ERIC Identifier: ED269114
Publication Date: 1986-03-00
Author: Needham, Robbie Lee
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Junior Colleges Los Angeles CA.
Are Communications Technologies in Education a Threat to
Faculty? ERIC Digest.
As the use of technologies increases in all phases of our society,
community college faculty are bombarded by terms related to computers,
computer-based education, broadcast television, satellites, point-to-point
microwave, telecomputer networks, and interactive videodiscs.
Faculty are frustrated. There is an expanding, somewhat unfamiliar
vocabulary. There are expectations for greater productivity on the part of
faculty: expectations which come at times of stabilizing or declining resources.
New technologies are often touted as THE answer to classroom problems.
A growing number of community college instructors have embraced computer
technologies enthusiastically and have been effective in incorporating them into
their courses, while others have flatly rejected such technologies. Faculty are
still uncertain about the communications technologies as partners in instruction
(Needham, 1983), and they are asking, "Should I fear these new technologies in
education?" Some answer, "Yes," but more answer, "No."
COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGIES AND THE TEACHING PROFESSION
Communications technologies have the potential to transform the educational
process. They also have the power to change the roles of faculty in community
colleges, even to the point of reducing the number and status of teachers.
Although the transformation is not occurring overnight, the likelihood of it
strikes fear in the hearts of some faculty. On the other hand, some faculty
approach communications technologies openly, expectantly and impatiently,
wishing that progress in the direction of their ideals for improving education
could occur more rapidly. In addition, many faculty see in communications
technologies an opportunity for greater role differentiation and specialization
(Cohen, 1969). For example, some teachers might become actively involved as
instructional designers while others might develop specializations in
assessment, small group facilitation, computer programming, media development,
cross-cultural education, or distance learning. Since new technologies have the
potential for spreading learning more pervasively throughout our culture, there
is the likely possibility of a greater need for faculty as educational
specialists. Thus the answer to the question, "Are communications technologies a
threat to faculty?" is more accurately "No" than "Yes."
The introduction of new technologies into the teaching and learning process
initiates a change in power relationships. These technologies give students more
control over their own learning. According to Shirley C. Smith, Drexel
University, "the locus of control for the educational process is shifting from
professors to students. Students now have more power to experiment and play
'what if' games" (Benderson, 1985, p. 14). In fact, some technologies give
students total control over their learning. For example, a freshman level
mathematics course on an interactive videodisc can present the material to be
learned, drill and test the student, record responses, and compute the grade
without the assistance of a teacher. Such a course can be made available to
students without an instructor's supervision in learning resource centers,
public libraries, or the learner's own home. Thus, technologies have the
potential of upsetting traditional power relationships in the learning process,
a process in which teachers have traditionally held authority and control. On
the other hand, the technologies have the potential for freeing faculty from
many roles that they often describe as dreary or unprofessional, such as drill,
repetition, and other learning situations that require systematic responses.
Moreover, computers already play a variety of roles in recordkeeping, and thus
aid faculty in course management.
Communications technologies in education allow for much greater
individualization of learning. Students are able to progress at their own speed:
to start learning when they are motivated and stop when they are saturated.
Since community college faculty have long sought to individualize instruction,
communications technologies are a real asset toward that objective. Moreover,
these technologies allow the instructor to individualize instruction without
having to make individual prescriptions for each student in each class during
each term. Material presented on well-designed software which is branching
rather than linear can free the instructor of repetitious analysis and
prescription and produce opportunities for more creative tasks. Such tasks could
include assisting students as they are following their learning prescriptions,
defining and measuring the outcomes of education, or structuring learning
environments. Should teachers fear communications technologies in education? The
answer may be "Yes" for some, but it should be "No" for most community college
Because computers more than other communications technologies are being
incorporated into education, and because they are often being used for drill,
practice and providing information, some teachers express concern that
computer-based education stresses the functions of the left brain: the rote
response. This is true in the drill and practice functions. However, those
functions are being used less and less as educators realize the potential of
computers for innovation in education. Used with applications programs such as
spreadsheets, data bases, and word processing, the computer can create realistic
models and involve students in real-world computer applications. With this focus
on applications programs, computer technologies are being used to support
learning across the curriculum rather than confining it to data processing and
engineering technology. Students throughout the college are using the computer
as a tool to analyze data, draft and revise sketches or reports, and perform
laboratory experiments. With this potential for enhancing student learning,
faculty should feel less threatened by the computer in education.
REDUCING THE THREAT
The development of communications technologies and their application to
learning has brought about the diffusion of higher education's monopoly on
formal learning beyond high school. Long ago, a learner had to enroll in a
course in order to learn how to write better business letters, compute more
accurately, or read more rapidly. Now, however, with individualized instruction
available in colleges, in public libraries, and in video outlets, the learning
environment is changing. Nudging that change is the development of many forms of
distance learning, including electronic universities. All of these allow
students to learn within the settings of their own choosing and to acquire
credentials for their achievements, if they so desire. The outcome for formal
postsecondary education could seriously constrict on current providers. On the
other hand, community colleges, and other components of the formal learning
system, can benefit because, as research has repeatedly shown, the more
education people have, the more likely they are to participate in further
education (Cross, 1981).
Faculty may feel less threatened by technologies once they see their
potential for furthering professional development. If colleges are going to
expect productivity gains as a result of the incorporation of communications
technologies into the learning process, administrators and policy makers must
help faculty develop new skills. It is important for administrators and faculty
to remember that the biggest expense involved in incorporating new technologies
into any process is the expense for staff training. It is not uncommon for 75
percent of the cost of such a conversion, if it is successful, to be related to
staff development. People who are trained merely to apply a new technology to
their specific jobs do not learn enough about it to go beyond the current
application. And it is in the potential for future applications that
productivity gains can be the highest.
Roger Kershaw, the director of the Educational Testing Service Technology
Research Group, worries that if administrators are not willing to provide
adequate support, both with release time and other resources, then
communications technologies incorporated into education "will go the way of such
failed innovations as the teaching machine" (Benderson, 1985, p. 9). Of such
unsupported technologies, George Bonham cautions, "They will come dangerously
close to education's earlier failed flirtations with television and
computer-aided instruction" (Bonham, 1983).
Thus if faculty and communications technologies are to become true partners
in community college learning endeavors, administrators and policy makers must
be fully committed to staff development. This means planning and allocating
adequate resources for courseware development and review, plus the development
of the new skills required to incorporate the technologies into the course and
to transform the learning environment into one in which technology enhances
learning. Leadership is required to change faculty from conveyors of information
to directors of learning environments or to any of the specialized functions
KEEPING PRIORITIES CLEAR
To the question, "Should faculty fear the use of communications technologies
in education?" the answer is most likely "no" when faculty see technology's
potential for stimulating the focus on essentials: What should students learn?
How can learning be assessed? What must the curriculum contain? These are the
questions central to education. The process of incorporating technology into
education should encourage teachers to ask these questions again and again.
Technologies offer opportunities for new strategies to implement the answers.
Technologies, however, will not take the place of professionals asking the
critical questions, nor will anything developed for technologies be really
successful unless core questions are confronted first. Perhaps technology's
primary gift to community college faculty is the demand that faculty look again
at the essentials of teaching and learning.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Benderson, A. BEYOND COMPUTER LITERACY. Focus #16. Princeton, NJ: Educational
Testing Service, 1985.
Bonham, G. W. "Computer Mania: Academe's Inadequate Response to the
Implications of the New Technology." CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION (March 30,
Cohen, A. M. DATELINE '79: HERETICAL CONCEPTS FOR THE COMMUNITY COLLEGE.
Beverly Hills, CA: Glencoe Press, 1969.
Cross, K. P. ADULTS AS LEARNERS. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1981.
Cross, K. P. "Education for the 21st Century." NASPA JOURNAL (1985): 7-18.
Needham, R.L. "Making the Transition to the Communication Era." ACRC NEWS