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Elliot Brownlee, Co-Chair
Professor, Department of History
University of California
Santa Barbara


Background: Familiar questions about information technology in education

Certain questions have become standard in discussion of the incorporation of digital information and communications technologies into the undergraduate curriculum. They persist because they are critical to the enterprise, they resist solutions, and they affect most participants directly. The concerns these questions reflect will inevitably surface in conference discussions, and part of the planning effort will be directed toward framing the intersection between these practical issues and the unique challenges research universities face in approaching technology-related change in how they carry out their teaching mission. The following list is offered as a reminder of the practical considerations that often provide anecdotal windows into fundamental institutional issues.

 Evaluation: how can the effectiveness of different teaching and learning methods be evaluated? when is technology-aided instruction more effective than existing teaching models? how valid is the idea that there is one "traditional" teaching model? what should be measured? what do students need to learn? what does experience tell us?

 Faculty rewards and incentives: why should faculty devote extra time and effort to developing technology-based instructional methods if promotion and tenure is determined primarily by research? what incentives are most appropriate? what is the appropriate response to increases in faculty workload caused by adoption of new technologies?

 Support: where will a cash-strapped institution find the resources to provide enough technical support to faculty who want to adopt new methods and create new teaching materials? can students take up the slack? where should the need to provide support fit in institutional priorities?

 Productivity: what balance can be struck between administrators' hope for productivity increases and faculty experience of and concern about increasing workloads? how can we best set priorities among the new activities? How is thinking about faculty workload and productivity affected by the incorporation of off-campus students into classes and student use of e-mail for anytime anywhere e-mail access to faculty?

Faculty skills: do existing faculty need to learn new pedagogical skills? who should decides when the benefits justify the effort? should graduate students be taught skills and teaching paradigms different from those of their mentors?

 Student skills: what IT competencies do students need to participate fully in the University educational experience? what IT competencies should they possess when they graduate?

 Disciplinary bias: what distinctions should be made between the IT needs and potential of different disciplines? is there a minimum set of skills that all students should acquire regardless of discipline?

 Trade-offs: is it worth it? what else could we be doing with the investment we are making in infrastructure and support or the time spent to develop new teaching methods?


Background: Less familiar questions about information technology in education

Less commonly examined in discussions of information and communications technology in education are issues involving (1) the social, cultural, and institutional context of the process of technological change within higher education; and (2) the special role of the research university in any digital transformation of education. Perhaps the overriding issue for the All-University Conference is: What leadership roles should research universities in general, and the University of California in particular, play in developing and applying information technologies?

 The following list of questions--with suggested answers from a range of conflicting perspectives-is designed to offend virtually everyone. It is an attempt to begin identifying such issues and provoking consideration of the extent to which they should structure the discussions of the All University Conference.

(1)      Will a kind of technological imperative inevitably drive reform of higher education in the digital millennium?

"...television, the computer, and their associated technologies do not, by any means, pose an unprecedented challenge to traditional educational practices, including the role of the teacher. Such challenges have presented themselves before. I am not old enough to remember when educators believed that the radio and Victrola would forever change the nature of the classroom. However, I do remember when they thought 16 millimeter film would do so. Then closed-circuit television. Then 8-millimeter film. Then structured, teacher-proof textbooks. Now, of course, the computer, and, if we are to believe Chris Whittle, television again." (Neil Postman, "Making a Living, Making a Life: Technology Reconsidered," The College Board Review [Special Issue: Sizing up the Digital Domain," 1995], 8-9).

 ". . . IT will change teaching and learning profoundly, no matter what the response of traditional higher education institutions. Just as the development of the printing press forever changed the teaching enterprise, IT represents a fundamental change in the basic technology of teaching and learning. The transformation will take a long time, long enough for critics to claim that perhaps higher education can thrive without fundamentally changing itself in response to the new technology....' (William F. Massy and Robert Zemcky, "Using Information Technology to Enhance Academic Productivity," white paper for Educom National Learning Infrastructure Initiative, 1995).

(2)      What will be the roles of teachers and editors in the university of the digital millennium? Will a "New Educational Paradigrn, " in fact, transform their roles?

"The real roles of the professor in an information-rich world will be not to provide information but to guide and encourage students wading through deep waters of the information flood. Professors in this environment will thrive as mentors. They will use the best skills they have now to nudge students through the educationally crucial tasks of processing information: problem solving, analysis, and synthesis of ideas--the activities on which our time can best be spent. The professor will also be a point of contact to the world beyond the campus, a kind of software "icon"--click on the professor and let him take you to the world that he knows. This may seem an absurd image, but it can take shape already on a screen of the World Wide Web." (James J. O'Donnell, "The Digital Challenge," The Wilson Quarterly [Winter 1996], 49)

(3)      Is teaching different in a research university? How does the use of digital technology in research affect digital innovations in teaching and learning in the same institution?

"In the past year, we have been overwhelmed by the number of incoming engineering student applications that explicitly request admissions in multimedia ad creative technologies. This outpouring of enthusiasm leads us to believe that educational programs in integrated media systems represent a unique opportunity for a quantum leap in undergraduate and graduate career choices in science and engineering, . . ." (University of Southern California Integrated Media Systems Center, "Executive Summary: Education," 1996)

(4)      What forces will drive the adoption of information technology innovations within the University of California?

" . . although . . . technology can be a powerful force to improve education, it is often adopted today without a clear educational focus and without sensible strategic planning. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for an expensive technology to be purchased primarily because it is promoted by a large company, or offered for free or at a discount, or because it is technically "leading edge" or because it is seen as a way to cut corners on faculty and facilities." (The Higher Education Program and Policy Council, American Federation of Teachers, How Unions Can Harness the Technology Revolution on Campus: Report of the Task Force on Technology in Higher Education [1995], 2)

 "Using IT for more-with-less productivity enhancement requires that technology replace some activities now being performed by faculty, teaching assistants, and support personnel. With labor accounting for 70 percent or more of current operating cost, there is simply no other way. Faculty will have to re-engineer teaching and learning processes to substitute capital for labor...failure to substitute intelligently will undermine educational quality and thus negate productivity gains." (William F. Massy and Robert Zemsky, "Using Information Technology to Enhance Academic Productivity," EDUCOM National Learning Infrastructure Initiative.

(5)      What is the potential role and the appropriate role--of market competition in the process of educational reform?

"In my opinion, you cannot get a good school system run by a monopoly. And, similarly, I do

not believe there is any effective way of reforming what that school system is from inside." (Milton Friedman, Interview, Technos [Spring 1996], 6.)

"The new level of commercialism in higher education raises serious questions. How can colleges and universities maintain a coherent academic program and high standards if the 'name of the game' is to sell individual courses that will be attractive to a mass market? And how does the nature of higher education change if commercial interests like MEU and other industry giants are able to get independent accreditation for degree programs--in other words, if colleges and universities were to lose their exclusive franchise on certification?" (The Higher Education Program and Policy Council, American Federation of Teachers, How Unions Can Harness the Technology Revolution on Campus: Report of the Task Force on Technology in Higher Education [1995], 7)

(6)      What is the relationship between market size and the ability of University of California faculty members to develop the most innovative and effective digital courseware? How many institutions can successfully invest in the development of courseware for mass markets? Do special considerations apply to research universities?

"Development costs [of digital courseware] are such that they can be justified only if the resulting materials are used by very large numbers of students--numbers far larger than are found in any single institution and often are larger than the numbers of students in a single state. Different institutional providers, with help from foundations and other third-party funders, or through consortia that allow them to pool funds, will undoubtedly continue their course and curriculum development activities. But the need remains to 'create a market' for such materials and ensure that those materials are distributed to (and accepted by) an audience large enough to justify the initial investment costs." (Dennis P. Jones, "Higher Education and High Technology: A Case for Joint Action," Briefing Paper for Western Governors' Association, November 14, 1995.)

(7)      What are the appropriate roles for strategic partnerships formed with other institutions of higher education and the business community in advancing the leadership role of research universities in developing and applying information technologies?

(8)      Will the University of California need to reevaluate the way it defines its students (and, accordingly, policies that determine eligibility requirements, admissions requirements, standards for accepting transfer course credit, etc.) in light of new educational paradigms?

"Learning that occurs . . . outside of the context of intentional education has little chance of being recognized. Ensuring that individuals can have the learning they have achieved recognized ways acceptable to outside audiences--primarily employers and institutions of higher education-- is the critical problem to be overcome. Absent a solution to this bottleneck, much of the promise of technology-based education will not be realized." (Dennis P. Jones, "Higher Education and High Technology: A Case for Joint Action," Briefing Paper for Western Governors' Association, November 14, 1995, 26.)

 "Today's students, if they seek prestigious jobs or entry-restricted professions, usually have no choice other than to attend university. However, this is a weak and mostly legal reed for universities to lean on, and is only as strong as their gatekeeper control over accreditation and over the public's acceptance of alternative credentials. When this hold weakens, we may well have in the future a "McGraw-Hill University" awarding degrees and or certificates, just as today some companies offer in-house degree programs. If these programs are valued by employers and society for the quality of admitted students, the knowledge students gain, and the requirements that students must pass to graduate, they will be able to compete with many traditional universities, yet without bearing the substantial overhead of physical institutions." (Eli M. Noam, "Electronics and the Dim Future of the University," Science [October 13, 1995], 248.)

 ". . . all of the university's traditions and practices assume that scarcity is the controlling condition of educational opportunity. As a result, the opportunity for students to pursue a university education must be rationed, parceled out, limited to those most qualified to benefit from it. To a remarkable extent, this sense of scarcity drives the assumptions and understandings about what university learning is and should be, fostering a sense of exclusivity among those who guard the gate." (James W. Hall, "The Convergence of Means: The Revolution in Electronic Technology and the Modern University," Educom Review, July/August 1995, 43.)

(9)      What opportunities will be created by new information technologies for integrating the University's missions of teaching, research, and service? In other words, will technological advances in one area of our research university create opportunities for leveraging advances in other areas?

"Digital networks will enhance the dissemination and publication of new knowledge, access to library and museum collections, intercampus research collaborations, shared used of scientific instruments, specialized computational and information resources, and research data sets. In turn, those same networks will enable the faculty to improve their teaching. Students will learn how to use, and make the most of the technology-oriented skills for locating, synthesizing, and communicating information in electronic form. Undergraduates will develop the means to be successful life-long learners, and graduate students will learn how to exploit digital networks in their teaching as well as their research." ("Information Age" Technologies and the Future of Instruction: A Vision," CINITAP Draft Statement, November 3, 1995.)

(10)    Should the University use digital networks to increase its effectiveness in carrying out its public service mission?

"The effective implementation of the University's public service mission in the 'information age' calls for a vigorous expansion of opportunities for the public at large to enjoy the high-quality educational offerings of the University of California In making this possible, the University will respond to the need for Americans to continue their education, for both professional and personal development, after the completion of formal schooling. The pace of contemporary technological change, has created the risk of a society divided between new classes--the information-rich" and the "information-poor." The emergence of new kinds of electronic information sources and digital media are profoundly redefining what is needed to be considered a literate member of the information society, and increasing the requirements for effective citizenship. By using digital networks to mobilize its intellectual assets in the cause of widening access to continuing education, the University will make a contribution to the health of American democracy." ("Information Age" Technologies and the Future of Instruction: A Vision," CINITAP Draft Statement, November 3, 1995.)

(11)    What are the responsibilities of the University of California to use technology to advance reform in K-l2 education?

"Universities should attend to their teacher education programs to make certain they are providing the technology-capable graduates that schools want to hire. Universities can also begin to make available professional development training by means of distance learning technology. Universities ought to be sites for research and developing relating to the use of technology in school reform. Universities can also form partnerships with schools to study the process of change that takes place with the introduction and use of technology." (Howard Mehlinger, "Achieving School Reform through Technology," Technos [Spring, 1996], 29.)

(12)    If a digital revolution sweeps over the University of California, what will be left and who will value what is left?

"The question is not whether universities are important to society, to knowledge, or to their members--they are--but rather whether the economic foundation of the present system can be maintained and sustained in the face of the changed flow of information brought about by electronic communications. It is not research and teaching that will be under pressure--they will be more important than ever--but rather their instructional setting, the university system. To be culturally important is necessary (one hopes) but, unfortunately, not sufficient for a major claim on public and private resources. We may regret this, but we can't deny it." (Eli M. Noam, "Electronics and the Dim Future of the University," Science [October 13, 1995], 248.)

 "There are strong utilitarian reasons for being part of a university if one wants to maximize opportunities, from marriage to career. The untested question is how many would be prepared to do without this forum. Probably this is not an either-or proposition and thus the question becomes one of how much value individuals are willing to attach to this aspect of higher education in its traditional form. My point is that integration, maturing and 'networking' in the past were no more than supporting roles, by-products of studying at universities. Their relative importance may change in the future as people weigh the advantages of attending the physical university against the advantages of distance learning." (Gerhard Casper, "Come the millennium, Where the University? April 19, 1995.)