NSF & Congress
Hearing Summary: House Basic Research Subcommittee of the Committee on Science Hearing on The Internet, Distance Learning & the Future of the Research University
May 9, 2000
On May 9, 2000, the Basic Research Subcommittee of
the Committee on Science held a hearing on The Internet,
Distance Learning & the Future of the Research University.
Witnesses were: Dr. Nils Hasselmo, President, American
Association of Universities; Professor Richard Larson,
Director, Center for Advanced Educational Services,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Ms. Carol Vallone,
Chief Executive Office & President, WebCT, Inc.; and
Dr. James Duderstadt, Director, Millenium Project,
University of Michigan.
They examined the potential impact of the growth of
Internet-based distance learning on our nation's education
system, particularly its impact on the country's research
universities. It also focused on what should be the
response of science funding agencies, and particularly
the National Science Foundation.
Chairman Nick Smith (R-MI) opened the hearing by stating
that some people have suggested that universities
are spending too much money on distance learning.
He noted that others simply believe that distance
learning is a poor substitute for traditional classroom
learning. He also was interested in learning how Internet-based
education could improve our nation's K-12 science
and math programs and whether or not the growth of
distance learning may help attract more women and
minorities to the sciences.
The panelists agreed that Web-based and Web-enhanced
courses would allow students to complete coursework
without being on campus for four years and that tuition
costs can be cut by at least two thirds. Distance
learning is suited to all academic disciplines and
can improve the quality of teaching. Students seem
more willing to participate in on-line courses as
opposed to a classroom setting. The panelists noted
that K-12 science and math curriculums can be improved
because the students will be able to receive additional
help at the click of a button.
One of the disadvantages of distance learning is that
the digital divide will intensify the differences
in opportunities between those who have online access
and those who don't. They believe the federal government
can support efforts to narrow or eliminate the digital
The panelists also noted the National Science Foundation
is responding well to rapidly changing times and the
federal government should continue pilot programs
on distance learning, provide computers and Internet
access to all teachers, and develop assessment models.
Copyright laws and data base protection legislation
also should be revised for distance learning.