by Heather Walker, Program Coordinator, DigiTex

In 1998, the Virtual College of Texas (VCT) was established to facilitate digital course sharing in the state of Texas, with the goal of allowing students across the state to access the courses that they needed to complete their educations. Today as the Digital Higher Education Consortium of Texas, DigiTex continues to fulfill that original mission, while also promoting a number of other initiatives to benefit our institutions and their students. DigiTex was not the first course sharing endeavor, however. Over ten years prior to the inception of VCT/DigiTex, Glenn Jones had created a prototype of the course sharing consortium: Mind Extension University.

When Mind Extension University (ME/U) was first founded in November 1987 as a basic cable television channel, its mission was to serve its students by providing primarily college-level courses to help students graduate from high school, improve their personal skills, or complete an associate, bachelor, or master’s degree program. To achieve this aim, ME/U partnered with various respected universities to offer high-quality, accredited telecourses. In selecting its affiliated institutions, ME/U followed a set of strict protocols. Instructors at the respective institutions had to be highly competent, with previous experience in teaching telecourses. Their courses had to be of a high quality, and the administration at their institutions had to be open-minded and supportive of digital learning (Jones, 1990). 

To participate in the courses, students would first enroll at the “partner university” of their choice and then complete telecourses through that university and other institutions that participated in ME/U (Gorski, 1994). Students would most commonly tape course instructional periods using a home VCR and VHS tapes and then replay them later on their own time. (For a little bit of nostalgia, see the image to the right. Who remembers VHS tapes and that famous Blockbuster slogan, “Be kind, rewind!”?) This allowed them to enjoy greater flexibility in their busy schedules and rewatch instructional segments for greater understanding. Any students who missed a lesson could call the ME/U Student Support Center to receive a tape of the session. Just like traditional courses, the telecourses at ME/U required standard textbooks, assignments, and exams (Jones, 1990). In the beginning, students had to either fax or mail their assignments to their instructors at the respective institutions in which they were enrolled. Later on, with the development of ME/U’s Bulletin Board System (BBS) in 1991, students also had the option of e-mailing their assignments, as well as chatting with their instructors and completing exams in a virtual classroom environment (Gorski, 1994).

By 1990, ME/U had a total of 14 participating colleges and universities, with more projected to come on board. Participating schools included Pennsylvania State University, the University of South Carolina, Colorado State University, Georgetown University, California State University, and the University of Maryland, among many others. Through these schools, ME/U was able to offer bachelor’s degrees in management, nursing, animal sciences and industry, business and administration, and social sciences. It also offered two master’s degrees in education and human development and library science. For those who were not seeking a degree, ME/U offered shorter, non-credit courses in computer literacy; personal finance; mathematics; English; and French, German, and Spanish (Gorski, 1994; Jones, 1990).

Mind Extension University achieved its pinnacle of success in the 1990s, at which time it was reaching “26 million households in more than 8,500 communities” (Gorski, 1994). By the late 1990s, its name had changed to Knowledge TV, and viewership was starting to decrease. Then in 1999, Knowledge TV was formally purchased by Discovery Communications Inc. In 2000, the network closed, as Discovery was planning to “convert [the channel’s] distribution to Discovery Health” (Moss, 2000). 

Although Mind Extension University is now a part of history, its legacy lives on. Founder Glenn Jones, who was passionate about ensuring educational access for everyone, demonstrated the power of digital learning to accomplish this goal and paved the way for consortia such as DigiTex to provide learning to all. Mr. Jones followed a vision and, in so doing, offered opportunities to thousands of students whose lives might have been quite different, were it not for Mind Extension University.

References

Gorski, S. (1994). Credits by Cable: The Mind Extension University. Educom Review, 29(6). https://www.educause.edu/apps/er/review/reviewArticles/29626.html 

Jones, G. R. (1990). Make all America a school : Mind Extension University, The Education Network. Englewood, Colo. : Jones 21st Century, Inc. https://archive.org/details/makeallamericasc00jone/page/n1/mode/2up 

Moss, L. (2000). Discovery People Fades Out. NewBay Media. Internet Archive: Wayback Machine. https://web.archive.org/web/20151117223439/http://www.multichannel.com/news/orphan-articles/discovery-people-fades-out/148472