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How did we do?

In 1986 there were about 1200 student micros and terminals (and about 1300 for faculty and staff). In 1993 we have about 9,000 microcomputers and terminals, 4700 for students and 4300 for faculty and staff. The number of student micros has increased fourfold since 1986, just about matching the 1986 expectation.

In 1993 there is practically no discipline that has remained untouched by technology. Indeed, as predicted in 1986, more faculty in nearly every discipline expect students to use technology in their courses. Application software, simulation and tutorials remain common categories of student use, but three additional categories have emerged: student/student communication in course-related discussion groups via the Electronic Forum, student access to electronic information on CD-ROM and the library automation system, and multimedia. Multimedia is now considered an important area for development. In fact the use of video is now commonly included when we write about technology.

While most students come to the community college with computing skills, it is still not uncommon for students to have never used a computer before. This pattern is likely to continue into the near future, given that so many of our students are adults returning to school.

In 1993 we have over 130 local area networks, connected to each other and to a network of VAX computers by an Ethernet backbone. In 1986, the Ethernet backbone was in place, but there was perhaps only one LAN connected to it. The intervening years have seen a growth in networks, but faculty and student/instructional use of these networks has developed only sporadically, and not as fast as predicted in 1986. The last three years have seen an increased use of file servers for shared resources and increased use of the Electronic Forum (EF). Recently there has been increasing interest in instructional access to the Internet.

Student use of off-site databases has been redirected: in 1993 students gain access via microcomputer to electronic databases on CD-ROM in each college library.

No new instructional use of the VAX was predicted in 1986. While this was true for the traditional categories of uses of instructional technology, the EF was developed on the VAX and is still in widespread use on those computers, though it is migrating to UNIX servers. INFORM, an instructional management system, has followed a similar development path: first on the VAX, later on servers. In fact, it is more clear now than it was in 1986, that the microcomputer is the computer of choice for instructional applications.

Many faculty have developed courseware for their students: tutorials, simulations, testing systems. In some cases faculty have redesigned their entire courses around courseware they've written. And many more faculty have enhanced their courses with technology-related assignments, using popular commercial software.

The chart of the predicted computer infusion for 1991 looks quite accurate from the 1993 vantage point.

Did we do what we set out to do? By many measures we have. We reached a target number of student computers; many more faculty have authored or customized or adopted software for use by their students. Students are more likely to use technology in more courses in 1993 than they were in 1986. But, did we successfully integrate technology with instruction? Or, more to the point, did we improve teaching and learning by the integration of technology with instruction? That, after all, was what we set out to do.

Students are more likely to use technology but a thorough integration of technology with instruction has only just begun. Many faculty, in some courses, have shown us some of the possibilities: video tapes which prepare students to set up their Chemistry labs and the use of some dry-lab simulations in Chemistry, Biology and Physics, for example. These technologies can likely be successfully used by even more faculty in more courses. Students, in some courses, use the Electronic Forum to conduct course-specific discussions. Students in many more courses can likely benefit academically from this special, time-delayed, community-building dialog.

But what else should we expect? The technologies are changing; and the adoption of new technologies will always happen gradually. Each new technology will have its beginning, its growth in use, and its transition to new technologies. The Electronic Forum is currently growing in use. The teaching of the COBOL compiler has declined, having given way to the teaching of DBase and other applications, a change which was well underway in 1986.

Any given snapshot of levels of uses of technology will reveal both its partial adoption and at the same time its possibilities for the future. Any given snapshot will picture the river, with some in the mainstream, some in secondary channels, some in back-eddies; some ahead, some behind.

Measuring the integration of technology with instruction is more complicated than counting occurrences of use. We need to know not only the kinds of current uses of technology, but we would also need to know how that college or department or faculty member is positioned to take advantage of the next changes; how they are positioned vis–à–vis the mainstream.

But did we improve the quality of teaching and learning over the past seven years? And did our adoption of technology contribute to that? These are the important questions but we have a paucity of tools with which to answer them. The measurement of the quality of teaching and learning, in particular, seems extraordinarily elusive.

In what we can measure, numbers of student computers, numbers of classrooms equipped with video and/or computer projection systems, and numbers of faculty adopting technology for use in instruction, we did accomplish much since 1986.

It's a River, Not a Lake: How did we do?
© January 1994 Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction (MCLI)
Maricopa Community Colleges

The Internet Connection at MCLI is Alan Levine --}
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