Week 10: Information Technology and Education

Information technology is transforming the world of education. The traditional model of classroom education is being challenged by models that enhance and change the way that classroom education operates and online education is expanding quickly.

This week we will look at four topics. First, how is IT impacting learning, which we will do through examination of a study by Educause. Next, we’ll examine the case AGAINST the increasing prevalence of information technology in education as made by David Noble. An introduction will be provided to the theory on models of learning, or pedagogy, to assist consideration of how information technology might be applied and finally we will look at a case study – the MMSc in the Management of Technology, delivered online from the University of Waterloo.

How is information technology impacting current learning?

We will look at how IT is impacting learning today in two ways. Educause is an organisation that focuses on information technology in education. For the past few years they have surveyed students across North America to understand what is happening with information technology in universities. That survey has been adapted for students of MSCi 442 and a survey link has been distributed to them. You can see the results of the survey here and compare them to the full Educause survey results here.

The division that exists in the survey is illustrated by the following quotes from the survey report:

The 2010 survey highlighted the use of information technology in universities in North America today. Over 36,000 students completed the survey. In recent years there has been an increase in the use of laptops as opposed to desktop computers by students. Social media site usage has risen with 42 % of students reporting that they had uploaded video to social media sites and 36 % saying that they had contributed to a blog. 80% used social media networking (like Facebook) and 40 % used a VOIP service on their computer (like Skype).

The use of internet capable mobile devices was also increasing.

Only 24.6 % of students said that they don’t own and don’t plan to purchase an internet capable mobile device in the next 12 months.

The study also looked at the use of social networking websites by age and how that had changed since 2007. This usage has continued to increase and, significantly, in older age groups there has been a more rapid increase – online social networking is increasingly being adopted by people above the age of 25.

Finally, Educause looked at Instructor use of technology in courses. Only 51 % of students felt positive or very positive about the course management system used in their university. Many instructors continued to use teaching methods that did not incorporate information technology at all.

Only 47 % felt that instructors used information technology effectively in their courses. Increasingly, professors are making course materials available online so that it is easier for a student to avoid coming to class. 64 % of students disagreed that they skipped classes when materials were available online.

About half of the students believed that information technology improved the courses that they were taking while most preferred a ‘moderate’ level of IT usage in their courses. There appeared here possibly to be a concern about ‘excessive’ use of information technology, though the study did not explore this area further.

The use of information technology by students in their daily lives is increasing and while many instructors are using IT effectively in their courses, it appears that many are not, revealing significant opportunity for improvement.

The case against the use of information technology in education

David Noble, who was a professor at York University until his recent death, argued strongly against the use of information technology in university education. He said:

“Tensions are rapidly mounting today between faculty and university administrations over the high tech commercialisation of higher education.”


“In essence, the current mania for distance education is about the commodification of higher education, of which computer technology is merely the latest medium.”

He saw use of information technology as part of a wider trend of commercialisation.

Noble believed that information technology would have a negative impact on education quality for students. He argued that the relationship between people in the educational process was central to the educational experience. The establishment and enrichment of this relationship (between students and their professors and students and their fellow students) was the chief determinant of quality education.

In the application of information technology to education Noble was particularly concerned about the movement towards the creation of digital ‘course content’ that would allow courses to be delivered without the participation of the materials author. He called this ‘commodification’ and meant that education was becoming a commodity, separated from the role of the professor and designed to maximise profit for universities. Copyright is a central issue in this debate and willingness of professors to give this up would influence how quickly commodification would happen.

Noble believed that commodification would damage the relationship between the professor and the student and so reduce the quality of the education itself. He also believed that professors themselves would be impacted negatively by  commoditisation. Giving up copyright would reduce their power and this would allow university administrations to speed up their work, make it more routine and subject  to greater discipline and supervision. Their autonomy would be reduced and job insecurity would increase. He referred to this as ’employer appropriation of the fruits of their labour’ which would result in a degraded labour force (professors) and product (education).

In this view, online education would accelerate commodification. It would increase the growth of relationships between universities and the private sector, for investment and information technology. Universities would restructure to suit this new model.

In recent years we have seen the growth of private online education providers such as the University of Phoenix (both classroom and online) and others. In Canada the University of Phoenix’s parent company, the Apollo Group, established Meritus University:

which recently announced its closure due to lack of enrolment:

Noble argued that universities would increasingly become focused on profit and face increasing competition from the private sector. Finally, as a stimulus for this he argued that the ‘military / industrial complex’ would support this direction. You can read an article in which Noble summarises his ideas on the Monthly Review website.

Noble’s ideas continue to receive some support from some people in the academic world.

Models of learning (pedagogy)

Pedagogy is the term used for the learning model that is used in a particular learning environment (a course or a programme, etc.) . The University of California at Berkeley’s Teaching Guide for Student Instructors identifies three main learning theories that are used by teachers. These are Behaviourism, Cognitive Constructivism and Social Constructivism. Each of these approaches involves different beliefs about how people learn.

Behaviourism believes that knowledge is an individual’s ‘repertoire of behavioural responses to environmental stimuli – how they respond to what is happening around them. In this model learning occurs through a ‘passive absorption of predefined body of knowledge by the learner, promoted by repetition and positive reinforcement’ – learning material is presented to people and they absorb it. In order to motivate people to learn there needs to be extrinsic reward and punishment which are called positive and negative reinforcers – people need to be rewarded for understanding and punished for not understanding to get them to learn. Instruction in this model involves the teacher communicating the correct behavioural responses and these being aborbed by the student. The traditional lecture is often seen as part of this model.

Cognitive constructivism argues that learners construct their own knowledge based on existing knowledge – they use the knowledge that they already have to interpret new knowledge that they encounter. Learning is done by people integrating new knowledge with the knowledge that they already have – they undertake a process of discovery by themselves. They are motivated to learn, setting their own goals. A teacher supports learning by creating an environment that encourages people to discover new knowledge and integrate it with their existing knowledge, for example, through assignments that require them to express their understanding of new knowledge.

Social Constructivism theories assert that knowledge is socially constructed, that people live in groups and develop their ideas together – groups have specific common knowledge and beliefs. Learning happens when students are integrated into a knowledge community and advance their knowledge together. Motivation for learning is both intrinsic and extrinsic, people will develop their own learning goals (intrinsic) and receive extrinsic rewards from the knowledge community that they are part of – by participating in the knowledge group they receive recognition from their peers. Instruction, in this model is usually group based and the teacher acts as a facilitator and guide to the group.

The following video provides more background on these learning theories and adds a couple more for those of you with an interest in this area:

So, there are a number of different pedagogical theories that have different beliefs about how people learn. These beliefs will influence the approach that is taken to the application of information technologies to education, both in the classroom and online. Different beliefs will involve different ways of using IT.

Categorisation of information technology tools for education

The information technology based tools that can be used for education are expanding daily. The following chart, from Singh et al, illustrates the technologies available:

Staging tools provide a basic structure to manage and deliver courses online. At the University of Waterloo we have called our system UW – ACE. Course content is disseminated through course delivery tools like online videos, podcasts etc. Course collaboration tools allow people to work together and interact with their instructor. Web conferencing and web based simulations can be used to create rich course communication and assessment and learning tools enable testing, plagiarism prevention etc.

Case Study: The University of Waterloo MMSc in the Management of Technology (Online)

A few years ago the author gave the following keynote presentation at a conference on learning at McMaster University:

The presentation was based on the MMSc Management of Technology (online) and also discussed information technology more widely in universities. It discussed new forms of distance learning, whether it is possible to achieve acceptable levels of academic quality in online courses, looked at how students evaluated the online courses, what the experience of the professor was and the customer service and administration that is required to deliver an online degree. Online degrees are becoming more popular today:

Online learning is very different from models of distance learning that existed in the past. Previously distance learning usually meant that people had a very individualised experience of their learning. They would receive a package of learning materials, work on it on their own and submit assignments. They may have access to a tutor but this was seldom used – people were isolated and had lower motivation than they would in a traditional classroom. The individualised pedagogy was weak and there was minimal interaction with fellow students or professors. As a consequence traditional distance learning had low completion rates amongst its students.

There is a wide variety of online learning available today – some weak and some strong and consumers are gradually becoming more educated about the courses in the market. New forms of online learning, incorporating high levels of collaboration between students and between students and their professor are possible using synchronous and asynchronous technologies. These result in higher levels of motivation and a better pedagogy. Completion rates can be similar to the classroom.

The student experience would appear to be very positive as the following chart of post course evaluation responses from all of the students undertaking the online MMSc at the University of Waterloo in 2008 show:

The questions asked were on a 5 point Likert scale with usually results closer to 5 being desirable but in some cases averages closer to the midpoint (3) were preferred (eg. Academic level, course load). It does appear that, on the basis of these evaluations, good quality education is possible online. Karen Dudzinski, an MMSc online student says:

Dudzinski’s appreciation for the online flexibility and intensive interaction with professors and peers were important to her.

In the pedagogical model that has been adopted for the MMSc online programme the professor experience is similar to the classroom. An online lecture is typically created weekly and recorded with Adobe Connect. The lecture is typically shorter than the classroom version and recorded for later viewing by the student. The professor regularly facilitates the online learning process and students work regularly in groups. Participation in the group activity is graded and the professor can provide a high level of support because they can view the student participation online and respond based on student interpretation of course content. It is thought that the professor time required to teach a course is similar to the classroom but that the balance of their activity is different.

Online customer service and administration is very important in the online classroom and this can be a challenge in a traditional university environment. When their is contact between students and administration it is important that this takes place efficiently and positively based on student expectations of the online world and the difficulty of resolving problems that occur – they can’t walk into an office. An operations management focus is needed to construct effective programme administration.

Online learning is continuing to grow and it is expected that it will become an increasing proportion of the educational market. The Khan Academy is an interesting new model:

This week we have looked at how IT is impacting education. We first looked at how IT was impacting the students in the MSci 442 class. Then we looked at what was happening in other schools through the Educause survey. We examined the case against the use of IT in university teaching and considered the different pedagogical models that teachers employed. Finally the case study of the MMSc online from the University of Waterloo was discussed.

Finally, the debate over the usage of information technology in education is not just important to students. Politicians are recognising that education is economically important for everyone:

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3 Responses to Week 10: Information Technology and Education

  1. husysweet says:

    This is very interesting.

  2. husysweet says:

    Reblogged this on husysweet and commented:
    Information Technology has both positive and negative impact on Education.It is up to the individual to find a balance.

  3. malelu says:

    bravo. The emergence of IT has taken over the accademic world with a suprise. It astrong indicator of more of greater changes in accademic world to be witnessed.

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