Electronic technology is changing the way we work and play; leading to more decentralization, more communication and collaboration, and more information-intensive activity. Although electronic technology has found many uses in schools, it has not yet changed education in systemic ways. Several factors point to increasing use of technology in education: the promises and hype effusing from political leaders, entrepreneurs, and educational technologists; the economic pressures on the educational enterprise admit alternative approaches; and the general mismatch between learning outcomes and social needs. It seems a given that electronic technology will play significant roles in education of the next millennium. 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. Cost is thus used most generally here to mean a change in state, regardless of whether the state is economic, temporal, intellectual, or affective.
Costs must be considered in the context of benefits and much of the literature of educational technology aims to identify the potential or actual benefits of technology. Some tangible benefits such as decreased learning time [e.g., Kulik & Kulik, 1986] and increased performance on skilled tasks [e.g., Fletcher, 1990] have been found in meta-analytic and controlled studies. Our own evaluations [e.g., Marchionini & Crane, 1994; Marchionini, Neuman, & Morrell, 1994] have demonstrated how technology provides both mechanical advantages over manual approaches and enables learning experiences that would otherwise have been impossible or highly improbable. Likewise, intangible benefits such as high levels of satisfaction and motivation, improved self-esteem, are often noted as outcomes of technological innovation in education. Furthermore, the potential long-term benefits of a technologically skilled workforce and citizenry serves as a rationale for computer literacy courses in K-12 schools. Just as benefits may be characterized in tangible and intangible ways, costs may be considered in tangible and intangible ways. Figure 1 illustrates the balance between costs and benefits of both types. Although much of the hype associated with educational technology promises to shift the balance to yield more benefits for fewer costs, much of the discussion focuses on tangible costs while including both tangible and intangible benefits. A more comprehensive assessment must include attention to intangible costs.
Costs and benefits must be considered within the context of what object is affected. A significant technological innovation may be aimed at a particular class of learners but will ultimately affect individual learners as well as groups of learners, individual teachers and well as groups of teachers, curricula, school systems, and society at large. Individual learners and teachers are included in the framework to stress the importance of early adopters in any study of change. The investments made and benefits obtained by early adopters may be indicative of what others experience but often does not provide evidence that allows accurate extrapolation. For example, the costs and benefits associated with an early adopting teacher is unlikely to scale up directly to all the teachers in a department or school.
Time must also be taken into account in any cost analysis. Significant change may have different cost-benefit balances for periods ranging from immediate (days or weeks), annual (semester or school year), short term (2-5 years), mid term (5-15 years), generational (20-30 years), and very long term (50+ years). The lattice in Figure 2 illustrates the many cost-benefit balances in a cost-benefit framework. Such a figure suggests that these cost-benefit balances are independent but that is certainly not the case; effects on individuals may scale to group effects, learner and teacher effects are strongly linked to systemic effects, and systemic effects may lead to social effects over long periods of time. It is apparent that some cells will have predictable imbalances since costs and benefits accrue over time and benefits may sometimes lag far behind costs. For example, educational system and social changes for the shorter time periods will not have many benefits but will have associated costs. Presumably, the long-term benefits will out-weigh or be equal to the total long-term costs. In fact, this is the main argument made by early adopters who expect that long-term benefits will exceed the tremendous costs they endure.
It is certainly reasonable to design technologies aimed at improving or augmenting cognitive skill and to expect that individuals with such improved capabilities will make the world a better place. Although such efforts continue to be supported by government agencies and foundations, there is increasing support for research and development at systemic levels. Alternative organizational models for schools (e.g., privatized public schools, network based courses, etc.) and attempts to link physically disparate classrooms exemplify this systemic change movement.
An historical analogy illustrates the potential effects such changes offer. Mass public schools in the U.S. were made cost effective by the adoption of the monitorial method in the early nineteenth century that allowed a single teacher to teach as many as 500 students by directing a group of monitors who in turn mimicked rote activities with other students [Saettler, 1990]. In addition to saving personnel costs, slates, wall charts, chalkboards, and shared books saved material costs. This method allowed the New York City schools to operate from 1806-1853 at costs ranging from $1.37 to $5.83 per pupil. Although the system proved ineffective for anything but the most rote learning, it illustrates how a technological strategy enabled a momentous social advance--mass education. Todays educational system reflects some of the hierarchical organization--teacher to student ratios are hotly negotiated economic issues in teacher contracts and also one of the indicators used to illustrate quality of a school. Additionally, the philosophy that teaching is transferring information remains a perspective of many adults outside the educational system.Next Section......................... Back to Overview