Vol. 13 - Issue 1 2017 - ISSN 1504-4831
Friday, 19 April 2024

Volume 3 - issue 1 - 2007

Editorial volume 3 - issue 1: Wishes and hopes for the digital university.

editorial-vol3-iss1 A recent analysis of the “digital condition” of Norwegian higher education finds that a considerable number of teachers are willing to implement the use of technology in the classroom, but only to a limited degree. The study, which was carried out by the “Norway Opening University” (2006), found that there are no incentives for teachers in higher education to pursue and develop their use of technology. Research is still conceived of as far more rewarding than teaching. Another finding was that teachers and administrators lack knowledge about, and therefore have little belief in, the benefits of using technology. Younger teachers tend to use technology more than their older colleagues and the report suggests that they use technology more because they know more about the potentials of the technology. The report suggests that higher education institutions need to simplify the technology used and support academics more consistently. The report also suggests that such peer support will improve the chances of other academics finding the pedagogical use of ICT more legitimate and interesting. However, in the larger picture the report finds that academics have implemented technology to a significant degree. From being a marginal activity a decade and a half ago, it now influences the whole educational field in higher education.
A different study from the US asks whether ICT has made any significant impact on teaching in American higher education. Instead of opening the pearly gates, the implementation of ICT and online learning has increased conservatism in American higher education, is one of the claims in the report “Thwarted innovation” (Zemsky and Massey 2004). The study suggests that implementing the use of technology does not necessarily lead to improved learning on behalf of the students. The authors rather suggest: “A number of people are coming to believe that the rapid introduction of course management tools has actually reduced elearning’s impact on the way most faculty teach. Blackboard and WebCT make it almost too easy for faculty to transfer their standard teaching materials to the Web” (Zemsky and Massy 2004).

In a remarkable book, by James Cornford & Neil Pollock: Putting the university online. Information, technology and organizational change (2003), the authors posit a significantly more complex interpretation of why universities are slow actors in adopting ICT. The authors address the uncertainties that challenge the stability of conservative and “dinosaur-like” institutions such as higher education. They look at the “big picture” issue of what the use of ICT means for the university as an institution by focusing on technology as a process rather than as a black box. In doing this they consider the implications of the complex university functions of teaching, learning, organization and research for bringing the university “online” : how technology, social participation and human activity interact in creating the “new” realities of the university. In an interesting account of why efforts to make courses accessible and teachable online are often stalled, the authors note that the reasons are not simply “resistance”, "unstable technologies” or “costs”, but the sheer complexity of moving from on-campus to on-line.  This process is so demanding that staff inevitably start calculating the cost-benefit dimensions of what Burbules and Callister jr. (2000) call  “the promising risks and the risky promises” of change. This enterprise is influenced by the conflicting forces and ideas that engage the members of the academic community:  enthusiasm, threats, marketing and resistance – all related to the interpretation of how ICT will affect and change the essential functions of the university. Simmons (2001) even argues that the educational technology threatens the very concept of Academic Freedom. In spite of a centurylong effort to upgrade teaching, research seems to survive as the most prestigious activity in U.S. universities, as it is in most European ones. In addition, the tendency is strong towards deeper polarization between research and teaching positions. Also, a rapid growth in the employment of part-time non-tenured teachers in the US poses a significant challenge to the traditional structure of employment. About one half of the faculty members in the U.S. are now part-time (Rice, Finkelstein, Hall & Schuster 2004). Most of these part time academics are doing teaching, and many of them are associated with online teaching and learning.

Some have hopes and dreams about making repetitive work simpler and automated, like paying invoices. Handling teaching and learning is a totally different issue. If the case is that using technology will be outsourced to part-time personnel or restricted to learning centres etc. we shall miss the opportunity of addressing the more profound issues about technology, teaching and learning. Douglas Kellner (2001) argues that these issues are so serious that, much more than before, they “require a reformulation and expansion of the concept of critical or committed intellectual”. And there are numerous good reasons. If critical intellectuals do not commit themselves to investigating both risks and promises, other institutions, mainly commercial, will fill the gap. Higher education needs to become involved and set standards for the critical and reflective use of educational technology. Burbules and Callister jr. anticipate that ”Colleges and universities will change because of pressures from the outside as well as conscious decisions made from the inside, and technologies will be incorporated, in some ways and to some degree, in everything that colleges and universities try to do.” (ibid. p.7).

The articles presented in this issue address such topics in many ways. Training university teachers to use online learning in a critical way is the topic Erika Løfstrøm and Anne Nevgi address in this issue. They suggest that letting university teachers study online would be a valuable exercise before letting them organize and run online learning themselves. Their paper reveals how teachers reflect on being students themselves when they learn how to study online. This is in a profound way an essential step in making colleagues critical about e-learning.

Kristen Snyder coins the term “digital culture” as a key term in understanding the “information age”. She proposes that technology in human communication is a part of the communication act and therefore a part of the process of creating meaning. Her aim is to develop an awareness of the implications for behavior, norms and values, and how meaning making is integral to understanding the digital culture. She addresses in many respect the concerns voiced by Douglas Kellner (above). 

In developing a digital culture within the university, we can already trace significant differences between student cohorts. A general feeling is that mature students are less confident with ICT and its associated soft- and hardware than the youngest students arriving directly from upper secondary education. In a journal addressing lifelong learning, Håvard Skaar’s contribution suggests it is interesting to understand children’s learning processes from an early stage in the area of ICT. The article focuses on how boys and girls express themselves differently when using multimedia.

Finally, Gunilla Jedeskog, who has followed the implementation of ICT in Swedish schools for more than two decades, makes an analysis of policy documents that guided this development. She addresses ownership of the process, and how it was interpreted. She finds that implementation was anything but a streamlined process, in many ways similar to the process in higher education, and that it changed focus over time.


Burbules, N. C. og Callister, T. A.jr. (2000) Watch IT. The Risks and Promises of Information Technologies for Education. Boulder, Col., Westview Press
Cornford, J. & Pollock, N (2003) Putting the University Online. Information, technology and organizational change. The Society for Research into Higher education & Open University press, Buckingham
Kellner, D. (2001 ): Intellectuals and New Technologies. (http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/courses/ed253a/dk/INT.htm) (21.03.07)
Norway Opening University (2006) Utredning om digital tilstand i høyere utdanning, fase II, http://norgesuniversitetet.no/artikler/2006/digitaltilstand2
Rice, R. E, Finkelstein, M. J., & Schuster, J. H. The Future of the American Faculty,
Change, Mar/Apr2004, Vol. 36, Issue 2, p.27-35.
Simmons, J. (2001) Educational Technology and Academic Freedom. Techné: Journal of the Society for Philosophy and Technology Nr. 3
Zemsky, R. & Massy, W.F (2004) Thwarted Innovation. What happened to e-learning and why? http://www.irhe.upenn.edu/Docs/Jun2004/ThwartedInnovation.pdf