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The Health Science Center is at the heart of technology that is expanding the marketplace for higher education. In the new marketplace, education is delivered to meet the public’s demand, and without regard to geography or school colors.
In South Texas, known for vast distances, this means someday no student will live in a town too remote nor want to take a class too specialized for a university to deliver.
No technology has entered the new marketplace more successfully than "distance education." Using real-time telecommunications equipment, distance education connects two or more classrooms, allows the instructor for all the classes to remain at a single site, and enables a university to offer instruction in almost any community with telephone service.
In the ’90s, the Health Science Center laid a communications gridwork that touches nearly every college and university in South Texas. Distance education helped supply the demand in Corpus Christi for a doctoral degree in nursing, an occupational therapy degree in the Rio Grande Valley and a master’s degree in nursing in Brownsville.
Dozens of courses in nursing, occupational therapy, clinical lab sciences, family practice medicine and medical physics use distance education in even other cities. And a total of 22 courses are offered exclusively via distance education to students in cities such as Austin, El Paso, Kingsville, Lubbock and Houston.
Academic seers now predict a second wave of change, this via the World Wide Web.
"The Web is the one universal platform for learning," said Terry M. Mikiten, PhD, associate dean of the Health Science Center’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. Dr. Mikiten helped create the first scientific computer simulations at the Health Science Center in 1980. He is consultant to IBM, Apple and other computer companies. His opinions are highly regarded by both industry and academe.
"Students in the very near future will select courses based on economic considerations and quality, not location. Which university ultimately gives them their degrees will be resolved between institutions. There will be a shakeout probably over 20 years, and there will be a University of the United States," he said.
In 1997 the first generation of Web-based courses emerged at the Health Science Center. Some provided class exercises and imagery for dental neuroscience, pathology and microscopic anatomy. A graduate-level nursing course in health informatics carried 40 percent of its content on the Web. Eleven students from as far away as Corpus Christi completed the course last summer.
"There is no geographic limit to Web-mediated courses, and that is the beauty of it," said Kathleen R. Stevens, EdD, RN, associate professor of family nursing care, and creator of the nursing course Web site.
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