Implications for the Research University
“Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they the shadows of the things that may be?” Thus did a terrified Ebenezer Scrooge (in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol) beseech his super-natural guide after a vision of the “future” that included the worst-case scenario of his own graceless demise.
Scrooge of course came to learn, as we all eventually do, that while it is hard to predict the future with any accuracy, one can actively work to help shape it. Projections are merely possibilities, some more plausible than others, but all depend on how an enormous set of variables—many of them not quantifiable— actually play out, with and without our intervention.
In Chapter 2, we described some of the information-technology advances that the panel anticipates over the next decade or so. Here, we note that while certain trends in the evolution of technology are apparent, it is difficult to assess their impact on social institutions such as universities with any accuracy. Still, we must try to project, and allow for significant variation in what we can and cannot directly affect, as best we can.
This chapter provides an overview of the unprecedented technology-driven challenges currently being faced by higher education, and by the research university in particular. These challenges are sufficiently great that even the worst-case scenario—the end of the university, an institution that has existed for a millennium and truly become “an icon of our social fabric”—appears to some to be a distinct possibility. The reasoning behind such an extreme prediction is that although the university has survived earlier periods of technology-driven social change with its basic role and structure more or less intact, the changes being induced by information technology are different because they alter the fundamental relationship
“Can an institution such as the university, which has existed for a millennium and become an icon of our social fabric, disappear in a few decades because of technology? Of course. If you doubt it, check on the state of the family farm.”
–Wm. A. Wulf (Wulf, 1995)
between people and knowledge. Thus the technology could profoundly reshape the activities of all institutions, such as the university, whose central function is the creation, preservation, integration, transmission, or application of knowledge.
The panel believes that while the university as a physical place is not in danger of disappearing any time soon, it is nevertheless critical for the higher-education community to prepare itself for change.10 And it must begin to do so by reconsidering the academic culture that sometimes allows the demand for consensus to thwart action and in which consultation is often defined as consent.
It is encouraging that some challenges of information technology are already being addressed by the higher-education enterprise. For example, regular sections on information technology and distance education have been features of The Chronicle of Higher Education for some time. In addition, the long list of references for this report and the involvement of not-for-profit education providers (see examples in Box 3-1), as well as for-profit entities, indicate that a great deal of activity has occurred and is continuing. Universities are also working together and with industry in the area of technology standards to enable the broader changes advocated in this report.11
However, experts within and outside academia observe that there is still a great deal of complacency in the research university, and that more intensive and structured communication at the national and campus levels is necessary.12 The university could fare better in the future if it develops mechanisms to sense the changes being wrought by information technology, speculates broadly on possible effects, and then responds accordingly—with carefully considered strategies backed by prudent investments—not just to avoid extinction but to actively cultivate opportunity.
Learning and scholarship do require some independence from society. The research university in particular provides a relatively cloistered environment in which people can deeply investigate fundamental problems in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, and can learn the art of analyzing difficult problems. But the rapid and substantial changes in store for the university—not only those related to information technology—require that academics work with the institution’s many stakeholders to learn of their evolving needs, expectations, and perceptions of higher education. For example,
Box 3-1: Organizations and activities related to information technology and the research university
EDUCAUSE (www.educause.edu) is a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology. Membership is open to academic institutions, corporations serving the higher-education information-technology market, and other related associations and organizations.
The Forum For The Future of Higher Education (emcc.mit.edu/forum), consisting of academic leaders and scholars from across the country who convene annually, facilitates shared inquiry and collaboration on issues— primarily in economics, strategy, and technology and learning—likely to influence the future of higher education. The Forum sponsors research, presents findings, and disseminates information throughout the higher-education community. It is an independent, nonprofit organization affiliated with Yale University.
Vision 2010 (www.si.umich.edu/V2010/home.html) is a project, hosted at the University of Michigan, that is concerned with how higher education might be transformed by information technology.
The Futures Project (www.futuresproject.org/), hosted by Brown University’s A. Alfred Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions, aims to stimulate an informed debate on the role of higher education in the new global society. It is particularly interested in the opportunities and dangers of a global market for higher education, and in the development of policies that ensure a skilled use of market forces to enhance opportunities while minimizing the associated risks.
The Knight Higher Education Collaborative (www.irhe.upenn.edu/knight/knight-main.html), sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, is composed of institutions and state systems of higher education that work together on policy issues of broad interest and importance. The Collaborative is “housed” administratively at the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Research on Higher Education (IRHE) and builds on the work started by the Pew Charitable Trust Higher Education Roundtable. The IRHE, headed by Dr. Robert Zemsky, publishes the widely read Policy Perspectives series, and has convened or facilitated over 250 roundtables since 1986.
OpenCourseWare (OCW) (ocw.mit.edu/index.html/) is an MIT project in which the university will make nearly all materials from its courses freely available on the World Wide Web for noncommercial use. Depending on the particular class or style in which the course is taught, this could include materials such as lecture notes, course outlines, reading lists, and assignments. More technologically sophisticated content will be encouraged.
Source: Compiled by NRC staff from organization web sites.
universities may be obliged to place a far greater emphasis on forming alliances that allow individual institutions not to try to be all things to all people but to focus instead on their unique strengths.
Universities will have to function in a highly digital environment along with other organizations as almost every academic function will be affected, and sometimes displaced, by modern technology. The ways that universities manage their resources, relate to clients and providers, and conduct their affairs will have to be consistent not only with the nature of their own enterprise but also with the reality of “e-everything.” As competitors appear, and in many cases provide more effective and less costly alternatives, universities will be forced to embrace new techniques themselves or outsource some of their functions.
In any case, the panel believes that universities should strive to become learning organizations by systematically studying the learning process and re-examining their role in the digital age. This would involve encouraging experimentation with new paradigms of education, research, and service by harvesting the best ideas, implementing them on a sufficient scale to assess their impacts, and disseminating their fruitful results.
Such self-examination and self-improvement by the research university in particular should include the following issues, each of which is analyzed further—not as prognostication but in the spirit of “shadows of the things that may be”—in the remaining sections of this chapter:
The university’s fundamental activities of education and research.
The preservation and communication of scholarly knowledge.
The university’s basic form, function, and financing.
The effect of a changing university on the higher-education enterprise generally.
EDUCATION IN TUNE WITH THE TIMES
The explosive march of hardware capability outlined in Chapter 2 is not being matched by related uses in higher education. One indicator of this gap is the reality that more space on
“Most organizations do a considerable amount of research about their own functioning. I’m sure that IBM, to take an arbitrary example, spends a tremendous amount of money thinking about IBM and how IBM might function better. Not the university.”
—Don Norman, Workshop on the Impact of Information Technology on the Future of the Research University, January 22-23, 2001, Washington, D.C. (programs.researchchannel.com)
the typical undergraduate’s hard drive is likely to be devoted to MP3 music-audio files than to material related to classes. Still, the Napster phenomenon, which focused on university students’ and other young adults’ predilection to collect popular-music recordings at little or no cost, showed the potential power of leveraging today’s commodity hardware capabilities. One future test of success for academia is whether it is able to tap this latent power for educational ends.
But although it has been slow in coming, we’re beginning to see the impact of information technology on teaching, and it seems to be driven not so much by faculty or administrators but by the learners themselves. A good number of today’s young people have spent their early lives amid visual electronic media such as video games, and they often approach learning as a “plug-and-play” experience. They expect—indeed, demand— interaction; and they are unaccustomed to learning sequentially (e.g., to reading the manual). Instead, they’re inclined simply to jump in.
It is, of course, important to distinguish between learning facts and learning concepts, between answering simple factual questions and making difficult judgement calls. Just because learning and teaching environments utilize information technology does not mean that pedagogy and the substance of what is being taught are any less important. While many of today’s “digital generation” of media-savvy students are open to new approaches, they will still need to think critically when engaging the materials they encounter, whether surfing the Web or scanning the library stacks.13
Other students are less comfortable with information technology; indeed, some would see a threat in any challenge to the deeply engrained notion that “true learning” must occur in a traditional classroom environment. Incorporating new technology into teaching will thus require accommodation to varied learning styles (Passig and Levin, 1999).
Yet we envision a future, enabled by information technology and driven by learner demand, in which two of the major (and taken-for-granted) ways of organizing undergraduate learning will recede in importance: the 55-minute classroom lecture and the common reading list. That digital future will challenge faculty to design technology-based experiences based primarily on interactive, collaborative learning. Although these new approaches will be quite different from traditional ones, they
may be far more effective, particularly when provided through a media-rich environment (Hanna, 2000). At the same time, information technology can actually enhance traditional norms of higher education—for example, through the “living-learning” paradigm made possible by Web communities that grow around on-line courses (Young, 2002b).
Such changes also imply a different student-faculty relationship than has traditionally been the case. Students may be more involved in the creation of learning environments, working shoulder to shoulder with the faculty just as they do when serving as research assistants. In that context, student and professor alike are apt to be experts, though in different domains.
The faculty member of the twenty-first century university could thus become more of a consultant or coach than a teacher, less concerned with transmitting intellectual content directly than with inspiring, motivating, and managing an active learning process.14 That is, faculty may come to interact with undergraduates in ways that resemble how they interact with their doctoral students today.
Higher education is already heavily wired, with 90 percent of four-year-college students going online at least once a day (Greenfield Online, 2000). But in keeping with the academy’s customary taste for incremental change, it was natural that the earliest applications of information technology on campus should involve the enhancement of traditional courses. For example, electronic mail and computer conferencing were used to augment classroom discussions, while the Internet provided access to original source materials. Meanwhile, the first applications of computer-aided-instruction technology attempted to automate the more routine aspects of learning.
In other words, consistent with its early applications of other technologies, higher education tended to use digital networks simply to repurpose the traditional lecture course for online access (Newman and Scurry, 2000). Similarly, multimedia networks were used simply as an Internet extension of correspondence or broadcast courses to enhance distance learning.
The most dramatic impacts on university education are yet to come—when learning experiences are reconceptualized to capture the power of information technology. Although the classroom is unlikely to disappear, at least as a place where students and faculty can regularly come together, the traditional lecture format of a faculty member addressing a group of
relatively passive students is threatened by powerful new tools such as the simulation of physical phenomena, gaming technology, telepresence, and teleimmersion (the ability of geographically dispersed sites to collaborate in real time). Sophisticated networks and software environments can be used to break the classroom loose from the constraints of place and time to make learning available any place, any time, and to any one. The outlines of what will be possible can even now be seen in the real-time collaboration and project-management tools that are becoming common in the corporate environment.
The attractiveness of computer-mediated distance learning, or “distributed learning,” is obvious to adult learners whose work or family obligations bar their routine presence on conventional campuses. But perhaps a more surprising application of computer-based distance learning is the degree to which many on-campus students are now using it to augment their traditional education.15 Broadband digital networks and multicasting can be used to enhance the multimedia capacity of hundreds of classrooms across campus and link them with residence halls and libraries. Electronic mail has already altered faculty-student interactions in fundamental ways; professors are now much more accessible to their students, as well as to the wider world, than was the case just a few years ago. The apparent downside for some is a decline in informal interactions during office hours and other face-to-face settings (Connolly, 2001).
Meanwhile, online learning enrollments are reportedly growing at a 33 percent annual rate, and are expected to reach 2.2 million by 2004.16 Despite the well-publicized failure of several e-learning initiatives, 150 institutions now offer online undergraduate degrees and an even greater number offer graduate degrees; and a recent report anticipates that the U.S. e-learning market will recover from the dot.com bust and grow to a size of nearly $14 billion by 2004 (Booz Allen Hamilton, 2002). Little wonder that there has been explosive activity in the commercial sector to create both the content and technology that support this enterprise. While the report points out that corporate and specialized professional training present the greatest growth prospects, it also notes the opportunities for companies that help universities expand e-learning’s role in campus-based instruction.
Developing and deploying high-quality distributed-learning curricula can be difficult and expensive, however. Creating
online courses is considerably more complex than simply posting lecture notes or PowerPoint presentations on the Web or videostreaming the “talking heads” of lecturing professors (Young, 2000a). Nevertheless, faculty around the country are gaining expertise in how to turn traditional courses into distance-learning courses (Carnevale, 2000a and 2000b) and how to blend traditional and on-line elements (Young, 2002b), and they are reaping significant rewards.
But there are barriers to such innovation as well. Young faculty members who may have the best skills to develop new information-technology approaches to teaching are concerned that this work will not be taken into account in tenure and promotion decisions, although this policy may be changing at some institutions (Young, 2002a). With competing demands on their time, even tenured faculty members may not have sufficient incentive to devote time to utilizing information technology in creative ways. In addition, the question of whether individual faculty or the institution owns “courseware,” and other intellectual-property issues, are being raised. These are discussed further below.
Meanwhile, universities are increasingly outsourcing much of the technology and expertise necessary for distributed learning from commercial providers, such as Blackboard and WebCT, which produce course-management systems. They also distribute content in partnership with several educational publishers.17 These activities are, of course, still evolving. Questions such as who is responsible for changing material as the field evolves and the extent and type of instructional interaction required will be answered over time. Issues such as the apparently higher attrition rates for Web-based (as opposed to traditional) courses also need to be addressed (Carr, 2000a).
The development of effective “edutainment” by educational institutions in partnership with the entertainment industry, using professional actors and production methods, is another future possibility. Given the buying power of the target audience, 18-to 25-year-olds with high income potential, the development could be underwritten by commercial sponsors. In a scenario that seems extreme today, large parts of the general undergraduate curriculum could join college football and basketball as commercialized edutainment, facing university leadership with challenges similar to those now being encountered with regard to sports (Duderstadt, 2000b).
Actually, we are beginning to see the emergence of a whole new type of institution—the virtual university. These entities exist only in cyberspace, without campus or perhaps even faculty, solely to provide distributed-learning opportunities. Unburdened by most of the usual academic constraints, such virtual universities can experiment with a variety of new forms. Some, such as Michigan Virtual University (www.mivu.org), serve only as brokers, providing marketing channels that allow traditional colleges and universities to be “suppliers” of educational services to a distributed marketplace. Others, such as the University of Phoenix, attempt to provide a more complete array of higher-education offerings, including instruction, library support, and administrative services. Its continuing success in transferring its profitable model of part-time education for working adults into cyberspace constitutes an example to other entities (for-profits and non-profits) seeking to reach the same audience.
There are examples of companies creating online universities by disaggregating the overall production of educational programs and selectively outsourcing each component.18 They hire research-university faculties (to determine content), cognitive scientists (to develop pedagogy and courseware), and instructors (to guide students and develop assessment tools to monitor learning). Similarly, the commercial functions of marketing and distribution can also be disaggregated and outsourced.
By whatever route, distributed learning based on computermediated paradigms allows universities to push their campus boundaries outward to serve diverse types of learners. It also facilitates new forms of pedagogy more responsive to a knowledge-based society—in which learning becomes a pervasive, lifetime need. Thus the traditional paradigm of “just-in-case” degree-based education may be augmented, or replaced, by paradigms of “just in time” and customized “just-for-you”— whereby learners will have increased responsibility to select, design, and control the learning environment.
But even as the number of students, institutions, and commercial organizations participating in distance education grows, it is not clear which business models or structures will ultimately succeed. During the time that the panel was completing this study, several for-profit distance-education subsidiaries launched by universities either went under or showed clear signs of stress (Carlson and Carnevale, 2001; Blumenstyk, 2001;
“Our traditional way of thinking—that once we have the students on our campus they’re a captive audience— from my point of view is dead. We have started pursuing new and ambitious collaborations with other universities.”
—Richard Larson, Workshop on the Impact of Information Technology on the Future of the Research University, January 22-23, 2001, Washington, D.C. (programs.researchchannel.com)
Shea, 2001). One criticism of current initiatives is that they often involve merely putting classroom offerings online without fundamentally rethinking their approaches (Young, 2001b). Clearly, the notion that distance education through the Internet would generate substantial revenues quickly and easily has been dispelled. At the same time, there is growing institutional interest in fostering creation of nonproprietary, open-course content and management tools (Young, 2001a; Carr, 2001).
In that spirit, it is important to note that in evaluating the progress of information-technology utilization in the research university, the role of distance learning by itself should not be overemphasized. As the discussion at the beginning of this section indicates, the integration of computer and communications technologies into traditional academic structures—and the creation of new structures, as MIT’s OCW initiative is attempting—may have more long-term impact than the distance-education industry per se.
The flood of new initiatives in this area launched in the 1999–2000 period has given way to a shakeout during 2001– 2002, as some universities have been shuttering or scaling back their dedicated online units. At this point, it appears that the initiatives likely to survive are those that had been established in the mainstream of the university with a clear mission to help modernize the institution.
So, too, is information technology changing the nature of research. The earliest applications, often limited by computer capacity, were directed at relatively simple mathematical problems in science and engineering. Today, available processing power is much less of a constraint; problems that used to require the computational capacity of rooms full of supercomputers can now be tackled with laptop machines.
The rapid evolution of this technology is also enabling scientists to address previously unsolvable problems—custom-designing new organic molecules, analyzing the complex dynamics of the global climate, or simulating the birth of the universe, just to cite a few. In fact, the use of information technology to simulate natural phenomena has created a fourth modality of research, on a par with observation, theory, and
experimentation. Moreover, there is erosion in the conventional understanding that some types of research are more amenable to information-technology contributions than others; new database and modeling tools, for example, are unexpectedly changing fields that had previously made little use of computing power.
New types of research organizations, such as “collaboratories” (far-flung networks of researchers and laboratories) are appearing that could not have existed without this new technology (National Research Council, 1993 and 2001a). Recognizing that information technology is a crucial enabler of advances across a wide range of scientific and engineering fields, both new and established, the National Science Foundation is developing a Cyberinfrastructure Initiative to better integrate instruments, sensors, supercomputers, and high-speed communications networks (Trimble, 2001). Such efforts may make it possible for collaboratories to attack large-scale science and engineering problems requiring diverse, multidisciplinary talent.
Actually, some of the most powerful applications of information technology have already begun occurring in the humanities, social sciences, and the arts. Scholars now use digital libraries such as JSTOR (www.jstor.org) or ArtSTOR to access, search, and analyze complete collections of scholarly journals or works of art (Mellon Foundation, 2001). Archeologists are developing virtual-reality simulations of remote sites and original materials, such as papyrus manuscripts, that can be accessed by colleagues throughout the world.
Meanwhile, social scientists are using powerful software tools to analyze massive data sets of materials collected through interviews and field studies. And practitioners of the visual and performing arts are applying technologies that merge various media—fine art, music, dance, theatre, architecture—and exploit all the senses (visual, aural, tactile, even olfactory) to create new art forms and experiences.
Other, more subtle changes in scholarship are occurring that can be related to emerging information technology, which inherently leverages and enhances intellectual span. The process of creating new knowledge is shifting from the solitary scholar to teams of scholars, often spread over a number of disciplines. This technology also provides the tools—based on artificial intelligence or virtual reality, for example—to even augment the production of knowledge itself. For example, the inter
“Can the research university survive the locomotive of the IT revolution? I think a much better way to frame the question is: how can the highly valued mission of scientific, technological, humanistic-productivity, and human-capital growth enabled by the research university best be augmented and turbocharged by the IT revolution?”
—Tim Killeen, Workshop on the Impact of Information Technology on the Future of the Research University, January 22-23, 2001, Washington, D.C. (programs.researchchannel.com)
disciplinary field of automated scientific discovery is receiving more attention as the number and accessibility of large databases—e.g., the human genome—increases (Darden, 1997). And theorem-proving software is now commercially available (www.transpowercorp.com). Less restricted to the analysis of what has been, we may effectively create what has never been— drawing rather more on the creative experience of the artist than on the analytical skills of the scientist.
Of all the research-university roles examined in this chapter, research would appear to be the one that institutions are best prepared to adapt to new realities. Indeed, federally funded university research has played a critically important role in creating and nurturing the very technologies discussed here (National Research Council, 1999). But while the research university may face relatively greater information-technology challenges in teaching, outreach, and management than in research, the research-related challenges are not trivial. Maintaining the federal-government/university partnership as a driver in the pursuit of fundamental knowledge and as an engine of U.S. and global innovation will require strong commitment from both partners. New modes of cooperation across agencies, institutions, and departments may be needed to fund and effectively utilize the cyber-infrastructure that will enable tomorrow’s breakthroughs.
Engaging industry as a partner in research is also an issue. As discussed below, the university research enterprise has become more focused on commercialization and the launch of new ventures than in years past. The new thinking about information technology occurring in the university environment could be an additional magnet for industry interest.
These and other issues have global implications. Given the intensely international nature of today’s research, with growing collaboration across distance enabled by information technology, the way that the U.S. research university harnesses new technology in the service of science and engineering is critical not only at home. It is bound to affect scholars and institutions around the world.
PRESERVING AND COMMUNICATING KNOWLEDGE
The preservation of scholarly knowledge is one of the most rapidly changing functions of the university. The computer, or more precisely the “digital convergence” of various media— from print to graphics to sound to sensory experiences through virtual reality—may ultimately have a greater impact on knowledge than the printing press.
Throughout the centuries, the intellectual focal point of the university has been its library, its collection of written works preserving the knowledge of civilization. Today such knowledge exists in numerous forms—including almost literally in the ether, distributed in digital representations over worldwide networks—and it is not just the prerogative of the privileged few in academe but is accessible to many.
For example, the hypertext link is overshadowing the print bibliographic citation, making original source materials available to all via their own computers. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. The distinction between the book and the library may itself become blurred as the Internet evolves into a seamless mesh for probing the world’s “collection.” Similarly, because knowledge is not inherently compartmentalized, some disciplinary boundaries may actually devolve. Even without the Internet, Albert Einstein maintained that many of the most critical research challenges lay at the intersections of disciplines. Technology is now increasingly in hand for exploring those intersections.
The library is thus becoming less of a collection house and more of a center for knowledge navigation, a facilitator of information retrieval and dissemination. In addition to utilizing the new “library without walls,” scholars and students are increasingly able to access sources directly. As with learning, new electronic media allow the formation of spontaneous communities of unacquainted users, linked together in the many-to-many topology of computer networks. Researchers can now follow the work in their specialization on a day-by-day basis through web sites.
These new realities are giving rise to new challenges as well. The archiving of digital materials is one example. Scholars have
found themselves in the odd position of being able to read century-old journal articles—the archived originals—yet unable to read their own manuscripts written with obsolete word-processing software or stored on an obsolete storage medium. The management and preservation of information from short-lived magnetic recording media to ensure future accessibility has not yet been comprehensively addressed. Other issues include potential intellectual distortions resulting from the fact that only relatively recent materials (e.g., journal articles) are available online, and the need for universities to carefully manage heightened demand for access to some paper collections stimulated by electronic access.
Scholarship is still characterized and constrained by the publication of research findings, though this system is fast getting competition as a result of new information technologies (Odlyzko, 2000). The resulting confusion has not yet been resolved: traditional scholarly publication, through established (and extraordinarily costly) journals characterized by peer review, is being challenged by less formal Net-based communication that links scholars essentially instantaneously. The central challenge will be to preserve the benefits of the old system, in which the review process provides cohesion to a given field, while taking advantage of the speed and ease of access promised by new media.
But here too, the technology is evolving. For example, web sites are increasingly serving as portals to integrate material of value to particular scholarly pursuits.19 Ultimately, the most profound changes will involve software agents (Bradshaw, 1997), though such developments lie some years down the road.
The business environment of academic publishing is also an important factor. Publishers have consolidated and sought to create a business model in which online access to journals will drive profits, but they are faced with several high-profile efforts to expand free online access (Vaidhyanathan, 2001). A coalition of research libraries, universities, and other organizations known as the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) is one group seeking to develop common approaches (www.arl.org/sparc).
Meanwhile, our capacity to reproduce and distribute digital information with perfect accuracy at essentially zero cost has shaken the very foundations of copyright and patent law, and it promises to affect notions of intellectual-property ownership
altogether. A Princeton professor’s lawsuit to ensure the ability to publish research about unscrambling encrypted digital music illustrates how changing notions of ownership and academic freedom are coming into conflict (Foster, 2001). The Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA), a contract-law statute for software developed by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and adopted by several states, has sparked opposition from a range of groups (Foster, 2000).
Indeed, the legal and economic management of university intellectual property is rapidly becoming one of the most critical and complex issues facing higher education (National Research Council, 2001d). Intellectual-property concerns are often mentioned as a barrier to greater faculty activity in developing new uses of information technology, along with the perceived undervaluing of such efforts in tenure evaluations (Carnevale and Young, 1999).
IMPACT ON THE FORM, FUNCTION, AND FINANCING OF THE UNIVERSITY
Just as new forms of teaching, researching, and preserving knowledge are being stimulated by rapidly evolving information technology, so too will the university’s organization, management, governance, and relationships between students, faculty, and staff require serious reevaluation and almost-certain change. For example, the new tools of scholarship and scholarly communication will erode conventional disciplinary boundaries, likely extending the intellectual interests and activities of faculty far beyond traditional academic units such as departments or schools (National Research Council, 2001a). This blurring of disciplinary boundaries does not necessarily contradict the growing need for institutions to build and maintain unique strengths, pointed out earlier in this chapter. These core strengths may be in new fields that combine insights from several traditional disciplines.
Beyond driving a restructuring of the intellectual disciplines, information technology could force a significant disaggregation of many traditional university services, ranging from student housing to health care to teaching itself (Massy, 2001; Newman,
2001; Weiland, 2000). Colleges and universities will increasingly face the question of whether they should continue their full complement of activities or outsource some functions to lower-cost and frequently higher-quality providers.
This will pose a particular challenge to faculty, long accustomed to controlling the design of curriculum and supervising the learning environment. Higher education as a cottage industry, in which individual courses are made to order by individual faculty, may not be able to compete much longer in either cost or quality with commodity educational products (Newman and Couturier, 2001).
Similarly, universities will face a major challenge in retaining instructional “mindshare” among their most accomplished faculty. Higher education adapted long ago to the reality of faculty members negotiating release time and very substantial freedom with regard to research activities. There may be new challenges as instructional content becomes a valuable commodity in a for-profit education marketplace (Thompson, 1999). Some would argue that faculty members should be free to contract with outside organizations in developing instructional learningware; such activity is deemed analogous to scholars authoring textbooks and retaining the royalties. Others maintain that institutions have an ownership interest in such intellectual property. Could policies to restrict such activity be acceptable, or enforceable, in the highly competitive marketplace that exists for leading faculty?
It is possible that we’ll ultimately see an “unbundling” of faculty and students from the university, with faculty members acting as freelance consultants, selling their services and knowledge to the highest bidder; and students acting as mobile consumers, able to procure educational services from a highly competitive marketplace (Brown, 1996). Even short of this extreme vision, information technology will likely allow at least some research-university and other higher-education functions to be unbundled—and, where useful, rebundled in new ways.
Movement toward this model would pose a number of challenges to institutions. For example, a student is now considered officially educated when he or she has taken the required credits. But the panel believes that significant learning happens in the “white spaces” between courses and classes—in the heady
“I would allege that the change we’re facing is truly discontinuous—in organizations adapted to small, incremental, continuous change. It isn’t as if the universities have not changed. But when there’s a new technology of the magnitude that we’re discussing, discontinuity puts additional stresses on the institutions.”
—Marye Anne Fox, Workshop on the Impact of Information Technology on the Future of the Research University, January 22-23, 2001, Washington, D.C. (programs.researchchannel.com)
atmosphere of scholarship and debate that permeates the research university. Transcripts of courses taken thus under-estimate a student’s education. This problem is apt to be exacerbated as we (correctly) push for more flexibility in how, when, and where we learn.
In contrast to the image of “free agent” professors reaping profits from their learningware, there is an alternative scenario in which incentives for faculty to create new information-technology-based approaches to education are too weak. If the business environment for educational software and contentware is not as favorable as some have anticipated, a gifted young professor might be committing professional suicide by spending large amounts of time creating it. This is a particular risk in the research university, where such activities are not currently an advantage in gaining tenure.
The university faces a particular challenge not only in rewarding the creation of new learning environments but also in ensuring a technology-literate faculty in the first place. Some faculty members have not kept pace with technology’s evolution, and they are unprepared for the new plug-and-play generation of students. According to a recent survey of senior information-technology administrators by the Campus Computing Project, 40 percent cited “incorporating technology into the classroom” as the most important issue they face; yet only 14 percent said that technology had improved instruction to date (Carlson, 2000).
In earlier times, we would simply wait for a generation of professors to retire before an academic unit could evolve. But in today’s fast-paced world, when the doubling time for technology evolution has collapsed to a few years or less, we must look for effective ways to reskill the faculty members whose careers are far from over.
Actually, almost all of a university’s adults—faculty, staff, administrators, whomever—need to be reskilled in appreciating how today’s student is so effortlessly digital across all boundaries (which are rapidly fading). This issue seldom gets serious attention, even though the ubiquitous presence of computers and other electronic devices—hand-held digital assistants and portable telephones, for example—affects student life at least as much as it does academic programs. In fact, students often make little distinction between the two; they see technology as a
fundamental aspect of their lives, seamlessly affecting all of its parts, and they take it for granted just as they do the air they breathe. Woe to the university that doesn’t grasp this.
But understanding the need is one thing, and paying for it is another. Thus another major challenge to the university is financial. The bill for information technology is growing faster than those of other categories (Olsen, 2001b). For a very large campus, it can amount to hundreds of millions of dollars per year.20 It is paradoxical that institutions are spending more and more as a given level of hardware capability becomes less and less costly. This trend underlines not only the special challenges faced in higher education but the difficulty that virtually all organizations have experienced in utilizing information technology to improve productivity (Massy and Zemsky, 1995).
Historically, universities have seen technology as a capital expenditure to serve only a select few, and more or less as an experimental tool. It is often paid for with year-end savings and other “budget dust” (Olsen, 2001a). Though times have changed, most universities still do not have a modern and sustainable financial model for investing in information technology; their planning is largely limited to long-term faculty appointments and even longer-term physical facilities. Trying to satisfy constituents’ needs for information-technology infrastructure requires very rapid turnover in large-scale investments, and thus an agility not usually found in a budgeting culture.
Nevertheless, some universities are beginning to realize significant cost savings in administrative areas such as purchasing through the effective use of information technology (Olsen, 2002). This shows that it is possible to invest wisely in new capability that delivers concrete benefits. Not surprisingly, the key to meeting this challenge appears to be the creation and careful management of an organizational structure for tapping the new technology.
IMPACT ON THE HIGHER-EDUCATION ENTERPRISE
Coupled with new societal needs—ubiquitous adult education, for example—and economic realities such as erosion of public support (Hebel, 2001; Healy, 1999; Hebel, Schmidt and Selingo, 2001), information technology is likely not only to
transform individual institutions, whether research university or non-research university, but to drive a massive restructuring of the whole higher-education enterprise (Duderstadt, 1999). Judging from the makeovers in other sectors of the economy, such as health care, transportation, communications, and energy, we should expect to see mergers, acquisitions, new competitors, and new products in higher education as well. More generally, we may well see the rise of a global “knowledge and learning” industry, in which the activities of traditional academic institutions converge with those of other knowledge-intensive organizations such as telecommunications, entertainment, and information-services companies.
Such convergence is being driven by the increasing importance of human capital to our knowledge-based economy, which depends so heavily on brainpower, ideas, and entrepreneurship (National Research Council, 2001c). Although the employment and economic situation is weak as this report goes to press, it is clear to many business leaders that obtaining, training, and retaining skilled workers are still critical long-term priorities (ITAA, 2001).
The panel agrees with the general assertion that the emergence of “knowledge work” and “knowledge workers” is crucial to the future development of the global economy and society (Drucker, 1999 and 2001). This notion of “knowledge work” encompasses more than activity directly related to information technology per se; it implies a rise—in nearly all sectors of today’s workforce—of professionals who depend on and manipulate information almost exclusively.
A key factor at present in pushing higher education toward restructuring is the emergence of aggressive for-profit education providers intent on satisfying this information demand (Goldstein, 2000). Most of these new entrants, such as the University of Phoenix21 and Jones International University,22 are now focusing on the adult-education market as well as corporate training (Hanna, 2000). But they also have more expansive goals in mind.
Having invested heavily in sophisticated instructional content, pedagogy, and assessment tools, these providers are well positioned to offer broader educational programs, both at the undergraduate level and in professional areas such as engineering and law. Thus the initial focus of new for-profit entrants on basic adult education is misleading; in the foreseeable future,
their capacity to compete with traditional colleges and universities in some areas could be formidable indeed.
To be sure, some forecasts of demand for distance learning in areas such as business education have proven overly optimistic, at least for the near term (Mangan, 2001; Shea, 2001). But clearly the university will lose its monopoly on students, faculty, and resources, and in the absence of bold commercial alliances it is likely to lose market share to for-profit competitors in its traditional areas of strength.
The research university will face particular challenges in this regard. Although rarely acknowledged, the research university relies heavily on cross-subsidies from low-cost, high-profit instruction in general education (e.g., large lecture courses) and low-cost professional training (such as in business administration and law) to support graduate training and research in the science and engineering fields (Newman, 2000; Newman and Couturier, 2001). These high-profit programs are, not coincidentally, very attractive targets for technology-based, forprofit competitors. Their success in the higher-education marketplace could therefore undermine the current business model of the research university and imperil its core activities. This could be a politically explosive issue for some of the state universities as they try to maintain and increase public support from state legislatures.
Further, as a knowledge-driven economy becomes ever more dependent on new ideas and innovation, there will be growing pressures to commercialize the university’s intellectual assets— its faculty and students, its capacity for basic and applied research, and the knowledge generated through its scholarship and instruction—which become ever more valuable (Olcott and Schmidt, 2000). Public policy, through federal actions such as the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, has encouraged the transfer of knowledge from campus to marketplace. But because knowledge can be transferred not only through formal mechanisms such as patents and licensing but also through the migration of faculty and students, there is a risk that the rich intellectual assets of the university will be depleted as support for graduate education and research erodes.
Even with faculty and students remaining in academia, the research university faces particular conflicts in the commercialization arena. While transforming knowledge into public benefit has long been a major component of its mission, expectations
for university contributions to regional and national economic development are growing. Universities are thus forming an array of ambitious partnerships with industry, and are doing more to support faculty entrepreneurship (GUIRR, 2000 and 2001).
Yet some decry the growth of commercial forces and incentives on campus (Press and Washburn, 2000) as a threat to the basic values of the university. Moreover, society’s experience so far with market-driven, media-based enterprises has not been altogether positive. The experience of the broadcasting and publishing industries suggests that a narrow focus on short-term financial results can lead to mediocrity.
One can imagine a scenario, for example, in which the campus does not disappear but, because of the escalating costs of residential education, becomes priced beyond the range of all but the most affluent. Much of the population would then be limited to lower-cost education via nonresidential learning centers or computer-mediated distance learning. Indeed, critics see the expansion of distance education as the leading edge of a movement to commercialize higher education and “deprofessionalize” the faculty (Noble, 2001).
While the commercial model of the newer for-profit institutions may be a very effective way to meet the workplace-skill needs of many adults, the committee believes that it is not—or at least, not yet—a paradigm suitable to many of the other purposes of the university, including the educational value of direct interaction with excellent teachers. Also, the traditional brick-and-mortar campus has provided a desirable social environment that contributes substantially to student maturation and to growth into participative citizenship.
Thus even though we must be mindful of market forces and willing to respond to them as creatively and substantially as possible, the panel believes that they should not be allowed to dominate and reshape the higher-education enterprise all by themselves. Otherwise, we could well find ourselves facing a “brave new world” in which some of the most important values and traditions of the university have fallen by the wayside.
As we assess these emerging market-driven learning institutions, we must bear in mind the importance of preserving the ability of the university to serve a broader public purpose. While universities teach skills and convey knowledge, they also preserve our cultural heritage and convey it from one generation to
the next, perform the research necessary to generate new knowledge, serve as constructive social critics, and provide society with a broad array of knowledge-based services such as technology transfer and health care.
So what should a university of the twenty-first century— one that serves the needs of a knowledge-driven society—be like? In particular, what will be the research university’s role in the changing higher-education infrastructure? It would be impractical and foolhardy to suggest precise models; the great and ever-increasing diversity of the U.S. citizenry and workforce makes it clear that there will be many forms of education and many types of institutions serving our country. But a number of themes will almost certainly factor into the higher-education enterprise.
In a series of reports prepared during the latter half of the 1990s, the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities charted a future course for an important subset of America’s research universities (Kellogg Commission, 2001). The Commission examined the range of internal changes and external forces shaping the future of state and land-grant universities, and did not focus particularly on information technology. In recasting the traditional land-grant missions— education, research, and extension—as learning, discovery, and engagement, it urged universities to re-engage with society and play a more extensive role than in the past.
Information technology can clearly help universities realize the Kellogg Commission’s vision. One important area, which this present study was not able to examine comprehensively, is emphasis on the extension (or “engagement”) mission. Examples of how this may occur can be seen in fields such as social work, where universities are experimenting with new ways to assist practitioners in the field through information technology (Ouelette, 2001).
The panel believes that just as other social institutions have done, universities must become more focused on those they serve. They must transform themselves from faculty-centered to learner-centered entities, becoming more responsive to what students need to learn—whenever, wherever, and however they wish to learn it—rather than simply cater to what faculties wish to teach. This will become a bigger challenge than ever before as information technology greatly increases the size and enhances the diversity of universities’ student bodies, and as more students
gain access to computers and reliable networks. In this environment, the Internet has the potential to be a “democratizing” force, extending educational opportunities to those currently underserved by traditional colleges and universities.
To meet the needs of a knowledge-driven society, it is clear that very broad access to education is a high priority. One of the important challenges of the research-university community will be to sustain, intellectually and financially, a “culture of excellence” with the required selectivity of faculty and students while at the same time providing the foundation for universal education.
The research university will undoubtedly play a role in meeting the growing demand for cost-effective educational opportunities. This may involve increased cooperation with other components of the higher-education system such as state universities and community colleges, which have long been accomplished providers of affordable education.
In an age of knowledge, lifelong learning is especially critical. The concept of student and alumnus will merge. Our highly partitioned schooling system may well blend increasingly into a seamless web, in which primary and secondary education; undergraduate, graduate, and professional education; on-the-job training and continuing education; and lifelong enrichment become a continuum. In this vision of the future, people will be continually surrounded by and absorbed in learning experiences.
Information technologies are now providing not only the means to create growth-inducing environments throughout the lives of learners; the technologies themselves will be able to learn and grow throughout their own service lives. Increasingly driven by artificial intelligence and genetic algorithms, such systems will be capable of evolving to serve humanity’s changing educational needs.
In all, information technology is rapidly becoming a liberating force in our society, not only freeing us from the mental drudgery of routine tasks but also creating new types of learning communities and, more generally, connecting us with one another in ways we never dreamed possible. Higher education must define its relationship with these emerging trends of the digital age in order to adapt, grow, and continue to excel.