January 1998 // Vision
Transforming Higher Education Using Information Technology:
First Steps
by Barbara Horgan
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: Barbara Horgan "Transforming Higher Education Using Information Technology:
First Steps" 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.

In a recent Forbes article, Peter Drucker, renowned management consultant and writer, prophesied the end of the university as we know it: "Universities won’t survive....Such uncontrollable expenditures, without any visible improvement in either the content or quality of education, means that the system is rapidly becoming untenable.…Already we are beginning to deliver more lectures and classes off campus via satellite or two-way video at a fraction of the cost" (Lenzner & Johnson, 1997). An article in the Sloan Management Review similarly projects an end to the dominance of the business school: "[T]he international data highway will transform business education, although not necessarily its traditional supplier, the business school" (Ives, 1997, p. 33). Such prophesies of doom, however, are more likely indications of the need to change rather than to end higher education.

Universities are feeling the pressure to control costs, improve quality, focus more directly on customer needs, and respond to competitive pressures. Information technology (IT) has the potential to solve many of these problems. It can change the roles of students and faculty, facilitate more learner-centered, personalized education, save money through improved business processes and distance education, and expand the scope and content of the curriculum. This potential has often been more hype than reality, but hope is on the horizon.

The 1996 editions of two annual surveys on the use of information technology in higher education, one covering all institutions (Green, 1996) and one focusing on business schools (Frand, 1996), indicate the widespread availability of IT resources at colleges and universities. The critical mass of IT resources necessary to support integration of information technology in the curriculum is finally becoming available. However, more than just resources are necessary to maximize the potential of IT so as to transform higher education. Careful attention to the following issues is a prerequisite for any institution wishing to change itself and prepare its students for the 21st century:

  • planning,
  • funding,
  • support, and
  • incentives.

Where To Begin: Planning

Having a document that succinctly outlines key strategies, needed resources, and future directions is crucial to communicating internally and externally. Furthermore, such a document is essential to the successful integration of technology into the curriculum. The process of drafting this document is often more important than the final product.

One of the first steps in this process is to assess the current environment and establish a vision of the future. While each institution’s assessment of its existing IT environment will be different, certain general elements of the future of management education are becoming clearer. In a recent article, "Will the Internet Revolutionize Business Education and Research," the author describes several important planning assumptions for higher education in the future:

  • Virtual learning communities;
  • "Pushing" rather than "pulling" (with students having greater control);
  • Lifelong learning;
  • "Just-in-time" rather than "just-in-case" education;
  • Demonstrated skills versus certification;
  • Global disaggregation;
  • Open competition;
  • Visually-based models rather than textually-based ones;
  • Simulation; and
  • Collaboration between universities and business (Ives, 1997, p. 35-36).

These assumptions are followed by a scenario describing a consultant enrolled in a hypothetical Executive MBA program that is totally electronic. We follow her and her classmates through several online exercises and classes being accessed from around the world. Similarly, the article "Technological Innovation and the Paradigm Shift in Management Education" describes a student’s typical day in UCLA’s Anderson Graduate School of Management, during which he has "access at any time, from anywhere, to school and information resources" (Frand & Broesamle, 1996, p. 3). Developing such assumptions and scenarios appropriate for the mission of the particular institution is a valuable way to begin the planning process.

Plans should focus on the student, the classroom (virtual or real), faculty roles, and learning outcomes, rather than on the technology itself. The danger in not having clear goals and pedagogical objectives is that technology will be acquired but not truly integrated into the teaching, learning, and research of the school. Faculty using information technology in their classes need to establish goals too. For instance, Larry Metzelaar of the College of Business at Butler University approaches IT use for his students by setting the goal of getting them to think comprehensively and by comparing learning outcomes of multimedia to those of print media.

Another valuable approach to planning is to look at specific strategies for integrating technology into the curriculum. These strategies can be statements about the use of particular technologies like laptops, totally wired classrooms, or intranets. For example, two authors describe how they are planning to transform MBA education at UCLA by modeling new technologies such as:

  • Laptop computer technology;
  • Software that enables students to summarize, analyze, and interpret complex data;
  • Network and communication technologies that make it possible to communicate within the classroom and school and through the Internet; and
  • Availability of large quantities of data (Frand & Broesamle, 1996, p. 1-2).

Other strategies might emphasize issues such as faculty incentives, training, mentoring, and use of student support. Strategic direction statements are usually expressions concerning the extent, importance, and application of information technology.

Steve Gilbert’s Teaching and Learning with Technology Roundtable (TLTR) program provides an invaluable resource for strategies that promote both broad and deep infusion of IT into the curriculum. The American Association of Higher Education (AAHE) has a technology homepage, a moderated listserv, frequent roundtables across the country, and an annual conference. AAHE's approach is to promote development of a consortium or roundtable on campus—led by the Provost (or Dean’s) office and including IT staff, librarians, faculty, bookstore staff, and others who can influence the integration of technology into the curriculum—to plan jointly for cost-effective solutions. These roundtables also communicate with similar groups locally and nationally to share challenges, strategies, and best practices.

Determining the kind and amount of equipment, facilities, and software that are needed is another component of the planning process. These resources include network infrastructure (servers, wiring, devices); multimedia workstations and laptops; general purpose, discipline-specific software, and tools for Web development; electronic labs and classrooms; standard electronic mail, conferencing, calendaring and groupware products; videoconferencing, and other media equipment. Jason Frand’s annual "Survey of Business School Computing Usage" can provide a guide for deans and other IT planners, largely because it covers so many business schools, nationally and internationally. With the survey, institutions can compare their resources to those of their immediate competitors, as well as to the leading schools in the country (Frand, 1996). Kenneth C. Green's series of surveys provide similar information on a more general level (Green, 1996).

Developing a technical architecture, a blueprint to guide the selection and purchase of particular technologies and products, is very important for communicating with users and vendors. The Gartner Group provides its members with research reports that demonstrate how to develop an IT architecture, beginning with strategic directions and ending with specific products or groups of products that assist the process of implementing these directions.

Funding Information Technology: An Ongoing Problem

Plans should include or be immediately followed by budgets that propose funding for the planned objectives and resources. Financial planning for information technology is a key challenge. Even well-endowed schools that are able to buy the best equipment and software find themselves overwhelmed by the short life span of technology, constant maintenance/upgrades, and escalating demand.

Recent studies suggest that traditional financial planning and budgeting cycles will not work for information technology (Oberlin, 1996). Instead, higher education administrators need to look at new models, including leasing and life-cycle planning, both of which may involve moving what have been considered capital costs to operating budgets. The long budget cycles of many state institutions also are inappropriate to the rapid pace of information technology. Decision-makers need to abandon traditional thinking that considers IT investment decisions as an expense issue rather than a cost-benefit issue. According to John Oberlin, who has written extensively on this topic, "Colleges and universities will have to spend more money on information technology simply because it benefits them to do so….There is no other asset among their resources that improves its cost/benefit ration every year" (Oberlin, 1996).

Having a good plan to share with business partners is one way of finding new resources. Another way is working in partnership with institutional and business school administrators on the need for more IT funding and for more creative ways of funding. Student ownership of computers is becoming a necessity in business schools; it is a requirement in most EMBA programs and some schools. Furthermore, recent policy developments (such as those that took effect this past fall at UCLA) mandating that all students own computers demonstrate that this sort of innovation will soon no longer be limited to more specialized or graduate programs. Although student ownership can alleviate the need for more student computing labs, these savings are offset by the new requirements for docking stations and expensive videoconferencing and multimedia facilities.

Two other issues that complicate financial planning for information technology are the increasing costs and complexities of distributed computing environments and the total cost of ownership of computers and local area networks. More complex systems and software mean not only additional memory, more powerful processors and expensive peripherals, but also increased technical/user support and training. According to Gartner Group studies, the total cost of distributed systems may be ten times more than the purchase price. These realities need to be incorporated into IT financial planning, not ignored under false assumptions that computing costs are decreasing and that ad-hoc, one-time funding is sufficient. Two essays by John L. Oberlin (1996), available online in the CAUSE library, are excellent sources of information for IT financial planners looking for new models.

Providing Adequate Human Resources: The Support Crisis

In the 1995 Survey of Business School Computing Usage, differences among the schools existed not just in funding for hardware resources and facilities but also in the level and type of staff support each could afford. The top-spending schools (first quartile) have larger, more professional staff and rely less on students, thus realizing greater achievements in integrating technology in the curriculum because full-time staff can stay with a project for multiple years and bring more experience (Frand, 1995). Even in some of the larger, more prestigious schools, however, adequate support is a concern.

George Bateman of the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business voices a common concern that lack of support staff is a real barrier to information technology integration. "We don’t have the people to work with faculty," he says; most of the IT staff provide administrative or technical support. One strategy that has surfaced to deal with this problem is distributed, department-specific support. The Wharton School, for example, moved early to implement a distributed staff model for computing support. Distributed staff work closely with faculty in departments to integrate IT into the curriculum. They possess both an understanding of information technology and of the disciplines they support. Other strategies include outsourcing, subsidizing only institutionally important functions, and determining baseline and unsupported services. For instance, UT-Austin’s business school computing services web pages list "things we do not do", as well as those services they do provide.

Promoting independence of users was a goal for Harvard’s Business School as it revamped the information technology infrastructure. IT staff designed the new campus intranet for ease of use so that they could turn over management to the users and actually reduce IT staff (Mullich, 1997). Employing faculty mentors is another useful tool for increasing and enhancing support. At Seattle University, selected faculty are given one-seventh release time to support their peers in integrating technology into the curriculum.

Providing Incentives for Faculty

One problem Seattle University faced in designing its faculty mentor program—needing to select only tenured faculty—points to a key challenge. Younger faculty who are most comfortable with technology are without tenure. Spending their spare time on instructional technology rather than writing refereed journal articles will not provide promotional and tenure opportunities. Most research institutions have strong disincentives for experimenting with technology, but even the more flexible private institutions have not necessarily been more supportive.

The June 6, 1997 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education has an article in the Information Technology Section entitled "Those Who Publish On Line Fear They Suffer in Tenure Reviews." An electronic "Colloquy" in the Chronicle encourages further discussion on the topic. Some hope is expressed that standards for online credentials will be developed. Perhaps the conversations about eliminating tenure that are starting at some institutions will lead to changes/reforms in that process. For now, even the accrediting agency for business schools (AACSB), while strongly advocating use of IT, also mitigates against instructional technology development by promoting standard research for faculty.

Not only are there are no rewards for using IT, but we are so early in the learning curve for instructional technology that frequent failures or difficulties can be expected. Several faculty members interviewed expressed this frustration. One at the University of Washington said he stopped using internet access in his classes because the connection so often failed to work. Susan Hughes, an accounting professor at Butler University, likes computers being available in class but "too much time is wasted fixing things." Developing and using courseware creates even more problems and initial failures. Keeping current with technology, often an expensive proposition, is one way to ensure greater reliability. Another option is designing systems like Harvard’s intranet for ease of use and upgrade.

Some schools provide faculty with grants for promoting instructional innovations with technology to be used for purchasing hardware or software, attending conferences, or receiving release time. The faculty mentor program at Seattle University illustrates another incentive for faculty to use IT in their classes. Faculty seem to respond better to working with other faculty in developing instructional materials; IT staff are often more focused on the technology than the pedagogy. Probably the most effective strategies for motivating faculty to use IT in their classes are to make technology ubiquitous, consistent, and reliable, and to provide adequate support services.


Armed with a plan that lists goals and priorities, a financial strategy that allows for life cycle planning, a reliable and robust IT infrastructure, adequate support services, and incentives for faculty to experiment with information technology in their classes, institutions of higher learning will be well-positioned to use IT strategically. These strategic uses include marketing, recruitment, global communication, and information access, virtual faculty and classrooms, more effective simulations, and modeling. Ultimately, the goal is to educate students and faculty to be able to function effectively with technology in the 21st century.


Frand, J. (1996). 1996 thirteenth survey of business school computing usage. Los Angeles: Anderson Computing Services, Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA. Available: http://www.anderson.ucla.edu/faculty/jason.frand/ researcher/survey/13exsum.htm.

Frand, J. & Broesamle, W. (Spring 1996). Technological innovation and the paradigm shift in management education. Selections, Spring 1996, 1-7. Available: http://www.anderson.ucla.edu/faculty/jason.frand/ researcher/articles/selection96/new1.htm.

Frand, J. (1995). 1995 twelfth survey executive summary. Available: http://www.anderson.ucla.edu/faculty/jason.frand/ researcher/survey/12exsum.htm.

Green, K.C. (1996). Campus computing 1996: The seventh national survey of desktop computing and information technology in American higher education. Claremont, CA: Campus Computing Project.

Ives, B. & Jarvenpaa, S.L. (Spring 1996). Will the internet revolutionize business education and research? Sloan Management Review, 37 (3), 33-36.

Lenzner, R. & Johnson, S.S. (10 March 1997). Seeing things as they really are. Forbes [online]. Available: http://www.forbes.com/forbes/97/0310/5905122a.htm.

McClure, P., Smith, J.W., & Sitko, T.D. (1997). The crisis in information technology support: Has our current model reached its limits? (CAUSE Professional Paper Series #16). Denver, CO: CAUSE.

Mullich, J. (January 27, 1997) "Teaching Harvard New Tricks," PC Week, 14 (4), 27.

Oberlin, J.L. (Spring 1996). The financial mythology of information technology: The new economics. CAUSE/EFFECT, Spring 1996. Also available online from the CAUSE library Available: http://www.cause.org/information-resources/ir-library.html.

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