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An Overview of Educational Reform with Technology:  Past, Present & Future

by Frank Gillespie
Visiting Professor
Center for Faculty Excellence
United States Military Academy

The Past:

Reforming education with technology has a long history. In the recent past technology has been used to support teaching and learning in the following ways:

  • Instructional Computing (1960 - now)
  • Computer Assisted Learning (1966 - now)
  • Productivity tools (1977 - now)
  • Present course content in a structured manner (1985 - now)
  • Provide for various types of student support (1990 - now)

The Present:

The use of technology in higher education is encouraging the development of new teaching and learning models. Some of these new models are directed to improving learning by reducing time, labor or costs. Others provide new or more convenient ways to deliver education and service to distant learners. Still others are directed to exploring the potential that technology has for improving the quality of teaching and learning.

How can technology influence the quality of learning?

  • Students can take a more active role in the learning process.
  • Teachers can present course content in a variety of formats.
  • Students and teachers can use techniques that recognize a variety of learning styles.
  • A broader array of resources can be brought to the classroom and the students.
  • Opportunities for interactions between teachers and students and among students can be increased.
  • The productivity of those who support the learning environment can be increased.

The most popular instructional technology applications used in higher educational today are:

  • WWW - used by over 50% of the Faculty
  • Video and Computer Projection - used by over 50% of the Faculty
  • Interactive Multimedia -used by about 20% of the Faculty
  • Hypertext - used by about 20% of the Faculty
  • Collaborative Learning Environments -used by less than 10 % of the Faculty
  • Distance Learning - used by less than 10 % of the Faculty

Changes in approaches to teaching and learning:

The use of these new technologies is seen by many as a major factor contributing to a shift away from traditional or conventional approaches to instruction and toward new or reform approaches to teaching and learning.

  • teacher directed, didactic teaching
  • short blocks of instruction on single subject
  • individual work
  • teacher as knowledge dispenser
  • ability grouping
  • assessment of fact knowledge and discrete skills
  • student exploration
  • interactive modes of instruction
  • extended blocks of multidisciplinary instruction
  • collaborative or cooperative work
  • teacher as facilitator or guide
  • heterogeneous groupings
  • performance based assessment

Changes in digital learning

The shift in approaches to teaching and learning has also coincided with a shift in digital forms of learning:

  • small steps
  • structure, direction
  • instructor control
  • errorless performance
  • linear
  • teach procedures
  • transfer skills of expert to novice
  • large jumps
  • exploration
  • learner control
  • learn from errors
  • global branching
  • teach problem solving
  • empower the learner
  • "just in time" learning

Educational Reform with Technology:  Promises or Pitfalls

  • What forces are encouraging the use of technology in higher education?
  • What has been the impact of information technology on teaching and learning in higher education?
  • What evidence of acceptance of information technology is available from faculty, students, and administration?
  • What evidence of resistance to information technology is available from faculty, students, and administration?
  • What learning goals and issues can be addressed with information technology?
  • What learning goals and issues can not be addressed with information technology?
  • What should be done to encourage and facilitate the wise use of information technology in higher education?

The Challenge:

There are many challenges in the design and construction of teaching and learning applications of technology. As a beginning you may want to consider the following questions:

  1. What teaching and learning goals do I want to accomplish?
  2. How can I inform and guide my students through a complex body of information?
  3. How can technology help me do this?
    • helping me with my personal productivity
    • enhancing my normal teaching
    • helping my students through instructional bottlenecks
    • in ways that involve changes in how I teach
    • in ways that involve changes in what I teach

WWW - "The Internet"

The Internet is a vast world-wide network of computer and communication resources with perhaps as many as 50 million users. One of the major issues is helping students learn to do research on the Internet.

Instructional Computing (1960 - now)

In the early 1960s information technology and the computer provided a new content to be investigated and taught. Higher education courses relating to the following topics were developed and continue to be offered.

  • programming
  • hardware concepts
  • software concepts
  • statistical analysis

Computer Assisted Learning (1966 - now)

In the mid to late 1960s the capabilities of the digital computer were employed to develop applications to support the teaching of computer related topics and other types of content. Applications of the following types were and continue to be developed.

  • drill and practice
  • tutorial
  • simulation and gaming
  • problem solving
  • exploration

Productivity tools (1977 - now)

The success of the personal microcomputer encouraged the development of a variety of tools to enhance personal productivity. The following types of applications had their beginning in the mid 1970s and continue to be used and refined today:

  • word processing
  • spreadsheets
  • graphics packages
  • database management
  • telecommunications

Present course content in a structured manner (1985 - now)

Increased performance and enhancements to personal computers during the mid 1980s encouraged the production of CD-ROM based, self-contained educational programs with the following characteristics.

  • present major concepts
  • provide examples
  • support with graphics, sound, video
  • ask questions
  • apply concepts to "real" problems
  • provide opportunity to diverge, explore

Today there are probably 3000 to 5000 titles that provide examples of these types of programs.

Provide for various types of student support (1990 - now)

Establishment of local and wide area networks and improved access to these resources in higher education during the early 1990s has encouraged the development of a variety of student support activities such as the following:

  • faculty to student interaction
  • student to student interaction
  • course syllabus
  • class notes files and electronic note taking
  • discussion stimuli
  • reference to course texts
  • evaluation and assessment

The Future:

The next technology revolution in education will be about access to information and ways of sharing information. Instructional technology in the next decade will be symbolized by communications using network connectivity between machines -- office to office, classroom to library, teacher to student, student to student, and the campus to the world. Education in the future will support both synchronous and asynchronous interaction between the learner and the sources of knowledge and information. Incorporating digital text, audio, graphics, animation, and full-motion video into lecture, laboratory, self-study, and interpersonal and inter-group communication activities will be the norm. Real-time, simultaneous two-way video, multimedia presentations, personal support systems, and "education on demand" will be delivered to students on the campus, in their homes, or at their work places.

Some questions to consider:

  • What needs and issues should higher education address?
  • How can information technology help to reform higher education?
  • What forces are influencing the use of information technology in higher education?
  • What evidence do we have of the potential benefits of technology in reforming higher education?
  • What costs and problems are associated with using information technology to reform higher education?
  • Is, what can be accomplished with information technology, really worth it?
  • What should be done to support the wise use on information technology to reform higher education?
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