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Information technology presents a critical challenge for colleges and universities. With the rising costs of higher education and the declining quality of graduates, information technology may present a more effective and lower-cost form of instruction (Burke, 1994). This technology has the potential to transfer the mode of instruction in tomorrow's classrooms. Instead of lectures being the predominant mode of instruction, computers and multimedia presentations could augment or even supplement the lectures and redirect the responsibilities of learning to the student. While few people doubt that information technology can enhance teaching and learning, there seems to be missing a sense of urgency to quickly integrate this technology into the classrooms. This paper will examine why this technology has not been as rapidly adopted into the educational arena as people initially expected and discusses steps which can be taken to successfully promote its adoption.
The phrase "Information Technology" (IT) will be defined throughout this paper as: the use of computers, communication networks (including the World-Wide Web), and audio-visual equipment to help transform the technology of instruction. The definition of IT varies slightly from one article to the next and is sometimes described using one of the following phrases: academic technology, computer-assisted instruction, computer-based training, educational technology, and instructional technology. In this paper, the term IT encompasses or represents a combination of all of these technologies when used to link teaching with learning.
To better understand the reasons behind information technology's limited use and how best to promote it, an overview of this technology will be provided. This overview will include a discussion of how best to develop and implement IT and the benefits and costs associated with this technology.
Implementation and Development of Information Technology
Should IT augment or supplement the traditional method of teaching? This answer will vary depending on the subject area being taught. In areas where the subject matter focuses more on value, meaning, and philosophical ideas, IT will only partially be able to substitute for human interaction. In these areas, IT will, at best, be able to augment or enhance a student's experience. However, in areas which have a high volume of students, standardized curriculum, and factual content, IT will more likely be able to supplement the curriculum and teaching technique. Furthermore, we must continuely remind ourselves that technologies such as IT should only be used when they provide new opportunities for students to visualize and understand material.
When creating IT lessons and presentations, it is important to not just computerize or digitize the methods and materials of instruction, but rather investigate how value can be added. To exploit this technology, every attempt must be taken to innovatively reconceive new information, not just repackage old information. For example, by just taking a textbook and making it available on-line is simply repackaging old information. Instead, studies and research should be performed to investigate how textbooks can be reconceived so that students are not just memorizing information, but rather are engaged in an activity which promotes a deeper understanding of the subject matter.
Who should develop IT? First and foremost, students must be involved in the development of any IT since they are the real experts on what does and does not work. The students should be able to continuously provide feedback to help separate the methods which are successful from those which are not. Student involvement is essential in the development of effective IT.
Secondly, should universities and colleges or should publishers be developing IT? The research has reported that the best approach to IT development involves some form of strategic alliance with higher education and textbook publishers (Stewart, 95). When universities and colleges develop IT in collaboration with publishers, the 1) costs tend to be lower, 2) a more open architecture is created, and 3) a more global representation of the subject material is conveyed.
Benefits and Costs
There are many benefits and costs associated with IT that must be considered when evaluating the overall effectiveness of this technology and the reasons for its limited use. Listed below are some important considerations which must be addressed. For each of these issues, both the potential gains and loses will be examined.
Well designed IT allows information to be presented in a user-friendly, easy-to-understand, and visually-simulating format by combining graphics, audio, and video. Lessons which incorporate IT can have an enormous advantage in the educational world since research has shown that people on the average remember less than 20 percent of what they read; but, they will remember up to 80 percent of what they see and hear (RAD, 1995). Hence, information taught using IT should more likely be remembered.
However, a point that is rarely discussed is that the learning gains can almost completely diminish when the same instructor teaches both a course using IT versus their traditional approach (Alexander, 1995). These results indicate that the learning gains are more likely due to the instructional methods used and not because of the technology. Therefore, by simplying transferring information from one medium to another, it is possible that no improvement will occur in the quality of learning.
On the other hand, lesson preparation offers two of the biggest potential gains to IT. These two advantages are economies of scale and mass customization. Economies of scales implies that after a substantial initial or front-end financial investment, the average cost of usage for additional students decreases. Mass customization allows IT multimedia lessons to accommodate differences in the learning styles and abilities of students. At the same time, new software is being developed which makes it easier to create a complex multimedia environment. Adding movies, sound clips, or other powerful audio-visual materials is now easier than ever.
On the other hand, some of the bonds between students and faculty may be undesirable. For example, an apathetic teacher who teaches out-of-date information from faded notes may be cheating the students of their due.
However, textbooks also have their limitations. For example, textbooks can quickly become out-of-date and often fail to integrate meaningful discussions and explanations with the facts. Furthermore, having to use a textbook's linear index to lookup information can be a tedious, time-consuming approach.
One simple solution to the note taking problem is for faculty to use less complex images or provide students with hard copies of the lectures. However, this perceived shortcoming of IT may really be a strength. It will force tomorrow's students to learn how to digest complex images.
A final advantage to hypertext information is the ability to provide interactivity and continuous feedback. Feedback is a key aspect of learning, as it helps learners interpret and understand concepts and ideas by associating actions taken with results obtained. However, researchers argue that a hypermedia environment is really not interactive. Instead, it simply allows the learner to follow pre-determined paths chosen by the author. Under this argument, to really provide a true interactive environment, learners must become collaborative authors, creating their own hyperlinks in order to create a really useful learning tool.
Currently there are two major shortcomings of IT developed explicitly for the Web. These shortcomings are 1) the authoring tools developed for the Web are not as extensive as other multimedia development tools, and 2) it is difficult to limit students' exploration on the Web. However, both of these problems are actively being addressed.
Bridging the Gap
To successfully integrate information technology into tomorrow's classrooms, we must first identify the barriers to its adoption and the reasons for its limited use. Once this has been performed, we can consider how to bridge the gap by removing these barriers.
The first step is to understand the reasons for the limited use of IT. Surprisely, the low rate of adoption is not attributed to faculty discomfort with the technology, nor with faculty belief that IT can enhance the learning process. On the contrary, studies indicate that faculty usage and ownership of information technology is unexpectedly high. Studies have found that 95 percent or more of faculty now regularly use word processing software to support their teaching and research (Geoghegan, 1994). Similarly in the same study, up to 85 percent of faculty agreed that IT can enhance the quality of teaching and learning. Hence, if this is true, then why the slow adoption of information technology? Listed below are some of the reasons of IT's limited use or barriers to its adoption and solutions educators can take to remove these barriers.
Teaching must be more carefully audited. While most departments carefully evaluate faculty's research, their teaching and learning performance are seldomed audited. Departments must begin to evaluate the teaching skills of their faculty, much like individual professors are evaluated by their students.
At the same time, many IT models have been focused on the "technically literate" rather than on a cross-disciplinary approach. Hence, non-technically oriented disciplines sometimes lack the support services to assist faculty in developing, creating, and using IT.
Special thanks to Susan Metros - her comments and suggestions improved this paper considerably.