M. K. Hamza, Bassem Alhalab. (1999). “Technology and Education: Between Chaos and Order”. First
Monday, Volume 4, Number 3.
More than any period in recorded history, today's heterogeneity of emergent technology has transformed daily
life, particularly the lives of the many fascinated by it. The American educational system and its sense of
direction have not been spared from the chaos and distress that accompanies this unprecedented era. Many
educators await the promise of technology's power to improve the educational system. The purpose of this
paper is not to validate the pros or cons of technology, but to explore current issues facing the American
educational system and to better use technologies in a productive and a creative manner. This article explores
contemporary issues of technology in education, investigating its impact upon the American educational system,
and examining the nature of its unprecedented relationship to the posthaste changes of the information age.
This article also suggests systematic procedures that may be used to assess the needs of an institution's
educational information system (EIS), and the dimension of building creative educational climate to better meet
instructional goals and to sustain the continual needs of a quality educational system.
The changeling state of education is in exigent need of solutions to age-old questions about teaching and
learning by reason of this century's boundless technology and its societal impact. More than any period in
recorded history, today's profuse heterogeneity of emerging technology has transformed daily life, particularly
the lives of the many fascinated by it. The American educational system is included in that list; its sense of
direction has not been spared from the chaos and distress that accompanies this unprecedented era. Many
educators await the promise of technology's power to guide them and to lead improvements in the educational
system. Any reasonable success, however, should bring forth change.
Today, learners have the choice to attend a traditional classroom or the virtual classroom. Toppling market
prices in technology, coupled with increasing power potential and popularity, facilitated an invasion of
technology into mainstream education (Morrisett, 1996; Westbrook & Kerr, 1996; Means, 1994). For example, in
1981, only 18 percent of U. S. public schools had one computer for instructional use. By 1991, the estimate
increased to 98 percent (QED, 1992; Means, 1994; Mageau, 1991). In 1983, the ratio of students to computers
in American schools was 125:1. By 1990, the ratio decreased to 20:1 and, by 1995, it reached 9:1. Conversely,
other technologies were adopted almost at the same rate. For example, between the 1991-92 school year, only
seven percent of schools had CD-ROM drives. That number increased to 37 percent by the 1994-95 school
year. In 1991, only one percent of the nation's classrooms had satellite connections, while 17 percent had them
three years later in 1994. The number of computers connected to networks in schools climbed from only five
percent in 1991 to 28 percent by 1994. About 53 percent of all school districts surveyed reported at least one
school connected to the Internet in the 1993-1994 academic year, and 37 states provided network accounts to
some 509,000 users in 1995 (Westbrook & Kerr 1996; QED, 1995). Access via computer modem, and
telephone connection accelerated rapidly in the past few years, featuring e-mail connections to the Internet.
According to a recent survey of Internet host computers (Morrisett, 1996), the survey recorded 6.6 million
Internet hosts in 106 countries worldwide. In November 1992, about 279 million messages were transmitted
over the Internet and, by November 1994, the number of transported messages reached just over one billion
messages, an astounding annual growth of 90 percent. Based on these figures, the world's inhabitants should
witness an upsurge to 101 million computer hosts by the year 2000. Profound investments in technology in this
decade gave rise to a worldwide explosion of information; many institutions of higher education were mystified
by the information chaos that accompanied it. The perturbation caused by this newcomer brought about many
struggles to more clearly understand this alien science. Embroiled in obscurity and uncertainty, many lost focus
of the educational mission.
Undoubtedly, technology's offerings increased dramatically in recent years. These advances also introduced
new educational nomenclature: "virtual education," "diploma mills," "virtual universities," "electronic universities,"
"virtual," and "cyberspace institutions" (Kerr, 1996; Noble, 1998; Morrisett, 1996). Many educational institutions
seem driven to use newly found access to global data communication that will increase enrollments and will
award a vast range of degrees through massive investments in distance education programs. For years, these
ventures granted degrees while posing requirements that, in many cases, varnished over poorly structured
academic programs with lurid jargon that enticed students to pursue "alternative fast track diplomas" and
"nontraditional paths." Research suggests that these borderline tactics often imitate the requirements of
sanctioned colleges and universities; in reality, these requirements have been far less demanding because they
thrived on marketing schemes that promoted customized curriculums designed to fit the unique needs of adult
learners. When compared in-depth to the curricula of bona fide academic institutions, however, these ventures
appeared to be little more than money-making plots managed by capitalistic-minded individuals who held verily
the slightest regard for academic values. Their academic services lack academic authenticity and educational
quality (Stewart & Spille, 1988; Noble, 1998).
Despite ceaseless investments in emerging technologies by U. S. institutions of higher education, few questions
have been raised whether these technologies are truly essential to support instructional and overall educational
goals. If technological investments are imperative in acquiring productive learning tools, one must also ask,
'How can emerging technologies be effectively utilized to achieve optimal education'? Education's mission
seems, ultimately, to be aligned with education, the social organization. Those who govern the educational
system tend to perceive the role of technology as the ultimate end." but nowhere do you find more enthusiasm
for the god of technology than among educators" . Neil Postman further claimed, "Those educators believe in
technology, rely on it, delighted when they are in its presence, condemn people whom are opposing to it, they
stand in awe of it, and they are willing to alter their lifestyle, schedules, relationships to accommodate it."
Education and the Information Chaos: Current Technology Issues
Rigid, inherited beliefs, societal traditions, and economic-centered objectives are the primary fortress of an
aged, declining American educational system. According to Kauffman & Hamza (1998) and Kerr (1996) we, as
educators, continue to mold a neo-twentieth century image of the school-as-factory similarly to the ways in
which workers produce railway cars or motors. For example, Educom, the academic-corporate consortium,
recently instituted Learning Infrastructure Initiatives. These Initiatives include an explicit study of what
professors do by dissecting and categorizing the work of faculty into distinct chores, a classic, Tayloristic
approach used in determining what parts should be automated or outsourced. Noble (1998) refers to such
educational intervention as a highly personal human-mediated environment.
According to Morrisett (1996), society has can be credited for creating technology, but technology is
simultaneously creating society. These observations would also suggest that technologies are beginning to
exercise a benevolent tyranny over humankind. People have become "compulsive information consumers," who
favor the passive reception of information as a form of entertainment over the more challenging act of thinking.
These powerful influences also exert direction over learning and learning environments. Morrisett added that
institutions of higher education have adapted to these conditions but, as a result, they have also compromised
the habits of the mind (study, analysis, reflection, contemplation, and deliberation) that are associated with logic.
For these reasons, many blame the American educational system for the decline in quality education. As a
result, many academic institutions seem to "hang on" to any thread of success by imitating, copying, and
competing with each other to survive the exponential growth of emerging technologies and changing global
market. Overwhelmingly, it appears that when these constituents are confronted with the intimidating prospect
of change, they refrain from seeking innovative, alternative ways to improve higher education and quality of
instruction. Overwhelmingly, they retreat to traditional methods that fall within the more familiar comfort zones.
Technological Advancements: Approach vs. Avoidance
While still in its dawning, the information explosion influenced the rise of two extremes. To one extreme, some
traditional, bureaucratic institutions seem to avoid technological advance, doubting its potential to assist in
improving teaching and learning outcomes. These institutions tend to dispute change and embrace obsolete
beliefs, cultural constraints, and boundaries. To the other extreme many institutions confidently market
themselves as "electronic universities," "Internet schools," "virtual universities," and other labels that indicate
their position in the race of information technology. Many clamor for universal access and search for ways to
attract students to the virtual classroom, promising the earning of degrees of choice via distance education.
There has been much talk among educators that these acts begin to modify the student's worth to the academic
world, as the student begins to assume both the tangible and intangible characteristics associated with those of
a "customer" as opposed to the characteristics of a student. Marketing strategies abound that beseech the
"student-customer" to take advantage of "fast, universal access," "earn a degree in a short period of time," and
other creative approaches that guarantee satisfaction and ultrasonic delivery of the degree-of-choice.
Education: Quality vs. Quantity
Despite the dichotomy of purpose compared to organizational behavior, many institutions of higher education
achieve the delicate balance between quality and quantity. Many seem to share common concerns and
challenges imposed by the uncertainty of information chaos. Instructional integration of technology with the
learning environment (traditional and virtual), user support (at all levels), expanded access to diverse student
populations, on-line education homogeneity and dependability, and increased costs create challenges in higher
education. To many, the achievement in surviving the information marathon is more critical than safeguarding
educational integrity. Confusion and bewilderment tend to characterize today's juvenile information society, as
well as the attitudes and behaviors of individuals who lead at institutions of higher education. Such confusion
disrupts the progress of effective goal setting and decision making.
Technology enthusiasts across heterogeneous levels of education have seemingly become hopelessly
enamored by technology's promise-laden guarantees. In a few short years, this fascination has become
esteemed by the many as the foremost panacea to better teaching and better learning. However, there are
underlying problems that result from this kind of rationalization. Emerging technologies have often been
exploited by "sales-hungry" decision makers who have used technology's rich habiliments in automating higher
education curriculums and attempting to sustain increasing enrollments in order to remain economically
competitive with the business world.
The multitudes in academia have already stamped, with unrivaled enthusiasm, an all-embracing acceptance of
emerging technology; many have rushed, without hesitation, to implement technology. It is far easier to believe
that technology has already reached the pinnacle in helping teachers to teach and encouraging students to
learn; it is a much more difficult task to believe to the contrary. Therefore, these beliefs toward technology have
brought forth new meanings to the "THEN, IF" scenario. Overzealous adoption of technology implies that
learning will be successful. In fact, some individuals might also argue that any instructional strategies combined
with technology guarantees success as an effective teacher. This cycle of thinking and reaction simmers until it
leads people to believe that technology is the revitalizing "antidote" for a decaying educational system. In
addition, this pattern of belief might also persuade one to believe that the mere act of mechanically
implementing technology will spare the educational system from further decay wrought by inherited, newly
borne problems in much the same way that a vaccine protects human beings from disease.
When educators question the plausibility of implementing new technologies that connect teachers and students
through the Internet, particularly those in decision making capacities, these individuals are more likely to
obligate time, money, and much human effort to adopt these technologies. To debate this point, the following
questions might entertain controversy that educational institutions may have previously overlooked:
1) Do decision-makers master the fundamentals of information technology systems (IS) that qualify them to
make such critical decisions?
2) How do these decisions impact learning and teaching?
3) What involvement do faculty, staff, students, and the social organization share in these educational events
where the impact of these decisions may be most strongly communicated?