January 1998 // Commentary
Technology and Higher Education:
An Interview with William Graves
by James L. Morrison and William H. Graves
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: James L. Morrison and William H. Graves "Technology and Higher Education:
An Interview with William Graves" The Technology Source, January 1998. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Professor William H. Graves, founder of the University of North Carolina (UNC) Institute for Academic Technology (IAT), is an international leader in integrating technology into higher education. He currently is on leave from UNC Chapel-Hill to direct the non-profit (and recently formed) Learning Technology Research Institute (LTRI), where he will be joined by a core team of former IAT faculty and staff. He also serves as an officer of COLLEGIS, the corporate partner of the Learning Technology Research Institute and a leading provider of consulting and outsourcing services in higher education. In addition, he is a member of the CAUSE Board of Directors and chairs the steering committee of the EDUCOM National Learning Infrastructure. He is a member of the steering committees for the EDUCOM Networking and Telecommunications Task Force and the Coalition for Networked Information. He also recently served on the steering committee for the Internet2 project to help create the new University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development to manage and foster the development of Internet2 and other future advances in networking technology. He graciously consented to this interview on November 11, 1997.

James Morrison: Bill, how did UNC’s Institute for Academic Technology work to incorporate technology into the curriculum of colleges and universities?

William Graves: We prototyped new pedagogical and instructional delivery methodologies enabled by new technologies. We then shared the results of this work with colleges and universities through briefings, satellite broadcasts, publications, planning sessions, and other dissemination vehicles.

JM: How will your work in the new Learning Technology Research Institute differ from your work at IAT?

WG: The basic R&D agenda is a natural continuation of what we—the fourteen of us who left the IAT—were doing at UNC. For example, my colleague, Steve Griffin, is leading the technical development of the Instructional Management Systems (IMS) specifications and protocols on behalf of our new institute’s participation in the National Learning Infrastructure Initiative’s IMS Project. Similarly, my colleagues, Jim Noblitt and Doug Short, continue to adapt commercially available software into new Web-based instructional tool sets and then to prototype the instructional uses of those tools to refine our collective understanding of online pedagogical methodologies.

There is a major difference, however, and that lies in the transfer of our work to colleges and universities throughout the world. For the past few years, institutions have been embracing our ideas and have asked us to come to their campuses to help them implement new, online instructional practices. While it is very difficult for UNC or any single institution to underwrite R&D activities for itself, it is impossible—and naturally so—for any institution to underwrite implementation costs on another campus. Even with grants from external sources, it is impossible for the IAT staff to visit other campuses on implementation missions. Most grants are targeted on specific projects. Moreover, implementation is a process, not a one- or two-day event. This is where COLLEGIS enters the picture. COLLEGIS is in the business of implementing and managing new technologies on campuses across the country. With access to our technologies and pedagogical methodologies and with training in these technologies and methodologies, COLLEGIS/LTRI personnel can work on a campus to develop and operate the faculty and curriculum workshops that derive from work being done at our new institute. The global market economy sustains the textbook as a centerpiece of traditional instruction. However, this market economy also delivers professional development opportunities to our faculties and staff in higher education. It will be a market economy that sustains online learning materials and the professional development opportunities to learn to use these new materials and the tools that create them. COLLEGIS and LTRI are helping to create that market economy.

JM: Bill, what are the driving forces regarding integrating technology in higher education?

WG: There are several forces at work. Certainly the technology itself is a driving force and technology is changing rapidly. For example, Internet2 represents major pending changes in network technology that will affect the future of education.

These changes keep providing new opportunities to rethink how we educate students. The paradox is that we are sitting in the midst of tremendous technological change while continuing to bolt the new technologies onto the old model of teaching and learning. The majority of college instruction is still the lecture method; thus, most of our use of technology is focused on enhancing lectures. This is often not the best use of technology in instruction.

From an institutional perspective the driving forces for using technology in education are access, cost, and quality. There is a demand to increase access to higher education. The primary means of doing this is not just to bring more students to the campus, particularly since many campuses have neither room for more students nor sufficient funds to build more buildings. Institutions can, however, increase access by working smarter—by using technology to increase access to education.

JM: What about quality?

WG: There is a great deal of evidence that using technology in pedagogy can increase quality. But the real issue here is "how good is good enough." If everything we did was simply about quality we would probably use the Oxford model, in which each student has an individual tutor. This is not economically feasible; indeed, with few exceptions, colleges and universities compromised this prospective level of quality with the current classroom model. When we consider the relationship of technology and quality, we must consider particular educational objectives. If we are trying to achieve the goals of a liberal education, we may need to bring students to a campus, for the campus experience is central to that kind of education. But if our goal is to transfer a specific body of knowledge and intellectual practices, say those embedded in college algebra, we may not need the traditional campus context and should re-evaluate our approach accordingly.

JM: If we were looking back from the year 2020, how would you describe where we are in integrating technology in higher education?

WG: Basically we are on a cusp at year-end 1997. Everett Rogers tells us that when you introduce a new technology you will attract about 15% of potential users to it because there are always people who want to use new technologies. They are the early adopters. The majority of people wait until they are sure that the technology really works. This is certainly true in the case of educational technology. Most polls show that about 15% of the faculty are currently using technology in their instruction. The majority of faculty needs to be convinced. We didn’t have to work hard to attract the early adopters to using technology in teaching and learning. We will have to work a lot harder to attract the remaining 85%. The key is to make sure that we are providing faculty with tools that are easy to use and easy to access, and to make sure that the tools work. Institutions should provide their faculty with affordable tools that can be easily supported. Colleges and universities cannot afford to invest funds in individual handholding. However, if you give faculty members the right technological environment and guidance in rethinking their pedagogy, they will use the tools you give them creatively because they are very creative people. In fact, one of our objectives at LTRI is to create flexible tool sets that require an affordable level of faculty training so that they can be used on an institution-wide basis.

JM: Can you describe such tool sets?

WG: For example, faculty members can create better learning environments when they use tools that allow them to create a Web-based discussion group for their classes so that the discussion is immediately available on the Web: tools that let them create a syllabus on the Web without having to know HTML coding; tools that let them easily create and maintain a syllabus; tools that make it easy for students to access an online library for some of their assignments; tools that allow, for example, art instructors to create an image database. Our new institute takes off-the-shelf software and adapts it to create such tools. These tools are then implemented within a related technological and professional development environment that is affordable, manageable, and sustainable when delivered by our business partner, COLLEGIS.

JM: Tell us about the Educom National Learning Infrastructure Initiative (NLII).

WG: Most of the work being done in instructional technology over the past decade or so has been bottom-up work—individual faculty members doing new and interesting things. Because that work was not supported from the top, was not fully supported by the institution or was not based on scalable technologies and standards, it did not transfer to other faculty members and did not become part of the institution’s way of doing business. It was a one-off, ad hoc, interesting project that particular faculty members did for themselves and their own students. One of the basic ideas behind the NLII is to try to create a top-down complementary piece of this revolution to make sure that institutional leaders and system administrators (1) are aware of the access, quality, and cost issues I discussed earlier and (2) understand the potential role of technology to address these issues.

JM: What is the "Instructional Management Systems Project"?

WG: The Instructional Management Systems Project (IMSP) is an Educom project under the banner of the NLII. The objective is to define a set of specifications and protocols for delivering instruction on the Internet.

JM: Can you explain that in greater detail?

WG: A complete response to your question can be found on the IMS Web site (http://www.imsproject.org). Basically, if faculty members are going to use online materials and build online courses, they need to be able to find and review these materials. Some materials may be freely available, but some are for sale. Faculty need to have some method for purchasing these materials, for assigning students these materials, for tracking students' use of assigned materials, for creating discussion groups around the materials, and for assigning grades. Also, faculty members will need ways of transferring grades across institutional boundaries, since we won’t be so insistent on students having all their credit coming from a single institution in the new milieu; we will be better able to share credits. The IMSP's idea is to do for instruction what HTML, http, and Web browsers did for publishing on the Internet. Of course, if you think about it, that’s what the Web really is—a new medium for publishing. Anyone can prepare something on their word processor, save it as an HTML file, and pop it onto the Web, thereby becoming an instant publisher. We can do this because somebody defined some specifications and protocols, namely HTML and http, and then somebody else created the access mechanism. The IMSP Project is working on protocol specifications for online instruction in educational environments and the NLII is charged with working on prototype code that will give users access to these tools. We are pleased to be providing leadership for the technical aspects of the IMSP.

JM: What do we need to know to make the most of the new opportunities available to higher education?

WG: We need to understand that episodic, bottom-up experimentation by a few interested faculty members, while a necessary component of the transformation ahead, is not a sufficient condition for its success. Success will require wise institutional investments in scalable technologies and professional development methodologies. It will require a market for online learning materials. Institutions must learn to collaborate in order to share the risks and costs of change, but each institution must be willing to invest in its own future in a more substantive way than is implied by the traditional incremental volunteerism that has left higher education lagging behind other "industries" in its mission-critical use of information technology. These are the tenets on which we’ve created the alliance between COLLEGIS and the Learning Technology Research Institute.

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