Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Technology: Riding the Waves of Change

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Technology: Riding the Waves of Change

Article excerpt

Twenty years of information technology (IT) innovation have transformed American higher education. From the introduction of personal computers to the spread of the Internet and e-mail, information technology innovation has altered the communications, administrative, research and teaching landscapes of colleges and universities. Its reach has permeated throughout colleges and universities from administrative systems to the research laboratories to classrooms and student life.

"It has, indeed, been a journey," writes Dr. Kenneth C. Green, the founding director of the Campus Computing Project and a visiting scholar at the Claremont Graduate University, in an online column titled "Beginning the Third Decade."

According to Green, IT tools "that did not exist or were simply emerging in 1985--personal computers, notebook computers, cell phones, PDAs and the Web--today have moved from incidental to essential. These technologies, and others now emerging (for example, wireless) have made the transformation from costly conveniences to compelling, inexpensive and ubiquitous necessities."

While schools worked hard in the 1980s and early 1990s to make personal computers, local area networks and productivity software improve school operations, as well as provide enhancements to research and teaching, the grounds for a more revolutionary IT era were laid mostly in the confines of research universities. Since the late 1960s and the 1970s, a cohort of top research universities, largely with U.S. Defense Department funding, developed the technology that would lay the foundation for the Internet.

"Higher education invented the Internet. At one level, we don't give enough credit to the university research community for having spawned the Internet. And I think that one layer, university research and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) research, have made some of the most significant progress," says Ken Kay, the founder and chairman of Infotech Strategies, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm, and a leading proponent of technology in education.

The Internet's advent has enabled for-profit schools, such as the University of Phoenix and Strayer University, to add tens of thousands of students to their enrollments due to the Internet's enhancement of distance education. A large cohort of adult learners, late 20s and older and eager to better position themselves in the job market, have fueled the enrollments of online education programs. Community colleges and numerous four-year public colleges and universities have also had significant enrollments in online distance education programs.

Along with the Internet, "we've moved into a new era of technology," says Dr. Kevin Franklin, deputy director of the University of California Humanities Research Institute in Irvine, referring to supercomputers, grid computing and the next generation Internet networks, such as the ones connecting members of the Internet2 consortium.


Higher education IT experts tend to view the last 20 years as a period divided between the pre-Internet years, which encompass the spread of personal computers, productivity software and local area networks, and the Internet age, which blossomed with e-mail, the World Wide Web and browser software to facilitate convenient Internet access and the networked campus collaboration among people based at multiple institutions.

Higher education IT progress has been "split between the big adopters, the early adopters and the early researchers who get credit for having created it on the one hand ... and a lot of the higher ed community, without being too harsh, has been dragged kicking and screaming into the Internet age," according to Kay.

Having spent her formative years as an administrator at an early IT adopter school, Dr. Joyce Williams-Green recalls that in the 1980s the Virginia Tech provost while on a trip to Japan sent an e-mail that successfully reached Virginia Tech computers. …

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