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Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 21 - February 20, 1997

(Editor's note: C.L. Hardy of the English Department, who is serving as editor for the strategic component of the self study, has been producing short summaries of some pertinent articles for general readership. Two of these are published here. For additional readings on the self study, check for "related readings" on the self-study home page at http://www.vt.edu:10021/admin/provost/selfstudy)

Great Expectations

By Kenneth Green and Steven Gilbert, (Change, March/April, 1995) summarized for the University Self-Study by C.L. Hardy

Green and Gilbert point out that a "microcomputer revolution" occurred in the'80s in which institutions purchased desktop computers by the "truckload" expecting they would make possible significant gains in productivity. They believe "Most would agree that modest productivity benefits emerged as growing numbers of faculty members transferred much of their work from secretaries, mainframes, and minicomputers to desktop systems and word processors."

Now, in the mid-'90s, they point out that "colleges and universities confront a second major phase of the `revolution'-a shift in emphasis from the computer as a desktop tool to the computer as the communications gateway to colleagues and `content' (databases, image and text libraries, video, and more) made increasingly accessible via computer networks."

They conclude that informational technology will not lead any time soon to the degree of productivity gains and cost savings that its advocates expected it would.

They do acknowledge that technology has brought enhanced productivity in administrative areas. In some parts of the faculty domain, technology has helped increase productivity and reduce operating costs-primarily in faculty members preparing more of their own materials formerly prepared by secretaries. They argue, "As yet, however, relatively few would claim...any real gains in institutional productivity."

The authors cite as a warning example to "those who believe technology provides the `silver bullet' on productivity and quality" the experience of GM in the early '80s. GM spent approximately $50 billion on automated assembly lines and robots, but a decade later they could report only modest gains in quality and productivity. The problem was that GM "paid little attention to the overall design and manufacturing process: the new technology...could not resolve problems in the product and in the workforce....The GM experience...highlights the role of technology as one of many tools, rather than the tool, to enhance quality and improve productivity."

In spite of this experience, Green and Gilbert believe there are good reasons-other than institutional productivity-for colleges and universities to invest in informational technology. They believe "The real long-term academic benefit of information technology will be what it brings to pedagogy and the curriculum-additional resources that enhance both the instructional tools used by the faculty and the learning experience of students." They contend that "informational technology can support changes in the traditional faculty role" and that what it does best "is deliver content and provide access to information and to other people."

Consequently, they "suggest that each college and university engage in an institution-wide planning initiative that looks carefully at the ways information technology can be used most effectively to improve teaching and learning" and suggest that "a promising framework for setting and achieving realistic goals in this arena recognizes four basic categories of information-technology benefits that differ significantly in the kinds and levels of faculty support services required." These four categories are:

1. Personal and institutional administrative productivity (word processing and e-mail are examples of individual productivity)

2. Enhancing traditional teaching (includes such things as "wiring" classrooms with computers and projection devices)

3. Changing pedagogy (including such things as "supplementing science experiments with computer-based simulations" and using "networked computers to exchange drafts and editorial comments in English composition courses." This category might also include distance-learning initiatives)

4. Changing content (For example, "In some disciplines, the use of informational technology in research and field work already has changed how scholars think of their work and the focus of their activities," and in other disciplines "scholars have discovered that information technology now permits them to represent and manipulate information and ideas in ways that were nearly impossible previously."

The authors conclude that "content, curriculum, and communications-rather than productivity-are the appropriate focus of-and rationale for-campus investments in information technology."

From Teaching to Learning: A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education

By Robert Barr and John Tagg (Change, November/December, 1995)summarized for the University Self-Study by C.L. Hardy

Higher education is undergoing a shift in function and definition so that colleges and universities that have been governed by the paradigm that they exist to provide instruction are shifting to the new paradigm that they exist to produce learning. The traditional paradigm has mistaken a means for an end, making instruction or teaching the end or purpose. The new paradigm "ends the lecture's privileged position, honoring in its place whatever approaches serve best to prompt learning of particular knowledge by particular students."

So far, however, all the elements of the new learning paradigm have not been put together in an integrated whole primarily because new elements of the paradigm have been addressed "within the framework of the instruction paradigm."

Barr and Tagg attempt in this article to imagine what the new paradigm will be, to outline its principles and elements, and to suggest some of its implications for colleges.

In the learning paradigm, "the mission of the college is to produce learning"; thus the end governs the means. The authors deliberately use the word produce "because it so strongly connotes that the college takes responsibility for learning." The new paradigm "shifts what the institution takes responsibility for: from quality instruction (lecturing, talking) to student learning."

The college or university takes responsibility for learning at two levels: at the organizational level for the aggregate of student learning, and at the individual level for an individual student's mastery of knowledge and skills.

In the learning paradigm, the college's purpose is "to create environments and experiences that bring students to discover and construct knowledge for themselves, to make students members of communities of learners who make discoveries and solve problems." The college "is concerned with learning productivity, not teaching productivity."

The criteria for success in the learning paradigm is the degree to which learning occurs, and, therefore, student learning must be accessed routinely and constantly. This new paradigm requires heeding the advice of the Wingspread Group: "New forms of assessment should focus on establishing what college and university graduates have learned-the knowledge and skill levels they have achieved and their potential for further independent learning." An institution-wide system of assessment is the key structure for changing the whole system. "Student knowledge and skills would be measured upon entrance and again upon graduation, and at intermediate stages such as the beginning and completion of major programs. Students could then be acknowledged and certified for what they have learned."

Information gathered from the assessment system will aid in transforming learning environments and supporting structures and in developing more efficient structures and effective ways to provide learning. "Instead of fixing the means-such as lectures and courses-the learning paradigm fixes the ends, the learning results, allowing the means to vary in its constant search for the most effective and efficient paths to student learning."

In the learning paradigm, students, not teachers, are the chief agents in learning and must be "active discoverers and constructors of their own knowledge." The learning environments and activities are learner-centered and learner-controlled and may even be "teacherless." Teachers will design learning experiences and environments, but they may not need to be present or to participate in every learning activity.

Under the learning paradigm "it is possible to increase outcomes without increasing costs." Producing more with less is possible "because the more that is being produced is learning and not hours of instruction." Moreover," Nothing could facilitate a shift to the learning paradigm more swiftly than funding learning and learning-related institutional outcomes rather than hours of instruction."

As has been implied, the learning paradigm will bring about a fundamental shift in roles. "If the instruction paradigm faculty member is an actor-a sage on a stage-then the learning paradigm faculty member is an inter-actor-a coach interacting with a team.