In modern society, the educational system has been called upon to engage in teaching, learning, and research in the name of “progress.” Toward this end, in the United States, the federal and state governments have taken an interest in education at all levels with dramatically different arrangements across the basic levels: while assuming primary responsibility for elementary and secondary education.
Applications of technology for higher education must be seen in light of broader societal transformations in the past two decades. Technology—and more specifically, information and telecommunications technology—has already become well entrenched in everyday life, so much so that we often overlook the range of functions served.
An Historical Perspective on the Impact on Education
Although this could easily be a current quote from an Apple or Microsoft executive about the future of computers, it is, in fact, Thomas Edison speaking 75 years ago about the motion picture. History demonstrates two certainties with respect to the impact of technology on education: first, prognosticators will herald the radical rebirth or inevitable demise of the educational system; and second, more often than not, their predictions are wrong. The educational timeline for adoption of technology is dotted with unexpected failures and unexpected successes.
When considering how technology will affect higher education, we must also keep in mind that there is no single answer. Since differentiation has long been the hallmark of higher education in the U.S., technological investments and applications are likely to show great variation across campuses, with dramatically different opportunities available across different populations of students and faculty. Although we advocate proceeding with caution, we also believe that it is not useful to react defensively. The massive technological changes of the new era cannot be resisted; if they are going to happen, they will happen in spite of defenses.