literature Section.

About 25 faculty attended the workshop on September 19, 1994. Joel Moses, then Dean of Engineering, was there all day along with John Vander Sande, the Associate Dean. Joel later reported on the workshop to Academic Council. President Vest, deciding that the idea was important enough to warrant a closer look, asked Joel to set up an ad hoc committee, with representation from all five Schools at MIT. I was asked to be the chair. Membership included the chair of the MIT Faculty (Bob Jaffe), a dean (Bill Mitchell) a department head (me), and a section head (Peter Donaldson). Other members were MacVicar Faculty Fellow Hal Abelson, Director of Academic Computing Greg Jackson, Chris Kemerer of the Sloan School, Dick Larson, and Tony Patera.

What We Looked At

Advances in electronics technology have given us faster, more powerful computers with more memory and more disk space, in smaller packages. Advances of this sort, however important, were not what interested the committee. Instead, we looked at technologies that improved communications, connectivity, or flexibility. The principal example today is the World Wide Web, but the committee recognized that it will not be long before the Web is "old" technology, and something better takes its place.

Accessing the Report

The report is available in three forms. It is recommended that you read the master copy on the World Wide Web, at the URL The report is also available on floppy disks for either Macintosh or Windows computers, whether or not connected to the Internet (internal hyperlinks work fine, but external links, to other sites on the Web, will work only if your computer is connected to the Internet). A printed copy is also available, but it does not let you use either the internal or external links (even so, printed copies are more convenient in some ways).

To get a printed copy or a disk containing the report, contact the EVAT Committee support staff, Ms. Vera Sayzew, [(617) 253-4624 or]. The disk explains how to view the report, and how to get a Web browser if you need one.

The rest of this article is from various sections of the report.

The World Wide Web

The features that make the Web (and related technologies) interesting for educational purposes include that it is pervasive, fast, convenient, versatile, popular, and interactive. Of these features, interactivity, although not well understood at this time, is probably of the greatest importance for educational applications.

The Internet today is used for many purposes, and the Web is one of them. Usage of the Web is growing dramatically. There seem to be two noneducational uses of the Web. One is a form of public relations: an organization publishes Web pages to tell its story to the public. The other is for more directed communications: to suppliers, customers, partners, and (especially) to internal members of the organization. Educational uses of the Web are much more limited at present, and seem to fall into three categories: interaction, e.g., for simulation of various kinds of systems; delivery of intellectual resources to students; and delivery of administrative information (handouts, problem sets, solutions, etc.)

There is much talk about distance education being enabled by the Web and other advanced technologies. The Committee is divided in its opinion about the effectiveness of distance education today.


The many things that make MIT a special and exciting place do not necessarily confer upon MIT any advantage in dealing with advanced technologies. Indeed, the Web and other technologies are known to all universities. Students at all universities will be as familiar with these technologies as MIT students. Authoring tools will be widely available. Many universities will have facilities, including computer networks, the equal of ours. And we are not off to a rapid start -- other universities have either announced or actually implemented educational activities that make use of the Web.

One can imagine many possible futures for MIT, depending on the extent to which MIT is able to use advanced technologies to support and extend its educational mission. It is likely that the computing environment will evolve, either rapidly or slowly, toward one in which almost all students own computers, and MIT supplies the network and the necessary infrastructure, including print servers, Web servers, data storage, e-mail service, and specialized computers and other equipment.

At the same time, the advanced technologies of concern to the Committee will be evolving. One way of describing these changes is to note that each advance in technology has the effect of making more convenient a student's access to the vast and growing reservoir of information on the Internet. Also, the information available is becoming more reliable and broader in scope. Probably within a few years half of all MIT subjects will make significant use of Web-based resources, and a few subjects will be radically changed in the process. The Committee views with favor use of advanced technologies to permit students to access intellectual resources of all sorts.

It is tempting to think of using the advanced technologies to export MIT education beyond the campus. We have identified three possible new markets: newly admitted students before they arrive on campus; our own students temporarily off campus; and our alumni/ae. However, there are reasons why MIT may not be well equipped or well situated to compete with other higher educational institutions in reaching students besides those with an affiliation already established.

Of all the possible futures for MIT, the most disturbing is the one in which others find out how to offer distance education using advanced technologies, and MIT either does not learn how, or elects not to offer it. The economic strength of MIT could be seriously undercut by competition as a result.


The Committee recommends that some short-range actions be taken to insure that all participants in the educational mission have convenient access to the World Wide Web, and opportunity to use it as a routine part of daily life. It is also recommended that a regular faculty committee be charged with oversight of academic computing.

The Committee recommends several medium-range actions. It calls for a high-level Institute-wide competition for support of technology-related curriculum development. It suggests a specific set of initiatives in distance education, designed to gain experience. It advocates a program of electronic connectivity for alumni/ae. It also recommends procedures by which all MIT subjects make at least administrative use of the Web, and it advocates development of a variety of administrative uses of the Web.

Finally, the Committee recommends that long-range studies should be made of the opportunities and risks associated with new educational markets, as enabled by advanced technologies. The most plausible such new markets are our own alumni/ae and bright high-school seniors.

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