The Future of Information Technology in Education
An ISTE Publication


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Chapter 1

  •    Many people are unhappy with our current educational system, and they can give lots of reasons for their unhappiness. For example, they point to international comparisons on test scores. Or, they point to large numbers of students failing to finish high school and to many high school graduates who are not sufficiently qualified for beginning jobs.

       A main theme in this book is that our current educational system is not adequately preparing students for the "global village," Information Age world they will be living in as adults. Our current educational system is out of tune with today's Information Age society. There is considerable room for improvement.

       Here are some Information Age buzz words that are part of our everyday world: agent technology; cable modem; cellular telephone; CD-ROM; color laser printer; communications satellite; computer animation; computer-assisted instruction; computer-assisted learning; computer simulation; desktop conferencing; desktop publication; desktop presentation; digital camera; digital music; digital radio; digital television; direct-broadcast satellite; distance education; DVD-ROM; edutainment; fax; fiber optics; floppy disk; geographic information system; global positioning system; High Definition Television; information highway; laser printer; local area network; hypermedia; hypertext; Internet; Java; laser disc; mainframe computer; microcomputer; minicomputer; modem; multimedia; network; optical disk; personal digital assistant; software; super computer; video telephone; virtual reality; wide area network; and World Wide Web.

       Information technology is everywhere, and it is certainly changing our world. Some of the change is well summarized by the expression "Global Village" coined by Marshall McLuhan. The technology is connecting people from throughout the world. The technology has provided a new and powerful tool, and people throughout the world face the task of learning to use this tool.

       Marshall McLuhan is also known for his statement, "The medium is the message." Information technology is a new medium, a new way of representing, communicating, and working with information. Information technology is both an important area of study in its own right and also a tool that is being integrated into the everyday lives of more and more people.

       To date, however, the impact of information technology on our K-12 educational system has been minimal. It isn't that our schools don't have computers and other information technology facilities. Rather, they don't have enough, and much of what they do have is not used to their advantage. Students and teachers lack basic information technology knowledge and skills. The curriculum, instruction, and assessment do not adequately make use of the capabilities of today's networked information systems.

    Computer Use Outsdie of K-12 Schools
    Educational Change
    Initial and Subsequent Impact of New Technology
    Some Key Educational Questions
    Conclusions and Recommendation

Computer Use Outside of K-12 Schools

  •    Much of the pressure for integrating information technology use in schools is coming from outside the school system. Parents, politicians, and business people are making the observation that computers are routinely used outside of schools, and asking why they are not more routinely used in schools.

       In the United States, more than 55% of adults make use of a computer at work and/or at home. Business and industry in the United States have spent hundreds of billions of dollars acquiring information technology, training their employees, and adapting their methods to take advantage of the technology. By and large, if a worker's productivity can be increased by access to such technology, the technology is made available.

       Computers are now relatively common in households. There are more computers in the homes of our students than there are in schools. As the following brief news items indicate, home sales of microcomputers are a large and growing business.


    • PC Homes Up 16% From Last Year

      The number of households that own personal computers grew by 16% last year, according to a new survey by Computer Intelligence Infocorp., which interviewed 11,500 PC users. That puts the total percentage at 38.5% of U.S. homes that have one or more PCs. "We were surprised to see penetration levels jump five percentage points," says a Computer Intelligence analyst. "That is a very healthy increase." Recent buyers tended to be older and less-affluent Americans. The growth in PC ownership among households making $10,000 to $30,000 is up nearly 25%, to a range between 10% and 30% of the total, and about 20% of households headed by people over 60 now contain a PC.


      Wall Street Journal. (1996, May 21). p. B10.

      Home Sales Continue to Grow

      Forrester Research predicts that the percentage of homes with PCs will push past 50% by 2001, spurred by lower priced and easier-to-use machines. "(There's) nothing that's going to blow the lid off and bring in 60% penetration," says an analyst for International Data Corp. "I think the market will continue to be an upgrade and replacement market."


      Investor's Business Daily. (1997, January 7). p. A8.

      Our Love Affair With E-Mail

      Forrester Researcher says 15% of the U.S. population now uses e-mail, up from 2% in 1992. And they predict that within five years, that number will rise to about 50%. "It's the most popular online activity," says a Forrester analyst. "Growth will be fueled by the increase in home PC penetration and the growth of Internet access in corporations. Furthermore, the emergence of personalized services and tools that let ordinary people combine graphics and attachments will help make e-mail a preferred means of communication."


      Investor's Business Daily. (1997, January 15). p. A6.

       The rapid growth in use of information technology is a worldwide phenomenon. For example, the percentage of households in New Zealand that have microcomputers is considerably above the U.S. level. Sales of microcomputers in some of the less industrialized countries of the world, such as Brazil and China, now exceed a million microcomputers per year.

       In the industrialized nations of the world, the Industrial Age is giving way to the Information Age (now sometimes called the Information and Communications Age). Many of the non-industrialized nations are attempting to leapfrog into the Information Age. Job requirements are changing. Many jobs are disappearing, while many others are being created. Lots of people find the pace of change to be overwhelming. And, the pace of change will continue.

       The worldwide computer electronics industry is huge, has been growing rapidly for many years, and forecasts are for continued rapid growth.

    • Emerging Markets for PCs

      A Dataquest report indicates that between 1992 and 1994 PC sales rose 44% in the U.S. (to $37 billion), contrasted with a more modest 22% in Europe and a dramatic 83% in emerging markets. China and South Korea are each now buying more than a million PCs a year, and Brazil, India, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia will soon follow their example.


      Forbes. (1995, December 4). p. 256.

      The Most Well-Connected Country in the World?

      In Finland there are 62 Internet host computers for each 1,000 people, twice the proportion in the U.S. Nearly 30% of Finnish homes have portable computers and about 60% have access to the Internet.


      New York Times. (1997, January 20). p. A1.

      Worldwide Chip Sales Up 40%

      Revenue from sales of semiconductors rose 40% last year, to $154.7 billion, according to preliminary results compiled for a new study by Dataquest. North American chip makers' lead over Japanese competitors narrowed to 0.3%, down from 1.2% last year-with North American suppliers claiming 39.8% of the market to Japan's 39.5%. Dataquest predicts healthy sales in the future, fueled by global demand for PCs and corporate networks, and estimates chip sales will top $300 billion by the year 2000.


      Wall Street Journal. (1996, January 9). p. B2.

    Notice the specific references to the global demand for personal computers and computer networks. Both the demand for-and the capabilities of-these systems have been growing rapidly for several decades. Now, ask yourself: "How is this going to affect education?" This book explores a variety of answers. One piece of the answer lies in distance education, as suggested by the following brief news items.

    • African Virtual University

      The African Virtual University, sponsored by the World Bank, is providing engineering students the opportunity to take courses in electrical engineering from a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The professor's stateside course is videotaped and transmitted via satellite to participating institutions in Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The professor is available by telephone three times a week to answer questions that the on-site instructor can't answer, or for which clarification is needed. Eventually, the African Virtual University will be available in more than 40 countries on the African continent.


      Chronicle of Higher Education. (1997, January 17). p. A24.

      Western Governors University

      The new Western Governors University has decided to establish its corporate offices in Salt Lake City, and its academic operations in Denver-the capitals of the states represented by its most visible backers, Gov. Mike Leavitt of Utah and Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado. The university's legal counsel says he expects WGU to complete incorporation early this year, and plans to seek approval from all three of the regional accrediting bodies with jurisdiction in the participating states. Officials hope to begin offering classes next fall.


      Chronicle of Higher Education. (1997, January 10). p. A27.

       We are at the beginning of a major revolution in higher education throughout the world, because distance education is bringing major competition into education. We will mention and illustrate this from time to time throughout the book, although the main emphasis is on K-12 education. The following news item is a prediction that distance education will drastically change higher education during the next 30 years. As we will see later in this book, distance education and other technology-based instructional delivery systems are already impacting K-12 education, and this impact will increase.

    • Drucker Says "Universities Won't Survive"

      Renowned management consultant and author Peter Drucker says: "Thirty years from now the big university campuses will be relics. Universities won't survive. It's as large a change as when we first got the printed book. Do you realize that the cost of higher education has risen as fast as the cost of health care? … Such totally uncontrollable expenditures, without any visible improvement in either the content or the quality of education, means that the system is rapidly becoming untenable. Higher education is in deep crisis … Already we are beginning to deliver more lectures and classes off campus via satellite or two-way video at a fraction of the cost. The college won't survive as a residential institution. "


      Forbes. (1997, March 10).

Educational Change

  •    There is no doubt that information technology will cause major changes in our educational system. Already, we can find abundant examples of some of the types of changes that we can expect to become widespread. For example, many schools require all of their students to achieve basic competency in using a word processor and other computer tools such as spreadsheets, databases, and graphics. Graphing calculators-some that are nearly full scale computers-are routinely used in many high school math courses.

       The World Wide Web is a very powerful change agent. It provides an interactive, multimedia access to information sources throughout the world. Surfing the Web and creating interactive hypermedia materials for publication on the Web are common activities of many students.

       The Web was created by Tim Berners-Lee in 1991, and it is still in its early childhood. However, we can already begin to see what Web-type connectivity can contribute to business, government, and education. When asked to comment on the future of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee stated:


    • I hope that the notion of having a separate piece of software called a "browser" will disappear. A browser is something that (a) only allows you to read and not write, and (b) is a single window on the world. Instead, your entire screen should be a window on the information world, with a small part representing what's on your local "desktop." Browser and operating-system interfaces will become so interlinked that they will, for all practical purposes, become one.


      Technology Review. (1996, July).

       Substantial progress is already being made toward fulfilling Berner-Lee's hopes. Browsers are being built into computer operating systems in a manner that facilitates routine Web access as one makes use of other computer applications.

       Computer technology in education has become important enough so that it is now a national political issue. In an October 10, 1995, speech, President Clinton said:


    • We are going to work together so that every child in America is technologically literate by the dawn of the 21st Century.

    Clinton has outlined "four pillars" for his program of technology in schools. Notice that the second pillar focuses on connectivity.


    1. Computers. Equipping every classroom with modern computers and learning devices, accessible to every student.


    2. Connections. Connecting every classroom in America to one another and to the outside world.


    3. Educational Content. Providing a rich variety of engaging instructional materials and courseware.


    4. Teacher Training. Ensuring that all teachers have the training and assistance they need to make full use of these new technologies.

Initial and Subsequent Impact of New Technology

  •    Initially, most new technology is used to do essentially the same thing as the old technology, but to accomplish a task or solve a problem in a better way. This impact can be thought of as an amplification of what is already being done. The initial new technology may not be a significant improvement on the old. The early horseless carriages were in many ways not as good as a horse and carriage. For example, a horse can follow the road or a path with little help from the driver. However, the horseless carriage had the potential to be significantly better than horses in accomplishing the task of moving people and materials.

       For an invention that comes into widespread use, we often see three stages of adoption and use. First, the invention is improved to the point where it is clear that it has significant advantages-that is, it becomes an effective amplification-over the previous technology and methods of solving a particular problem or accomplishing a particular task. Horseless carriages (cars) increased in reliability and speed.

       Second, the infrastructure needed for widespread use of the invention begins to develop. Cars became more useful and more widely used as an infrastructure of paved roads, filling stations, and repair people was developed.

       Finally, second-order effects (most often these are not anticipated) begin to emerge. Use and impact of the invention moves beyond amplification. The outward spread of cities and shopping malls were second-order effects of cars, as was air pollution due to exhaust fumes. Other second-order effects included development of super highways, a trucking industry, and a worldwide petroleum industry.

       There are many first and second-order effects in information technology. Here are some examples that are particularly relevant to education.


    • The use of a computer to do word processing is a first-order effect, an amplification of the electric typewriter. The teaching of typing in schools has given way to the teaching of keyboarding and word processing. However, typing was most often taught at the high school level. Students now need to learn keyboarding and word processing at the elementary school level. This has created problems that were not initially anticipated as microcomputers began to come into schools. The problems are an example of a second-order effect.


    • Desktop publication is another second-order effect that has emerged from microcomputers and word processing. A whole new industry has developed around desktop publication. Desktop publication has proven to be a challenge to our K-12 educational system because few teachers initially had the knowledge and skills needed to help students learn this new field of study.


    • The use of computers to insert simple graphics into a word processed document is a first-order effect. The use of a computer to create and/or edit animation, photographs, sound, and video are all second-order effects. Interactive hypermedia is another second-order effect. As information technology has continued to improve, it has become possible for elementary school students to develop hypermedia projects. The challenge to elementary school teachers is obvious. Information technology in K-12 education has had the second order effect of overwhelming our inservice educational system. Curriculum, instruction, and assessment are not changing nearly as rapidly as the technology that is being provided to students.


    • The use of a computer to do payroll computations is a first-order effect. The spreadsheet is a second-order effect. The spreadsheet facilitates the development of computer models of a business, and the use of these models to do forecasting and to examine "What if?" types of questions. Initially, the spreadsheet was viewed as an accounting tool, so its use was gradually integrated into high school business courses. However, spreadsheets are a tool useful in many different academic disciplines, even down into the elementary school. The second-order effect of this widespread usefulness has proven to be a challenge both to curriculum developers and to the teachers who attempt to implement curriculum that makes use of spreadsheets.


    • The use of an electronic calculator or a computer to do simple mathematical and scientific calculations is a first-order effect. By the late 1970s, calculators were reliable enough and inexpensive enough so that some schools were making routine use of them. We are now seeing the second-order effects of major changes in the curriculum being brought about by calculators, and calculator use being allowed on college entrance exams. Eventually, we will see computers thoroughly integrated into the curriculum and being used in national assessments.


    • The use of a computer to directly gather data from a scientific experiment is a first order effect. Use of a computer to control the experiment is a second order effect. Laboratory instrumentation has become increasingly sophisticated. Instruments now exist that can quickly and automatically solve problems that used to take researchers many hours of time.

      The microcomputer-based laboratory (MBL) as a teaching and learning tool is another second-order effect. Many students at the middle school level and higher are learning science in a hands-on approach that includes using sophisticated but inexpensive instrumentation.


    • A computer can solve many of the types of problems that occur in mathematics, science, and engineering. Computers and sophisticated calculators quickly achieved the first-order effect of replacing paper and pencil, slide rule, and simple calculators to do these computations. But, computers make possible the three dimensional mathematical modeling of molecules, airplanes, nuclear explosions, and other complex problems studied by scientists and engineers. These second-order effects are changing what students need to learn to be effective scientists and engineers.


    • The use of a computer to do electronic mail is a first-order effect. The World Wide Web is a second-order effect. Teams of people working together via desktop conferencing and groupware are another second-order effect. Our schools are just beginning to develop the curriculum, instruction, and assessment needed for an environment in which students have routine access to the Web. Few students are learning to learn and to solve problems in a groupware environment.


    • The electronic encyclopedia on a CD-ROM is a first-order effect. The emerging Web-based global library is a second-order effect. In the past, elementary school teachers faced the challenge of helping students to gain a functional level of knowledge and skill in using a card catalog by the time they left the elementary school. Now, elementary school teachers face the more difficult challenge of helping students to make effective use of the global library.


    • The use of a computer to automate flash cards is a first-order effect. Immersion of a learner in a highly realistic and interactive computer simulation or virtual reality designed to facilitate learning is a second-order effect. Similarly, the use of e-mail to facilitate receiving and sending in lessons in a distance education course is a first-order effect. Interactive Web-based distance education courses are a second-order effect. Such aids to instruction and learning will eventually lead to major changes in roles of teachers in schools. Some of these potential changes are discussed later in this book.


    • The use of computers to digitize, store, and play back sound is a first-order effect. The use of computers to create and edit sounds is a second-order effect. The music industry has been greatly changed by computer technology. The facilities needed to compose, edit, and play electronic music are now available to many school children, even at the elementary school level. This presents a significant challenge to our music education system.


    • Manufacturing, servicing, and selling computers are all new jobs created by the computer industry. These new jobs can be considered as a first-order effect. A second order-effect has been changes at the middle management level of employment. Millions of jobs have been lost. Another second-order effect is that worldwide networking facilitates worldwide competition for an increasing number of jobs. If a job can be accomplished by telecommuting, then perhaps the worker can live 10,000 miles from company headquarters. The second-order effect in education is a gradual emergence of worldwide standards. Students throughout the world need an education that adequately prepares them for jobs that exist throughout the world.

       The distinction between first-order and second-order levels of information technology use is not a fine dividing line. The second-order levels of use tend to represent major transformations in the nature of how information is processed, how problems are solved, and how people communicate.

       Once we understand third-order effects, we will begin to move to still higher levels. For example, consider use of information technology in implants to restore partial hearing or partial sight to certain hearing impaired or visually impaired people. It seems clear that eventually we will be doing brain implants and/or other types of direct neural connectivity of information storage and processing devices. Early work on restoring sight focused on a direct brain implant of a 2-inch-square plastic grid of electrodes. Now, progress in miniaturization of electronics is allowing a different approach.

    • The Gift of Silicon Sight

      Electronics has come a long way. Now, scientists in North Carolina are working on a tiny chip to be implanted in the eye, not in the brain. The chip is just 2 millimeters square-yet will eventually have a 250-by-250 grid of electrodes. That should provide enough detail to read a newspaper, says Wentai Liu, an electrical engineering professor at North Carolina State University.


      Business Week>. (1997, January 27). p. 101.

       Ubiquitous computing-computers everywhere-is another possible third-order effect that is beginning to emerge. A later section in this book discusses the possibility of a typical household containing many hundreds of computers networked together. Most would be of modest capability, such as a very tiny computer and transceiver built into the spine of a book.

       The majority of current educational uses of information technology at our K-12 schools is at the first-order (amplification) level. While some second-order effect uses are creeping into our schools, the depth and breadth of such use so far has been modest. The best is yet to come.

Some Key Educational Questions

  •    This book contains a number of forecasts about the continued growth of the information technology industries. These forecasts are analyzed from an educational systems point of view. The analyses form the basis for a number of predictions about the future of information technology in schools. These predictions provide support for a number of recommendations given in this book-things that our schools should be doing right now.

       Some of the questions discussed in this book include:


    • What will education be like when most students have easy telecommunications access to people (including other students), major libraries and museums, and other information sources throughout the nation and world?


    • What will education be like when most students have easy access to computer-assisted instructional materials and to distance education courses that cover far more than all of the conventional curriculum courses offered in their school-and these are available at a time and place (including home) that is convenient to the user?


    • What will educatioqn be like as artificially intelligent computer systems steadily grow in capability and gain the capability of solving many of the problems that students are currently learning to solve using "by-hand" methods?


    • How will education be changed as the second-order levels of information technology use become thoroughly integrated into curriculum, instruction, and assessment?


       Such questions are not easily answered. However, it is now possible to make informed guesses, providing answers rooted in a good understanding of our educational system and of the steadily increasing capabilities of information technology.

Conclusions and Recommendation

  •    Over the past two decades, business and industry have struggled to adapt to the changes made possible by information technology. Millions of blue- and white-collar workers have lost their jobs. Small companies have grown into large companies. Large companies have downsized. Merger mania continues. Entire new industries have developed, while other industries have disappeared.

       We can expect similar disruptions and changes in our educational system. We are just at the beginning of these changes. Accurate forecasts of where we might be headed, accompanied by careful long-range strategic planning, can make the change process easier and more comfortable.

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