Technology and education: Between chaos and order
First Monday

Technology and education: Between chaos and order by Mohammad Khalid Hamza and Bassem Alhalabi

More than any period in recorded history, today’s heterogeneity of emergent technology has transformed daily life, particularly the lives of the many fascinated by it. The American educational system and its sense of direction have not been spared from the chaos and distress that accompanies this unprecedented era. Many educators await the promise of technology’s power to improve the educational system. The purpose of this paper is not to validate the pros or cons of technology, but to explore current issues facing the American educational system and to better use technologies in a productive and a creative manner. This article explores contemporary issues of technology in education, investigating its impact upon the American educational system, and examining the nature of its unprecedented relationship to the posthaste changes of the information age. This article also suggests systematic procedures that may be used to assess the needs of an institution’s educational information system (EIS), and the dimension of building creative educational climate to better meet instructional goals and to sustain the continual needs of a quality educational system.


Education and the information chaos: Current technology issues




The changeling state of education is in exigent need of solutions to age–old questions about teaching and learning by reason of this century’s boundless technology and its societal impact. More than any period in recorded history, today’s profuse heterogeneity of emerging technology has transformed daily life, particularly the lives of the many fascinated by it. The American educational system is included in that list; its sense of direction has not been spared from the chaos and distress that accompanies this unprecedented era. Many educators await the promise of technology’s power to guide them and to lead improvements in the educational system. Any reasonable success, however, should bring forth change.

Today, learners have the choice to attend a traditional classroom or the virtual classroom. Toppling market prices in technology, coupled with increasing power potential and popularity, facilitated an invasion of technology into mainstream education (Morrisett, 1996; Westbrook and Kerr, 1996; Means, 1994). For example, in 1981, only 18 percent of U.S. public schools had one computer for instructional use. By 1991, the estimate increased to 98 percent (QED, 1992; Means, 1994; Mageau, 1991). In 1983, the ratio of students to computers in American schools was 125:1. By 1990, the ratio decreased to 20:1 and, by 1995, it reached 9:1. Conversely, other technologies were adopted almost at the same rate. For example, between the 1991–92 school year, only seven percent of schools had CD–ROM drives. That number increased to 37 percent by the 1994–95 school year. In 1991, only one percent of the nation’s classrooms had satellite connections, while 17 percent had them three years later in 1994. The number of computers connected to networks in schools climbed from only five percent in 1991 to 28 percent by 1994. About 53 percent of all school districts surveyed reported at least one school connected to the Internet in the 1993–1994 academic year, and 37 states provided network accounts to some 509,000 users in 1995 (Westbrook and Kerr 1996; QED, 1995). Access via computer modem, and telephone connection accelerated rapidly in the past few years, featuring e–mail connections to the Internet. According to a recent survey of Internet host computers (Morrisett, 1996), the survey recorded 6.6 million Internet hosts in 106 countries worldwide. In November 1992, about 279 million messages were transmitted over the Internet and, by November 1994, the number of transported messages reached just over one billion messages, an astounding annual growth of 90 percent. Based on these figures, the world’s inhabitants should witness an upsurge to 101 million computer hosts by the year 2000.

Profound investments in technology in this decade gave rise to a worldwide explosion of information; many institutions of higher education were mystified by the information chaos that accompanied it. The perturbation caused by this newcomer brought about many struggles to more clearly understand this alien science. Embroiled in obscurity and uncertainty, many lost focus of the educational mission.

Undoubtedly, technology’s offerings increased dramatically in recent years. These advances also introduced new educational nomenclature: “virtual education,” “diploma mills,” “virtual universities,” “electronic universities,” “virtual,” and “cyberspace institutions” (Kerr, 1996; Noble, 1998; Morrisett, 1996). Many educational institutions seem driven to use newly found access to global data communication that will increase enrollments and will award a vast range of degrees through massive investments in distance education programs. For years, these ventures granted degrees while posing requirements that, in many cases, varnished over poorly structured academic programs with lurid jargon that enticed students to pursue “alternative fast track diplomas” and “non–traditional paths.” Research suggests that these borderline tactics often imitate the requirements of sanctioned colleges and universities; in reality, these requirements have been far less demanding because they thrived on marketing schemes that promoted customized curriculums designed to fit the unique needs of adult learners. When compared in–depth to the curricula of bona fide academic institutions, however, these ventures appeared to be little more than money–making plots managed by capitalistic–minded individuals who held verily the slightest regard for academic values. Their academic services lack academic authenticity and educational quality (Stewart and Spille, 1988; Noble, 1998).

Despite ceaseless investments in emerging technologies by U.S. institutions of higher education, few questions have been raised whether these technologies are truly essential to support instructional and overall educational goals. If technological investments are imperative in acquiring productive learning tools, one must also ask, ‘How can emerging technologies be effectively utilized to achieve optimal education?’ Education’s mission seems, ultimately, to be aligned with education, the social organization. Those who govern the educational system tend to perceive the role of technology as the ultimate end but “nowhere do you find more enthusiasm for the god of technology than among educators” [1]. Neil Postman further claimed, “Those educators believe in technology, rely on it, delighted when they are in its presence, condemn people whom are opposing to it, they stand in awe of it, and they are willing to alter their lifestyle, schedules, relationships to accommodate it.”



Education and the information chaos: Current technology issues

Rigid, inherited beliefs, societal traditions, and economic–centered objectives are the primary fortress of an aged, declining American educational system. According to Kauffman and Hamza (1998) and Kerr (1996) we, as educators, continue to mold a neo–twentieth century image of the school–as–factory similarly to the ways in which workers produce railway cars or motors. For example, Educom, the academic–corporate consortium, recently instituted Learning Infrastructure Initiatives. These Initiatives include an explicit study of what professors do by dissecting and categorizing the work of faculty into distinct chores, a classic, Tayloristic approach used in determining what parts should be automated or outsourced. Noble (1998) refers to such educational intervention as a highly personal human–mediated environment.

According to Morrisett (1996), society has can be credited for creating technology, but technology is simultaneously creating society. These observations would also suggest that technologies are beginning to exercise a benevolent tyranny over humankind. People have become “compulsive information consumers,” who favor the passive reception of information as a form of entertainment over the more challenging act of thinking. These powerful influences also exert direction over learning and learning environments. Morrisett added that institutions of higher education have adapted to these conditions but, as a result, they have also compromised the habits of the mind (study, analysis, reflection, contemplation, and deliberation) that are associated with logic. For these reasons, many blame the American educational system for the decline in quality education. As a result, many academic institutions seem to “hang on” to any thread of success by imitating, copying, and competing with each other to survive the exponential growth of emerging technologies and changing global market. Overwhelmingly, it appears that when these constituents are confronted with the intimidating prospect of change, they refrain from seeking innovative, alternative ways to improve higher education and quality of instruction. Overwhelmingly, they retreat to traditional methods that fall within the more familiar comfort zones.

Technological advancements: Approach vs. avoidance

While still in its dawning, the information explosion influenced the rise of two extremes. To one extreme, some traditional, bureaucratic institutions seem to avoid technological advance, doubting its potential to assist in improving teaching and learning outcomes. These institutions tend to dispute change and embrace obsolete beliefs, cultural constraints, and boundaries. To the other extreme many institutions confidently market themselves as “electronic universities,” “Internet schools,” “virtual universities,” and other labels that indicate their position in the race of information technology. Many clamor for universal access and search for ways to attract students to the virtual classroom, promising the earning of degrees of choice via distance education. There has been much talk among educators that these acts begin to modify the student’s worth to the academic world, as the student begins to assume both the tangible and intangible characteristics associated with those of a “customer” as opposed to the characteristics of a student. Marketing strategies abound that beseech the “student–customer” to take advantage of “fast, universal access,” “earn a degree in a short period of time,” and other creative approaches that guarantee satisfaction and ultrasonic delivery of the degree–of–choice.

Education: Quality vs. quantity

Despite the dichotomy of purpose compared to organizational behavior, many institutions of higher education achieve the delicate balance between quality and quantity. Many seem to share common concerns and challenges imposed by the uncertainty of information chaos. Instructional integration of technology with the learning environment (traditional and virtual), user support (at all levels), expanded access to diverse student populations, online education homogeneity and dependability, and increased costs create challenges in higher education. To many, the achievement in surviving the information marathon is more critical than safeguarding educational integrity. Confusion and bewilderment tend to characterize today’s juvenile information society, as well as the attitudes and behaviors of individuals who lead at institutions of higher education. Such confusion disrupts the progress of effective goal setting and decision–making.

Technology enthusiasts across heterogeneous levels of education have seemingly become hopelessly enamored by technology’s promise–laden guarantees. In a few short years, this fascination has become esteemed by the many as the foremost panacea to better teaching and better learning. However, there are underlying problems that result from this kind of rationalization. Emerging technologies have often been exploited by “sales–hungry” decision–makers who have used technology’s rich habiliments in automating higher education curricula and attempting to sustain increasing enrollments in order to remain economically competitive with the business world.

The multitudes in academia have already stamped, with unrivaled enthusiasm, an all–embracing acceptance of emerging technology; many have rushed, without hesitation, to implement technology. It is far easier to believe that technology has already reached the pinnacle in helping teachers to teach and encouraging students to learn; it is a much more difficult task to believe to the contrary. Therefore, these beliefs toward technology have brought forth new meanings to the “THEN, IF” scenario. Overzealous adoption of technology implies that learning will be successful. In fact, some individuals might also argue that any instructional strategies combined with technology guarantees success as an effective teacher. This cycle of thinking and reaction simmers until it leads people to believe that technology is the revitalizing “antidote” for a decaying educational system. In addition, this pattern of belief might also persuade one to believe that the mere act of mechanically implementing technology will spare the educational system from further decay wrought by inherited, newly borne problems in much the same way that a vaccine protects human beings from disease.

When educators question the plausibility of implementing new technologies that connect teachers and students through the Internet, particularly those in decision making capacities, these individuals are more likely to obligate time, money, and much human effort to adopt these technologies. To debate this point, the following questions might entertain controversy that educational institutions may have previously overlooked:

  1. Do decision–makers master the fundamentals of information technology systems (IS) that qualify them to make such critical decisions?
  2. How do these decisions impact learning and teaching?
  3. What involvement do faculty, staff, students, and the social organization share in these educational events where the impact of these decisions may be most strongly communicated?

The investment of human capital

Many U. S. institutions invest significant time, effort, and massive financial resources to embrace what seems an invincible technology that might re–attach them to the aggressive information global market. However, in haste of these kinds of capital pursuits, the investment in human capital is often ignored. Everywhere, substantial financial resources are earmarked in education budgets for purchasing, implementing, and maintaining technologies that are only fleeting investments in hardware and software.

The interest in computing technologies touched many educational institutions during the last ten years. The primary purpose of older technologies (e.g., films and overhead projectors) was to instruct. The purpose of new technologies differs markedly, because new technologies are strongly linked with economics. Employment prospects are evaluated on learned skills needed by the information market. Among the many who are administrators and top decision-makers, interest in technology gravitates toward economic rationalization and advancements in operational efficiency. To illustrate this view, suppose that an individual can type a letter on a computer 25 percent faster than on an electronic typewriter. Some would argue, then, that a computer should also allow a teacher to improve what happens in the classroom by the same margin (Kerr, 1996). Such interest seems to focus more closely upon the application of new technologies to solve administrative problems than in using technologies to restructure academic programs that help to meet instructional goals. Much of the administrative focus tends to place higher enrollments as a top priority and, in doing so, confuses the economic gain of higher student enrollments with the measurement of quality education. According to Noble (1998), many university administrators use the implementation of technology to fashionably update their institutions while reducing the costs of direct labor, plant maintenance, teachers’ salaries, and numbers of classrooms. Simultaneously, however, as these administrations replace human capital, they also undermine the autonomy and independence of faculty.

Many institutions of higher education bear the impact of such commercialization: bloated classroom sizes, reduced teaching staff (particularly full–time teaching positions), increased part–time teaching, frozen salaries, reduced curricular offerings, higher student tuition, and increased administration staffing in efforts to impose conformity upon campus academic environments. A study conducted at two–year institutions revealed that 49 per cent of the employees were part–time; yet, at four–year institutions, 28 per cent of the employees were part–time [2]. At public institutions in 1995, 34 percent of the employees worked part–time, compared with 28 percent at private colleges. In 1970, only 22 per cent of the professorate worked part–time; in 1995 those proportions had nearly doubled to 41 percent. The survey concluded that more professors are working part–time and more of those part–time professors teach at two–year colleges.

Distance learning modalities and consumerism in education

According to Maddux (1994), too many educators seem overtly preoccupied in making the Internet accessible to students, while far too few seem to be concerned whether teachers and students can and will use the Internet in educationally appropriate ways. Easy–to–obtain distance education degrees flood the American educational system. Courses in these types of curriculum lack quality; effortless certifications lack authenticity. These documents are meaningless, because they do not equip their owners to face the challenges of the real world (Stewart and Spille, 1988; Noble, 1998). To withstand competitive job markets and workplace performance challenges; these degree–holders are subsequently compelled to seek worthy courses that issue quality degrees and certifications.

Interestingly, few professional medical degrees are offered in such a loose fashion. In medicine, human health is the criterion that requires the medical field to establish and meet a standard of excellence. One might wonder, then, what is the reasoning behind academic programs and degrees that lack quality and authenticity? Some educators may ask, “If we cannot trust our health in the hands of a physician or our safety in the hands of an airline pilot, how can we trust our future in the hands of an unqualified and incompetent educator?”

Moreover, many “technology–partisan” teachers prefer to conduct numerous courses via distance education modalities; simultaneously, many administrators require that syllabi and coursework material be posted on the Web or delivered via distance modalities. However, intense Web–based instructional processes require adequate preparation in instructional design, development techniques, and skills lacking in many Web–based components. The increased popularity of the Internet and its ease of accessibility entice many teachers to spend endless hours away from direct classroom interaction with students. These professors devote much attention to the perfection of Web pages, Web course design, multimedia presentations, or via Web–based instruction to distance education modalities.

With the commercialization and the commoditization of instruction, teacher–artisans are becoming more and more like Webmasters and application developers. As a result and largely due to the constraints of time, many teachers leave their depth of subject matter and domain–specific knowledge lagging behind. These educators are consumed into a production process garnered solely for instructional commodities and, hence, become subject to the pressures of rapid, filtered–down technological transformations that befall production laborers in other industries.

Other teachers, however, seem to inhibit the growth of their own teaching skills because they doubt technology’s potential in meeting instructional goals, in enhancing change, and in satisfying limitless demands. Thus, these individuals fabricate a sizeable distance between themselves and new technologies; they create an impact that is widely felt among many educators (Noble, 1998; Kerr, 1996; Stewart and Spille, 1988).

Consumerism is overtaking college campuses [3]. Increasingly, professors report that students tell them, “After all, I pay your salary. Because I pay your salary, I should be able to tell you when I want to come to class and when my paper should be due.” It is a fact; today’s culture has more instantaneous choices of available products and services than in any other period in history. When students leave the convenience store and enter the classroom, many seem to believe that they can also buy from the educational establishment whatever they want, whenever they want, and with the absolute power to control these factors.

The sizing up of U.S. education: How The U.S. ranks internationally

Despite many institutional investments in technology, some data remain alarmingly accurate and parallel to the data stated in the report Nation at Risk (1983). As stated by Hamza (1996), an issue of Business Week in 1994 announced that the quality of America’s work force ranked below five other industrialized nations: Singapore, Denmark, Germany, Japan and Norway. Sayers (1995) referred to the 1988 report of the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education that addressed the issue of providing workplace literacy standards. This report found that 27 million adults in the United States, or one of five individuals, are functionally illiterate. Approximately 45 million adults are marginally literate and need to improve basic skills to enhance job performance. One–third of U.S. employees lack adequate basic skills (Sayers, 1995). The U.S. high school dropout average is 25 percent (Kunde, 1989; Stone, 1991). The Texas high school dropout average, 36 percent, exceeds the U.S. average by 11 percent, and places Texas third in the nation in numbers of illiterate adults. In addition, one in three workers in the state of Texas cannot read or write well enough to be productive on the job, a cost to employers of US$17.12 billion annually.

In 1995, the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the largest, most comprehensive, and most rigorous international comparison of education ever, tested math and science comprehension of a half–million students at five grade levels from 41 nations. In addition to tests and questionnaires, the research analyzed curriculum architecture, videotaped mathematics sessions, and case studies of policy issues.

Fourth Grade

In comparing fourth grade pupils, mathematics students in seven countries (Singapore, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, and Austria) outperform mathematics students from the U.S. Students in Slovenia, Ireland, Hungary, Australia, Canada, and Israel perform similarly to U.S. students. U.S. fourth graders outperform their counterparts in 12 nations (Latvia, Scotland, England, Cyprus, Norway, New Zealand, Greece, Thailand, Portugal, Iceland, Islamic Republic of Iran, and Kuwait).

Eighth Grade

In mathematics, U.S. eighth graders score below the international average of the other 40 TIMSS countries; however, U.S. student scores are not significantly different from students in England and Germany. The content taught in U.S. eighth grade mathematics classrooms is at a seventh grade level in comparison to the other 40 countries. Topic coverage in U.S. eighth grade mathematics classes is not as focused as in Germany and Japan. In science, however, the degree of topic focus in U.S. eighth grade curriculums may be similar to that of other countries.

U.S. Standards

Regarding the TIMSS assessment of general science knowledge, U.S. twelfth grade students also performed below the international average and were among the lowest of the 21 TIMSS countries. Students in 11 countries outperformed U.S. students.

Such statistics stir the following questions.

  1. Over the past two decades, why did massive financial investments in technology seem ineffective in improving the quality of the American educational system?
  2. What can be done to assist educators in making sense of information chaos, the immense growth of technology, and its overwhelming impact on education?
  3. What procedures could be used to assess an educational institution’s information technologies?

To explore possible solutions that clarify the above–asked questions, one must examine the role of technology as it relates to education, within the institutional hierarchy, and how to effectively assess the need for implementing it better serve educational needs.

Technology as tools

Today, due to a binary world of quick change, educators must venture on their own creative thinking in building a lifelong mastery with technology. They must not only develop their ability to survive a very unpredictable digital information age, but also defeat the accompanying challenges. Not only is it unfavorable to blame technologies for ill–considered decisions, it is unwise. It is also unreasonable to believe that anyone could solve many long existing educational challenges if they could only interrupt the minute–by–minute proliferation of these technologies. The need for new technologies in teaching and learning will only continue to grow stronger and faster. Despite its dawning and educators’ misgivings about its potentials, the information age could become an era of great convenience, providing unmatched feasibility for the discovery and exchange of information, communication, exploration, learning, and teaching. New–sprung technologies hold promise to empower learners with more control over their learning process through self–paced, self–regulated learning at any time or any place, with continual assessment and feedback from teachers.

With the aid of technology, many teachers can take students beyond traditional classroom limits, creating virtual environments to experiment and explore. According to Postman (1996), technology should be utilized as an object of inquiry. We should be aware of how we might use technology and also how technology uses us. Some technologies are particularly helpful because their design characteristics challenge higher order thinking and problem solving tasks; students are encouraged to explore and to learn by discovery. However, computer technology need not be used only for navigating linear programmed tutorials (a system designed to teach by providing the learner with information or linear demonstrations of subject matter, i.e., CAI). It may also be a system to provide the context for the learner’s discovery in which the student investigates, researches, and explores learning experiences that the student controls upon guidance by the instructor. Used as a general–purpose tool, technology can be used to solve many challenging tasks such as data analysis or program development (Smith and Ragan, 1993; Dick and Carey, 1996; Means, 1994).

Contemporary empowerment in learning

Computers can be used as means of communication, Internet, Intranet, e–mail, and other means to send communication, data, information, and feedback via networks. When using technology to communicate, however, a teacher must consider the constraints, in other words, the features that let users operate but limits the user from doing what he or she is able to do, and features to which the user ordinarily attends (Kerr, 1996). Constraints can only provide pre–designed and pre–specified sequenced information and pre–conceived solutions. The student under guidance is the one who must make logical, creative associations, construct knowledge, and learn from these activities. Therefore, teachers must search for creative ways to surpass technology’s limitations in order to challenge a student’s mind.

Despite what teachers and learners do with these technologies, these habiliments cannot and will not substitute for the communication exchange of human interaction. Technology, when effectively used however, might expand the magnitude of human dialogue via distance learning, computer–mediated communication, and other means of on-line communication. Institutions of higher education need to judge how and where human interaction can be most effectively and creatively employed (Noble, 1998; Carr, 1994; Covey, 1989; Drucker, 1986). Moreover, it is essential for learners to learn how to access needed information, sort and categorize it, and make necessary associations and inferences from the events surrounding those activities.

Continuous, changing needs of a technological and information–intensive society create demands that may foment a crisis in our educational system. Technology changes the way teachers teach and the way learners perceive information. Each day as educators across the U.S. meet expectations to teach massive sums of information to an ever–increasing diversity of learners, what is worth knowing or teaching also becomes extremely complex (Alexander and Knight, 1993; Kauffman and Hamza, 1998). For example, the technological tools of the World Wide Web, Internet, Intranet, virtual reality, and goal–directed artificial intelligence excite and fascinate the human mind. Thus, teachers need to think of creative, results–producing methods to use these technologies that enhance the learning processes. They can do so by being facilitating the learning climate of instructional environments, by becoming information managers, and by becoming educators as well as trainers. They can do so by assigning complex mind–challenging tasks, and by giving students opportunities to explore the world and subject matter in such a way that it is individually meaningful. In addition, instructional design and development can also provide teachers and administrators with instructional models to help them understand major concepts, ideas, and theories in education to assist in the overall design, delivery, and evaluation of instruction (Dick and Carey, 1996; Smith and Ragan, 1993). Most importantly, it can provide the necessary tools to diagnose and prescribe solutions to learning challenges in environments where educators become “educational physicians.”

Creativity and flexibility in instruction

Learning theories, learning methods, and research in learning domains are substantial elements in building a solid, grounded educational foundation that substantially influences instruction, education, and decision–making. For example, teachers can utilize learning and educational theories to help them to better understand and maneuver the tools of technology to effectively analyze and utilize the “virtual world.” Human creativity has much to benefit from technologies in education. For example, the Internet rejuvenates old forms of global communication; e–mail becomes a supersonic, first–class postal service without the inconvenience of a long waiting line. Interactive TV video conferencing hurdles cultural boundaries, geographic environments, and global time zones. Today, educators can lecture anywhere and at any time, from distant reaches of this planet to students at other terrestrial locations.

Cyberspace offers educators intriguing technological capabilities acting as virtual research assistants (voice, video, data, images, animation, graphics, etc.), which might not otherwise be affordable if performed by a human being. The “virtual world” grows stronger and, hopefully, smarter and wiser as educators, engineers, computer scientists, and researchers of diverse disciplines attempt to locate better, more powerful ways to synthesize artificial intelligence on the Net in order to increase productivity and efficiency in meeting future demands.

Our society discovers needs for new technologies, just as past societies pioneered needs for technologies like the printing press, pencil, gas engine, automobile, and cellular phone. Similarly, as time passes, today’s traditional institutions will be forced to exploit new technologies by the needs of the global information market. To meet these needs, educators must come together through creative exploration of this complex, intimidating frontier of information, a frontier that empowers the teaching and the learning process by that will direct humanity’s creativity toward meaningful educational goals. Foremost, it is the responsibility of educators to create innovative methods and strategies that assess educational needs in understanding the quintessential race for information before they implement and utilize new technologies.

Although new technologies cannot redeem generations of problems in education, they can be helpful tools to guide the hands and minds of creative individuals in achieving educational goals and instructional objectives. However, it can also be an overwhelming, all–encompassing, overindulgent medium that can be easily misused by many starry–eyed worshippers who lack the necessary knowledge to use it effectively. Often, these are the same individuals charged with technologic decision making authority or who have a weighty influence in the decision–making process. The technologies that are initially conceived and developed as tools of achievement often become principal tools of commercialization and bureaucracy. Therefore, using technology to meet instructional goals is a creative, systematic process.

Before an institution invests time, talents, and expenses in implementing new technologies, those in charge of prescribing educational needs must assess the feasibility and efficacy of new technologies against former technologies. To identify which of the two systems will most productively meet the continual increased demands of education, business, and industry, the institution’s educational information systems (EIS) must be assessed, followed by the synthesis of findings from data collected. After thorough review of the people, data, hardware, software, policies, instructional systems (units, courses, curriculum), and procedures within the institution, decisions can then be made whether to implement new technologies or work with the current system based on available information.

To better understand the process, we must first understand the meaning behind EIS needs assessment. This process evaluates “what is,” in other words, the current status of how EIS currently functions, and how it serves current educational goals. Second, EIS assesses “what ought to be.” This step determines how EIS would best function in an institution to most effectively and efficiently serve the educational goals and improve instructional systems. To effectively assess the needs of an organization, an EIS needs assessment should be conducted to closely examine and correctly diagnose examine the gaps between what is and what ought to be.

EIS compares the goals that need to be accomplished within the institution with how closely the goals are met within the existing EIS system. As this process develops, steps one and two need assessment should be monitored, investigated, and systematically listed to determine what gaps, obstacles, and challenges arise between “what is’ and “what should be.’

Third, priorities should be established according to agreed–upon–criteria (Smith and Ragan, 1993; Shelly, et al., 1996; Jordan and Machesky, 1990). When conducting these processes, an EIS team of professionals should make the following queries:

  1. How is current technologies being used?
  2. What are the attitudes of the faculty, staff, and administration toward the use of available technologies?
  3. Do existing technologies within the institution aid the teaching and learning process?
  4. What individuals within the institution make decisions regarding information and technology?
  5. If new technologies were implemented, how would the faculty, staff, and administration prefer to interact with the new technologies?
  6. How would these individuals choose to utilize new, emerging technologies to enhance the learning experience?
  7. How should classroom environments be configured for optimal effectiveness and creativity?
  8. What individuals should be involved in this change process?

The results of findings and analysis of data collected provide insight that enables the institution to bridge existing gaps between what is and what ought to be. At this juncture, key decision–makers are better able to analyze gaps, establish priorities, and identify goals. After these steps have been taken, the institution can determine whether to implement emerging technology while they also consider its potential consequences in the classroom. Because technology is a tool, it should never determine how and when the institution’s culture should adapt to its existence. The culture of the institution, its people, beliefs, constraints, boundaries, policies, procedures, and departments determines how and when technologies are to be used, implemented, and mastered. Therefore, aligning technologies to the institution’s culture cannot be underrated.

To make these projects successful, users and developers of technology should ask others within the organization including instructional technology professionals, independent consultants, and outside professionals to serve on a technology advisory committee. These individuals who can strongly influence the decision making process should be recruited at all levels through a bottom–up, hierarchical and inclusive process.

An organization’s shared vision should be collectively developed and should reflect the expectation with respect to how technology should operate within an institution. The objective of these procedures is to support improvements in education that boost the quality of learning, teaching, and productivity for years to come. Administrators should also provide incentives to encourage technology–resisting faculty members to use the tools of technology in teaching and learning environments. The role of faculty members who continually seek creative ways to use technology to enhance learning should not be ignored, particularly those teachers who spend much time developing technology–based learning programs and who seek to enhance learning and thinking excellence through hi–tech learning applications.

Training and support of the highest caliber should be continually provided to an institution’s employees. Financial commitments from appropriated funding provide support to employee training programs, professional development, and technical user support. Financial commitment should include a budget that accommodates continual EIS assessment. Outsource funding and partnership with other organizations should be solicited to ensure that employees are up–to–date in their knowledge of emerging technologies and their ability to operate and manage them. Employees should feel that administration supports learning at all levels; without this type of support, this top–down method of learning can make or break an institution’s culture. Through synchronous EIS assessment and enrichment, administration continually cultivates a changeling organization that is powerful but not threatening; creative not just effective; efficient not just average. The rewards are an organizational climate that is positive, productive, and triumphant.

Technology and creative climate

Creative climate, the catalyst of innovation and the decoder insulator of information chaos, is necessary to allow teachers and students the freedom to explore, discover, and construct learning and thinking environments.

The warehousing of education

Sadly, many academic administrations support commercialized education so that they may control education’s vulnerabilities. Some educational leaders are little more than glad–handers, deal–makers, financiers, and diploma–marketeers. Motivated by the growing attitudes of consumerism throughout education, administrators fail to understand the exigency of creative learning climates because a great deal of time is devoted to controlling their subordinates. These tribulations make such a significant impact upon educational institutions throughout this country that the worth of educational institutions is greatly diluted and education is, often times, likened to bulk sales distribution. Many institutions continually emphasize higher student enrollments and satellite learning sites as opposed to the once–regarded tenets of empowering, servicing, and enhancing the quality of education. However, in education the latter now appears less important when compared with the grail of financial gain. To cite further illustration, many educational administrators favor monotonous standardized procedures that discipline individuals within academic organizations to act mechanically and predictably. Again, administration fails to encourage creative individuality, that substance that unites each individual of an institution to better serve the educational process while defending against information chaos.

However, administrators can do much to resolve these issues; they can build creative organizations by providing the means to form mutual trust among the membership and they can reward creative behaviors, ideas, innovation, and continual reinvestment in quality education. They can be the ambassadors who nurture a newly found sense of freedom in individuals to grow professionally, to communicate concerns and ideas in stress–free, supportive environments. When education attains these standards, all individuals will become more valuable contributors to the organization, no matter how unpopular their concerns or ideas.

Insightful administrators do not look for scapegoats; they do not chastise members for mistakes nor do they excuse mistakes. They disregard complex personalities and overt power structures but, instead, they look for solutions and know that problems are opportunities for improvement. They use institutional values, goals, and objectives to guide the enhancement of employee skills, while seeking ways to promote ownership, loyalty, and entrepreneurship in their employees (Carr, 1994; Raudsepp, 1987). Innovative administrators can likewise learn much from creative teachers who sculpt powerful successes with their students. According to Raudsepp (1987), creative climates are open, relaxed, challenging, safe, supportive, trusting, humorous, energized, and collaborative. Surroundings that offer these elements reward creative behavior and encourage thinking and exploring skills between teachers and students.

Students of all ages need the experiences of learning how to think critically and creatively in order that they might become independent thinkers. These treasures of the mind help learners to distance themselves from the complex pressures of these times with the skills and strengths needed to change what is not right (Postman, 1996).

In contrast, studies also show that teachers frequently fall short in promoting creative thinking and problem solving. Teachers must not systematically spoon–feed information; they must challenge their students not to be passive receptors of knowledge. Teachers who encourage students to develop their own thinking, known as divergent thinking, permit students to invent their own solutions in nonlinear, flexible, innovative, and creative ways. Teachers need ample time to foster this type of learning environment where exploration, exploitation, experimentation, and brainstorming can develop and thrive. They need to devise strategies that combine unique features of new and old technologies with approaches in self–regulated learning in order to conceive independent thinkers, not passive students. Teachers need to actively collaborate as a community, beyond traditional constraints, rigidity, and absolute paradigms. The strident philosophy of retail marketing permeates every aspect of today’s society. In education, this omnipotent authority urges the student to purchase the degree of choice. Outwardly, many students seem to believe that the rapidity of their educational purchasing power is equal to ordering from a fast–food menu.

The role of educational administrators in creative organizations

Faculties at institutions of higher education need support from their administration in the expectation that, as members of the learning community, students must accept responsibility for their learning experience. As cited by (Hamza, 1996) most teachers adopt defensive teaching behaviors to reluctantly appease administrators and students in order to avoid direct confrontation with instructional problems. Research also suggests that these teachers often adhere to institutional rules and increasingly minimize demands upon others, including themselves (Gardner, 1991).

Moreover, the synthesis of data collected suggests that the process of comprehending fundamental information is far more meaningful to the learner than the numbing process of memorizing and regurgitating information. Many teachers, however, would prefer that their students memorize information. In addition, they are less likely to ask their students to categorize, sort, and connect information. When teachers ask students to carry out the perfunctory task of memorization, they maintain control over classroom productivity but, in the long run, they also sacrifice educational inspiration (Gardner, 1991). For example, a computer science teacher might believe that the process involved in training students to effectively use a particular type of software would be a good indicator that they are teaching the students to think critically and effectively. In reality, the students have only learned to memorize features in a single program. If students memorize enough of the application to produce the desired output, they unwittingly perceive that they have learned, but they have only learned how to manipulate the software features. Such training does not teach the student to build his or her own logic, it does not teach the student to think critically and creatively, and it does not teach the student to solve unique problems.

Once students leave school to live as individuals in “the real world,” will memorization help them to create productive thinking about work, play, and life? Did those students who memorized a few software commands develop a skill that will follow them when they use unfamiliar software applications? What percentage of specific domain knowledge will transfer when students use unfamiliar software applications? Therefore, students need to learn not only the fundamentals of hands–on training, but they also need to learn basic skills, concepts, and theories of domain–specific knowledge. They deeply need the opportunity to learn how to solve problems by experimentation; this experimentation, through a teacher’s guidance, allows them to produce novelty from their own self–regulated thinking and creating. According to Jonassen (1996), since the late 1970s surveys showed that when evaluating software approximately 85 percent of the available software was drill–and–rehearsal or tutorial software that assists traditional learning schemes. These software applications, however, did not support the educational goals of schools. Jonassen further reported that millions of students in the U.S. were impelled to learn computer–related skills and knowledge that were not meaningful to them and did not support meaningful learning goals.

Creativity in education

The “information explosion” dictates the need for faster and better thinkers to scan, digest, assess, and act upon a bewildering bombardment of facts (di Sessa, 1988). Every day something new can be learned; thus, something new could be taught (Alexander and Knight, 1993). According to Woronov (1994), computers themselves do not automatically change the nature of teaching and learning. Seemingly, the ways that teachers integrate computer learning with classroom instruction through energy and creativity appear to be the catalysts that create fertile, thriving, learning environments (Gates, 1995).

Business and industry: Great expectations

As the world approaches the twenty–first century, business and industry summon skilled workers who are creative and innovative thinkers. Structure and regimentation provide little tolerance for flexibility. Therefore, educators must rely on creative thinking and innovative problem solving skills in all domains to better meet the demands of a polymorphous information society. Thus, it is the responsibility of education at all levels, according to Postman (1996), to build a universal American culture based on a common core of fact, history, literature, science, philosophy, war, and art.

An educated citizen in the year 2020 will be more valuable as an employee because he or she will be able to produce more builders of theory, synthesizers, and inventors of strategy than valuable as an employee who manages facts (di Sessa, 1998). To remain competitive and innovative in their decision–making, educational administrators need to assess and implement new strategies that foster creativity and innovation. Insightful administrators might request that teachers, staff, and other personnel commit ideas from inception to completion, to formulate new products, or to use new technologies in classrooms.

Students need to step beyond the search for information to make connections and associations with information. According to Paul (1993), thinking accomplishes the purpose of thinking; it must have purpose, or it will wander endlessly. Students need to learn how to sort and categorize information and construct knowledge as design, while making applicable associations to solve unique problems. Therefore, students can be taught to learn with computers that function as cognitive technologies for broadening and reviewing how computers are used in the learning experience, while educators capture a better picture of how students think (Jonassen, 1996).

It is reasonable to suggest, therefore, that knowledge may not transfer, but it can be constructed individually, through group interaction, and through collaborative community learning. For decades, educational debates focused upon how teachers should teach. According to Cuban (1984), such debates grouped teaching practices in two classifications:

  1. teacher–centered instruction, where the teacher frequently presents information (but treated as knowledge) to learners; and,
  2. student–centered instruction, where learners employ own skills to discover information and construct knowledge.

Both camps have loyal practitioners; however, both can be dictatorial.

As the access to information gains momentum, technology follows a mighty upward spiral; it seems better to face this challenge by subsuming both practices under the “learning–centered” process. In this setting, students and teachers are partners in learning and constructors of knowledge. Educators in this learning environment are facilitators and coaches of the learning experience, subject matter experts, thought provokers, and physicians of education as well as educational experts. These educators should inspire students to become creative, independent thinkers as they push students to excel far beyond even their greatest expectations. Learning–centered environments are educational settings where chunks of knowledge are adapted to a purpose. Knowledge is processed information, or data. When knowledge is inactive or when it lacks purpose, it is dead (Perkins, 1986). Thus, when presenting subject content, teachers may use diverse methods and strategies that integrate technologies based upon a creative and systematic design of instruction that nurture discussions, debates, small group interactions, and student curiosity.

Today, various computing technologies provide much assistance in achieving these goals via the use of distance learning, CAI, CBT, Internet searches, and the linking of other available technologies. For example, when using distance education technologies, a teacher might think of contrasting ways that promote interactions between students with teachers and students with students. Teachers might link these activities with Internet tools, i.e., listserv, chat rooms, and group discussions to stir thinking, learning, and creative problem solving. According to Comers, et al. (1992), technologies must be used as mind tools that will support, guide, and extend the student in cognitive operations as they simultaneously construct knowledge. Therefore, mind tools cannot be used singularly in studying the subject learning material without eliciting the tool of profound thought (Jonassen, 1996).




Technology in all forms, young and old or simple and complex, can be potent tools that engage learners in meta-cognitive reflection. These tools engage learners to rethink their old beliefs, knowledge, and understandings. These tools might allow learners to compare new ideas with other individuals to assess whether new concepts and ideas are plausible and fruitful. Technologies can be educators’ tools in finding creative ways that encourage students to self–test, self–question, and self–regulate learning in helping them to create solutions to complex problems. Educators need to help students realize that understanding about knowledge and beliefs are essential to human growth and development. Technologies should not estrange us from our humanity or the noble profession of educating competent citizens. We should not become “high–tech, self–driven slaves to technology.” What will happen if education continues to steadfastly bend to higher enrollments over the quality of teaching and learning? What will happen if education immortalizes the student in education with an attitude of “the customer is always right?” Could the curtailment of the educational process and the collapse of the educational system be closer than we fear?

Changes in instructional design might integrate perspective theories, applications, and research related to learning, thinking, teaching, educating, integrating, mastering, and leading powerful technological advances upon the world’s society. These changes may be used constructively to creatively lead the educational system to a brighter future and a more realistic information millennium.

Protecting the embodiment of quality education encompasses learning to think, learning to teach, and learning to lead creatively, not only within the classroom (virtual and traditional) but also throughout all institutions of higher education.

Technologies are the driving force of the world’s communication. Indeed, the building of a reliable support system and the commitment to support promotional development rights is an investment worth pursuing. The rejuvenation of an unhealthy educational system is the product of intensive investment in human capital through the training of all trainers and the helping of all teachers, administrators, and staff members.

Adventures in learning call for creative, potent environments where individuals share meaningful knowledge and experiences in constructing new information and ideas. These adventures foster mutual collaboration that allows learners to apply newly acquired learning in the design of insightful, cognitive processing without obscurity or remoteness from real–life situations. The application of stronger teaching and learning skills serves a mission; the student and the citizen become educated. If we value thinking, if we treasure the creative potential necessary to withstand future information challenges then we, as passionate educators, must rededicate ourselves to our profession. Only then can wisdom, the capstone of human thinking and the forbearer of all human knowledge, intervene to save a decaying educational system. End of article


About the authors

M. K. Hamza has taught and chaired a computer sciences department at a state college level for eight years. He also worked as a systems analyst/programmer in industry for six years prior to teaching. He is the president/founder of Edutek Quest — an educational information system consulting services. Since 1990, Dr. Hamza developed various alternative computer technology and academic programs, devoting substantial research to teaching and learning methods, system analysis and design, creative thinking, problem solving and technology to solving educational and information systems challenges. He has presented and published papers at local, regional, and national levels. His interests are in the realm of cognitive science, management of information systems, and learning technologies. He earned a Ph.D. in educational psychology from Texas A&M University with specialization in intelligence, creativity, and learning technologies; three Master’s degrees from the University of Oklahoma in instructional technology and psychology; management information systems; and, management; and a Bachelor’s degree from Friends University in computer science and mathematics.
E–mail: ayah1 [at] concentric [dot] net

Bassem Alhalabi’s primary research focus is on the development of pragmatic industrial and educational systems, digital systems, data acquisition and control, computer automation, mobile computing, distance learning, and hybrid neural nets. He has published in IEEE journals and other conference proceedings. Dr. Alhalabi has also founded multiform labs in five universities, and currently he is in charge of the state–of–the–art Senior Project Laboratory at Florida Atlantic University. Dr. Alhalabi received a B.S. and an M.S. in electrical engineering from Ohio University and Purdue University, respectively, and an M.S. and a Ph.D. in computer engineering from the University of Southwestern Louisiana.
E–mail: bassem [at] cse [dot] fau [dot] edu



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Copyright © 1999, First Monday.
Copyright © 1999, Mohammad Khalid Hamza and Bassem Alhalabi.

Technology and education: Between chaos and order
by Mohammad Khalid Hamza and Bassem Alhalabi
First Monday, Volume 4, Number 3 - 1 March 1999

A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.

© First Monday, 1995-2019. ISSN 1396-0466.