Higher Education in the Information Age

The Undergraduate Experience



Stanley Chodorow: I'm going to start by trying to give you a little bit of a framework. Then we'll call on each of the speakers. The framework comes out of a seminar which I held or sponsored this year, this spring, on the future of the university and the future of Penn in the information age. What was happening to us. This is something that, as you can imagine, Greg has been thinking about a long time, I've been thinking about it, and very many other people. We put together a group of faculty and administrators from across the campus and started to brainstorm and fight a lot, and what I'm going to start with, setting this framework, comes out of that session.

One of the things that was clear as we started was that this is a residential institution, becoming more residential all the time, and many of the institutions around the room are in fact residential. And one of the things, of course, that the new information technology does is to loosen, you might say, the grip of place and time on our activities, and so a major question was, "Will these kind of institutions survive?" We believe that, so far as, so long as we are educating 18 to 22 year olds, and again, Ivy League institutions and small, liberal arts colleges on the whole are in fact in that business and will for the foreseeable future remain in that business, while other kinds of institutions, one of which is represented around in this panel, are in a different part of the business and teach students of a much wider range of age. But those of us who are in the residential 18 to 22 year old field have a function to play as residential institutions. It's called baby-sitting, child rearing, and we will likely continue to do so, but in new forms we believe.

The relationship between residence and academic terms, one of the things that we have inherited from the distant past, along with the lecture and the book, the codex, is the terms which were set on the agricultural year and our residential patterns are also based on that. We notice, for example, students talk about going away to school. They never go home to school. School is not their home. And one of the questions we asked ourselves is if we begin to break or loosen the relationship between being in place and in a particular time and being in school and doing your work in courses and the like, what would the relationship between the residences, residential life, and academic terms be?

And to give you an example of one possibility is that we could certainly try to establish residential systems, most of which right now were built around the country, were built in the seventies and need major renovation. So this is an opportunity. We might well have permanent residential status for students. They come here. They move to Penn or Columbia or Williams or whatever, and then move in and out of that residential life in a new pattern that doesn't have to do necessarily with fixed terms. And we started to explore that and thought that exploration of that was something we wanted to do.

Another thing we might very well do is to have students who were spending most of their time abroad, or who were not even residents on the campus at all, for example older students in many campuses, that, who came for short visits, came for a week or came for a series of workshop intensive experiences. And if we did that we would have to redo our residential system to accommodate that. We'd be running a hotel, or something even more like a hotel than what we're doing right now. And so that is another thing that came up as an area to explore.

We looked at the curriculum. At the course level, we've already got a few examples of what the introduction of Information Technology can do. The major thing is, again, to break the hold of time and place. The classroom can become a revving session for a course that operates really around the clock, and particularly around the clock, because students generally are up from nine to five, work from nine to five, but it's the other nine to five. And so you get this effect of having around the clock kind of conversations and questions in class, and when you do that you have a tremendous impact on time management. Our time management has been quite traditional. It has been based on when you had to show up for class and your class assignments and so on. It was not anything that we had to really manage ourselves. It was managed for us by the structure of the curriculum and the way we schedule our courses. Once you begin to introduce IT into courses, even if you're a resident on the campus, your whole time management system begins to break down, not only for the student, but also for the faculty member who is now in contact with the students in a much more frequent, haphazard, but very often intense way.

At program level, the whole notion of how we package our courses. Once we break this time and place relationship, the notion of the semester-long or the quarter-long course, begins to raise some questions how you construct a modern curriculum or a future curriculum that may take advantage of shorter and longer periods of study for different aspects of the subject matter. And you don't always have to, of course, do it on campus. Some of it may be done somewhere else, often abroad. We think that therefore that there will be a change in the fixed points. Right now the fixed points of a curriculum, and fixed point is something I'm going to come back to, fixed points of a curriculum are the required courses and the distribution courses in some curricula or the choices that you get among so many courses in others. And we think that as you begin to break up these curricula in new ways using this new technology that, in fact, you're going to have to find what's the fixed points? How many credits? How do you measure credits? And so on. So that this is another aspect of the revolution which we think over time will have a tremendous effect on the nature of different curricula.

The effect of the information technology on the allocation of resources and the price of education. We've had a little bit of talk about this already this morning. The fact is that some of the things that IT introduces are phenomenally expensive, and even as the price goes down, you know we replace one computer with three, we replace two years later those three with six or nine, but we keep doing more and more, and that is stretching both our educational resource capacity and of course our human capacity. How much can we do? How many people can we have contact with? Somebody in this room said the other day that he'd been away for five days, when he came back there were 890 e-mails waiting for him. How many of those can you deal with in any given 24 hour period? And if you fall behind, how in God's name to you catch up? These are issues, therefore, of allocation of not only monetary or funding resources, but also human time resources that we have to worry about. And we have such a little grasp on the cost of education that you can imagine as we change it, as it changes into the next decade or two, getting an idea of what it actually costs to run one of these institutions and how you allocate and how you charge for an education in which you can sometimes be on campus and sometimes not be on campus, but at all times be in school and actively so, is something that we're going to have to worry about. The economy of residential life in a situation in which you're coming and going, the length of the organization of terms which I mentioned, and the workload issues for students and faculty.

The workload issues are not only that the IT intensifies the workload for everyone by making it possible to do more so they do do more until they break, but also that faculty end up teaching not only the students we admitted to our institutions, but students who contact them over the Web and who want their information, they want their interaction. And of course if they're interesting students, faculty are suckers for interesting students and they give that time, and then of course they come to you as dean or as department chair and say, "Guess what? I'm actually teaching these other students as well as these ones that you gave me. I want credit." Students meanwhile, of course, have gone out on the Web and are finding faculty and courses elsewhere and taking those courses and doing real work, and they're coming back and saying, "I want credit for this learning that I'm doing," and it's real learning. So we are going to have a lot of workload issues, both on the faculty and the student side to deal with as this technology begins to take hold.

One of the questions that we raised at the end of our seminar is, "What experiments did we need to start to undertake right now to see how all of this might work out?" How do you answer those questions that I've been raising? One of them is, for example, developing on-line systems for teaching basic skills, whether it's mathematics or writing, skills which require for learning that you have interaction. The student does something, gets a reaction to it, does something, gets a reaction to it, can be done on line. The curriculum moving from a set of requirements to an advice-based or an advising-based curriculum in which students get through IT a whole series of pathways through the curriculum. Suggested ways you could approach the incredible number of courses that all of our institutions offer, that would make a coherent program. And of course not being students and being creative, they won't just settle for one of the ones that is suggested; they'll make them up. They'll start from that point and really develop it, and as they do that they will need advice. They'll need faculty to say, "That flies. That doesn't fly." And we ought to be doing some experiments that help curricula move in the direction of advice-based instead of requirement-based or simply structured.

New models of assessment. If we're receiving work in new ways over the Web, multi-media projects of various kinds, the whole idea of deadlines begins to break down-how do we grade this stuff? How do we certify that not only are our students doing the work that is adequate to give them a degree, but how do we also certify that our faculty are doing the work, since more and more of the work that faculty are doing is on the Web and is or is not certified in the normal way, which means published in a reviewed, refereed periodical. And there's a group of people who have been working on that problem of scientific communication and the consequences of the Web for it. There are good consequences obviously in terms of cost, but there are also some troubling ones with respect to how you pin down what a faculty member has actually done.

And then, finally, partnerships with non-traditional and for-profit institutions. It's very clear to us that some of this takes enormous capital. We will probably end up in some partnership with companies that are interested, suddenly interested, in education. One of the things about the new technology that everybody talks about all the time is that it brings competition from unexpected sources. That all of a sudden competition shows up on the radar screen that you never imagined was coming in your direction. And we will have to partner or compete with, in some way cope with this kind of institution, much of it corporations. And we need to start to develop ways of operating that do not undermine what the university and college are all about. So those are the kinds of things we produced. We could go into that a lot more, but I want to get on with the session this afternoon.



Contact: heia@pobox.upenn.edu
URL: http://www.upenn.edu/heia/proceed/present/introtrans.html
Last modified: 19 January 1998