The Higher Education Technology Revolution

The Higher Education Technology Revolution

Nowhere in higher education has there been as much change as in the use of information technology. Not only have information technology advances provided institutions useful tools like personal computers and campus computer networks, but changes spurred by information technology (IT) advances are leading to a transformation of higher education.
“[Information technology] has shaken up the bigger picture of higher education,” says Jim Duke, an IT manager at St. Paul’s College in Virginia, noting that institutions are competing against one another on the basis of the wealth and use of their IT facilities and resources.
This transformation is shifting the very nature of how higher education institutions are communicating with and educating students. Professors are using the Internet as a communications medium to enrich the curriculum, and to enliven the exchange and discussion between them and their students.
With advanced technology, dozens of colleges and universities as well as corporate America are expanding the capacity of American higher education with distance education facilities. Information technology is making it possible for faculty to teach students who are living far away from central campuses.
Technologies, such as satellite videoconferencing, Internet-based teleconferencing, and interactive multimedia classrooms, are giving schools the ability to reach and educate nontraditional students in numbers that will multiply the capacity of American higher education. Lifelong learning expectations among adults are expected to drive this expansion of distance education.
While experts have largely cheered information technology advances, advocates for minority students are warning that exclusion to new information technologies has the potential to foster deep class divisions between people who have access to information technology and those who do not have it. Government officials and activists report that a “digital divide” is growing with minorities comprising a large segment of those lacking basic access to computers and the Internet.
Black Issues In Higher Education presents 15 developments, which have laid the foundation for the current information technology environment. These include some specific technical innovations as well as broader trends, which encompass use of several technologies.

1) Introduction of the Apple MacIntosh personal computer on campus
 In 1984, Apple Computer introduced MacIntosh and marketed it heavily to colleges and universities. What distinguished MacIntosh from previous other PCs was that it was the first major PC to utilize the Graphical User Interface (GUI) — the visual display of objects, which allow users easy use of programs. As a result, Apple PCs became highly popular among students, faculty, and administrators. In addition to its popularity, the MacIntosh GUI served as the precursor to the Microsoft Windows GUI.

2) Emergence of the Internet
 Although the Internet was developed largely by American academic researchers backed by the U.S. Defense Department in the 1960s and 1970s as a computer network capable of withstanding nuclear attack, it wouldn’t become a commercial and popular network until the 1990s. The Internet also found widespread popularity on college and university campuses in the 1990s only after critical innovations made it convenient to access and use.
3) Computer Chip Innovation
 Over the last 15 years, computers have grown cheaper and more powerful as a result of improvements in computer chip technology. In the 1970s and 1980s, the concept of very large scale integration (VLSI), in which hundreds of thousands of transistors were placed on a single chip, took root as the path for developing better and better microcomputers. Microcomputers eventually became known as personal computers, and innovation in developing microprocessors, or computer chips, has continued unabated.

4) Proliferation of E-mail
 Probably the most popular element of the Internet, E-mail facilitates the communication of text messages and documents cheaply and efficiently. Student-teacher communications have been enhanced by the availability of E-mail.

5) Development of the World Wide Web
In 1989, physicist Tim Berners-Lee developed the World Wide Web to allow global information exchange across the Internet that would allow scientists to collaborate on research. The Web resulted from the integration of hypertext and the Internet. Pages linked by hypertext not only provided information, but also allowed transparent access to older Internet tools, such as FTP, Telnet, Gopher, and USENET.

6) The NCSA Mosaic Browser
The search browser, first developed at the University of Illinois as Mosaic (precursor to Netscape), made the World Wide Web truly accessible to nontechnical Internet users. The Web started as a text-only connection, but NCSA Mosaic introduced a graphical interface for it and its popularity boomed, as novices became users. This explosion hit big in 1993, the year in which Internet web traffic increased by 300,000 percent.

7) Electronic journals/digital databases
Their growing ranks are making the world’s research more easily accessible and more readily searchable on college and university campuses.

8) Microsoft Windows software leads IBM-styled PCs to Dominance
 Microsoft Windows software borrowed heavily from the Apple GUI, which had been introduced in the MacIntosh line of Apple Computers. Not until the release of Windows 3.0 in 1990 did Microsoft become positioned to achieve market dominance in the general market and in higher education with its software operating system. Today, PCs using Windows GUI software are the dominant mode of access to campus networks and the Internet, and the PC remains a powerful productivity tool for individuals in academia.

9) Adoption of ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) Technology in Campus Computing Networks
 ATM is a standards-based communication technology which has been designed to accommodate the simultaneous transmission of data, voice, and video across a single network. Historically, separate networks are used to carry voice, data, and video information —  largely because these traffic types have different characteristics. With ATM, separate networks are not required. ATM has grown out of the need for a worldwide standard to allow interoperability of information, regardless of the “end-system” or type of information.

10) Deployment of Fiber Optic Cable
Fiber optics is replacing copper wire as the conduit of choice. The past decade has seen schools rewire their entire campus with high bandwidth fiber optic cables.

11) Spread of Laptop Computers
 The laptop computer has become popular enough on campuses that companies, such as IBM, have developed purchase programs on individual campuses that supply every student on a campus with a laptop for educational use.

12) Internet2
A consortium of the most infotech-advanced schools in the U.S. is developing a second-generation Internet to support advanced research projects and high-end applications, such as Virtual Reality.  Florida A&M is currently the only HBCU participating in the consortium.

13) The Magnetized Strip Card and the Smart Card
 Paying for student services, proving identification, and accessing other campus life activities have gotten a boost from electronic cards, which enable students to be quickly processed. The magnetized strip card, also known as credit and ATM cards have been embraced widely by colleges and universities. The Smart card, a newer innovation, looks like the standard magnetized strip card. However, Smart cards are much more closely related to personal computers. Embedded in the plastic of a smart card are electronic components capable of memory and processing. Smart cards can be programmed.

14) Distance Education
Though the concept of distance education goes back to the 19th century with correspondence schools, advanced information technology gives distance education a distinctive 21st century gloss. Today’s distance education encompasses a wide variety of technologies to facilitate student-teacher interaction.

15) Y2K Preparation
Getting technology systems ready for the millennial date change has forced many schools, including minority-serving institutions, to upgrade their information technology systems. The Y2K crisis has also required schools to inventory and fix all their facilities technology, such as refrigeration, laboratory, and elevator equipment.                          

— Compiled by Ronald Roach

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