Virtual Academia—Year 1 Report


Virtual Academia—Year 1 Report

By Anne Pamsun Hufnagle-Chang and Viktor Asa Gupta-Duffy
Department of Cognitive Science
Milhouse College

Whittier, CaliforniaVirtual Academia is a virtual reality project designed to replace many costly aspects of today's universities.1 This is a brief summary report on the first complete year of its operation.

The phrase “virtual reality” describes the use of computers to simulate objects and activities that occur in nature or in the imagination. In the Virtual Academia project, students, professors, lab equipment, classrooms, offices and dormitory facilities exist only as computer-based concepts.

The Virtual Academia project's computer-generated classroom is in continual use. Here the virtual classroom acts as the simultaneous site of 223 virtual courses being taught to more than six hundred virtual students at sixteen universities.

Photo: Alicia Ducovney-Lightpole.


Sixteen universities in seven nations replaced all or part of their traditional activities with the Virtual Academia system. A seventeenth university withdrew from the project because of equipment incompatibility.

Each university set its own system parameter values — admissions and hiring policies, grading curves, etc.— to conform with its own national and other administrative norms. Aggregate Results

Each class, seminar, research group and living unit in the sixteen universities was automatically balanced for gender, ethnicity and age to reflect the makeup of the larger society.

University general operating expenses were reduced by an average of 38%. Salary-related expenses were reduced by 54%, matching reductions in size of the faculty and support staff population. Student population was reduced by 83%.

Perhaps the greatest demonstrated benefit was that each university's numerical characteristics could be determined in advance, rather than having to be measured and explained after the fact. This constituted a significant reduction in administrative expense and activity.

Note 1.

The project is funded by The Virtual University Network, a consortium of 91 universities and twelve nonprofit educational foundations. Sixteen universities were part of the test operations during year 1. An additional 42 universities will be brought on line during Year Two. The remaining universities are scheduled to join the operation in year 3. For a complete membership list see TVUN Publication #146, Organizational Membership of the Virtual University Network, Hellgate Press, Berkeley, CA, 2002, $29.95.


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