May/June 2001 // Vision
The Pew Learning and Technology Program Initiative in Using Technology to Enhance Education: An Interview with Carol Twigg
by James L. Morrison and Carol Twigg
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source ( as: James L. Morrison and Carol Twigg "The Pew Learning and Technology Program Initiative in Using Technology to Enhance Education: An Interview with Carol Twigg" The Technology Source, May/June 2001. Available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

The Pew Learning and Technology Program is an $8.8-million, four-year effort to place the national discussion about new technologies' impact on higher education in the context of student learning and suggest ways to achieve this learning in a cost-effective way. Carol Twigg is the executive director of the Center for Academic Transformation, which received funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts to implement a course redesign project, create symposia on learning and technology, and publish a newsletter on the issues and challenges of using information technology to enhance teaching and learning.

James Morrison (JM): How did the Pew Learning and Technology Program get started?

Carol Twigg (CT): Russ Edgerton, the past president of the American Association for Higher Education, became the educational director of Pew Charitable Trusts about three years ago. He asked me what I thought Pew could do to help education make better use of technology. I suggested that Pew fund efforts to redesign large-enrollment courses using information technology tools. These efforts would demonstrate the quality enhancements and cost savings that information technology can offer.

JM: What have you accomplished so far?

CT: We have made 20 grant awards and given away $4 million to 20 institutions. We are in the midst of the third round of the program, during which we intend to fund ten additional institutions. Our intent is to develop and share with the higher education community a body of practice and information about how technology tools can enhance large classes while lowering costs. We have moved from the theories behind these changes to more concrete examples of faculty members, students, and institutions implementing them. In addition, we run a workshop through which we have educated hundreds of people on the methodology. We also hold two national symposia per year on larger issues related to higher education and technology. Since our founding, we have held four such symposia, from which we have produced two monographs: Improving Learning & Reducing Costs: Redesigning Large-Enrollment Courses and Who Owns Online Courses and Course Materials? Intellectual Property Policies for a New Learning Environment. Two additional monographs are currently being written and should be available soon, one in early spring and the other in late summer.

JM: What do you hope to see the program accomplish in the next three years?

CT: Our main goal is to use the 30 institutions we fund as concrete examples of new ways to conduct introductory courses. This will disseminate the methodology to the larger educational community so that more institutions can learn how to improve learning while reducing costs. We will also describe how institutions implemented these changes in their approach to technology tools.

JM: What obstacles do you see hindering educators from realizing the educational opportunities afforded by information technology tools?

CT: As noted futurist Joel Barker says, we are blinded by our paradigms, our assumptions about the worldsomething he calls the "paradigm effect." Because of the paradigm effect, people are unable to see the potential in new applications of technology. Jim Wetherbe said in a speech some years back that "the biggest obstacle to innovation is thinking it can be done the old way." Faced with the invention of the telegraph, the Pony Express bought faster horses. When that failed, it hired better riders. The founders of the Pony Express did not realize that the world had changed, and they eventually went out of business. Here is another example: the first ATM was located inside a bank and was available only during banking hours. Real innovation did not occur until ATMs were placed outside the bank, as well as in malls, grocery stores, and airports, and became available 24 hours a day.

Colleges and universities are currently offering thousands of online courses, thus moving beyond the time-and-place-specific campus paradigm of the 80s and early 90s, as well as offering constant access. Because they may not need to go to campus as frequently or at all, students value the flexibility offered by such online programs. However, the vast majority of online courses are organized much like their on-campus equivalents; they are developed by individual faculty members with some support from the information technology staff and are offered within the timeframe of an academic semester or quarter. Most follow traditional academic practices ("Here's the syllabus, go read or research, then come back and discuss"). And most are evaluated by traditional student-satisfaction methods. For the most part, in other words, we are using information technology tools as a marginal enhancement of the status quo.

We are resistant to change and rarely look for creative, innovative approaches to new opportunities. In the same way that scientists try to "save the theory" (Thomas Kuhn), we see educators stick fast to the classroom lecture method and look for old solutions to new problems.

JM: What's wrong with using technology tools to conduct education the way we have been doing it successfully for centuries?

CT: This produces results that are only as good as what we accomplished in the past. Since these courses emulate face-to-face pedagogies and organizational frameworks, few lead to significant improvements in the cost or quality of student learning. As long as we replicate traditional approaches, we will find no significant difference in quality, and we will make only a slight dent in the problem of access. Joel Barker and others have observed that the "paradigm shifters," those who create the new rules, are almost always outsiders. Since they aren't invested in the prevailing paradigm, they are more successful in finding innovative ways to solve problems.

JM: Can you point to examples of how innovators are using the Web to increase access, reduce costs, and improve quality?

CT: Some institutions are moving the ATMs outside the bank, so to speak, and thus improving access to higher education. For example, Rio Salado College in Phoenix has revolutionized the college calendar by starting each of its online courses every two weeks. That means that any student who wishes to take a course never has to wait more than two weeks to start.

In addition, although each course is advertised as a 14-week class, students are allowed to increase or decrease their pace. The University of Phoenix uses a cohort model, in which a course begins as soon as between 8 and 13 students are ready to start. Students at New York's Excelsior College (formerly known as Regents College) combine on-campus courses, online courses, test preparation, and independent study to individualize the time and place of studywhile also producing common learning outcomes, as indicated by Excelsior’s standardized examinations.

With respect to reducing costs, a number of institutions are breaking through the 1:20 teacher/student ratio model and creating new paradigms that are high in quality and low in cost. For example, the British Open University piloted in 1999 its most successful online course, "You, Your Computer, and the Net," with 800 students. In 2000, the course had a total of some 12,000 students. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) tripled enrollment in its foreign language courses by relying heavily on Mallard, a UIUC-developed intelligent assessment software program that automates grading of homework exercises and quizzes. Virginia Tech has created cohorts of 1,500 students in its Math Emporium courses, which are organized around computer-based assignments and on-demand tutoring. This initiative has reduced student failure rates and instructional costs.

With respect to improving quality, has created an interactive, intuitive, and accessible environment based on John Dewey's philosophy of "learning by doing" and current social constructivist views of learning. Instead of reading texts and studying for a test, business students use learning resources to work on real-world business problems. At the conclusion of a course, students are assessed for their competency in applying theoretical concepts to these problems. They are also debriefed with several questions: What did they learn? What might help them gain a better understanding of the course? Where else can they apply the concepts taught? What improvements can be made in the process for working on such real-world problems? This reflective activity is critical to students' abstracting and indexing their learning. We need to move beyond online education that is "as good as" traditional education and take advantage of communications technologies and the Internet to create new designs that can surpass our traditional modes.

JM: We are impressed with the scope and magnitude of your effort and applaud it. Any last comment?

CT: It's a lot of fun trying to help people change their approaches to education in ways that benefit students, faculty, and institutions. Once they understand how they can improve their educational methods by using technology, they are willing to work hard and accomplish a good deal. Their level of enthusiasm is catching.

platform gamesbest pc gamesmarble popper gameshidden objects gamesmatch 3 games
View Related Articles >