The Technology Source: November/December 2000 Issue

November 2, 2000


In today’s global economy, radically different cultures trade in today’s

hottest commodity: knowledge. In an interview with Technology Source

editor James L. Morrison, Frank Tait shares the vision driving his work

with the Chinese distance learning market as senior vice president for

global marketing for SCT, a leading provider of higher education

technology. When Morrison asks what effect SCT’s initiatives may have on

American and Chinese educational opportunities, Tait suggests that the

technological revolution may help turn cultural barriers into diverse

opportunities for creative ventures. Empowered by technologies born of

cross-cultural innovation, Tait reports, global businesses like SCT can

provide access to education even in rural parts of distant nations.

Busy educators have no time for those technological “advancements” that

create more difficulties than they resolve. But how do we separate the

wheat from the chaff? The answer, Stephen C. Ehrmann tells us, lies in

better diagnostic studies of Web-enabled efforts, studies that identify

those programs with marked, practical effects on student learning. Laying

out several crucial questions for educators undertaking such research,

Ehrmann makes even the complicated process of assessment seem practicable.

Though innumerable technological advances have been billed as one-time

cure-alls, instilling technological skills in users requires constant,

costly upgrades of hardware and software as well as ongoing training and

support services. Given these costs, many educators have found themselves

in the uncomfortable position of arguing for greater and greater fiscal

expenditures. Mauri Collins and Zane Berge suggest an alternate approach:

technological minimalism. In their commentary, Collins and Berge posit

that matching pedagogical goals with specific technological tools will

allow distance educators to get the most for their money. They offer a

tech-savvy argument for paring instructional toolboxes down to the

essentials rather than acquiring each new “gadget” on the market.

Alton L. Taylor and Frank A. Schmidtlein offer a second commentary on

keeping up with the costs of technology. Acknowledging those unavoidable

expenses that even technological minimalists must incur, Taylor and

Schmidtlein remind administrators of the need for sophisticated long-term

plans for implementing technology. Though loyal Technology Source readers

may not need this reminder, a little of Taylor and Schmidtlein’s research

may help persuade colleagues unconcerned with such priorities. According

to research cited in this article, fewer than half of U.S. colleges have a

long-term financial plan for supporting technology, and only one in five

has a curricular plan for doing so.

If your idea of interdisciplinary studies involves two professors taking

turns lecturing behind a dusty overhead projector in an outdated

classroom, it’s time to read Alan B. Howard’s case study. A professor of

American Studies at the University of Virgnia, Howard decided a few years

ago to enable M.A. students to enliven humanities scholarship with

technological instruments. The result? Unmatched online collections of

texts, historic photographs, and directories of additional resources-plus

a group of graduates eager and prepared to take on the 21st century.

Faculty and staff development often takes effort, effort on the parts of

all members of the university community. But all that effort pays off when

the program is as comprehensive and successful as Carmel McNaught and Paul

Kennedy’s. Their ambitious program unified seven independent faculties at

the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, implemented a set of standard

tools, and trained 200 Learning Technology Mentors (LTMs), who received

course releases and the support of their administration to help other

teachers expand their technological capabilities.

Stephen Downes shines this issue’s spotlight onto, a

Web site designed to help you keep on top of the most important distance

education and online headlines every day. provides a

daily newsfeed and much more. Downes praises the site’s efficient,

attractive layout, easy-to-use reference guides, and abundant links that

will help you stay on the cutting edge.

We’ve got a choice of three handy tools for you: a Web research tool that

identifies the specific information you need on each site, another that

helps you gather statistical data on any question you want to pose online,

and a third that helps you streamline those administrative tasks that take

precious time from your day. Want all of the above? If you’re online,

you’ve already got them! Just let Patrick Bjork show you where they are.

Though he is optimistic about online course evaluations, Michael Theall

doesn’t believe that Web-based data collection methods are fundamentally

superior to their paper-and-pencil counterparts. With a sobering review of

decades of research, Theall points out some of the dangers new course

evaluation designers must take into consideration. Find out what they

are-and how to avoid them-in his letter to the editor.