Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Academic Technology and the Future of Higher Education: Strategic Paths Taken and Not Taken

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Academic Technology and the Future of Higher Education: Strategic Paths Taken and Not Taken

Article excerpt

It may seem odd that an article concerned with the future of higher education should begin with an analysis of a technological phenomenon. The pattern I am referring to is the "time-lag" that often separates the invention of a paradigm-altering technology from its everyday use. European history contains a number of time-lag examples, notably Gutenberg's movable type, Richard Arkwright's cotton spinning mill machine, the automobile, television, and the microprocessor. But more importantly for my interest, technology time-lags provide an opportunity to explore how academic technology policy will impact higher education in the next millennium.

Arguably, micro-information technologies are proving to be powerful forces in shaping the destiny of higher education, comparable to how Gutenberg's movable type revolutionized the production and dissemination of information in Western culture. I would like to argue that current academic strategic policies largely misunderstand the potential of micro-information technologies because they operate from the assumption that technology-mediated learning constitutes a new way of teaching and learning. This premise could neither be more restrictive nor misguided. In fact, what often passes as innovative uses of instructional technologies is generally grounded in a marriage uniting eighteenth-century models of learning with nineteenth-century notions of organizational management. Neither, however, prove adequate to meet the intellectual and communication demands placed on contemporary students. In fact, every time reception-based learning migrates to a computer screen - with students memorizing information and then taking onscreen exams - three significant problems recur: (1) far more valuable and contemporary ways of learning are disregarded; (2) important student needs are not being met; and (3) colleges and universities fail to make changes that will enhance their value and well-being.(1)

This article is about exploring how some new strategic paths in higher education may avoid the above problems. The subtitle, borrowed from Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken," suggests that the future of higher education will be about strategic paths taken and not taken. The poem is about having to choose between two paths, each worthy of exploration, each providing equally attractive alternatives. But unlike the path in Frost's poem, the strategic academic technology path currently being taken is not equal to a better one. Higher education is at a crossroads - one path continuing an essentially administrative approach to the management of learning, and a second, promising meaningful change by redesigning instructional technology in terms of being both a strategic and cognitive tool.

Following this second path has two essential benefits: it insures that institutions change in effective ways, and it creates new strategies for deploying learning methods consistent with real world technologies and workplace needs. In exploring this second path, this article charts three areas: the first deals with higher education, consensus building, and change; the second explores changes triggered by global factors; and the third defines "digital pedagogies," new ways of educating more consistent with the nature of contemporary technologies than with prior management models. The purpose of this article is to provoke thought, my main point being rather simple: if American colleges and universities are to become contemporary and effective organizations, their strategic academic technology agenda should be focused on the production of intelligence rather than on the storage and recall of random and quickly outmoded information. In short, our institutions need to articulate a new mythology based upon new connections between contemporary notions of organizations, contemporary global issues, and contemporary technologies.

Part I. Unpacking the Culture of Higher Education

Colleges or universities are more than just their symbolic seals of enlightenment communities. …

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