The Costs of Educational Technology: A Framework for Assessing Change

Gary Marchionini

University of Maryland at College Park


This is a paper presented as an invited talk at ED-MEDIA 95 June 1995 in Graz, Austria.


This paper presents a framework for assessing changes resulting from the application of educational technology. These changes are characterized broadly as costs. The framework includes tangible and intangible costs related to individual learners and teachers, groups of learners and teachers, curricula, the educational system, and society. These costs are also distinguished across several time periods.

1. Introduction.

This paper provides a framework for assessing these changes so that educational leaders can make better decisions about how technological and human resources are used, and society in general can understand what the changes mean and why they move so slowly.

Change assessment is characterized as cost and the focus here is on intangible costs that are usually ignored because they are difficult to define and measure.

Figure 1 illustrates the balance between costs and benefits of both types.

Costs and benefits must be considered within the context of the stakeholders affected and appropriate timeframes.

Figure 2 illustrates the many cost-benefit balances in a cost-benefit framework.

2. Tangible Costs of Educational Technology.

Physical infrastructure includes hardware, furniture, space, software, training, new personnel, supplies, and information services.

Ongoing costs for maintenance and upgrades must also be considered.

What categories of expenditures are skrinking or dissapearing as a result of technology expenditures?

3. Intangible Costs of Educational Technology

Significant amounts of time are invested by teachers in learning how to teach with technology.

Early adopters make things work because they are committed to the technology itself and the change associated with it, and they believe that long-term benefits will outweigh the immediate costs.

Although long-term personal benefits may accrue, it is wishful thinking to assume that such commitments scale up to the larger instructional community.

Not only are individuals who use technology subject to the stresses of time pressures and career development, but those who do not use technology may find it stressful to NOT adopt technology.

Using technology in teaching requires teachers to take the risk of failure.

Since much instructional theory calls for carefully planned presentations and students and parents typically expect such presentations, traveling down blind alleys and exploring ideas can easily be interpreted by students and other adults as disorganization or incompetence.

Efforts to weed curricula (and the associated retraining and updating of materials) must also be considered in assessing how technology changes the educational enterprise.

Technology also changes how learners think and behave.

Students in classrooms where multiple stimuli are used must decide which stimuli is most essential at any instant, and how to record it for later study.

4. Conclusion

By sharing informational resources globally, the local investments in computing and communications technology may pay off at the local level.

Technology may initially enable demassification from a cost effectiveness perspective and lead eventually to some hybrid model in the middle decades of the 21st century.

5. References
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