Academia Must Adopt Technology to Thrive

by Kathleen Scalise

Whether they like it or not, universities must exploit technology to change how they teach or sacrifice their historic monopoly over certification of students, said Stanford Professor William F. Massy in a talk on the Berkeley campus March 21.

Massy is director of the Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research and a professor emeritus of education and business administration.

Sounding a call to arms, Massy said throughout history industries faced with technology transformation of this order have never escaped fundamental change.

"There is no reason to believe higher education will be any different," he said.

He believes competition--not cost--will be the driving factor.

"Universities will always raise all the money they can and spend all the money they raise," he said.

"The advent of technology won't change this."

However, "if traditional colleges and universities do not exploit new technologies, other non-traditional providers of education will be quick to do so," he said.

The big question, he said, is whether it remains possible "to adapt quickly enough to defend our institutions and our values."

Massy's audience of Berkeley faculty and administrators filled the chancellor's conference room in California Hall. They questioned Massy closely, raising concerns such as the cost of software development for college-level courses, the quick obsolescence of hardware and the likelihood of getting faculty to adopt new technology, much less build it.

Massy argued commercial software packages will soon be as available as textbooks, and, as to obsolescence, "as far as I know computers don't have tenure," he joked.

He added hardware costs would have to be built into future programs, "possibly reducing somewhat the percentage of faculty salaries in the educational cost equation."

As to getting faculty to participate in re-engineering their courses, "the coin of the realm is release time," he said.

For instance, "there are a whole lot of courses in all of our programs with very small enrollment," he said. "We might combine some of these for a while and use the resources saved to re-engineer."

Transformation will take a long time, Massy said, "long enough for critics to claim that perhaps higher education can thrive without fundamentally changing itself in response to the new technologies."

But don't be fooled, he said.

"The way we teach now is basically still Mark Hopkins and a student on a log," he said, referring to an American educator of the last century known for stressing development of the individual student. "But it can't stay that way."


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