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Spend More Money On Technology
August 14, 2011 - 9:15pm

I'm hoping that we can circle back to Archibald and Feldman's 6/14/11 piece "What Bubble?"

Archibald and Feldman write:

"There are three reasons why the cost of providing a college education has gone up so much since 1980, and all of them reflect broad economic forces buffeting the entire U.S. economy. First, the costs of employing a highly educated workforce have risen substantially over the past 30 years. This has affected all industries that use a lot of highly educated labor.

Next, the productivity of that highly educated labor has not increased in most personal service industries, and this includes higher education. Universities have not figured out how to double class sizes without negatively affecting quality, and new approaches like distance learning have not yet provided any magic bullet. Lastly, the costs of keeping a college education up to date have increased as new technology filters into the workplace students enter once they leave the ivied halls."

I'm struck by the central role that technology plays in this argument. Technology gets a big part of the blame for the rising costs, and at the same time fails to measure up as a solution for increasing learning quality or decreasing instructional costs. I'm sympathetic to the argument that Archibald and Feldman make (I don't think that there is a "higher ed bubble"), but I think they get the story wrong on some essential elements.

Two Hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: Spending on technology is not the main, or even a very significant, factor in driving up higher ed costs.

Hypothesis 2: If learning quality is to improve, and costs are to come down significantly in the medium-to-long-term, then we need to invest significantly more resources in technology.

I largely missed the ERP implementations of the 1990s, although I suspect that these big ticket administrative system installations are the source of the rising campus technology story. In my career I have not seen big investments on the teaching and learning side of technology, and the truth is that the LMS is just not all that expensive.

In the last few years, in the time period where I had some insight in campus spending, I have not witnessed big increases in technology spending (quite the opposite). How much of campus technology spending is accounted for by "student technology fees"? What percentage of overall spending is goes to technology? How has this percentage changed in the past 10 years?

In terms of increasing learning quality and bringing down instructional costs, I suspect that our industry has systematically under-invested in learning technologies (and the professionals who run and add-value to these systems).

This under-investment has slowed the transition to blended learning, and blended learning is the key to increased quality and decreased costs. Blended courses are better courses, mostly because the work involved in creating a blended course involves re-thinking how the learning materials can be developed and delivered. Blended courses can lower the overall cost of instructional delivery, as the same number of classrooms and labs can serve greater numbers of students.

Do you buy this argument?

Will we find the solution to the cost and quality challenges facing higher ed in investments in the learning technologies and learning professionals that support and catalyze the transition to blended learning?

Will technology investments prove to be the solution to challenges of quality and costs, rather than the problem as Archibald and Feldman seem to assert?

 

 

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