- 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
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
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.
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 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
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.
Journal. (1996, May 21). p. B10.
Home Sales Continue
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
Daily. (1997, January 7). p. A8.
Our Love Affair With
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."
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
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
December 4). p. 256.
Well-Connected Country in the
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
New York Times.
(1997, January 20). p. A1.
Worldwide Chip Sales
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
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
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
Chronicle of Higher
Education. (1997, January 17). p. A24.
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
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
- 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?
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. "
- 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:
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.
- Computers. Equipping every classroom with
modern computers and learning devices, accessible to
- Connections. Connecting every classroom in
America to one another and to the outside world.
- Educational Content. Providing a rich
variety of engaging instructional materials and
- Teacher Training. Ensuring that all
teachers have the training and assistance they need to
make full use of these new technologies.
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
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
- The Gift of
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.
Week>. (1997, January
27). p. 101.
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
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.
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
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
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.
- 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
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.