THE CHANGING ROLE OF (INTERNET) TECHNOLOGY IN TEACHING AND LEARNING
We are in a time of unparalleled development and change. The creation of new technologies occurs at a rate that surpasses the ability of mere mortals to keep pace and adapt. We are overloaded with information, tools, gadgets, and software programs with more appearing on a daily basis. Nowhere is this change more noticeable than with computers and the Internet. To give you an idea of how fast things are growing and changing:
Along with all this technological growth and change come wonderful opportunities and possibilities, especially in the field of education. As faculty and administrators, it is our responsibility to understand these possibilities and their potential so we may give our students the best learning environments. How do we do this? How do we choose among all the technology options available to us? What impact will these technologies have on teaching and learning? What approaches to teaching and learning with these technologies will be most effective or least effective and under what circumstances? How will we use the technologies to improve what we are already doing? These are just some of the questions that come to mind. The goal of this paper is to raise these issues, provide you with a framework for thinking about the changing role of Internet technology in teaching and learning, and offer some suggestions for adopting new Internet technologies into your courses and programs.
Use of Internet Technology Phase 1
Adoption of Internet technologies for instructional use has followed a pattern initially described by Everett Rogers and adapted to educational technology by William Geoghegan. Initial users of these technologies were part of what Rogers (1983) calls the "Innovators." These were the faculty who, in the mid-90s, learned how to program using HTML coding. They were the "techies" and "experimentalists" as referred to by Geoghegan (1994) and were often more interested in the technology itself than in any broader issues that the technology might address for the science of teaching and learning.
Most courses and instructional resources developed by this group during this time had the following characteristics:
With few exceptions, development occurred in isolated pockets involving individual faculty members with little or no formal support from their institutions. The limited tools as well as the high level of technical skills required for the task prevented the majority of faculty members from experimenting with Internet technologies. Indeed, the data from Kenneth Greens Campus Computing Survey (1996) show that in 1995, just 24% of all campuses had formal plans to use the WWW for instruction and only 12% had formal plans to use it for distance learning.
Use of Internet Technology Phase 2
The next phase of technology adoption involves a group referred to by Rogers (1983) as the "Early Adopters". Geoghegan (1994) describes them as visionaries who "blend an interest in technology with a concern for significant professional problems and tasks." The Early Adopters watched the Innovators experiment with the Internet technology for a year or two, and were intrigued as to how it might provide solutions to an important issue in education: the need for anytime, anywhere learning. They helped the Innovators develop approaches to web design that were more consistent and contained a higher integration of course content and tools such as e-mail. Web authoring tools such as Dreamweaver and FrontPage addressed some of the HTML coding issues allowing web authors to focus more on content and design.
The more consistent web design and integration of tools that began with the Innovators was a step in the right direction for the next segment of adopters, the Early Majority and the Late Majority which make up 68% of the adopter population. Both of these adopter groups take a "wait and see" attitude about new technology and innovation, with the Late Majority adopters often slightly less confident about their technical skills and slightly more likely to resist change than the Early Majority (Geoghegan, 1994). These groups begin using technology only when compelled by either overwhelming evidence in support of it or pressure from their institutions. Early Majority and Late Majority adopters want to see results and proven technology before they make any changes to what they do and how they do it. They dont want to spend a lot of time figuring out the technology but prefer to devote themselves to instructional issues.
With the release of platform technology in 1997, the Early and Late Majority adopters really began to get involved. Commercially developed platform tools were convenient, affordable, and, compared to hard-coding HTML, easy to use. Within a few years names like WebCT, Blackboard, Top Class, and E-college were well established providers of these tools, allowing Internet technologies to take a firm hold in the Majority adoption groups. Faculty could now focus on issues surrounding the use of these technologies rather than the technologies themselves.
Most courses and instructional resources developed during this time had the following characteristics:
Platform technologies addressed the greatest need of instructors and institutions at the time: quick and easy tools to get information on the Web using a consistent format with a low-level of technology skills required. These tools allowed faculty to take their presentations, ideas, and classroom techniques and transfer them to the web environment. In addition, commercial platforms provided a vehicle to widely disseminate the use of Internet technologies and enabled institutions around the country, and even around the world, to establish an online presence.
Use of Internet Technology Phase 3
With the initial hurdle to web presence (i.e. lack of HTML programming skills) taken care of by platform technologies, faculty have begun to analyze their use of Internet technologies in the instructional process. Both faculty and students are less satisfied with course content that is highly text-based, and faculty are beginning to develop content using Flash, Shockwave, Quick Time, and Real Player technologies. Unfortunately, most faculty do not have the skills needed to use such technology or the time to learn those skills, and most institutions do not have the instructional and technology support staff to work with all the faculty who want to develop content using such technologies. However, the open architecture of the Internet is ideal for the sharing of content created by faculty who do have highly developed technical skills. The MERLOT project is a prime example of this. In addition, publishing companies and other vendors such as Academic Systems are creating high quality, web-delivered content that addresses the interactive needs of students and faculty.
Using the above technologies, faculty are beginning to create courses that have the following characteristics:
Here are some examples of courses/sites/programs that use Phase 3 Internet Technologies:
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Describing the use of Internet technologies in terms of three phases does not mean to imply that use of one phase is automatically better for student learning than another. In fact, as indicated by William Geoghegan (1994), "[Internet] technology in the service of ineffective teaching will do nothing to improve the quality of instruction; it will simply perpetuate and even amplify poor teaching. Likewise, good teaching can often be enhanced by even simple technology, wisely and sensitively applied. In either event, the process begins with teaching; technology comes second" (p. 13). Rather, the phases are intended to describe a path of possibilities. Some faculty will choose to apply technologies from Phase 1, some may choose Phase 2, and some may be developing or applying technologies from Phase 3. Whichever technologies you choose, be sure to ask and research important questions along the way:
It is only through research and understanding the effect of technology on the learning of our students that we can effectively plan for the continued use of technology in the future.
Dessoff, A. (February, 2001). The sexy technology: Internet2. Matrix. p. 20-24.
Geoghegan, W. (1994). Whatever happened to instructional technology? Paper presented at the 22nd Annual Conference of the International Business Schools Computing Association. Baltimore, Maryland.
Green, K.C.(1996). The 1995 National Survey of Information Technology in Higher Education. [Online: http://www.campuscomputing.net/].
Rogers, E.M. (1983). Diffusion of innovations, Third edition. New York: Free Press.
Sokolosky, V. (March, 2001). Do you computer? Southwest Airlines Spirit. p. 44-46.
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