|by James L.
[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in
On the Horizon, 1998, 6(5), 2-4. It is posted here with permission
from Jossey Bass
Kenneth (Casey) Green is the 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, a visiting scholar at Claremont Graduate University and a senior associate of the
TLT Group, is a leading authority on integrating information technology tools in
JM: Casey, you are one of the best-informed people in the country as to where
we are today on the role of technology and distance learning in education. Where are we?
CG: Jim, you offer a generous assessment of my role as someone who
gets to watch the pace of IT activity in higher education.
But lets move on. An October 1997
U.S. Department of Education report, based on a 1995 survey, suggests that the majority of
U.S. colleges are engaged in distance learning programs and that distance learning
students may represent from 5 percent to 7 percent of total enrollment. These now-dated
numbers notwithstanding, I believe we are in the early phase of the implementation curve
on technology-enabled or technology-enhanced distance learning.
Yet it is clear that colleges and
universities are under increasing competitive pressure to achieve quick success in this
area because of the growing demand for distance learning and the growing numbers of
for-profit firms that are in or entering this market.
JM: So do you see this as a recent development, or simply an outgrowth of
CG: It is important to remember that distance learning is not new to
American higher education. Land-grant colleges first supported distance learning more than
a century ago via their agricultural extension programs. However, some things have changed
dramatically over the past decade.
First and foremost of course is the sheer
demand for training, programs, and certification: this growing demand has been prompted in
part by changing demographics and in part by the increasing need for continuing education
and training in the labor market.
Second, there is the common assumption in
both the campus and corporate sectors that technology will make distance learning easy and
profitable. Many individuals on both the campus and the corporate side look at the
University of Phoenix as the model for successful and profitable distance learning
programs. Unfortunately, these folks forget (or may not know) that roughly 90 percent of
the seemingly ever-expanding enrollments at Phoenix consist of part-time students sitting
in classrooms staffed by part-time faculty.
JM: Does this incredible demand cause problems in and of itself?
CG: The current buzz about distance learning reminds me of the
behavior of the California forty-niners some 150 years ago. Growing numbers of colleges
and academic programs eager to stake their claims are rushing forward with little real
planning or mapping of the terrain. Certain there is gold in distance education, many
campus and public officials believe that institutions absolutely must be there ahead of
(or at least shoulder-to-shoulder with) the competition: other colleges and universities,
commercial ventures, and in-house corporate training centers. Having spent some time
wandering the Web or captive to Mind Extension Universitys (now the Jones Knowledge
Networks) cable offerings in hotel rooms while they travel, administrators and
program coordinators are often surprisingly confident that instructional technologies
(cable, video, and the Internet, among others) provide a low-cost, high-revenue
Alas, technology-laden distance education
is neither simple nor inexpensive. It is best viewed as a business, one that involves real
and recurring costsmoney, time, personnel, and contentas well as a significant
technological infrastructure. For many campuses and programs, it may well be a very risky
JM: How is distance education changing now?
CG: Clearly new technologies and new players are changing the nature
of distance learning programs. Among nonprofits, collaborative efforts such as Western
Governors University, the California Virtual University, and the initiative sponsored by
the Southern Regional Education Board are very interesting; time will tell if these
efforts can deliver quality programs that win student and employer acceptance.
Concurrently, the corporate presence is reflected in two ways: some offer enabling
technology and services (for example, the Real Education model) while others function as
potential competitors to traditional programs and institutions (for example,
University of Phoenix, Knowledge University, or even the British Open University, recently
chartered in Delaware to do business in the United States). Both models contribute to
changing market perspectives and institutional behaviors.
We really are in the infancy of distance
learning. The history of colleges and universities has been marked by a steady expansion
of boundaries, structures, and markets. Higher educations clientele, mission,
curriculum, and institutions have changed dramatically since the day those first ten
students began their studies at Harvard some 350 years ago. Unfortunately, too few people
in academe today are willing to recognize this history in the context of current events.
Consequently, many faculty and administrators fail to recognize that the shifts under way
today are part of continuing evolution and expansion. Much of the highly charged language
used today to characterize the demise of instructional quality and academic integrity in
on-line instruction, distance learning, or the programs of proprietary institutions such
as the DeVry Institutes or the University of Phoenix parallels the same arguments offered
forty and fifty years ago against the transformation of two-year teachers colleges
into four-year comprehensive institutions, or the expansion of community colleges into
full-service institutions that would offer a broad range of academic and
occupational programs to a wide range of clientele.
JM: Is there a lesson to be learned from this parallel?
CG: The cautionary Chinese proverb can be applied accurately here: be
careful what you wish for, as you may just get it. In one sense, academes long-held
wishes are indeed coming true. Over the past decade, the often ephemeral topics of
conferences and keynote addresseslifelong learning, information technology,
universal accesshave quickly become part of the new landscape of postsecondary
education, in the United States and across the globe. These changes reflect a growing
demand from new and different learners for postsecondary education in new modes and new
forms. These changes also reflect the inability of traditional institutions,
from elite research universities and residential institutions to commuter schools and
community colleges, to be all things and provide all services to all potential clients in
the twenty-first century.
JM: What do you see as the major impediment to getting faculty members to use
information technology tools in their instructional approach?
CG: Data from the 1997 Campus Computing Survey reveal that campus
officials across all sectors of higher education identify instructional
integration and user support as the most important IT issues confronting
their campuses over the next two to three years. Stated simply, these are not small
challenges. [A summary of the 1997 survey results appears on the Campus Computing Web site.]
I believe that infrastructure fosters
innovation. My research and my campus visits over the past decade tell me that
infrastructure has a number of key components: hardware and software; networks, training
and user support; content, financial, and strategic planning; and recognition and reward
for faculty efforts.
But in the end, the real issue is that
faculty must believe that technology makes a differencea compelling and significant
differencein what they do and how their students learn. Its not enough for one
teacher to tell a second, in the hallway or at an academic conference, that technology
provides access to rich content or fosters student engagement. Faculty members need to
believe that technology makes a significant difference in educational achievement and
learning outcomes. The academic evangelists and early adopters among us are true
believers, which explains their passion and commitment. But the larger population of
faculty, Everett Rogers early and late majority, still need compelling
evidence before they will invest in efforts to integrate various kinds of IT resources
into their instructional activities.
JM: Where do you think faculty will be with regard to using technology in their
instruction by 2010? Can you describe a day in the life of Professor X?
CG: As the keynote speaker at an EDUCOM Conference in Los Angeles just
over a decade ago, then-Apple President and CEO John Scully previewed a futuristic
day in the life video of a wired professor. The video showed Professor X
working from a very large, very well-appointed home office that Silicon Valley corporate
executives and venture capitalists might envy. He began his day by opening his wireless
notebook computer and working through a series of tasks and activities with the assistance
of a smart video agent who talked with the professor each step
along the way. The agent attempted to anticipate Professor Xs preferences and next
steps: Should I answer the phone? Should I bring up last years lecture notes for
this afternoons seminar? Would you like to see some new data or recent articles on
this issue? Should I contact your friend Professor Q who is a leading authority on this
topic? Please remember to call your mother.
The video both engaged and enraged the
audience. Not surprisingly, many found the presentation of coming technology very
engaging. Concurrently, many were enraged by the image of faculty as shown in the Apple
video: wealthy, arrogant, pretentious, and not well prepared for class or even interested
Some of the technologies presented in the
Apple video are available today; more are coming very soon. For example, I have no doubt
that thousands of faculty members and administrators begin their working day in front of a
computereither in their homes or in their campus offices. Faculty send e-mail and
visit Web sites, check their daily schedules, update classroom materials and lecture
notes, respond to student inquiries and send back papers and tests via e-mail, and confer
with colleagues via chat rooms and electronic mailing lists. Many of these tasks will
become even easier as high-speed Internet connections (that is, bandwidth) expand in
availability to include home offices as well as campus offices in the coming years. The
race is on among phone companies, cable companies, and even wireless and satellite
companies to provide enhanced IT services to the millions of computer users in the United
States and abroad who want inexpensive, high-speed Internet access from their homes. As
bandwidth improves, video conferencing via the Internet, now in its infancy, will explode.
JM: Describe the future of information technology tools in education.
CG: What else lies ahead? At minimum, well have more and better
technology to assist with many traditional faculty tasks. Certainly speech recognition
will be part of the generic set of software resources by 2010. Smart agents will
anticipate user needs and preferences. Wireless high-speed networks will be common.
Multimedia and three-dimensional modeling, now in their infancy, will show up in more
parts of the curriculum.
However, the technologies ahead are not
products or services developed specifically for education; rather, they are products and
services that will have important consequences, and offer significant benefits, for
millions of students and faculty over the next two decades.
Yet in the end, there is a plus ša change
quality about this discussionthe more things change, the more they stay the same.
The technologies coming to market over the next decade are more likely to enhance what
faculty already do rather than fundamentally change faculty behaviors and practices. We
will continue to teach in classrooms and to confer with students. We will continue to
communicate with our departmental, institutional, and disciplinary colleagues. And we will
continue to engage in all forms of scholarship, from pure research to simply staying
current with the content of our respective disciplines. The basic responsibilities of
faculty for instruction and scholarship have changed little over the past fifty years.
Yes, information technology tools enable us to do many things differently, to do them
better and faster, and to do some new things; nonetheless, the core professional
commitments and responsibilities remain, regardless of the new, engaging, and potentially
enabling technologies that come to market and find a place on campuses and in schools.
JM: Thank you, Casey, for sharing your insights into one of the most
challenging issues facing educational leaders today.
Lewis, L., Alexander, D., and Farris, E. Distance Education in Higher Education
Institutions. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Oct. 1997; also
available as an Acrobat document.