The Future of Information Technology in Education
An ISTE Publication


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Chapter 8
Some Speculations

A Large Investment is Needed

  •    Over a period of many years, American businesses invested many hundreds of billions of dollars in computer technology. Initially, it seemed they gained little to show for this huge investment. Annual productivity gains in this country continued at a modest rate.

       And then-finally-it all began to come together. Productivity in this country began to increase at a higher rate. The United States topped the world in worker productivity. What happened is summarized in the following brief news item.

    Complementarity is Key to IT Productivity


    • Researchers at Columbia, Carnegie Mellon and MIT have come up with a new explanation for the apparent disengagement between increased investments in computer technology and productivity gains. The key to discerning productivity increases attributable to use of information technology is "complementarity"-a theory that postulates that productivity gains from expanded use of technology cannot occur in the absence of a number of corresponding developments, such as the introduction of more flexible workplace structures, more delegation of responsibility to lower-level workers, increased skills training for workers and managers, and the installation of new infrastructure, such as Internet connections and "smart" buildings. New research shows that when these complementary factors are taken into consideration, investments in information technology do stimulate productivity and growth.


      Technology Review. (1996, October). p. 65.

       Our educational system has a long way to go before it begins to match the level of information technology investments that businesses have made. Significant educational gains cannot be expected from the small investment that has been made so far. In addition, significant educational gains will require empowering students and empowering teachers-a significant change from the top down system that is currently in place.

Some Changes in Higher Education

  •    Precollege education has led higher education in the integration of information technology into the classroom. However, higher education will lead precollege education in the major changes that can come through technology-enhanced learning (TEL). There are a variety of reasons for this. One is that precollege education has more of a custodial responsibility for students than does higher education. The second is that students in higher education are able to and are allowed to take more responsibility for making decisions about what courses they will take, when and where they will study, and so on. A third reason is that higher education is used to competing for students and has more of an entrepreneurial attitude than does K-12 public education.

       A typical institution of higher education has a campus-buildings and grounds that facilitate a number of people living relatively close together, coming together to study and do lab work, and share their learning experiences. Some of the physical facilities are quite expensive and have an economy of scale. This is certainly true of scientific research facilities, labs, libraries, and athletic facilities. At one time it was true of computer facilities; even now, the "Computer Center" is typically a prominent building on campus.

       Many of the various school reform movements suggest that education should be run more like for-profit businesses. The past few years have seen a nationwide slowdown in public funding for higher education. Higher education has responded by becoming more "businesslike"-more entrepreneurial. However, we are just at the beginning of major changes as higher education becomes even more entrepreneurial. The following news items give some indication of how information technology will affect higher education.

    Changing Role of the University


    • Columbia University professor Eli Noam sees a reversal in the historic direction of information flow: "In the past, people came to the information, which was stored at the university. In the future, the information will come to the people, wherever they are. What then is the role of the university? Will it be more than a collection of remaining physical functions, such as the science laboratory and football team? Will the impact of electronics on the university be like that of printing on the medieval cathedral, ending its central role in information transfer? Have we reached the end of the line of a model that goes back to Ninevah, more than 2500 years ago? Can we self-reform the university, or must things get much worse first?"


      Science. (1995, October 13). p. 247.

    The Future of the University


    • Eli Noam, director of Columbia University's Institute for Tele-Information, says in the new issue of Educom Review that "many of the physical mega universities … are not sustainable, at least not in their present duplicative variations." Noam predicts that "ten years from now a significant share of conventional mass education will be offered commercially and electronically." The home page for CITI is <>.


      Educom Review. (1996, July/August). p. 38.

       Eli Noam sees major changes occurring in higher education. Distance education will begin to siphon off "traditional" students. Profit margins on the distance education students will be less than for conventional students. University physical facilities will start to be underutilized. The cost of maintaining such infrastructure is, to a large extent, independent of its level of use.

       The net result is that many colleges and universities will experience fiscal problems. They will not generate enough income to maintain their physical facilities. Once a fiscal downward spiral begins, many colleges and universities will need to make major changes in their on-campus programs or go out-of-business.

       The competition that is shaping us comes not just from individual colleges and universities. A multi-state development of such competition is going on in the western United States.

    Virtual University Slated for 1997


    • The Western Governors' Association, led by Gov. Roy Rohmer of Colorado and Gov. Mike Leavitt of Utah, are rapidly pulling together plans for a Western Virtual University and now say they expect to begin admitting students by the summer of 1997. The Education Management Group, a subsidiary of Simon & Schuster, has donated $150,000 to the planning effort.


      Chronicle of Higher Education. (1996, February 16). p. A21.

    California Shuns Virtual University


    • California will not participate in the Western Governors' "virtual university" project. Instead, Gov. Pete Wilson says the state may start its own program to create and market college courses through the Internet. He's enlisted the help of the state's three public-college systems, along with the presidents of Stanford University and the University of Southern California, and executives from the computer, finance and telecommunications industries in the planning process. Unlike the Western Governors' project, the California venture will not seek separate accreditation. "The control of the academic offerings and the control of the curriculum would remain with the campus," says a CSU VP. "We do feel that faculty should be in charge."


      Chronicle of Higher Education Academe Today. (1996, October 3).

    Berkeley, California


    • Supported by a $2 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation of New York, University of California, Berkeley says it will launch one of the largest educational online projects in the history of the Internet. Within three years, Berkeley Extension Online will offer 175 college courses focusing primarily on continuing adult education. Berkeley Extension Online will be developed in collaboration with UC Berkeley Extension's Center for Media and Independent Learning (CMIL). UC Berkeley Extension is the continuing education arm of the University of California at Berkeley and one of the largest continuing education providers in the country. Currently, Extension offers 25 courses through America Online. Noting the rapidly growing success of the Internet, Mary S. Metz, Dean of UC Berkeley Extension, said, "Study after study has shown that, for many adults, continuing education has become an imperative in today's rapidly changing world. But continuing education must be provided in formats, locations, and time frames that fit the demanding work and personal lives of adults. Distance education, including courses online, offers a marvelous opportunity for adults, because it eliminates problems such as travel time and fixed class schedules that can make it difficult for them to take courses."


      (Press Release: 1996, June 17.)

       The trend toward distance education is a worldwide phenomenon. As suggested by the following news items, it is being strongly driven by financial considerations.

    Teacherless Classrooms Considered in Canada


    • Ontario's Community colleges, hunting for $120-million in savings for the next academic year, are de-emphasizing the role of the teacher in the learning process. A study prepared for the Colleges' Council of Presidents titled "Learning Centered Education" says educational institutions can cut teaching costs by using CD-ROM courses and computer tutorials to deliver education, using support staff rather than teachers to monitor students' progress.


      Ottawa Citizen. (1996, January 17) p. A4.

    Educational Software


    • The Software Publishers Association predicts the K-12 educational technology market will grow from $2.6 billion in 1993-94 to $4.5 billion by 1999. A significant increase is also expected in the development of commercial software for higher education use. Educom president Robert C. Heterick Jr. says the ways to reduce the cost of higher education (which has tripled over the last decade, largely because of teacher salaries) is through the use of information technology in the colleges and universities: "Today you're looking at a highly personal, human-mediated environment. The potential to remove the human mediation in some areas and replace it with automation-smart, computer-based, network-based systems-is tremendous. It's gotta happen." Heterick says the likeliest candidates include courses such as basic math, English and science.


      New York Times. (1996, July 29). p. C5.

    MA in Open and Distance Education


    • The Open University is to teach an international Master's in Open and Distance Education as from February 1997.

      Open and distance education is increasingly important as a teaching and learning mode all over the world. A widely-recognized qualification in this field is desirable if you are pursuing a career with one of the many institutions using or developing open and distance education systems.

      The Open University of the United Kingdom is one of the most respected practitioners, and its Institute of Educational Technology will offer the MA (Open and Distance Education) using electronic media and print.

      The course will be based on the Institute's wide experience of developing open and distance teaching and its top-rated research. The content includes a balance of knowledge and skills, constantly updated by online tutoring.

      To take this programme you must:


      • Be able to receive the materials via postal or courier services.


      • Have access to the Internet and World Wide Web.


      • Have use of a PC with a CD-ROM drive.


      • Pay, or have paid for you, the fees (in 1997, 2,250 pounds sterling for Year 1) plus telecommunications charges from your end.


      • Hold a first degree and be proficient in English.

       Surely, this is a sign of things to come. The Open University of the United Kingdom may become the leading institution in the world for master's degree programs in distance education. This is a "natural" because the Open University is a distance education university, and so has accumulated a great deal of research and practical knowledge in this area.

       In a few years, we will see more and more of these "natural" distance education programs. Are you interested in studying the early history of the USSR? Perhaps one of the Russian universities will come to dominate the worldwide market for distance education in this area. Similarly, one might expect one of the great universities in Mexico to dominate the world market for distance education specifically focusing on ancient Mayan culture.

The Precollege Education Business

  •    Higher education has always been somewhat of a competitive business. College age students have a choice of where they will go to school. This is much less true for K-12 students. But, that is changing.

       Distance education has long been one of the options at the K-12 level. Some students live so far from a school that their only options are going to a boarding school or getting their education while staying at home. In the latter case, some combination of distance education and home schooling is common.

       Distance education is also of growing use in conventional K-12 schools. The technology makes possible a broader range of coursework that the school site can provide. For example, suppose a school has a half dozen students who want to study a particular foreign language or an advanced course in science or mathematics. It is likely cheaper to do this via distance education than through offering a small class. Moreover, many schools are unable to find a suitable teacher for such specialized courses. Thus, K-12 distance education is a growing business.

       The previous section focused on distance education in higher education. A number of precollege students are well qualified to take college courses. Distance education initiated by higher education is beginning to provide a form of competition for precollege education. Notice how this idea is represented in the following news item about the Governor of Wisconsin.

    Wisconsin Governor Wants to Get Wired


    • The governor of Wisconsin used his annual State of the State address to present plans for a $10-million project to link all 26 public university campuses in the state via computer, and to begin offering high school classes online by 1997. The University of Wisconsin system already offers Advanced Placement courses in mathematics and engineering via the Internet, as well as nursing courses to adult learners.


      Chronicle of Higher Education. (1996, February 23). p. A21.

       Distance education and computer-assisted learning are being merged in many Web-based courses. This is a trend that will continue. Moreover, the Internet can be viewed as a rapidly growing library. Access to the Internet and a few commercial CD-ROMs can give students better resources than are found in a typical school library. A surprisingly wide variety of high quality information is becoming available through the Web.

    IBM Offers Free Patent Database on Web


    • IBM plans to make the content of 2 million U.S. patents (from 1971) available free on the Web site <>. Various companies provide patent access for a fee; one company, Questel-Orbit (a division of France Telecom) charges $1,995 a year, and a company executive says: "I still believe that we have the most robust search engine."


      New York Times. (1997, January 9). p. C3.

    Free Hollywood Classical Films


    • The American Film Institute, setting another CyberSpace milestone, has announced it will start presenting classic films over the Internet in their entirety for the first time later this month.

      The organization, one of the leaders in promoting movie preservation, will launch AFI Online Cinema on Jan. 22 with the 20-minute Charlie Chaplin comedy "The Rink," released in 1916, complete with a musical score. The site is <>.


      The Register-Guard. (1997, January 19). p. C4.

    Digital Libraries: The Future


    • The vision of computers powerful enough to organize and index huge treasure troves of scientific literature using intelligent functions such as "vocabulary switching"-classifying an article that mentions "Unix" under "operating systems" even if the words "operating systems" do not appear in the article-is finally coming to fruition, 32 years after it was first outlined in J.C.R. Licklider's "Libraries of the Future" (1965). Large-scale simulations on the HP Convex Exemplar supercomputer at the National Center for Supercomputer Applications have resulted in generating concept spaces for 10 million journal abstracts across 1,000 subject areas covering all engineering and science disciplines-the largest vocabulary switching computation ever achieved in information science. Future developments will require automatic indexing with scaleable semantics to coordinate searches among the one billion repositories likely in the next century.


      Science. (1997, January 17). p. 327.

    Digital Library Transition Will Take Awhile


    • Project TULIP (The University Licensing Program), a five-year experiment in providing online access to scholarly journals, has concluded, and the results indicate that the transition from conventional to digital libraries will take much longer and cost more than commonly thought. "A common view, which all TULIP participants share, is that the transition to a digital library will go slower than they had expected before starting the project," says the project's final report, which emphasizes the need for faster speeds and increased storage capacity on campus networks. In addition, the project found that it's important for institutions to know what library users want, and to promote electronic access to raise awareness on campus. The report is available at <>.


      Chronicle of Higher Education. (1996, August 16). p. A21.

       A few of the likely outcomes of rapid growth in global digital libraries and TEL include:


    • There will be a major decline in the school library as a repository of information.


    • It will become common for students to use TEL. Students will be encouraged to learn how to learn in this environment as part of becoming self-sufficient lifelong learners. Students will have more options in what they study, as well as where and when they study it. An increasing number of students will take courses during evenings, weekends, holidays, and summers-while sitting at home or at vacation locations.


    • TEL will make it easier for parents to home-school their children or to design a program of study that replaces a significant portion of the traditional school program. We can expect home schooling to increase.


    • Charter schools will proliferate. Charter schools are paid for by public funds, but have some of the characteristics of private schools. They face less of a bureaucratic nightmare than do the public schools. Often they have a particular academic orientation, such as arts or sciences. TEL makes it possible for a relatively small charter school to offer a broad based curriculum.


    • There is apt to be a proliferation of small private schools. By making extensive use of TEL, a small private school can offer a broad based curriculum without having a broad based (and expensive) staff.

Computer Tool as Course Content

  •    There is a rapidly growing discrepancy between the capability of the computer-as-tool in various disciplines, and the curriculum content of these disciplines. Computer tools are embodying a significantly increasing part of the content of various disciplines. Professionals in all academic fields are learning to make routine use of information technology to solve problems and accomplish tasks in their disciplines.

       The educational goal is to prepare students to play an appropriate role in Person Plus, as described in Chapter 5, as an aid to posing and solving problems. Our current educational system is ill-equipped to keep up with the rapid changes in discipline content being brought about by information technology. The hardware, software, teacher training, curriculum development, and assessment are all falling further behind in disciplines that are driven by information technology.

       There are a variety of solutions to this problem. The most obvious are allocation of more resources-which most schools find difficult to do. On an inflation-adjusted basis, public school funding has been nearly flat during the past 5 years, and appears likely to remain so during the next 5 years.

       Other approaches include empowering students and facilitating teachers to learn on the job, especially by taking advantage of rapidly growing student knowledge and skills. Students have the time and energy to learn the "latest and greatest" software applications, and then help each other and their teachers to learn.

Conclusions and Recommendation

  •    Student access to TEL, the Internet, and to other students throughout the world will place significant pressure on teachers and our conventional school system. The teacher as "Sage on the stage" is going to give way to the teacher as "Guide on the side." Students will learn to take more responsibility for their own learning and for assessing their own progress. Informal education settings (home, community organizations, science and technology museums, places of work) will play an increasing role in education of students.

       The next chapter explores the topic of long-range strategic planning for information technology in education.



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