Crystal Ball Gazing
Reflections on the role of information resources in a liberal arts eduction

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Personalized study programs

Mass customization can eventually lead to personalized degree programs in undergraduate education.

Just as one can create a tailored text containing each instructor's preferred readings in the desired sequence, it may be equally feasible to tailor a course, or sequence of courses, to fit each student's personal interests.

Imagine, for example, a statistics course where the datasets and the exercises match the personal interests of each student. Behind the scenes, a database matches up personal interests with a large collection of different datasets, thereby offering more personally-relevant assignments. While this is certainly feasible without computers, the technology infrastructure can reduce the labor-intensive work to tailor the course exercises to individual interests.

Liberal arts colleges, like Skidmore, have long offered self-determined majors wherein students can tailor the undergraduate program to personal interests that lie outside of the established degree programs. At present, only a handfull of the students opt for this personalized approach -- indeed, the preferred trend has been for the faculty to create increasingly specialized majors.

The lack of adequate faculty, laboratories, and relevant specialized literature have been the principal limitations on the creation of additional self-determined majors. As the Internet facilitates broader access to distance learning resources and expands the diversity of available information resources, will this result in substantially better opportunities for these personalized majors? Indeed, should a schools such as Skidmore College be actively seeking to expand their role as centers of highly personalized instruction -- the "fine dining" of higher education.

EDUCAUSE's Information Management System (IMS) project seeks to develop a standard format to help faculty create customized courses through the integration of online instructions resources from diverse sources. Will this foster the growth of mass-customized courses for undergraduate and graduate learning?


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Copyright 2001, Leo D. Geoffrion