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From Great Expectations to a New Pragmatism

Changing the perception of IT's role can lead to more productive campus conversations.

After his keynote at Campus Technology 2011 in Boston, Campus Computing Survey founder/director Kenneth C. Green told CT why he's calling for a new pragmatism in discussions about IT on campus.

Campus Technology: How have expectations for IT in higher education changed?

Kenneth C. Green: With the arrival of microcomputers in the 1980s, many of us felt as if we had embarked upon a new journey. The emerging desktop technology fueled great aspirations. Advocates pointed to an impending technological revolution in higher education. Expectations remain high, and while the enabling technologies have changed dramatically, we still see campuses wrestling with many issues that were part of the campus conversations two and three decades ago.

CT: For example?

Green: Here's a statement by Patrick Suppes, who offered what was perhaps the first online course in higher education, at Stanford University [CA] in the 1960s: "One can predict that in a few years, millions of schoolchildren will have access to what Philip of Macedon's son Alexander enjoyed as a royal prerogative: the services of a tutor as well-informed and as responsive as Aristotle." [Patrick Suppes in Scientific American, October 1966]

CT: What's the problem there?

Green: Suppes's statement is more than 40 years old. Yet you could just dust it off and use it today as an aspirational statement about IT in either K-12 or higher ed. We have a long paper--now digital--trail of campus-planning documents about the impending and presumably improving role of technology in teaching, learning, instruction, and campus operations.
What we have learned over the past three decades is that the technology is really the easy part in the campus conversation about technology and education. The really critical issues, other than money, involve what I call the five P factors: planning, policy, programs, people, and patience. These factors affect an entire learning infrastructure that makes technology useful, adds value to technology tools, and offers support for both students and faculty. Technology is simply a tool.

CT: Would you refocus conversations about IT from technology to learning and learning infrastructure?

Green: Yes. Let me close by drawing from an article I co-authored with Ellen Wagner, the executive director of WCET, earlier this year: "The conversation about learning, online or on-campus, is about what all students learn and what learning environments and enabling resources and technologies foster student learning." [paraphrased from Kenneth C. Green and Ellen Wagner, "Online Education: Where Is It Going? What Should Boards Know?" (Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, Trusteeship, January/February 2011)]
We need a new pragmatism about the power, potential, and also the limits of technology. And we need to focus on technologies that provide real evidence of impact and benefit for student engagement and learning.

Editor's note: A Mediasite video of Green's keynote, "The Fourth Decade of the 'IT Revolution': Continuing Challenges and Opportunities," at Campus Technology 2011 in Boston, can be found here.

About the Author

Mary Grush is Editor and Conference Program Director, Campus Technology.

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