Future of Technology in Education

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Although we've come a long way in using IT tools to enhance education, at present we're hampered by our fragmented approach to incorporating them. In almost every institution you can find islands of innovation, but we have yet to integrate the pieces into a seamless enterprise. For example, some institutions excel in online student services by offering a 24/7 operation to students with great customer service, access, convenience, and a fast response time. Yet the same institutions might still rely on a traditional classroom model when it comes to teaching and learning. Such internal variations parallel those existing between institutions; for example, other institutions might be wildly successful in such areas as distributed learning, distance learning, and partnerships with e-learning companies. Administrative systems vary as well. We see some institutions with fully implemented ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) solutions, while others are still processing financial aid by hand. Despite the fragmentation, institutions continue to find ways of using IT to help them better manage the "business" of higher education. Institutions, particularly those in state systems, are facing a greater demand for accountability. In response to this expectation, a new generation of university presidents is looking to IT tools for help in operating from a data-driven basis. So there are pockets of innovation and a lot of wonderful things happening, but at this point, very few institutions have been able to integrate those pieces into a seamless educational enterprise. JM: What are the forces driving the use of IT tools in education? DO: There are a number of significant drivers. One is technology itself. Technology challenges people's assumptions about what it means to be educated. Technology and globalization have changed the way we do business; as a result, we have seen the emergence of a lifelong learning culture, one in which education allows us to keep pace with change. Moreover, it goes beyond extending our notion of education from four years to a lifetime. In fulfilling the expectation for lifelong learning that it created, technology changes both the ways in which we learn and the ways in which we conceive of the learning process. IT tools provide just-in-time learning, knowledge management, simulation, and visualization. Through the use of these tools, we have grown increasingly aware that learning facts is not enough. Knowledge management in particular is leading us to question our focus on explicit knowledge, gained from textbooks, and our relative neglect of tacit knowledge, gained from experience. Tacit knowledge consists of knowing how to get things done, wisdom acquired through years of practice. Most of our existing IT tools are oriented toward explicit knowledge; emerging ones such as knowledge management are directed toward capturing tacit knowledge. I think that people are a second significant driver. Twenty-five years ago, educators dealt primarily with traditional students in terms of age and residential status. Now, the bulk of students are commuters. The "traditional" college student no longer exists. We have many more first generation college students; we have older students; and we have students attending college without a degree as their ultimate goal. As a result of the diversity of students, institutions face increasingly divergent student expectations and are using IT to customize services in order to meet those expectations. Still, there is a common theme: everyone wants their needs met quickly. Younger students have never known life without technology, yet older students are also accustomed to the speed and responsiveness we see in IT-enabled services. JM: How will we be using information technology tools to conduct the business of education in the future? DO: In the next three to five years, I think we will see a great deal of effort put into integration and the creation of a seamless educational...
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