The Role of Technology in Education Today and Tomorrow
The Role of Technology in Education Today and Tomorrow:
An Interview with Kenneth Green, Part II
[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in On the Horizon, 1999, 7(1), 2-5. It is posted here with permission from Jossey Bass Publishers.]
Kenneth (Casey) Green, a visiting scholar at Claremont Graduate University and a senior associate of the TLT Group, is founder and director of the Campus Computing Project. Begun in 1990, the Campus Computing Project is the largest continuing study of the role of information technology in American higher education. Green is a leading authority on the problems and issues involved in integrating technology in educational organizations. In this interview, an extension of an earlier interview (Morrison, 1998), we expand on his view of these issues and include the results of his latest survey on the extent to which American colleges and universities are using information technology tools.
James Morrison (JM): Casey, one of the pressing issues in education today is the integration of information technology tools into instruction. How can such tools enhance student learning?
Casey Green (CG): Without question, both the education community and the broader public community have long held great expectations for the role of technology in teaching, learning, and instruction. Each new wave of technologyfilm following the Second World War, television from the 1950s onward, mainframe computers in the 1960s and 1970s, desktop computers in the 1980s, and the Internet and World Wide Web currentlyhas fostered great hopes of educational promise among educators and others in public life. Indeed, at the turn of the last century, Thomas Edison was convinced that film would supplant books as the primary mode of instruction by the end of the 1930s.
Much of the value of technology stems from the content it brings to the learning experience. Think back to the introduction of film in elementary and secondary schools in the wake of Sputnik some forty years ago. Film brought amazing, engaging content into the classroom, content that served as a critical catalyst for learning. Moreover, it delivered content that our teachers could not provide. Today, the World Wide Web occupies that same position: it can be an incredibly rich resource that provides supplemental content to enhance teaching, learning, and instruction. Ideally, students should experience the serendipity of both wandering the library stacks and surfing the Web; both offer opportunities for discovery and engagement.
Technology can also enhance the opportunities for communication and community within education. E-mail is a wonderful alternative to phone tag and a useful supplement to office hours. Chat, mailing lists, and online discussion groups encourage voices and perspectives that may not emerge in the classroom. Plus, the Internet expands opportunities for students and faculty to create a community. Students can use e-mail to send direct questions to the authors of materials they read in class. Faculty can develop and maintain professional relationships with colleagues across the state, the nation, or almost anywhere in the world.
Finally, in addition to offering new kinds of learning experiences, the Internet and World Wide Web offer access to postsecondary educational opportunities for new types of students and new kinds of institutional clientele. We are still in the early stages of an explosion in technology-assisted distance learning. Campuses and corporations will be competing for an audience.
JM: What evidence is there that information technology tools enhance learning?
CG: We need to be honest about the gap between aspirations and performance. And being honest requires that we acknowledge we dont yet have clear, compelling evidence about the impact of information technology on student learning and educational outcomes. But there is viable evidence about the impact of technology as it relates to many of the process and experiential aspects of teaching, learning, and instruction. Perhaps the best review of these issues is by Robert Kozma and Jerome Johnson in their 1992 paper The Technology Revolution Comes to the Classroom. Their work is based on a well-designed assessment of the use of instructional technology in colleges and universities, across several disciplines and across different types of campuses. Although their paper precedes the Internet and World Wide Web by several years, the key IT-driven process and experiential issues Kozma and Johnson identify are absolutely at the core of what information technology can and does bring to the educational experienceengagement, exploration, real-world simulation, opportunities to explore the meaning of data, and opportunities to move from simple exposure to real mastery of concepts and skills.
Admittedly, infusing technology into the educational experiencein K12 and in higher educationis not like a surgical or pharmaceutical intervention. To date there is no magic pill, no “killer app” or content, no definitive technology that consistently and reliably improves academic achievement and learning outcomes. Moreover, technology costs moneyreal, recurring expenditures for hardware, software, networks, content, user training and support, and other things. Unfortunately, most campuses simply do not have a financial plan to address recurring IT costs: too much of the replacement funding for aging equipment and software comes from budget dustthe year-end money we try to spend before someone higher in the campus pecking order finds it and grabs it for their own budget.
JM: If we don’t have hard evidence that using information technology tools really increases student learning, why should educational organizations devote so much of their scarce resources to fund more hardware, software, and professional development activities?
CG: Even as hard evidence about learning outcomes continues to elude us, we retain great hopesand we should! The evidence does document other kinds of significant benefits: individualized instruction, asynchronous learning, enhanced content, and information-rich resources that are not limited to one physical copy that resides in only one location. Given the role of information technology in the global economy, we in academia would be foolish to reduce all investment in IT-based learning resources and the IT infrastructure. Today, students of all ages need to learn about technology (that is, acquire IT skills) and learn with technology (that is, use IT resources to enhance their learning experiences and opportunities).
JM: Most of your work focuses on defining the point postsecondary institutions have reached in using information technology tools for administration and teaching. Where are we vis-à-vis college faculty members using technology to enhance on-campus instruction?
CG: In the mid-1980s there was a great deal of campus and public discussion about the “computer revolution” in higher education. It was a popular phrase that lent itself to the titles of books and professional papers, conference themes, and the opening paragraphs of hundreds of grant proposals submitted to federal agencies, private foundations, and technology companies. Yet with almost perfect hindsight we now knowindeed we have known for many yearsthat there has been no revolution. Rather, for almost two decades we have experienced the slow migration of a broad array of information technologies and resources into instruction and learning.
Here the work of Everett Rogers (1995) is informative: the “diffusion of innovation” curve he first described more than two decades ago to track the migration of an innovation across a populationagricultural innovations, fashion, new technologies such as VCRs and cell phonescharacterizes the innovators and early adopters, about 17 percent of the population, as the first to reach out for new technologies, ideas, and tools. Diffusion then passes on to the early majority (another 33 percent), the late majority (roughly 43 percent), and the laggards, the last holdouts. Using this model, it is safe to say we have moved well past the innovators and early adopters and even the early majority phase: technology is now a mainstream resource for instruction. Our students clearly come to campus to learn about technologyto acquire new IT skillsand also to learn with technology, to use technology as a resource in their learning experience.
Data from the 1998 Campus Computing Survey reveal that more than half of all faculty members have a computer in their office; about half of all faculty (52 percent) log on to the World Wide Web and Internet once a day, compared to an estimated 46 percent of undergraduates. The survey also reveals that the proportion of courses using some form of IT resource has been growing dramatically in recent years: almost half (44 percent) of all college courses now use e-mail, up from a third (33 percent) in 1997 and just 16 percent in 1996; almost one-fourth of all college courses are using Web pages for class materials and resources, compared to just 4 percent in 1994. (Editor’s Note: A summary of the 1998 Campus Computing Survey appears on the Web at http://www.campuscomputing.net.)
It’s taken a long time to get to this point on the implementation curve. The vast majority of faculty members across all disciplines and institutions have had to learn new IT skills over the past ten to fifteen years. For many of us, these were not a de facto component of our graduate training like research methods, foreign language, or statistics. Moreover, this has not been a one-time learning experience: each new wave of technology (for example, the transition from DOS to Macintosh, the migration from DOS to Windows 3x to Windows 95, the arrival of the Internet and World Wide Web) has required that we, like our students, acquire new software skills (word processing, spreadsheets, graphics), learn about new ways of doing old tasks (e-mail, library searches), and learn still newer skills to do newer things with technology (surf the Web).
JM: Casey, given what you’ve said about new technologies, what are the key issues in integrating information technology tools in education today?
CG: Jim, I think it is fair to say that the campus community confronts several sets of IT issues: some are legacy issues, things that have been with us for a while, that remain constant. Additionally, we confront significant infrastructure challengesthe IT plumbing and core support structures. Finally, the campus community needs to address what I would call the “next wave” issuesthose issues that are “on the horizon” and are moving closer.
Legacy issues and infrastructure are the ones we deal with almost daily. For example, one major legacy issue is IT financing. As nonprofits, colleges experience significant structural problems managing the financial side of IT. Data from my annual Campus Computing Survey Project (at) indicate that less than two-thirds of the nation’s colleges have an “acquire-retire” plan to manage the recurring costs of replacing technology. We cannot amortize; it is difficult for campuses to categorize technology expenditurescomputers, software, and so onas capital costs, similar to buildings. But we need to find a new financing model, because right now, the one we have does not work well. As I said a minute ago, too much of the technology money comes from budget dustthe money we rush to spend before the close of the fiscal year.
Instructional integration, faculty training, and user support are in part legacy, in part infrastructure issues. The research literature suggests that the median age of college faculty is late forties. Most of us (myself included) are baby boomers, children of Sputnik and New Math, and students of the sixties and seventies. Technologyinstructional integration, multimedia, Web siteswere not part of our “coming of tweed” experience as graduate students. And the ethos of academic life largely remains that you acquire new scholarly skills largely on your own, or with support from a research or professional development grant.
Campuses continue to wrestle with the challenge of providing students with access to IT resources. This year the University of Florida and the University of North Carolina became the largest institutions to launch “mandatory buy” programs for their students. These are ambitious and costly initiatives that will require careful assessment: how does universal access affect the syllabus, curricula, and learning outcomes? Inquiring minds want to know.
Core infrastructure also remains a significant challenge for many institutions. Public attention often focuses on elite or large institutions with a reputation for extensive IT resources and instructional innovation, but many campuses are still wresting with the basic task of running the wire into classrooms, offices, libraries, and other campus facilities and providing basic e-mail and Internet access to their students and faculty.
Then there are those “on the horizon” issues. E-commerce is one that will have major consequences for higher education. Colleges seem to lag behind the consumer market on this issue: although a number of consumer product companies, for example Dell Computer, Lands’ End, and J. Crew, along with the airlines, are moving quickly in this area, comparatively few colleges have e-commerce capacity on their Web sites. Data from the 1998 Campus Computing Survey suggest that maybe 20 percent of the research universities offer some level of e-commerce via their Web sites today. However, the e-commerce numbers drop to less than 5 percent for all other kinds of institutionscomprehensive colleges, liberal arts colleges, and community colleges. E-commerce for higher education is not about T-shirts and application fees; rather, e-commerce extends user services for students and will ultimately provide additional access to content for students and faculty.
Finally, new products also present interesting opportunities for higher education. Remember that if your campus had a strategic plan for IT in 1993 (and few did), the plan would have been obsolete by 1995 because of the arrival of something called the World Wide Web. So new products and technologies pose interesting challenges. For example, the first of the much-discussed e-books have begun to arrive. Some observers think the college market is a viable market for these products. Frankly, I’m less sanguine about the opportunity for this technology to supplement, let alone supplant, the traditional textbook and the small empire of products built around the core texts that are widely used in many lower-division undergraduate classes. The tumbling price of notebook computers suggests that laptops will likely remain a productive and attractive option on the price-performance curve. Too, for many students (and faculty), an e-book textbook means another technology, another interface, and more start-up costs in acquiring and mastering the device. That alone, I suspect, provides some disincentives for the spread of e-books in higher education for the next few years.
JM: Many thanks, Casey, for providing us with up-to-date information on the state of affairs in using information technology tools in higher education. Your campus survey continues to be an important barometer for us all.
Kozma, R., and Johnson, J. “The Technology Revolution Comes to the Classroom.” Change, Jan.Feb. 1992, pp. 1023.
Morrison, J. L. “The Role of Technology in Education Today and Tomorrow: An Interview with Kenneth Green.” On the Horizon, 1998, 6(5), 24.
Rogers, E. The Diffusion of Innovation. (4th ed.) New York: Free Press, 1995.