TEAMING UP WITH TECHNOLOGY:
How Unions Can Harness the
Technology Revolution on Campus
REPORT OF THE TASK FORCE ON TECHNOLOGY
IN HIGHER EDUCATION
The Higher Education Program and Policy Council
American Federation of Teachers
The American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO
Albert Shanker, President
Edward J. McElroy, Secretary-Treasurer
Federation of Higher Education Faculty & Professionals
Program and Policy Council
Chair: Irwin H. Polishook, Professional Staff Congress, City University of New York
Vice Chair: Norman Swenson, Cook County College Teachers Union, Illinois
Dick Barrett, University Teachers Union, University of Montana
Mary Ann Braithwaite, Wisconsin Federation of Teachers
James I. Byrd, Association of University of Wisconsin Professionals
Dan Georgianna, University of Massachusetts Faculty Federation
Martin Hittelman, California Federation of Teachers Community College Council
Arthur Hochner, Temple Association of University Professors
Susan Levy, Washington Federation of Teachers
William Savage, Louisiana State University Federation of Teachers
Karen Schermerhorn, Faculty Fedration of the Community College of Philadelphia
William Scheuerman, United University Professionals, State University of New York
Donald Silberman, Council of New Jersey State College Locals
Louis Stollar, United College Employees of the Fashion Institute of Technology, NY
Mitch Vogel, University Professionals of Illinois
Task Force on Technology in Higher Education
Chair: Mitch Vogel, University Professionals of Illinois
Larry Flood, United University Professions, State University of New York
Susan Levy, Washington Federation of Teachers
Norman Swenson, Cook County College Teachers Union, Illinois
Irwin Polishook, President, Professional Staff Congress (CUNY);
AFT Vice President;
Chair, AFT Higher Education Program and Policy Council
The pace of technological change on American campuses is so rapid that to study it is like aiming at a moving target. Nevertheless, technology is such an important, compelling force in higher education today that we who represent the interests of the academic community simply must come to grips with it.
In order to meet this responsibility, AFT’s Program and Policy Council for Higher Education recently established a task force on technology in higher education. The task force met through the spring and summer and prepared the following report.
Chairing the task force was Mitch Vogel, president of the University Professionals of Illinois. The other members were Norman Swenson, AFT vice president and president of the Cook County College Teachers Union (Chicago); Larry Flood, United University Professions (SUNY); and Susan Levy, president, Washington Federation of Teachers. Serving in a resource capacity were Ray Schroeder and John Murphy, University Professionals of Illinois; and John Wenger, Cook County College Teachers Union. Staffing the task force were Perry Robinson and Larry Gold of AFT’s higher education department. AFT staff member Martha Matzke also assisted.
As chair of the AFT Higher Education Program and Policy Council, I want to thank Mitch Vogel for heading this effort and to commend him and his colleagues for producing a document that is both thoughtful and practical. The first section of the report is instructive, reviewing the state of technological change in higher education and sorting out the issues. The second section is action-oriented, suggesting what we as local leaders can do to defend our members’ rights and make sure that new technologies serve to improve education on our campuses, not simply overhaul it.
Among the 901,000 people represented by the American Federation of Teachers are more than 100,000 college faculty and academic professionals, along with another 17,000 paraprofessionals, nurses and government professionals involved in higher education. I hope our members, and others reading this report, find it helpful in sorting out the exciting prospects as well as the tough issues today’s technology explosion raises.
President, University Professionals of Illinois
Chair, AFT Task Force on Technology in Higher Education
I lead a local that encompasses 8 institutions throughout Illinois, a local that is under political attack and that must deal with dozens of complex problems every day. I know how it feels when someone tells me, “I know you’re doing a, b, c, d and e, but I think you need to start devoting a lot of time to also do x, y and z.” That kind of demand sometimes makes me angry, and always makes me feel that the “expert” has no idea how full my plate is.
So here I am heading a task force that asks you to devote a lot of time to a new responsibility. We’re asking each of you to take a serious look at the direction in which technology is going at your institution. We’re asking you to insist that you be part of decision-making about technology on campus, to negotiate contractual language related to technology, and to participate in policy debates about it.
Let me assure you, the members of the task force don’t ask this lightly. We are asking you to do these things because technology already is changing the way we teach, changing the way we do research, changing basic employment rights. In short, because we’ve become convinced that over time the influence of technology in higher education will grow even more pervasive.
And although, as we will see, technology can be a powerful force to improve education, it is often adopted today without a clear educational focus and without sensible strategic planning. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for an expensive technology to be purchased primarily because it is promoted by a large company, or offered for free or at a discount, or because it is technically “leading edge” or because it is seen as a way to cut corners on faculty and facilities.
The key problem is the decision-making process itself. As long as the purchase and utilization of technology on campus is left primarily to management, bad decisions are sure to result. It is practitioners--people like our members--who best know their needs and the needs of their students and thee academy. As educators and as unionists, it is our responsibility to ensure that technology is used in a way that does not shortchange our students or ourselves.
It is already clear that management and governing boards have different priorities than those of faculty practitioners. In a study conducted by the Illinois Board of Higher Education and published on July 11, 1995, entitled Information Technology and Academic Quality and Productivity, faculty, students and administrators were asked to identify the highest priorities for the applications of new technologies. While the three segments of the academic community agreed on the importance of developing all the new technologies, this study and others revealed some significant disagreements.
Management and faculty both gave a high priority to technology for communications and financial transactions. (Everyone wants their paychecks on time.) However, while management also ranked as its highest priorities distance learning and internal transactions, such as record keeping, the faculty wanted to see a higher priority for library programs and the preparation of instructional materials. Thus, if we want new technologies on campus to reflect faculty priorities, we must become intimately engaged in the decisionmaking process.
This task force report is an attempt to offer help to you in meeting that challenge. I want to join Irwin Polishook in thanking my colleagues on the task force for their hard work and good ideas, as well as all those who lent support to our efforts. I’m proud that our union is playing a leading role in tackling this subject.
The Push for New Technologies on Campus
Technology already has revolutionized the way most colleges and universities perform administrative functions as varied as processing tuition payments, registering students for classes and tracking federal grants. But today, something much more important is afoot. Today, new technologies in academic instruction and communication are taking hold on many of America’s campuses--technologies that may in time substantially change the way higher education carries out its basic mission.
Sources of the Push for Technology
One source of pressure for technology is coming from “below,” from today’s undergraduates. Many of them are already at home with computers. Between one-fourth to one-third of American families have computers, and more than half of fall 1994 freshmen had at least one-half year of computer science while in high school. At the same time, these numbers make clear that the computer revolution has not reached all students equally. There are great, and unjustifiable, inequalities in computer access and skills between rich and poor students.
But whether or not students bring computer skills with them to college, they know they will need them by the time they get out. Proficiency in accessing, retrieving and manipulating data will become as essential as literacy to hold a good job and function effectively in tomorrow’s society. Students want opportunities to gain these skills incorporated into their college education, and they are right to want them.
Similarly, the business community--faced with the imperative of developing a technologically-proficient workforce--is pushing for a greater emphasis on technology in higher education. At the same time, commercial technology interests--hardware and software firms, on-line communications concerns, even the phone company--work continually to build business in the collegiate world. They offer financial incentives to purchase their products; they promise greater efficiency and productivity on campus. Some even threaten implicitly to get into the higher education “business” themselves if colleges do not become partners in their vision of the information age.
The third source of pressure for technology is college administrators and state officials eager to reach new students and cut costs. The latest telecourse technologies, for example, offer the prospect of extending college access to students who are placebound because of disabilities or other reasons, students in remote areas who are not easily able to leave those locations, and students working full-time who would relish an opportunity to learn at home or at the job site. And along with the promise of access, technology offers the tantalizing prospect of higher instructional “yield”--fewer buildings, faculty teaching more students at one time, fewer faculty being needed altogether, on-line libraries at the students’ fingertips. As we will see, many of the savings sought from technology are illusory and raise serious questions about educational quality, but the attraction of doing more for less is powerful.
Finally, pressure to adopt the latest technologies on campus comes from technology enthusiasts--some call them technology pioneers--among the faculty itself. Here are a few illustrative figures:
According to one study, nearly one-third of faculty have made use of software in the classroom. The proportion who use technology for instruction as a matter of course is probably lower, between 5 to 10 percent.
According to Claremont College’s Kenneth Green, 11 percent of college classes now use commercial courseware, 4 percent use multimedia, 9 percent employ computer simulations and 13 percent use electronic mail.
Just under half of the state colleges and universities responding to a national survey reported that they offer distance education courses. Ten percent offered full degree programs through distance education.
One-third of the nation’s faculty uses electronic mail, estimates Steven W. Gilbert, Director of the American Association for Higher Education’s Technology Project.
Almost all universities provide faculty free access to the Internet. According to one estimate, large state universities may average 15 million Internet transactions monthly. Even very small colleges generate more than a million electronic transactions each month.
What makes technology so attractive to these faculty are the genuine educational gains it offers--its potential to bring new worlds of information into the classroom, to foster individually paced learning, to ease communication among students and faculty, and to broaden the net of information available to researchers.
The Push for Technology-Assisted Instruction
New computer technologies constantly are being developed to support and strengthen college instruction. Sometimes the computer plays a clearly subordinate role to the instructor, such as a computer simulation of dissecting a frog in lab class. Sometimes the computer occupies center stage, as in a computer-based remediation or language program. Internet and electronic mail are being employed extensively to promote communication among faculty and students outside normal class time. Special software programs are becoming widespread in the sciences, mathematics and economics, less so in the humanities. Instructional experiments, such as one that replaces large lectures with studio classes in which pairs of students interact by computer with other students and instructors, are underway around the country.
By far the most prominent trend in instructional technology is the exploding number and variety of telecourses offered by colleges and universities, as well as private entrepreneurs and the Public Broadcasting Service, among others. Telecourses include the traditional prerecorded class, as well as “real-time” interactive video/audio that reaches remote sites through high-speed telephone wire, video conferencing and satellite transmission (which, in turn, may include audio interaction through an 800 number or electronic mail). Whatever the form, the usual educational frontiers or boundaries--states and nations--are transcended by satellite broadcast over vast regions of the U.S. and by the design of international educational collaborations.
The spread of distance education is impressive. One key market is rural states where students are widely dispersed. Examples include North Dakota, West Virginia and Maine, as well as a Western Cooperative of nine states. Large community colleges located in densely settled metropolitan areas also are extending their telecourse operations to interactive video/audio and satellite transmission. Community colleges in Los Angeles, California and Portland, Oregon are examples.
There are also significant levels of activity in distance education at the university level. For example, the two largest state systems--the State University of New York (SUNY) and the California State University (CSU)-- each have obtained multi million-dollar budgets and developed elaborate plans to beef-up distance education, including plans to offer complete business administration programs to be offered at a distance. Other institutions active in offering full degree programs at a distance include New York University and Athabasca University in Alberta, Canada, a “campus” located entirely in cyberspace.
Commercial providers also are moving into the market for distance education. The most ambitious provider is Mind Extension University (ME/U). Jones Intercable, the country’s seventh-largest cable operator, which owns ME/U, has invested $50 million in the project. ME/U does business by making agreements with accredited colleges to grant credit for ME/U courses, or in some cases, entire degree programs. Among those participating are the Universities of Maryland, Delaware and Oklahoma, George Washington University, Washington State University and California State-Dominguez Hills. ME/U shares with the institution part of each student’s tuition, which may be lower than the regular university rate.
As education by electronic means becomes increasingly transnational, Jones Intercable is planning to move into new markets such as Brazil, Thailand and the United Kingdom. Mind Extension University hopes eventually to have five “electronic campuses” transmitting classes around the globe under the rubric of an “International University College” for which it plans to seek accreditation.
This new level of commercialism in higher education raises serious questions. How can colleges and universities maintain a coherent academic program and high standards if the “name of the game” is to sell individual courses that will be attractive to a mass market? And how does the nature of higher education change if commercial interests like ME/U and other industry giants are able to get independent accreditation for degree programs--in other words, if colleges and universities were to lose their exclusive franchise on certification?
Easy access, lower costs and slickness in presentation could make commercial degree programs in cyberspace seem increasingly attractive to hard-pressed students and legislators. The type of learning that takes place in an academic community on campus, as well as the importance of intellectual independence and the advancement of research, might start to seem like luxuries to be restricted to fewer colleges and universities. While this may be an extreme scenario, defending the core values of independent higher education and control of the degree is likely to become a more pressing concern in coming years.
New Technologies in the Library
The acquisition of new information technology thus far has affected the library even more than the classroom--a result of escalating acquisition costs and the proliferation of books, journals and other information sources. Richard H. Ekman and Richard E. Quandt have described the changes:
In the last decade, a number of technological innovations have been adopted and exploited in various applications. The two principal ways
by which progress has occurred are the introduction of compact discs (CD) and the general availability of electronic networks, such as BITNET and Internet. Most recently, the National Research and Education Network (NREN) and National Information Infrastructure (NII), which would have very large transmission capabilities, have been conceived. These breakthroughs permit scholarly information to be made available rapidly and in large, sometimes comprehensive,
volume, without the use of physical books...(including) information
that is only bibliographical...versus full text.
Most higher education libraries today exist as both actual and “virtual” versions. The library as we have known it in the past is coextensive with an electronic, information-age double. In turn, librarians have had to shoulder a double burden: adapting to evolving technology while maintaining the traditional library with its collection of books and periodicals. Librarians must then assist students in using both versions, no small task in light of the variation in student knowledge of computers and on-line functions. At some institutions, reference desks increasingly are staffed by paraprofessionals, with librarians spending a substantial part of their workweek training them.
A central feature of today’s library technology is the use of on-line operations. Some on-line systems now provide access to thousands of articles with search by subject, key words, etc. The full text of many journal articles since the mid-1960s can be made available on-line or sent by electronic mail to one’s computer. This, however, raises an important question of access. While on-line services can be a boon for professionals paying $10 or more for a journal, the cost is very problematic for students; free access to publications provided by the campus library is still a necessity.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The Union Must Become Involved
First and foremost, the task force urges each AFT higher education local or chapter to become involved in a broad range of technology issues on campus. These include:
Assessing the costs and benefits of major technology purchases;
Providing access and training in new technologies;
Maintaining educational quality;
Controlling workload, compensation, jurisdiction and staff levels; and
Protecting intellectual property rights in cyberspace.
Depending on the institution’s decision-making practices, some issues will be settled at the bargaining table, while others might best be engaged at the faculty senate or council, at the departmental level, in joint labor-management committees or in consultation with management.
This report provides information and advice on handling the key issues, but the task force members recognize that what we report here is only a first step. Locals will need continuing assistance.
Therefore, the task force urges the national AFT office to supply affiliates periodically with updated information about policy and contractual developments related to higher education technology. As part of that effort, AFT should employ the Internet and other forms of electronic communications to disseminate information about technology and encourage information-sharing among affiliates. The task force also urges national AFT to work closely with other national organizations addressing technology issues, and to provide training for local union leaders to assume technology-related responsibilities.
Ensure an Open Process for Making Decisions about Technology
New technologies are too expensive, too important and changing too rapidly--and the issues surrounding technology are too complex--for institutions to rely on ad hoc decision-making in this area. Yet that is what is happening too frequently. The report of a review committee at Temple University conveys graphically what may be happening at many institutions:
Chronically underfunded, ambitious, and stretched thin,
Temple nonetheless has planned for and spent money on
technology over the last decade for administrative, research,
and teaching purposes. Although administrative and research
computing have benefited from universitywide planning, there
has been no planning for the use of technology to improve
teaching and learning. Thus, despite the dollars spent, faculty
have experienced Temple’s policy as what Steve Gilbert has
characterized as “lurch, crisis, lurch, crisis.” The result is a
system that is out of whack.
This report came out of a formal roundtable to address technology issues at Temple. The American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) in Washington, D.C., is helping colleges and universities develop similar structures--which they call “teaching, learning, and technology roundtables”--to bring strategic planning to technology decisions. Roundtables on the AAHE model are one, but not the only, planning option for institutions.
To make sound decisions about technology, every college and university should have an open process for considering major technology issues and purchases. The task force urges higher education locals to push for such a process on their campuses, with the union playing a key role to protect member rights and to ensure that technology serves instruction and research, not vice versa. Whatever the process employed, management should release all planning data concerning technology to the union.
In order to be prepared for consultations and negotiations related to technology, the local union should develop an independent capacity to assess technology-related issues, including the costs and benefits of institutional technology purchases. One way to do this is to establish a formal union committee on technology that includes experts from among the membership.
Focus the Debate on Four Key Questions
The key to addressing technology issues is to ask the right questions. Figuring out what the right questions are, and then pressing a serious discussion of them, is what we do best as intellectual workers and what we can contribute most to the decision-making process on campus.
This is not to say that our questioning needs to be particularly complicated or arcane. To the contrary: Because technology so often presents itself in a complex, jargon-filled way, it is sometimes easy to forget that the overarching questions to ask about it boil down to common sense.
The task force believes that locals should keep four questions front and center in all dealings with management about technology issues.
Does the technology make sense educationally? Will it really advance student learning and scholarship?
Does the technology make sense financially? Is there a realistic cost/benefit analysis?
Will students and faculty all have access to the new technology and know how to use it?
Are the rights of the faculty and professional staff protected?
These are simple questions, but they are important ones having very complex ramifications that are not being adequately considered today. The union may, in fact, find itself the only party willing to inject these issues seriously into campus planning. The remainder of this report, then, is devoted to exploring these questions--with our detailed conclusions and recommendations concerning each one.
Question One: Does the Technology Make Sense Educationally?
This first point cannot be overemphasized. Higher education locals should always insist that decisions about using technology in instruction be based primarily on what enhances student learning. Better education, not cost cutting, has to be the first principle.
Quality and Distance Learning
At how many institutions is the academic community engaged in finding answers to questions like these: Is distance learning as good as in-person learning between faculty and students on campus? Even if it is not as good, is it good enough, i.e., good enough so that students taking distance courses should get regular college credits? Or should there be a different kind of credit awarded for distance courses? Should distance learning be only acceptable for a few courses or for an entire degree program? Is it acceptable for all kinds of students and subjects, or are there circumstances when distance learning is inappropriate?
Proponents contend that distance learning will allow colleges to expand access greatly and maintain or even improve quality. They argue that technology is essentially neutral: effective instruction is effective--whether in the classroom or presented at a distance--and ineffective instruction is not made worse or better by being in a classroom.
Opponents argue that e-mail and a television monitor can supplement on-campus interchange, but are no substitute for it. Just as television offers an illusion of intimacy between the viewer and the face on the screen, the skeptics argue, so distance education may offer an illusion of connection between students and faculty. What distance education cannot offer, they maintain, is the richness of personal connection that students need to achieve knowledge, direction and wisdom--the hallmarks of a quality higher education. And if good education is education that makes the student an active participant in his or her learning, how can the telecourse be the medium of choice?
Advocates of distance learning were heartened by a 1989 report from the U.S. Congressional Office of Technology Assessment which found that “in most instances, distance learning appears to be as effective as on-site, face-to-face instruction in the classroom.” However, virtually all observers concede that research in this area has been far from rigorous and leaves unanswered many basic questions.
Again, the task force believes it is our responsibility as faculty and as unionists to keep educational quality at the center of the discussion about distance learning. In order to maintain acceptable levels of quality at our institutions, the task force recommends that locals engage management on the following five principles.
First, the faculty must retain academic responsibility and control over instruction provided by the various modes of distance education. This includes the decision to award credit for distance courses generated at the institution or by transfer from other institutions. Just like any other course, no distance learning course or methodology should be offered or accepted for credit unless it has been reviewed and approved by the faculty through the customary procedures at that institution.
Second, distance learning courses should be taught only by faculty appointed and evaluated through a traditional consultative process involving the faculty and the department.
Third, if distance education courses are approved, they should always be structured to include substantial faculty-student and student-student interchange. Interactive video is clearly preferable to previously recorded telecourses, which not only fail to allow student interchange but also “freeze” the curriculum, making it static in time. Opportunities for on-site meetings with other students and a faculty member during the term are strongly recommended, especially meetings on the college campus. E-mail or an equivalent form of communication is a must. And interchange should not be the exclusive responsibility of either part-time faculty or graduate students; permanent, full-time faculty should be directly involved.
Fourth, as a general rule, distance education should be undertaken when a campus-based alternative is impractical. This may be the case when a particular group of students is unable to reach the campus, or because the college cannot offer an equivalent course, or because the distance-based instruction is recognized by the faculty as being superior to what the institution can provide.
In short, interactive telecourses have their place for some types of courses and certain types of students, supplemented by e-mail and on-line research services to help students study and communicate. But the task
force believes that a college education must include regular and frequent opportunities, formal and informal, for students to talk with faculty and one another about the content of their classes, their educational and career goals, and their research. All of our experience as educators tells us that teaching and learning in the shared human spaces of a campus are essential to the undergraduate experience and cannot be compromised too greatly without rendering the education unacceptable.
Thus, fifth, the task force believes that only a limited number of credits should be awarded for distance education. The task force opposes undergraduate degree programs taught entirely at a distance and views such programs as problematic at the graduate level also.
Research and Oversight of Distance Education
Two key concerns about quality and distance education transcend the campus level. First is the lack of sponsored research on when distance education works and when it doesn’t. Second is the lack of oversight of institutional programs in this area.
The task force strongly recommends that federal and private sources initiate efforts to support well-designed, independent research studies on instructional technologies. The task force urges the AFT to press for this at the national level. As we noted earlier, the research on distance education is not very rigorous or complete, certainly compared to the sums being spent on distance technology. The task force agrees with Michael Moore, director of the American Center for the Study of Distance Education at Pennsylvania State University and an international authority on the subject, who writes:
The implications of [distance education]...warrant investment of money, time, and human resources in a thorough, integrated national research program. This program should not only evaluate existing projects, but should institute...rigorous research designed to measure the fundamental dynamics of learning and teaching by telecommuni-cations and its most effective organization, as well as the procedures and policies regarding the development of such education.
Second, the task force recommends that institutional accrediting agencies begin to set clearer and higher standards for distance education at the institutions they accredit. These standards should include faculty control over the curriculum, maximum interchange between faculty and students, and appropriate limits on coursework. Until now, the accreditors have been far too permissive, allowing relatively uncontrolled growth of programs without appropriate faculty involvement and quality controls.
Quality and Other Instructional Technologies
As noted earlier, distance learning is only one--albeit the most problematic--of the ways computer technology is being employed in college instruction. Look around many campuses today and you are likely to find computer drawings in the mathematics class, computer facsimiles in the art class, computer programs in the language lab, computer-based remediation programs. Many faculty are finding these to be great assets, and the prospects for the future are exciting.
The local union will want its faculty to have access to, and training in, technologies that can strengthen the learning process. The key is to ensure that faculty are the key players in deciding what instructional technologies are purchased and how they are used to enhance the academic program. Faculty are in the best position to decide whether a particular technology strengthens the academic program enough to be worth the cost. And faculty are the only ones in a position to ensure that commercial computer programs in subjects like writing and language are employed to support, rather than just substitute for, good teaching.
Quality and Library Technologies
In an era of scarce financial resources, there will surely be continuing pressure to transform the actual on-campus library to a reduced, skeletal framework to support an electronically-based, on-line virtual library. Once again, the local union will need to ask the quality question: Is a shift from actual to virtual library services likely to enhance or diminish the quality of education? Obviously, the right balance will vary according to a college or university’s size, educational program and financial resources, as well as the financial resources of the student body. However, three principles should be observed.
Librarians and faculty should drive the decision-making process about adopting new information technologies.
Although computer-based information services have many benefits, the value to the student of collaborating in a research facility with librarians, other students and faculty should be recognized.
Whatever technologies are adopted, minimal standards of quality require that students have ready and free access to books, periodicals and professional librarians.
Quality and Advisement
New technologies are making course selection, and hours long lines at registration time, a thing of the past. The administrative efficiencies and benefits for students are obvious. The key, again, is to ensure that the employment of these technologies does not take the place of direct face-to-face interchange between students, faculty and professonal counselors about the student’s educational direction.
Question Two: Does the Technology Make Sense Financially?
Unless managers ask the right questions, and disabuse themselves of some pleasant illusions, they are liable to be caught up in what Stephen Ehrmann of the Annenberg/CPB Project calls the “rapture of technology.”
One illusion that should be dispensed with is the idea that technology purchases mean greater instructional “productivity” in the foreseeable future. Technology has clearly brought increased productivity to some parts of higher education, particularly the administrative areas. But two national authorities on the subject--Steven Gilbert of the American Association for Higher Education and Claremont College’s Kenneth Green-- write that it would be difficult to assert “even after a dozen years into the ‘micro’ revolution--(that) any real gains in instructional productivity” have occurred. This is because the amount of staff time--faculty, librarian, technical and classified--necessary to support a technology-driven learning process is not likely to decrease significantly if a basic level of instructional quality is maintained. Gilbert believes that learning technologies may result in productivity gains in the long run, but not now.
A second illusion is the notion that the cost of technology is its purchase price. This is difficult to combat, partly because technology salespeople never talk about obsolescence and long-term costs. But the cost is surely there.
For example, Kenneth Green observes that “technological obsoles-cence is a structural component of technology-driven change” and that the useful life of a new technology is typically 24 to 30 months. Industry has found that technology systems have operational and maintenance costs that often exceed their purchase price annually. These costs include software, hardware upgrades, upgrades in electrical and communications systems, security and replacement costs, and construction and operation of dedicated spaces for studios, switching centers, control rooms and media storage. A key hidden expense is the cost of telephone lines for computer equipment, especially computers that utilize the Internet, as well as some forms of distance learning. Operational and maintenance staff to support technology purchases is another major cost factor. Again, industry has found that the ratio of operational staff to technology users in the organization should be as low as 1:10. Staffing in higher education has not approached this level--burnout and resignation among technical support staff is reportedly a growing problem on campus--but support staff expenses are on the rise and must be considered in assessing technology costs.
Despite these cost considerations, Green found that many colleges and universities purchase computers on an ad hoc basis, frequently using year-end money. His research revealed that no more than one-fifth of American higher education institutions had an amortization plan for their computer purchases. About one-half simply acquire computers on a one-time budget allocation.
Therefore, the task force urges each local to press management hard to consider fully the short-term and long-term costs and benefits of proposed technologies. As noted earlier, the local will gain credibility in this regard if it develops an independent capability to analyze technologies. The task force also urges AFT to develop a questionnaire about the long-term potential financial and other costs that locals can use in dealing with management on this subject.
Question Three: Do Students and Faculty All Have Access To and Training In the New Technology?
All higher education institutions, and all members of the academic community at these institutions, should have access to the new information technology and an opportunity to be trained in its use.
The task force is concerned about three types of inequality. First is the inequality caused when state legislatures provide substantial support to certain large universities while neglecting other four-year and community colleges, thereby creating “information rich” and “information poor” campuses. Second is the inequality noted earlier between affluent and disadvantaged students in terms of computer ownership and literacy. Third is a pattern of uneven resource distribution at the institutional level, under which certain disciplines and a core of what are called “early adopters” take the lead in obtaining equipment and training--and maintain that lead at the expense of others.
Correcting these inequalities may not be fully achievable for financial reasons, but it is a goal that needs to be pursued actively. Public officials should be asked to re-examine the distribution of technology funds to ensure that all institutions can:
Establish computer centers and provide training to students who have not previously been trained to use microcomputers;
Provide Internet and local area network access, with electronic mail, to students, faculty, staff, and administrators;
Connect their libraries with the principal on-line services such as the On-line Computer Library Center (OCLC), University Microfilms, the Colorado Association of Research Libraries (CARL), and others;
Base their institutional software on open systems and cross-platform applications; and
If possible, design programs to help students purchase or lease computers.
Faculty have different styles and methods of teaching and performing research. Consequently, faculty must have the freedom to use--or not to use--new technologies purchased by the institution. However, the task force believes that faculty should be strongly encouraged to engage the new technology. Public officials and college administrators should give a much higher priority to training programs.
Faculty training should be encouraged because our students will live and work in a world permeated by information technology, and we as educators have an obligation to prepare them to succeed in that world. Training should also be encouraged on pedagogical grounds. Research indicates that most students learn best when they are not just passively receiving information in the classroom but are doing something active and independent. Today’s faculty, the saying goes, should aim to be “not just the sage on the stage but also the guide on the side.” Training in new technologies can greatly benefit faculty who want to improve their instructional style along these lines.
Question Four: Are Faculty and Staff Rights Protected?
The task force urges higher education locals to become actively engaged in all the employment issues related to technology on campus. As noted earlier, the right forum for resolving technology questions might be collective bargaining, the faculty senate, the department or consultation with management.
In a companion publication to this report, which will be updated periodically, AFT has reproduced key sections of collective bargaining agreements around the country dealing with technology questions, which illustrate the importance of including technology in the union’s negotiation strategy. Clearly, each institution will have to find its own answers to technology questions, but a number of principles suggested by our earlier findings should help guide the union’s position.
Unit Work: The union should always be concerned about the unit’s instructional jurisdiction. As a general rule, courses traditionally taught by members of the bargaining unit, or courses they are capable of teaching, should not be awarded to other institutions for transmission into the campus by electronic means. That would be simply the electronic version of subcontracting. Discussions with other institutions and faculty organizations may be necessary when distance courses are developed and transmitted by two or more institutions in tandem.
Staffing Levels: The union should pursue a policy of no layoffs and
resist attempts to reduce staffing levels as a result of adopting new technologies. As noted earlier, the evidence thus far is that good education
in a high-tech setting requires no less faculty and staff time than does more traditional education. Thus, it is important on educational as well as job protection grounds to oppose job reductions.
Distance Learning Instructors: Too often, distance education has been developed on the margin of the usual curricular channels, on an experimental, ad hoc basis by selected volunteer or part-time faculty. This needs to be reversed. Faculty control over course content, assignment of faculty and credits awarded should be maintained or negotiated. Locals should also attempt to reach agreement with management over issues such as the following:
Class size limitations for distance learning courses;
Workload credit adjustments for faculty engaged in distance learning, including adjustments for course preparation time, instruction time, office hours, e-mail communication and travel to remote sites;
Control over examination and grading responsibilities;
Special pay arrangements for telecourses.
Access and Training: As was suggested earlier, the union’s negotiating strategy should include faculty and staff access to technology, which could include allowances for technology purchases by faculty. Agreements may also include faculty and staff training in new technologies, as well as protections for faculty who do not choose to employ new technologies in their teaching.
Privacy: The union should protect the privacy rights of faculty and staff with regard to computer files, data, discs, and electronic mail. Access to the local area networks, or LANs, used by faculty and maintained by the institution, should be limited to those employees responsible for the maintenance of such systems. Information derived from such access should be treated as private and confidential. Breaches of privacy, such as administrative monitoring of electronic mail, may violate the Constitutional rights of freedom of speech, unreasonable search and seizure and protection against self-incrimination.
Health and Safety: The union should be actively involved in health and safety issues concerning the use of new technologies by faculty and staff. One approach is to negotiate the formation of a joint labor-management committee to address these issues: a committee which assures strong union/worker participation in the concept, design, purchase and implementation of new technology. Training and education programs should be incorporated into this process. Particular attention should be given to problems related to video display terminals (VDT’s), which are associated
with a variety of visual, repetitive motion and musculo-skeletal problems; VDT’s are of special concern to pregnant and disabled employees. Ergonomic and medical monitoring may be needed to document problems related to new equipment and to develop preventive health and safety programs.
The Special Case of Intellectual Property
Some of the most complicated issues involving faculty and technology concern intellectual property rights. Copyright law is based on the principle that people who create original work are entitled to control who uses their work and to secure compensation for it. But how can this principle be applied in an era where works in their entirety, or significant portions of these works, can be circulated and recirculated within moments to thousands of consumers on local area networks, bulletin boards, listservs and the World Wide Web? Who is responsible for monitoring such activity? How do we balance the rights of creators with the scholar’s need for the widest possible access to information?
These issues are further complicated by the fact that technology has greatly extended the range of copyrightable materials. Video and audiotapes, computer programs, databases, and live video and audio broadcasts are “original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression” and thus can be protected by copyright from the time of creation until 50 years after the creator’s death. Materials of this nature may involve several faculty and staff, with continuing reliance on the institution’s equipment and facilities, in addition to external sponsors, including other colleges or universities. Determining who “owns” copyrightable materials, then, can be a real question.
Producer and User Rights: Intellectual property rights are of importance to the higher education union because its members are both the producers and the consumers of copyrighted academic work. Henry Perrit, Jr., an observer of today’s copyright scene, emphasizes the importance of protecting the rights of creators.
Law and technology must work together to minimize free riding
on the intellectual contributions of authors and publishers....Copy-
right always has depended upon technological bottlenecks for its
enforceability. The printing press was the original enforcement
bottleneck ... As technologies change, old bottlenecks disappear and
enforceablity requires a search for new bottlenecks.... The problem
with...an open architecture Internet is that there is no bottleneck.
At the same time, faculty, librarians and students typically expropriate small portions of copyrighted works in their own scholarship. The so-called fair use doctrine, long established in copyright law, permits limited copying of copyrightable works for educational purposes.
The task force strongly believes that the principle of fair use is well worth preserving and should be extended to the new electronic environment. The federal government’s National Information Infrastructure (NII) Advisory Council has endorsed the principle of fair use, and policymakers in both the executive branch and Congress are now trying to find workable ways to implement fair use in cyberspace.
Ownership of Copyrightable Materials: Who owns materials produced by college faculty--the institution or the scholar? Over the years, academic practice has been for the scholar to retain ownership despite a general legal rule that patentable or copyrightable materials developed by an employee of an organization--as “work for hire”--belongs to the employer, not the employee.
The faculty exception to the “work for hire” rule may be less secure today than in the past. One reason is that the courts have not ruled on this point since passage of a new copyright law in 1976. A second reason is that the institution may play a more direct role in producing collaborative works, such as telecourses, than it does in more traditional scholarly material.
The task force urges higher education unions to try to reach clear understandings with management about ownership of copyrightable materials. Except when the institution has assigned and supervised the work and provided specific resources to support it, the creator(s) of copyrightable materials, not the institution, should have the legal protection and financial benefit for their labors. To the extent negotiable, this should include a right to decide if and when telecourses will be re-broadcast, as well as compensation for such rebroadcasts.
Allowing the institution to own its faculty’s work could have very adverse effects. Obviously, it would reduce the economic incentives for professors to create, thereby inhibiting the advance of scholarship. It could also seriously compromise academic freedom, for if the university is the owner, it can decide whether to publish or to proceed further with research, and whether to seek copyright.
Rewarding Technology-Related Creative Effort: In the new electronic environment, faculty’s creative labors may range from developing telecourses and CD-ROMs to establishing new communications systems for scholarly purposes. However, on most campuses today, academic output of this nature is not well rewarded in the tenure, promotion or merit personnel processes.
The task force recommends that higher education unions push for greater recognition of technology-related creative effort in tenure, promotion and other faculty reward processes. These should be advocated with management and the faculty senate, and the union should work with its own members to broaden traditional ideas of what is valued for advancement.
Responsibility for Network Activity: Is the institution responsible for the use of materials and the expression of ideas on its communications networks? Because the institution maintains the campus’ local area computer network, the institution could be considered the owner and therefore legally responsible for materials use on the network. Should this give colleges and universities the right to control activity, including the prevention of copyright infringement? Or is the individual user--the student or faculty member-- responsible? Is an on-line service responsible for its subscribers’ actions? Or is the answer, all three--individuals, institutions and services? Clearly, institutions and policymakers will be compelled to confront these questions, and faculty unions will have to weigh in to protect their members’ interests.
A Word in Closing
This report is certainly not the last word about technology, but the task force hopes it is a helpful first word. Our message can be simply stated. We’re asking you to work hard to ensure that technology questions on your campus get the full and open consideration they deserve. Make sure the union is part of the process of considering technologies and that you are prepared to handle that task. Keep asking the right questions because no one else may be asking them--questions about the educational value of new technologies, about long-term costs, about access and training, and about protecting faculty rights.
At the insistence of the academic community, an excellent illustration of good questioning was incorporated into 1994 regulations of the Board of Governors of California’s Community College system. The guidelines call for community college districts employing distance education to report on the following:
What was the intent in offering courses by distance education, and how was learning enhanced by the use of technology?
How were the faculty selected?
In what ways was student achievement improved?
How did student satisfaction compare with that in courses offered in a traditional mode?
How did costs for distance education compare with other modes of education?
Good criteria. What is not so good is that we are told districts thus far have failed to satisfy the reporting requirements. The union, in short, will have to take on the role of asking the key questions, asking them again, and then asking them some more, until it has opened up the decision-making process and gotten it beyond quick fixes and wishful thinking.
Finally, the task force urges the union at all levels to become more skilled and creative in using technology to conduct union business and communicate with members. At the campus level, the union should fight to secure e-mail privileges for its communications. The union should use communications technology in its organizing efforts, ensuring that these technologies do not become tools of management to hamper such efforts. In addition, the national AFT office should strengthen its own capacity to communicate in cyberspace with affiliates. And, as noted earlier, the national AFT should provide continuing updates about technology issues, on paper and in cyberspace, and develop training programs to help local leaders employ technology effectively.
CITED SOURCES AND SOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION