November/December 2002 // Vision
Rising Stars in Virtual Education:
A Peek into 2010
by James Shimabukuro
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source ( as: James Shimabukuro "Rising Stars in Virtual Education:
A Peek into 2010" The Technology Source, November/December 2002. Available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Editor's note: This article, which exceeds our normal space limitations, depicts the author's vision of the future of technology in education and is published here in full to stimulate discussion regarding that future. Readers are encouraged to respond via the "discuss" feature in the Options menu and to participate in the live Author Forum session that will be broadcast online (see the Author Forum Schedule).

Vipers, Rabbits, and Ronin

Winter, 2010. Maile is on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, drying and warming herself in the early morning sun that has just appeared over the Koolaus. Her surfboard, gleaming wet, is on the sand next to her. Today, nanotechnology is responsible for the assimilation of computers and computer technology into every aspect of our lives. The notebooks that students use are small, extremely powerful, plentiful, and cheap. Computers are now a part of almost everything (Feder, 2002; Matthews, 2002). Maile surfs on a smartboard, which automatically tenses and relaxes as wave conditions change (Pyper, 2001; Swanson, 2001; Fairley, 2001).

She activates her Voice Internet Pad, or VIP. "VIP" is a generic term for these computers, which are mass produced and marketed under many different brand names. The supply is ahead of the demand, keeping prices low. From the moment it was released, students called it "viper," and the name has stuck, despite initial protests from the industry. The viper is an Internet-based computer the size of what used to be called a notebook, but it's thinner, lighter, and much more robust. Advances in microminiaturization (or "M&M") and integration have resulted in simpler designs, and simpler has meant lower prices and less fragility in the end products—less to protect from rough handling, accidents, and the elements. Nearly the entire width and length is a screen. The ancient keyboard is gone. All commands and input are via voice (Gates, 1996, p. 85) or stylus. The viper is made of a flexible synthetic that is nearly impervious to the impact of a ten-foot drop, sand, sun, and saltwater. In fact, Maile often tucks it into the back of her bathing suit and takes it out to the lineup on days when the waves are small and the wait between sets is long. It is solar powered, of course, and she has wireless Internet connections, which are universally free or very affordable (Gates, 1996, pp. 284, 292), wherever she happens to be.

The viper has radically altered our notions of portable computing. It has finally made the anywhere-anytime access to communications, music, DVDs, radio, TV, and publications feasible. With the pocket-size version, Maile can read Web-based articles and novels while standing in a crowded bus. No heavier than a paperback, it can be held in one hand for extended periods. Maile can download and read articles and personal messages at her leisure, from almost anywhere. There is no longer a need to buy the morning paper and deal with unruly pages. Spill coffee on the viper—no problem.

Sitting on her towel, Maile says, "Class. English 100. Discussion on topics for our next paper." On the screen, she sees tiny stills of the four students, including herself, in her class. She says, "Bobby's topic." The text of Bobby's message appears. She says, "Stream," to see and hear Bobby, who had been on a subway train in Osaka, late at night: "Hi, guys. Sorry I'm late with my topic. I just got off work. I think I'll write about the problem of terrorism on the Internet. What do you think?"

She says, "Replies, all, stream," to see and hear each classmate's comment on the appropriateness of Bobby's topic. Elizabeth, on her lunch break at Oxford University: "Bobby, the topic is fine, but it's too broad. There are many forms of cyberterrorism. Choose one, and zero in on it." Summer, earlier that morning, at a table outside her home in a small village in Afghanistan: "Bobby, Elizabeth's right. You need to focus on one type or a specific incident. How about the recent electronic hack-in of the California State Franchise Tax Board and the demand for millions of dollars to avoid destruction of critical data? Or last year's hack-in of the Russian missile defense system?"

Maile says, "Reply," and composes her streamed comments: "Bobby, I think Elizabeth and Summer make good points. However, I think you can write about the problem in general, focusing on its implications or possible solutions. You could add the specific examples suggested by Summer to illustrate the extent of the problem." The spoken words are also translated into text. She says, "Send," and shuts down her computer.

She dries herself with a towel, packs her belongings, and goes to the beach snack bar. She orders a cup of Kona coffee and sits at one of the outdoor tables. She again awakens her viper. "Compose. Continue draft on problem paper, cheating." Before resuming where she had left off, she decides to review the comments from classmates. She says, "Reviews. All." Bobby's comment on streaming video is followed by Summer's and Elizabeth's. They all agree that she should focus on how colleges are dealing with cheating. Maile decides to incorporate Summer's suggestion to focus on one type of cheating, plagiarism in college papers, and how it has been all but eliminated.

She returns to her draft and says, "Find 'plagiarism.'" When the first instance of "plagiarism" is highlighted, she says, "Library sources." In the window of subtopics that pops open, she says, "Scroll slowly," and chooses one, "Select 'auto detection.'" From the list of titles, she says, "Select number three." The third entry is about an instructor at the University of Hawaii-Waianae who switches on ADUS (Auto Detect Uncited Sources) when reviewing student papers. Ideas or text that may have been used without proper references are automatically highlighted in flashing red. Clicking on the area brings up the actual source. The instructor reviews it and decides if plagiarism has occurred.

This is an old article, written a year ago. ADUS has all but eliminated plagiarism. Student writers turn it on when composing and are immediately alerted to potential lifting. They have learned that ADUS is also a useful tool for finding references on the fly. When text blinks bright red while they're composing, they click on it and go to the source. If they feel it's appropriate, they say, "Reference and Cite," and a parenthetical reference appears in the paper and in the works cited section. Adding a note is just as easy.

A few days later, the class meets online via livecam with Professor Cruz and guests for an hour. This is the year 2010, and Cruz is among the elite professors called ronin (Japanese for masterless samurai); guests (Cotlar & Shimabukuro, 1996; Gates, 1996, p. 232), who are usually experts in particular fields, are called "warm books." Most of the hour is spent discussing and critiquing one of the students' papers. It is 7:00 a.m. in Hawaii, 5:00 p.m. in London, 8:00 p.m. in Afghanistan, and 2:00 a.m. in Osaka, the following day.

They're discussing Maile's paper, and Cruz has invited Madeline Ho'opili, the creator of ADUS, as well as Jim Morrison, the editor of Technology Source College Journal, lovingly referred to as TSjr by students, to participate in the review. Morrison is also editor of the parent publication, Technology Source (or TS), which features articles by professional educators. Ho'opili is at a world-famous seafood restaurant in Auckland, where she is attending an old-fashioned face-to-face (F2F) conference; Morrison is on the lanai of his home in Sri Lanka. Ho'opili provides information on the latest version of ADUS, which will be released within a year. Apparently, ADUS2 will be tapping into the advanced AI capabilities of the soon-to-be-released next-generation Web interfaces that will allow users to generate highly intelligent personal "rabbits" (a corruption of webbots) that will, after repeated use, learn each person's needs and preferences and, eventually, conduct searches and make decisions independently with little or no input from the master. A feature that has students drooling is "nutshell," which will supposedly empower the rabbit to read and summarize any document for the user's specific needs and language level, allowing the student to bypass the need to read entire chapters, articles, and even abstracts.

In the first half hour, Elizabeth, Summer, and Bobby do most of the talking, suggesting ways that Maile could improve her paper. Cruz guides the discussion. In the second half hour, he devotes as much time to critiquing the content and form of the essay as to modeling the editing and reviewing skills used in the academic writing process by professional writers and members of editorial boards. Toward the end of the hour, Morrison gives Maile and the other students tips on how to improve their writing style and how to discover angles to topics that would increase their chances for publication in collegiate and professional e-journals.

E-journals have become increasingly interactive, following a trend among leading edge publications such as TS at the turn of the century. On their highly portable and inexpensive vipers, readers are able to select voice, talking head, text only, or any combination of the three. "Reading" is closer to a dialogue among the writers and readers. The latter can question, amplify, guffaw, cheer, or post critical responses, and others can choose to see or hear these additions. Communication is no longer one-way. In fact, each article has the potential to stimulate many others, in the tradition of threads in discussion boards. These threads are monitored by edmods (editors serving as moderators) who remove or restrict participants whose comments are irrelevant or unproductive. E-journals have brought the academic community closer to the ideal of knowledge building as a many-to-many, collaborative, communal activity rather than as a one-to-many lecture. Articles or books that don't generate lively threads simply die from neglect.

Cruz reminds the class that Elizabeth's paper will be up for discussion two days from now. He also reminds them that their papers should be completed by the deadline for submissions to the Forum for Online College Instructors (FOCI) virtual conference, an annual, completely online event that's divided into professional and student segments. FOCI and TSjr are the academy awards for the world's best academic papers. Students whose papers are repeatedly selected are tagged "aces"; their teachers earn reputations as ronin. Together, they're called stars.

At home that evening, Maile greets her viper and says, "Review all of today's discussion on my draft re plagiarism. Stream chronologically." On second thought, she says, "No, scratch that. Instead, stream Cruz's comments only, in context. Half speed." In vipers, the built-in programs for voice commands are intelligent and can effortlessly and accurately translate variations in wording and sentence structure into desired actions. These built-ins can be easily changed or upgraded. Onscreen, she sees the text portions and hears Cruz's comments. She pauses after the first comment and inputs a revision. She moves on to the next and continues the process until she has addressed all of her professor's concerns. She shuts down her viper and turns in, planning to complete the revision the next morning.

The Decentralization of Software

In the world of Maile and her peers, such advances have been fueled by rapid, systemic changes in the development and distribution of information technology. These changes represent an evolutionary trend that was already latent in the early growth of the field; in 2010, this trend has reached its logical conclusion in the expansion of open-source software codes and applications.

In 1975, Bill Gates (1996), chairman and CEO of Microsoft, first asked himself, "'What if computing were nearly free?'" His response—operating systems, GUIs, and integrated applications—made him a multibillionaire. In 1996, he again asked himself, "'What if communicating were almost free?'" His response took Microsoft into what he called the "Internet Gold Rush" (pp. 19-20). With low cost and free ISPs available throughout the world, Microsoft created a browser and related applications that made it the preeminent gateway to the World Wide Web.

In 2005, Gates made a critical distinction between software and content, and asked himself, "What if software were almost free?" (1996, pp. 54, 278, 320). With Microsoft leading the way, the industry's response was to provide free downloads of nearly all the popular applications, making the computer a cheap, efficient, indispensable information gathering and processing tool for almost everyone. In cars (computers), on highways (the World Wide Web), and with full tanks of gas (software), the world was ready for meaningful destinations. The potential in the heavy traffic wasn't lost on the computer industry. In 2007, Gates again led the way to the next step when he asked himself, "What if content were almost free?" The industry, following Microsoft's lead, moved toward free access to highly interactive artificial intelligence (AI) games, entertainment, and information services. With their shiny new vipers on the information superhighway, the people of the world finally had nearly unlimited access to the most current information. Today, in 2010, pundits are wagging their tongues over Gates's next breakthrough question. What will it be? Some students already have their fingers crossed for "What if college were almost free?"

Gates released the code for his most popular products, including the latest versions of Windows and Word, to the public, following the lead of Timothy J. Berners-Lee, who gave us the World Wide Web in 1990 (Port, 2002), and Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, who asks only that developers of add-ons follow his example of free and open access to code. Software development had become much too big and costly for any one group, and open architecture (Gates, 1996, p. 55) with universally accessible code—what has come to be known as "The Fix" (Free Code Standard, or FCS, pronounced "fix")—was inevitable.

In any case, Gates's gesture touched off an unprecedented boom in software development. In thousands of small, independent groups throughout the world, developers of add-ons, known as "fixers," sprang up overnight, adding their program codes ("cells") to hugely complex applications ("hives") for every conceivable individual and organizational task. Fueling the exponential growth is universal sharing and widespread collaboration, with innovations and fixes constantly and rapidly improving on earlier improvements. Fixers literally take the newly released codes and begin making changes to better suit their needs, and the process continues without pause.

Needless to say, politics is still politics, and the fix does not extend into the field of national security. For practical reasons, open architecture is generally absent from business, medical, and other applications that require high levels of security and confidentiality. These applications often share basic frameworks, but individual functions associated with highly sensitive information and tasks remain in-house as closely guarded secrets. Alternately, if the program code is public, the information managed by the application is encoded in schemes that are unbreakable. This latter trend toward encryption is becoming increasingly popular, especially for database functions.

The decentralization of software development has created a hierarchy of independent programmers. Much like their counterparts in teaching, the ronin in coding are in high demand. Major organizations bid for their services not so much for their ability to develop software from scratch, but for their skill in adapting and tweaking cutting-edge applications for the institution's purposes. As has always been the case, speed wins in business, and the fastest and sharpest fixers are critical for success. However, to ensure the continual development of complex and innovative free applications that require sustained, long-term patronage, the Microsoft mogul offers the annual International Gates Prize for outstanding programs in various areas. The amounts far surpass the Nobel awards and serve as an incentive for gifted individuals and teams. Other philanthropists have followed suit and provide lucrative prizes and endowments to colleges and nonprofit groups to encourage and nurture software research and development. The lesson businesses have had to relearn, again, is that R&D pays.

In education, the impact has been staggering. Institutions, teachers, and students now have their pick of administrative, instructional, and learning software, from the simple to the immensely complex, and the vast majority of the best are available at little or no cost. Proprietary comprehensive course management systems (CMSs) and costly administrative information systems are things of the past.

Expanding the Scenario: Institutional Transformation in Higher Education

This is the year 2010, and the wholly F2F college class is no more. The process that turned every class into a hybrid or completely online course was gradual. The "technical limitations of computer speed, memory, and bandwidth" that stood in the way of "the highly personal interaction that is at the heart of quality education" (Tillman, 2002, p. 104) have been eliminated. Momentum also came from students (Gates, 1996, p. 212) who increasingly arrived on college campuses from grade and secondary schools in which interactive learning and the Internet were synonymous. Completely F2F classes in colleges and universities around the world were phased out as students flocked to classes that were online or included substantial virtual components. The vast majority of college teachers were forced to make the move to the Internet; the few who wouldn't simply left the profession.

Vipers are as ubiquitous as the TV and telephone. At first, this was especially true in the developed countries; however, the less developed nations quickly discovered that Internet-facilitated communication (Gates, 1996, p. 215) is the most efficient and cost-effective means to keep in touch with loved ones, access information, and educate their children. Thus, even in isolated mountain or jungle villages, students have access to wireless networks (Gates, 1996, p. 270, 272) via powerful notebook computers. In some cases, the computers are located in designated homes or community centers; but in general, they can be found in even the poorest hovels, gifts from international organizations or private donors (Gates, 1996, pp. 232-3). Based on their ability to learn via this global medium, many students from the most squalid environments are receiving first-rate educations from the top schools and colleges in the world (Gates, 1996, p. 218).

Thus, the leveling of the global economic playing field has begun (Gates, 1996, pp. 285, 293; Matthews, 2002), with the top students, or aces, regardless of economic resources or geographical isolation, graduating from the best universities on the planet and going on to lucrative and high-profile careers. The aces, regardless of circumstances, have virtual access to the ronin in their own country and in the world from grade school through college. Cost is not a barrier for the gifted and talented: a wide range of creative scholarship and sponsorship opportunities are available from educational organizations as well as the private and public sector.

Colleges and universities compete to identify and recruit these top students, regardless of nationality or ability to pay. The key to this trend is the Internet's power to effectively showcase student talent at every level. Quality education is a learner's market. As aces, students have the power to choose; the brighter they are, the better their options. Exposed to the best teachers from the earliest grades, they win scholarships and grants to enroll at the world's premier colleges, and because of the Internet, they seldom if ever have to leave their home country to learn from ronin. This post-geographical era of colleges has given rise to the term "cybercoll," which is short for cyber college. Eliminating geographical barriers has meant that poor students with exceptional abilities from rural Afghanistan are enrolled in the 2010 versions of the Stanfords, Oxfords, and Todais of the world. While enrolled at these schools, they continue to take classes from the top instructors in their major field, regardless of institutional affiliation. And credits earned from all these classes in different universities count toward graduation. The International Consortium of Online Colleges (ICOC, pronounced "eye-coke") administers the crediting process. The ICOC governing board is composed of members from every country in the world.

Ronin, like the hired guns of the Old West, often go to the highest bidder. As it is in professional sports, there is no room for old-fashioned loyalties where money is concerned. Home campus takes on a whole new meaning in 2010. Ronin aren't hidden away in remote offices and lecture halls. Instead, as high-profile celebrities, they are expected to literally "wear" their colleges in the form of logos on breast pockets and sleeves. Much like the Nike swoosh on Tiger Woods's cap and Kobe Bryant's jersey, these visible endorsements aren't as obtrusive as the NAPA signs plastered on dragsters and funny cars. The intent is the association that educational consumers will draw between the professors and the schools that they happen to represent. In all his videos, Cruz is seen wearing a coat or shirt with "UP" (University of the Philippines) emblazoned on the breastpocket. He also makes it a point to sip coffee from a mug with a similar logo. However, viewers are accustomed to the image of stars such as Cruz who advertise more than one institution at a time; this year, he is often seen at a desk bearing the University of Barcelona emblem while wearing a jacket with the UP logo.

The payoff for the cybercolls that actively recruit ronin is the prestige that comes from the performance of their aces in e-journals and online conferences. Because of their cost effectiveness and accessibility, colleges and professional organizations have created numerous publications and conferences devoted to student works. Just as numerous are the professional journals that have jumped on the virtual bandwagon, and most of these actively solicit submissions from professor-student coauthoring teams. With vipers in the hands of nearly everyone on earth, hardcopy books and periodicals have all but disappeared. All publications are available in electronic format. Libraries housing paper resources have become museums. The library and the role of librarian has changed dramatically. Today, the best librarians rival and often surpass the ronin in terms of status and salaries, and the others command salaries that are equivalent to that of football and basketball coaches. The field is highly competitive, attracting the elite who are at the top of their discipline in scholarship and in cutting-edge technical knowledge. The rewards are well-deserved since the virtual library is the backbone of every college and university.

Elizabeth, Maile, Summer, and Bobby are among the top students in the world. As aces, they are actively recruited by colleges worldwide. They are the only students in Geoff Cruz's Introduction to Expository Writing class. Cruz, a professor at the University of the Philippines (UP), Diliman, is among the elite ronin. His classes attract some of the best aces, and the cost per student is outrageously high. The additional cost is needed to offset the small size of the class. Aces compete for seats, and those who get in consider it an honor. These "silver seats" are often tied into the classes, so that students who are accepted automatically receive a full scholarship for the course. The payoff for the sponsors is tasteful PBS-type acknowledgements at the beginning or end of widecasts, which are educational events distributed over popular media such as TV and the Web. They feature ronin, often with their students, and rate very high in the Nielsen ratings. All sponsorships are provided with the clear understanding that funding will continue for the duration of the agreement, regardless of the views presented in the class.

In 2010, colleges have finally lived up to their own hype: the focus is on learning and instruction, on students and teachers. In fact, student-centered instruction has taken on a whole new dimension. Ronin such as Cruz build their prestige and reputations on the performance of their students. Electronic conferences and publications make it feasible for cybercolls and other education-related organizations to provide numerous highly visible platforms for students to present and publish their works. Finally, high-achieving students have viable arenas where they, too, can bask in the limelight previously reserved for elite athletes. These academic events garner as much media attention as major athletic contests, and the stars receive just as much adulation. Submissions are rigorously screened by editorial boards made up of leading educators in the various disciplines. Professors whose students' works are accepted for presentation at prestigious online conferences and in respected e-journals become well known, and students from around the world flock to register for their classes. Students who are published or featured as presenters become known as aces and reap academic honors for themselves, their mentors, and their home campuses, leading to scholarship offers from their own as well as other colleges. Rewards also flow from the private sector (Gates, 1996, p. 233). Often, cash prizes are awarded to students and their professors for outstanding papers or presentations. Journals and conferences also compete for the top aces, and the result is a hierarchy of media.

Many of the aces, even as underclassmen, graduate to the professional journals as their works become increasingly mature through repeated exposure in international conferences and publications. These students receive graduate scholarship offers from major universities and are often able to complete doctorates in a year or two following their baccalaureate. The trend toward acceleration through schools and colleges is increasing, and the age-grade locksteps that characterized schools in the last century are disappearing. In 2010, fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds in college classes aren't rare.

The home institutions of these stars gain tremendous prestige and popularity, attracting record numbers of capable students and promising teachers, playing out a phenomenon that Gates (1996) dubbed a "positive spiral" (p. 39). In fact, relatively unknown, second-rate colleges have gained instant fame and fortune and joined the growing circle of elite institutions by virtue of acquiring a famous ronin. Where the ronin go, the aces follow, and the spotlights focus on the performance of these outstanding individuals. But if this were all there was to it, a narrow beam of light on a handful of stars, the overall gain for the masses of college students and teachers would be negligible. Fortunately, the spotlights cast a wide halo, and those in proximity are also illuminated. Teachers and students who yearn to join the ranks of ronin and aces in their specialties are attracted to the colleges where the stars reside. These colleges become very selective in accepting applicants and hiring instructors, being careful to cultivate growth in their highlighted field. Yet the distribution of stars follows a dispersion rather than a convergence model: instead of gathering at a single cybercoll, they scatter and light up thousands of colleges worldwide.

Just as the limelight has scattered and spread, creating countless patterns of collateral growth, it has also refracted and penetrated deeper into the populations at all the cybercolls. Students and teachers settle into their own levels of comfort, and in each, there are opportunities to shine. A professor may not be a ronin in the major leagues, but she can gain notoriety in the minors. A student may not be an ace featured in the pages of TSjr, but he can enjoy popularity as an author in the pages of his home campus or class e-journal.


In 2010, technology has transformed higher education by focusing the spotlight on individual professors and students, rewarding the elite for excellence in teaching and learning. Stars such as Cruz and Maile are the most visible signs of change, but the real impact is on the colleges and universities in general. The technology that has done so much for the few has done even more for the many. Access to the best technology is widespread, empowering all who touch it. The computing power in the hands of the masses has given them the tools to break through the walls and ceilings that separate the haves and have-nots, allowing them to reach for the stars.


Cotlar, M., & Shimabukuro, J. N. (1995). Stimulating learning with electronic guest lecturing. In Z. L Berge & M. Collins (Eds.). Computer mediated communication and the online classroom: Vol. 3. Distance Learning (pp. 105-128). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Fairley, P. (2001, December 12). Nano technology: The start of something big. Chemical Week, 163(45), 23-26. Retrieved March 15, 2002, from InfoTrac database.

Feder, B. J. (2002, March 11). Tiny technologies slip unseen into daily life. The New York Times, C1. Abstract retrieved March 15, 2002, from InfoTrac database.

Gates, B. (1996). The road ahead. New York: Penguin.

Matthews, K. S. (2002, January). Exploring the frontiers of the future. USA Today, pp. 62-64. Retrieved March 15, 2002, from InfoTrac database.

Port, O. (2002, March 4). The next web. Business Week Online. Retrieved March 15, 2002, from content/ 02_09/b3772108.htm

Pyper, W. (2001, October-December). Small particles, big business. Ecos, 5. Retrieved March 15, 2002, from InfoTrac database.

Swanson, S. (2001, December 17). Smarter, safer planes via nanotech. InformationWeek, 20. Retrieved March 15, 2002, from InfoTrac database.

Tillman, J. J. (2001-02, Winter). Online education: "76 trombones and a big parade." Thought & Action: The NEA Higher Education Journal, 17(2), 101-105.

mahjongshooter gamesmarble popper gamespc game downloadsaction gamesmanagement gamesadventure games
View Related Articles >