ERIC Identifier: ED446722
Publication Date: 2000-00-00
Author: van Dusen, Gerald C.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Higher Education Washington DC.| BBB32577 _ George Washington Univ. Washington
DC. Graduate School of Education and Human Development.
Digital Dilemma: Issues of Access, Cost, and Quality in
Media-Enhanced and Distance Education. ERIC Digest.
Public discourse on the pedagogical uses of information technology runs the
gamut from of views from utopian to apocalyptic. A number of tacit alliances and
formal partnerships between and among various ideologues have been forged with
the objective of making shared views more credible to policymakers and
institutional planners. Two ideologies in particular both political constructs
have received much attention. The first, restructuralism, calls for radically
restructuring postsecondary institutions from the ground up to respond
effectively to social, demographic, and economic changes in society. The second,
incrementalism, seeks evolutionary change as it preserves cherished principles
of academic freedom, tenure, and faculty oversight. Both restructuralists and
incrementalists share the conviction that institutions face "a triple challenge"
of outcomes, accessibility, and costs (Ehrmann, 1995, p. 24). Although methods
designed to achieve these ends will vary according to several factors, a
foundation of common understanding based on research findings should center the
debate and provide the basis for an acceptable resolution.
WHAT BARRIERS TO HIGHER EDUCATION MUST BE REMOVED TO MAKE ITS DIGITALIZED RESOURCES MORE UNIVERSALLY ACCEPTABLE?
to accommodate unprecedented growth and changing demographics requires
overcoming a number of daunting obstacles to universal access. For colleges and
universities, universal access operates on two levels: Intranet and Internet.
Universal Intranet access refers to the ability of administrators, faculty,
staff, and students to access campus networks for communication, instruction,
research, scholarship, public service, and business processes and procedures.
Major problems associated with universal intranet access include (1) the
inconsistent quality of off-campus dial-in networking services, (2) the
shortcomings of campus computer labs, particularly as a critical safety net for
on campus students without computer access, and (3) the escalating costs of
supporting an array of on- and off-campus software options and hardware
configurations (Graves, 1997). Higher education providers will be hard-pressed
to achieve the important goal of universal Intranet access without an
unfaltering commitment to strategic and fiscal planning.
Universal Internet access refers to the ability of society at large to access
the digitalized resources inside and outside the higher education community.
Currently a persisting "digital divide' exists among various income levels,
demographic groups and geographic areas (Department of Commerce, 1999; Gladieux
and Swail, 1999). Although Americans have increasingly embraced digital
technologies, a number of specific roadblocks along the information highway must
be averted. Specific barriers include age, income, race and ethnicity, gender,
previous education, geography, household type, physical disabilities, and
learning disabilities. Continued disengagement from the new information and
communication technologies based on these factors will have profound societal
consequences from which no one will be exempt. The solutions will be costly and
complicated, but the alternative will be catastrophic.
WHAT ISSUES OF COST AND AFFORDABILITY MUST BE ADDRESSED TO ENSURE UNIVERSAL ACCESS?
Achieving the economies of scale made
theoretically possible by technologically mediated instruction requires
attention to a host of important issues: (1) institutional mission must be
reviewed at the same time that a new vision of learning emerges, (2) intra- and
inter-institutional collaboration must increase to ensure program articulation,
delivery system integration, reduced duplication, maximization of limited
resources, and preservation of under enrolled course offerings, (3) the cost of
technology is often confused with its purchase price, but true costs are often
staggeringly high as much as ten times the purchase price, when all expenditures
are factored in, (4) assigning the actual cost to such intangibles as faculty
course development requires new sets of economic tools, and (5) the adoption of
student technology fees and computer requirements are often not well conceived
or integrated into the strategic plan for campus computing (Ringle, 1997).
HOW WILL AMERICAN HIGHER EDUCATION'S REPUTATION FOR QUALITY AND EFFECTIVENESS BE ASSURED AND MAINTAINED IN THE NEW TECHNOLOGICALLY MEDIATED ENVIRONMENTS?
Pedagogical issues in today's networked digital
culture involve content, design, assessment, and support. Content problems arise
from the web's nonhierarchical structure and its increased commercialization
(Burbles & Callister, 1998). The main design challenge facing faculty who
move traditional courses to the Web or to interactive television is exploiting
multimedia capabilities. Furthermore, such alternative forms of assessment for
example, authentic assessment and portfolio assessment may prove to be more
appropriate for students in technologically mediated environments. Finally, to
assist faculty with integrating technology into instruction, institutions must
commit to the provision of access to technology resources for faculty training,
course design, and development; standardized configurations to ensure continuity
between instructional paradigms and efficient technical support services; and
appropriate consideration to the teaching function in tenure and promotion
WHAT CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS CAN BE DRAWN?
current polarized political environment, quick, easy solutions to the challenge
of making higher education more accessible, more affordable, and more effective
are unlikely, although research findings do permit a number of specific
Successful efforts to transform American colleges and universities are very
likely to occur quite differently from institutional to institution, based on
institutional mandate, mission, and vision. Given increasing numbers of adult
and nontraditional students, it is likely that the majority of institutions will
undergo some form of significant transformation.
Although in many respects colleges and universities are businesses, in crucial
respects they are not.
The historic commitment to core values in traditional undergraduate education
has wavered, and the same vacillation threatens to undermine general education
requirements in electronically delivered certificate and degree programs.
Lack of internet access results in information poverty for several classes of
individuals and creates a new class of postsecondary institution.
Distance education is unlikely to effect institutional cost savings over the
short or middle term.
Existing evidence on the effectiveness of media-enhanced and distance education
is generally inadequate because of experimental design flaws.
Containing the costs of academic and administrative computing today requires a
campuswide rather than departmental-level perspective.
The following seven recommendations address the pressing issues of access,
cost, and quality:
Prepare to lobby more aggressively for state and federal policy reform of higher
Develop a reward system that places a high value on teaching and the innovative
uses of technology, even though the two will be mutually exclusive in most
Promote universal Intranet access to campus networks by standardizing hardware
and software configurations.
Promote universal access to the National information Infrastructure as a vital
Affirm the social nature of learning.
Require of all students the generic skills of mediacy and numeracy.
Preserve the quality and core values that undergird and distinguish higher
education from corporate training, even as the institutions work to untangle the
knotty issues of productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness.
Burbles, Nicholas, and T. Callister. 1998. "Paying the Piper: The Educational Cost of the Commercialization of the
Internet." Electronic Journal of Sociology 3 (3): 1-12.
Department of Commerce. 1999. Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital
Divide. Washington, DC: National Telecommunications and Information
Ehrmann, Stephen C. 1995. "Asking the Right Questions: What Does Research Us
About Technology and Higher Learning?" Change March/April: 20-27.
Gladieux, Lawrence E. and Scott Swail. 1999. The Virtual University &
Educational Opportunity Issues of Equity and Access for the Next Generation.
Washington, DC: The College Board.
Graves, William H. 1997. "A Framework for Universal Intranet Access."
Cause/Effect 20 (2): 48-52.
Ringle, Martin D. 1997. "Forecasting Financial Priorities for Technology."
Cause/ Effect 21 (1):18-23.