|by James L.
[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in
On the Horizon, 1999, 7(4), 2-4. It is posted here with permission
from Jossey Bass
Judith Boettcher is
executive director of the Corporation for Research and Educational Networking (CREN), a
nonprofit organization that supports low-cost access to global electronic networking for
education. CREN sponsors online seminars, workshops, and educational materials in
information technology planning and creates software tools that enable information
technology professionals to understand and exploit advances in technology.
James Morrison (JM): Judith, what future developments in information technology
(IT) tools will affect the way we teach and operate educational organizations?
Judith Boettcher (JB): Future developments in IT
tools will center on teaching and learning online. These tools will assist faculty in the
design and development of online courses and in the management and delivery of online
teaching and learning. We are seeing the rapid evolution of these types of tools in the
form of Web course management tools, which represent a partial solution to the troubling
challenge of providing support for faculty and students using online learning. These tools
will become essential for most institutions. Even those institutions with
good-to-excellent IT infrastructures will find that these tools simplify the effective,
widespread deployment of Web use.
The other choice we have is to outsource the
work of putting courses online. This strategic choice can make a lot of sense. Consider
these two scenarios: First, even if I have a great IT infrastructure, outsourcing makes
sense if my institution wants to offer a new comprehensive program quickly. Putting
thoughtful, redesigned, effective programs online is an eighteen- to twenty-four-month
project. If the need is to offer a program quickly, and speed is the most important
criterion, then outsourcing can make good sense in the short term. In a second
scenariothat of a campus with little or very overworked IT infrastructure in
placethen it can be logical to purchase ready-made support and online infrastructure
Other evolving IT tools will have different
types of features to assist faculty. The tools will have (1) templates for different types
of courses, (2) collaboration tools to assist faculty and students in different types of
interaction online, and (3) applications for testing and tracking student performance and
for reporting back to students.
It is also important to watch the development
of Internet2. As most everyone knows, Internet2 is the next generation of the Internet. A
common question is, "How will Internet2 be different from the current Internet?"
It will be much faster, and that faster speed will make all the difference in what will be
possible and commonplace in teaching and learning online. Just as the current Internet
makes e-mail commonplace, predictable, and affordable in online teaching and learning,
Internet2 in the future will make high-quality video collaboration commonplace. With ease
and comfort, Internet2 will support audio and highly graphical media messages and
resources. The technology will be here; how we use these tools effectively for teaching
and learning will be a growing and critical challenge. We need resources dedicated to this
Doug van Houweling, who is in charge of the
Internet2 project, is focusing the project to ensure that distance learning applications,
such as collaboration and effective access to data resources, will be well supported. (See
the TechTalk featuring Doug at http://www.cren.net.)
The barriers to effectiveor one might say
"comfortable"virtual learning are coming down. I still do not have a
camera on my computer for one-on-one videoconferencing, but I think that is soon going to
be more standard.
JM: What are the major issues facing educational organizations as they attempt
to incorporate information technology tools in teaching?
JB: There are many major issues. Let's talk about just three: time,
resources, and knowledge. Time is a precious commodity, but we need to change, and change
requires time. Change also requires the energy it takes to rethink how educators can
achieve their teaching goals with the new tools. All of us are facing serious time
constraints. But I think that faculty who are directed nonchalantly, with a wave of the
hand, to put their courses up on the Web are facing some of the most serious constraints.
Putting a course on the Web can take two hours, two days, or two years. And the results
correspond to the effort and support expended. Given two hours, a course can have a
"Web presence." A syllabus and a course description and a faculty picture and
bio can be up on the Web.
Given two years, support, and release time, a
course can be made available to anyone in the world at any time and can make use of the
new Web teaching and learning paradigm. This paradigm effectively supports, for the first
time ever, a balance of the three dialogues: faculty to students, student to student, and
student to resources. This means that we can create environments in which students are
more active in their learning. The principles of Malcolm Knowles, which recommend that
adults set their own learning agendas and schedules, now can be put into practice. We can
create environments in which faculty are not the hub of the teaching environment. With the
Web, the Web itself can be the communications hub of the learning. The faculty member can
support learning without feeling pressured to "give" or "dispense"
learning through lecturing.
The second major issue is that of resources,
and it is closely related to the time issue. The new tools require resources for their
purchase, maintenance, and backup. Also, faculty and students need one crucial but
nonfinancial resource: the time to learn how to use the tools effectively.
As new resources become available, educators
must evaluate them, then find the resources to purchase them, to integrate them into the
infrastructure, and to support them. Both the know-how and the financial resources to do
this effectively are scarce and expensive.
Finally, we come to the third issue of
knowledge. Even if all the resources needed to effectively integrate the new information
technology tools into teaching and learning were available, the knowledge of how to
effectively use these tools to redesign learning experiences is just now evolving. How
will we develop this knowledge? I think we can and must do two things. One, we must put
the tools in the hands of the faculty and let them use them. Predictably, knowledge
evolves with the use of the tools. The second thing we need to do is invest more resources
at the national level in basic research in learning. We know much too little about
learning, and even less about effective adult learning.
JM: What does distance learning mean for faculty? For staff development?
JB: Besides trouble, anxiety, pressure, and uncertainty? It means
opportunities for growth, revenue, and service!
Distance learning, or even just the move to online
teaching and learning, means that faculty have a new set of tools with which they can make
long-desired changes. The new distance learning environments bring new challenges, but
they also provide answers to old problems. For example, more active and collaborative
learning activities for studentswhich can be difficult to create in the traditional
classroomare easily created in distance education environments. Online courses also
make it much easier to bring in remote resources such as content experts. It is much
easier now to provide a new, rich set of content resources that can challenge and interest
As institutions gain more experience with
distance education, many are finding that the primary bottleneck for implementing DL
programs is not faculty culture but faculty resources. There are simply insufficient
numbers of faculty on staff to manage the current campus programs and to develop and
launch new distance learning programs. Also, the skills needed to design and develop the
new environment are still lacking. So many institutions are finding that it makes better
business sense to hire other faculty to deliver the new distance learning programs. This
usually works particularly well in professional programssuch as engineering,
medicine, business, and lawwhere the faculty members are often working
What does distance learning mean for staff? It
means reengineering all student services and activities so that they are available to
students even when those students are not on campus. It means reexamining what student
services are important and valuable to off-campus and to remote students and ensuring
that, at minimum, it is not more difficult to contact people and access information from a
location off campus than it is from on campus. Most students find that services available
on the Web are very desirable. Web services should be available anytime and
anywherejust like distance learning.
We have a busy time ahead. The pace of learning and teachingand the need to
knowhave never been greater.