Colleges and universities have generally been quick to adopt new technologies, often even before their educational value has been proven. Throughout its history, higher education has experimented with technological advances as diverse as the blackboard and the personal computer. Some technologies have become permanent parts of the higher education enterprise. Others, such as the slide rule and the 16-millimeter movie projector, have been replaced as more sophisticated or more cost-effective technologies have emerged to take their place.
At the dawn of the twenty-first century, new and rapidly improving technologies are in the process of transforming higher education. Each year since 1994, the Campus Computing Survey has shown increased use in college classrooms of technology-dependent resources such as e-mail, the Internet, course web pages, and computer simulations. Technology has the potential to revolutionize the traditional teaching and learning process. It can eliminate the barriers to education imposed by space and time and dramatically expand access to lifelong learning. Students no longer have to meet in the same place at the same time to learn together from an instructor. Fundamentally, modern technologies have the ability to change the conception of a higher education institution. No longer is a higher education institution necessarily a physical place with classrooms and residence halls where students come to pursue an advanced education.
Forces Promoting and Inhibiting Technology Use
In spite of technology's promise, its integration throughout higher education has not been rapid or painless. Many barriers to technology-based innovations exist within colleges and universities. Academic traditions, such as the faculty-centered lecture, make many professors reluctant to adopt alternative instructional strategies using the computer or telecommunication devices. The cost of many technological applications also prohibits their easy adoption at many resource-limited institutions. Before technology became such a central part of institutional operations, many colleges paid for new or improved technologies from funds left over at the end of their annual budget cycle. Now that technology has become an essential and recurring investment, most schools must locate additional funds to meet their increasing needs for technology resources.
Traditionally, professors have used much of their class time with students to disseminate information through lectures and follow-up discussion. This was especially the case in introductory-level courses, where students lack a foundation in the basic concepts and principles of a field. In an era of advanced technology, this approach to instruction seems archaic and inefficient. Computers, especially web-based resources, can disseminate basic information more efficiently and more cost effectively than human beings can.
Many factors will contribute to the changes that will occur as the higher education system moves into the future. There is no doubt that technology will be one of the driving forces contributing to the educational transformation that is already well underway.