Stephen C. Ehrmann,
CALICO '95 Annual Symposium Keynote Address
Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont
One summer vacation when I was 13, my family spent six weeks driving from Pittsburgh to the Seattle World's Fair, then to San Francisco, and then eastward toward home. If you had to spend six weeks confined in a car with your 10 year old brother, your parents would probably invent things for you to do, too. Our assignment was to look for license plates, marking down each different state we saw. We spotted 49 states in those six weeks in the summer of 1962, even Hawaii. The only plate we didn't see was Vermont. That was 33 years ago. I saw a Vermont license plate today and I feel complete. I am an outsider and I'm glad to be here.
LEADING THE WAY: TECHNOLOGY FOR FOREIGN LANGUAGE LEARNING
I feel much the same way about the teaching of foreign languages: an outsider and glad to be here. I am returning a favor because, on at least four occasions, uses of technology in foreign languages have advanced my own understanding of how to make higher learning and little higher and extend it a little more widely.
The first instance helped to ignite my interest in video and optical media. That was back in 1978 when my organization, the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), decided to support Brigham Young University's development of Montevidisco (and Joe Clark's BioSci videodisc in biology). As you know, “Montevidisco” placed the student vicariously into a conversation in a foreign language and into the country where that language was spoken. Montevidisco and BioSci (an archive of biology images and stills), demonstrated two educationally significant uses for randomly accessed images and motion footage.
A second key event in my enlightenment took place at a working meeting on foreign language software at MIT, early in 1987, a couple of years after I moved from FIPSE to the Annenberg/CPB Project. I had convened leaders of Annenberg/CPB's four foreign
language/culture projects, none of whom had yet completed a finished product at that time: the MIT Athena Language Learning Project on new models for using artificial intelligence and multimedia in studying languages generally; the University of Iowa's PICS tape and disc collection of video from several foreign countries, the Perseus CD-ROM project on classical Greece and Greek, and a telecourse, “French in Action,” then being developed by Yale, Wellesley, and WGBH-Boston.
Midway through the meeting Pierre Capretz of Yale and Barry Lydgate of Wellesley were scheduled to show some rough cut footage from their video. I'd never seen any of “French in Action” before. I was already jealous though. “French in Action” was funded for several times the amount being put into the projects I worked with! I darkly suspected it to be a boondoggle, wasting money by shooting its video on location in France. “Why don't they film in Boston or Washington and just pretend it's Paris, like producers do all the time in movies and TV?” I wondered.
Then we sat down in this MIT classroom at student desks and Pierre and Barry turned on the VCR. That was when the revelation hit me:
1. I suddenly realized that, as I'd prepared to watch the tape, I had unconsciously reassumed the attitude that I'd had long ago when I was in ninth grade studying German: “I'm a student. I'll watch closely, do what I'm told, and hope to get an A.”
2. I had never been conscious of that student frame of mind when I was in school or college, but I became aware of it instantly that day at MIT because, as the Louvre appeared before me on screen, I had to change that attitude. France is real! I instantly knew that going to France was an option for me, and that that was why I might actually choose to learn French. In fact, “French in Action” would never let me forget why I was studying. Put aside for the moment all of the other virtues of that wonderful package of materials: construction of language, vicarious immersion in the culture, the compelling teaching methods. I would be engaged in my studies, and every minute of video would help maintain that engagement.1
Some years earlier Alexander Astin and his colleagues on a Federal panel had argue that engagement and time on task were the key determinants of learning (Study Group on...1984). But it wasn't until I was sitting at that student desk that I truly understood the importance of intrinsic engagement as a capability of software. I do not mean the kind of extrinsic engagement that happens when CAI says, `Great! Right answer!' Good software confronts the learner in a visceral, continuous way with his or her ultimate reasons for learning; if those reasons are valid, that person has virtually no choice but to pour vital intention and energy into the tasks of learning.
A third pivotal development in my thinking about technology and higher learning occurred in the late 1980s when I visited the University of Arizona Spanish Department to meet with the class of Professor Karen Smith. Her fourth year students were not using a language laboratory; instead they were writing email to each other in Spanish on a CoSy computer conferencing system. There were different topics to write about—a movie that they had just seen, an assignment that was coming up. Students could also write to each other in private. One student was working through some existential angst while other students in the class tried to counsel him, all in Spanish. In another strand of email conversation, students were organizing a party to be held in a nearby town. All these students were graded for their work in the public conferences, but only for their fluency in expressing thoughts, not for grammar or spelling.
Karen and her colleague let me spend some time alone with their students that day. I have never, before or since, met a group of students as wildly enthusiastic about a use of technology. One after another, they told me, “We've never used Spanish until now!” (Note that intrinsic engagement here, too.) It was clear that they were constructing a sense of Spanish and of being part of a community where Spanish was spoken. They liked it a lot.
They also repeatedly praised the accessibility of this mode of learning:
1. Accessible in space and time: Although they learned how to use the system in a computer lab during scheduled class hours, they could also participate in these asynchronous conferences from anywhere and at any time. The students' time was valuable and daytime is not always the best time to take part in class.
2. Accessible learning process: Students also loved the three way accessibility of
a) being able to speak at a pace that was their own,
b) being able to listen more slowly (since they were reading others' comments and could reread them, consult reference books, and so on), and
c) not having to worry about their accents.
One of the striking things about Smith's findings (1990) is that oral performance had improved, relative to a control group using a language laboratory. The students using CoSy had a chance to work out habits of discourse at a slow speed. Later, when they were tested orally at a high speed, all they needed to worry about was accent and speed. In contrast the students in the control group were also having to worry about framing what they were going to say.
A more subtle yet equally significant aspect of Smith's work was that she was not relying on “curricular courseware,” i.e., software and hardware especially designed for instruction in Spanish. In contrast, computer conferencing software is an example of “worldware,” hardware and software that was designed for purposes other than instruction but that is used for instruction. (Morris, et al. 1994). Personal computers are worldware. So are computer conferencing systems and the kind of video that PICS obtains from broadcast television programs in foreign countries. Surprisingly, worldware is the most common form of technology used in education. That is not what many of us expected of computers and video as we began to dream of revolution in the 1960s, `70s, and `80s. Instead we predicted that in education technology would be mainly used as a complement to, or substitute for, lectures and textbooks: direct instruction. Computers and video, it was proclaimed, would provide instruction that was higher quality, more individualized, more self-paced. Worldware, in contrast, is ordinarily used for three other, complementary supports for learning: 1) to provide tools and resources needed for “learning by doing,” 2) to support time-delayed (asynchronous) exchange, and 3) to support real-time (synchronous) conversation. It can be used for direct instruction, too (e.g., presentation software).
Worldware has some important advantages over curricular courseware, one of which is that it is long-lived: features are usually added but not subtracted; competitors can often run one another's files; competitors have most of the same functions; when one competitor disappears, other packages continue to support the same functions.
In contrast, in many fields, revolutionary curricular courseware has been available just long enough to tantalize faculty, but has then quickly disappeared, rendered obsolete by changes in operating systems and interfaces. Faculty who had fully embraced that “revolutionary” software a few years earlier, building their courses on it, could no longer use their syllabi, assignments and tests. Faced with the prospect of starting over with new, unfamiliar software, some faculty members stopped using computers. Other prescient instructors had already foreseen this “bait and switch” and had refused to get involved in the first place.
Worldware is different. Imagine that you, like Karen Smith, had started using computer conferencing for instruction in the late 1980s. Each year since then you could have incrementally improved your assignments.
My fourth instructive experience came courtesy of the New Jersey institute of Technology. Roxanne Hiltz was using the EIES computer conferencing system to support experimental versions of a number of courses, and then comparing student grades in the experimental groups with grades of students in control sections taught by traditional methods. One of her many interesting findings was that students for whom English was a second language got average grades in the experimental sections but
below average grades in the traditional sections. The non-native speakers compensated for their language deficiencies by taking more time to interpret what the faculty member and other students were saying, and investing more time to compose a reply. Using this added investment of time, those non-native speakers were able to achieve at normal levels (Hiltz 1988). In other words, people who had previously been regarded perhaps as marginal, nontraditional students suddenly looked like “real” learners. Voila, access!
We can learn at least one other lesson from these four stories: every field is teaching its students a new language—helping its students enter a new community of discourse—and thus every discipline can potentially look to CALICO members as leaders and sources of powerful instructional ideas.
THE FIRST CHALLENGE: ACCESSIBILITY
If you are indeed the leaders, where should you be leading your institutions?
Some people look first at technology and ask “What can this new technology do best? That's the direction we should go.” I suspect you've learned that that is often a sterile question. Instead why not ask, “What changes in the organization of teaching and learning are so important that we cannot afford to implement them? And what uses of old and new technology2 are needed to implement those improvements?”
Is it not true that your departments, and the institutions of which they are a part, face a triple challenge to their survival? Challenges to extend access and make it more equitable? Challenges to provide more adequate and diverse learning outcomes for graduates? Challenges to control spiraling costs?
The first challenge means providing sufficient access to learning for everyone. In your case, I think it should mean providing foreign language instruction for everyone who has adequate preparation, motivation, and time. That's amuch larger group of people than our institutions have historically been able to serve. We are not serving many of these potential students because our own institutions are not giving them an equal opportunity to study.
Imagine a college where the doorways are 5'81/2” high (which, coincidentally, is my height; I'm told that Frank Lloyd Wright once observed that anyone over this height is a weed.) There would soon be in this college two populations of learners: normal learners and weeds—excuse me, non-traditional learners. Normal learners are—normal. Non-traditional learners can be recognized by their nasty, repeated head injuries. Normal students, of course, do better in foreign language learning than those head-injured “weeds.”
Some faculty members are comfortable with that situation: merit rises to the top. Nor are these faculty members prejudiced against weeds; each semester a few nontraditional students complete their courses and, occasionally, one or two even get an A.
Other faculty reject this laissez faire policy. The college should spend some extra money on these nontraditional learners, they argue, to give them special tutoring, nursing services, and fresh bandages in the classroom. Perhaps the college could get a Federal grant to help pay for these remedial services.
Of course there is a third expensive, time-consuming course of action: raising all the doorways a couple of feet. The most difficult thing would be for educators to understand the possibility and what it implies. “Change the nature of doors?!” many staff members and alumni would exclaim. “But all the best institutions have short, narrow doorways; they're selective! And why should we spend that money for those people who are not really our students?”
“Not really our students...” Why not? Tall people are no different from normal learners except insofar as the institution has defined them as weeds, and hindered their learning, by having low doorways. Unfortunately institutional doorways have been low for so long that even the “weeds” themselves have accepted their disadvantage as a fact of nature. Many people over 5'81/2” do not even apply because they know they are ill-suited for a college education.
Enough of that little conceit about weeds. We know that our colleges and universities impose “low doorways,” restricting access for many types of quite able, motivated learners: adults with day jobs, adults with handicaps, students whose learning styles are different from the norm, adults who live a long distance from the institutions that offer the kinds of specialized language programs that they most need, students who are much younger or much older than the norm. These people are defined by the structures and practices of our universities as weeds. Similarly, these potential students find university education a Procrustean bed.
As costs rise and our society faces tougher international competition, many legislators, alumni and members of the public are no longer ready to accept the waste of this much potential talent. And institutions that find clever ways to raise their doorways are likely to be rewarded with a relatively larger income and more public support.
THE SECOND AND THIRD CHALLENGES: APPROPRIATE OUTCOMES AND SPIRALING COSTS
The second challenge is to foster the right kinds of learning outcomes for our graduates, i.e., those who complete a course of study. How satisfied are you with how your graduates use what they've learned from you? Do your graduates tend to move into, and function in, a foreign culture, for example? When they get there are they good learners? In this country do they tend to use their skills to read that country's literature, see its films, follow its current events? Do you even have information about what happens to your students once they leave your institution? Without such information how can you be comfortable teaching what you teach, and how you teach? Ifevery institution is not teaching well or not teaching the right things, no institution is penalized; the students are penalized and so are the people paying for the education, of course, but no one realizes that because there are no better alternatives offered. If, on the other hand, a few institutions (or corporations) begin doing a more efficient, effective job of equipping people to function in, and fully appreciate, a foreign culture, those providers are likely to thrive at the expense of their competitors. It is safer not to change if everyone else is doing poorly, but it is perilous, too. I like the perils of leadership better.
The third challenge is also more familiar to your than to me: spiraling costs. The price of higher education has been increasing far faster than the cost of living, much faster even than the spiraling cost of health care. Can our institutions provide good quality outcomes and equitable access if costs continue to increase so quickly? If you think we are not providing adequate accessibility and quality now, just wait. As costs per student go up (and assuming we do not make fundamental changes in our educational strategy), accessibility, outcomes, or both will suffer further declines.
ACCESS, OUTCOMES, AND COSTS: A TRIPLE CHALLENGE AND AN ENVELOPE OF POSSIBILITIES
Outcomes, accessibility, and costs are linked because library books, language labs, faculty, and other educational resources are costly, are sometimes limited in quantity, and often cannot be readily shared among very large numbers of people. The words of a gifted teacher can be broadcast to huge numbers of people through a text or a video, but that teacher can converse with only a relatively small number of people, for example. Thus an educational decision maker with a fixed income has three unattractive choices:
1. concentrate the academic resources for the few (in the attempt to assure appropriate outcomes for each of them) or
2. spread the resources thinly among many learners (in the attempt to assure equitable accessibility for all of them) or
3. spend more time raising money (and perhaps altering the institution's mission in the process) in an attempt to improve both outcomes and accessibility.
Accessibility-outcomes-costs are a three way trade-off. That's why we call these three demands the “Triple Challenge.” They are linked.
Institutions have a large, but not unlimited, set of options for meeting the Triple Challenge. For any given level of institutional income, you could plot (very approximately) how institutions make this tradeoff (see Figure 1). Some institutions seek access even at the expense of quality (the institutions that are low and to the right), or strive for the highest quality even at the price of exclusivity (the institutions high and to the lift in the Figure). The most efficient programs will push themselves to that limit—the curve in the Figure—achieving one of a number of optimum mixes of good outcomes and enrollments. The less efficient programs will do less well in one or both of those areas. (Remember that, for the purposes of making the drawing simple, all these institutions are spending the same amount per student; we could create a similarly, three dimensional picture, showing an envelop of quality-access-cost choices.)
That image of education pushing up against an immovable frontier of possibilities is both true and untrue, both leading and misleading.
Figure 1. The Envelope. For a given cost per student, colleges “AC,” “BC,” “CC,” and “DC” are all on the edge of envelope, i.e., they're doing the best possible job at achieving their chosen mix of equitable accessibility and quality outcomes. In contrast, college “EC” is doing less well; it is spending the same amount of money but ranks fourth in both accessibility and quality of outcomes.
One important way in which it is misleading is that institutions cannot stand still. Resources that a few year ago would have produced an adequate program for instruction in French (when only books were used) might today be judged inadequate (when an emphasis on cultural insight, oral and listening skills have made language laboratories, video, and computers virtually de rigueur). Think of this as a Knowledge Explosion phenomenon; we need to teach more in order to keep pace. Secondly, as economist William J. Baumol observed many years ago, salaries are forced to increase in industries with low productivity in order to keep staff from moving to industries with higher rates of productivity increase that can use those increases to pay higher salaries (Bowen 1980, 32). It takes even more faculty and staff to produce a degree than some years ago; in that sense productivity is falling. So educational costs rise, and tuition and fees must be increased to pay for these higher salaries. But we cannot raise tuition as much as we'd like to, thanks to other demands on that same public money. So the combination of increasing educational needs and rising educational costs tends to push our frontier of quality-access possibilities down and to the left in Figure 2. That's the first way in which my image of an immovable frontier of possibility is misleading.
Figure 2. Both rising costs and the constant increase in what needs to be taught and learned tend to push the curve down and to the left, i.e., a given amount of money purchases less adequate access and outcomes each year.
Figure 3. One way to counteract the trend depicted in Figure 2 is to improve the organization of teaching and learning, ordinarily accomplished through the use of technology. Previous technologies employed for this purpose range from the printed word and auditorium style classrooms to language laboratories and paperback books. Each has had the effect of enabling an affordable yet better education for each of a larger number of learners.
The second, even more important way in which the image of the immovable envelope is misleading is that it ignores technology (see Figure 3). Traditional education once consisted of Socrates and his students in the grove of academe (or, to put it in a slightly more modern simile for an excellent education, Mark Hopkins on one end of a pine log and a student on the other: the American contribution to a classical education was to chop down the tree). An excellent teacher can do many things in a one-to-one relationship with a student (and no other support for learning): there is a significant envelope of possibilities. But the model is limited. For example, when the student is any distance from the instructor, learning may well stop. However, over the millennia educators have expanded that envelope of possibilities by exploiting the technologies of reading and writing (borrowed from commerce and religion), auditoria (borrowed from theaters), science laboratories (borrowed from industry), and the like. Today you CALICO members are continuing that trend in the ways you are applying computers, video, and telecommunications to the problems of expanding the educational envelope of possibilities. As the knowledge explosion and Baumol's “law” shrink the envelope, you are pushing back to enrich education each of a larger number of students. Doing nothing is not an alternative and never has been.
CREATING AN EDUCATIONAL STRATEGY THAT CAN EXPAND THE ENVELOPE
Suppose we do want to think systematically about reorganizing teaching and learning—improving our educational strategy in order to respond to the Triple Challenge of accessibility, outcomes, and costs. What sorts of strategic change are likely to work?
First I should suggest that we focus on coherent change in a large fraction of the student's academic program, not change that is limited to isolated assignments or courses (Ehrmann 1995). It is the rare student who can take one semester of a foreign language and go out and live successfully in a foreign country. Nor can one do much to expand accessibility or control costs by improving only a single course, still less by improving only a single assignment. I realize this may be a controversial ground rule, since our “control systems” in colleges — our instructors — do tend to make changes that make sense to them as individuals, often one assignment at a time. But if those changes do not cumulate to help students develop complex, valuable competences, then their value is open to question.
The second ground rule is to limit our discussion to uses of technologies that can be crucial, sine qua non, in changing the organization of teaching and learning. New methods and new technology are both expensive, both difficult to adopt, both risky. So, if the technology does not enable major improvements in educational strategy, why bother with it?
Meeting those first two criteria requires a third ground rule: develop a stable, pervasive technological platform that can support stable, pervasive improvement in the organization of teaching and learning. By “stable” I mean software that is long-lived and that grows by adding features and capabilities. This harks back to our discussion of worldware earlier. We need to rely primarily on software and hardware that faculty and students can use in course after course, with growing sophistication and power.
So here are the three criteria we've suggested for selecting a new educational strategy for teaching foreign language. If we want an educational strategy that can expand the envelope of possibilities for outcomes, accessibility, and education per dollar, we must:
1) create coherent, pervasive change in the organization of teaching and learning in ways that respond successfully to the Triple Challenge;
2) use computers, video and telecommunications in a crucial supporting role (or not at all); and
3) use those crucial technologies in a pervasive, coherent way to support those pervasive, coherent changes in teaching and learning.
What kind of improved educational strategy could meet these exacting criteria?
AN EMERGING, WIDELY-IMPLEMENTED EDUCATIONAL STRATEGY
In the remainder of this essay, I'm going to suggest that many quite different disciplines (including yours) and many quite different kinds of institutions are using quite similar technologies to make quite similar changes in their educational strategies in order to respond to the Triple Challenge. The details of this emergent strategic change were developed by a project I have been leading called “Flashlight.” The Flashlight Project's aim is to help departments and institutions monitor their own responses to the Triple Challenge, focusing on the roles played by computers, video, and telecommunications. Flashlight is developing evaluation procedures: survey items, interview guides, spreadsheets for cost analysis, and exemplary pieces of research.
The elements of this common strategy are appearing at (and were described by faculty-administrator teams3 from) the Maricopa Community Colleges, Washington State University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Indiana University—Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI)< and the Education Network of Maine. Those five institutions and systems are quite diverse: big and small, two-year and four-year, private and public, research-oriented and teaching oriented institutions, institutions that offer only distance learning, institutions that offer instruction mainly on campus. Yet all five are implementing quite similar changes in education strategy using the similar technologies in order to respond to the same challenges.
Here are a few of the features of this emerging common strategy4:
• a greater fraction of the student's learning is powered by work on complex, real world problems using real (or realistic) tools and resources (e.g., authentic video from other countries);
• more collaborative learning;
• more support of remote conversation and exchange so that it matters less where the people and resources are physically or what their physical abilities are;
• faculty spending more time coaching, less time in presentation.
Educators at our five institutions (and others) are making these changes in strategy in order to educate graduates who are more capable of applying what they've learned, better at working in teams, better at using information technology to exercise their skills after graduation (e.g., using computers to write, using the Internet to communicate), and better at learning how to learn. Those are the hoped-for responses to the “outcomes” Challenge. On the access front, these educators hope for a larger and more diverse student body composed of learners who spend more time on task and waste less time (e.g., in commuting, standing in lines) and who persist from enrollment to graduation.
The third horn of the Triple Challenge dilemma is controlling spiraling costs—increasing education per dollar. Where does cost control come from? Our teams saw several possible sources. One of the most likely is that an increase in retention rates could cut costs per graduate. Second, if a large number of linked learners study more of the time at home or work, then net capital and operating costs may be less because of a reduced need for physical facilities on a campus.
FACULTY MEMBERS CANNOT IMPLEMENT THE STRATEGY AND RESPOND TO THE TRIPLE CHALLENGE ALONE
Can the strategy I've described be implemented if faculty only work as they traditionally have done: alone or occasionally in small committees of colleagues from the same department? I doubt it. I believe faculty will need to form coalitions with others, inside and outside of their own institutions.
Why do we need coalitions? I can think of at least seven purposes that cannot be accomplished any other way:
1. Creating institutional support and pressure for students to learn to take more responsibility for their own learning;
2. Developing the capability to study the proper goals for academic programs;
3. Creating systems to keep better track of costs;
4. Sharing information and insights with other institutions about changing strategies of education, field by field;
5. Sharing the burdens of developing and supporting new instructional materials;
6. Developing better techniques for evaluating changing educational strategies and their outcomes, and sharing data; and
7. Creating infrastructure that supports healthy educational exchanges between distant learners and distant providers of educational services.
The first three of these purposes can be implemented by coalitions internal to your institution; the latter four require coalitions with other institutions and organizations in this country and/or abroad.
Internal Coalitions for Rethinking Courses of Study
The internal coalitions are needed to foster student responsibility for learning, to support studies of the goals of our academic programs, and to support studies of changing costs.
Student Responsibility for Learning
Increasing student responsibility for learning is a long term trend, by the way. Ever since Socrates and Mark Hopkins, virtually every new technology has empowered students to study more and better while reducing their dependence on a primary mentor: the written word, the printing press, the laboratory, the campus, the paperback book, the photocopier, the language laboratory... That trend toward greater power and greater distance (with all its threats and promises) needs to continue.
Training students to take more responsibility for their own learning has never happened by itself; each step was taken when we invented a way to make it happen, were rewarded for that by our students and funders (enrollment, enthusiasm, and support increased outside), and the invention spread. You cannot make such progress by small, unrelated, incoherent changes, as we have already observed. If eight faculty members cater to student desires to be led step by step (“tell me exactly what's going to be on the test!”) while only two try to buck that tide and help students see education as their own responsibility,5 what do you think will happen? Foreign language faculty members cannot do this on their own! Without coherent institutional support for this change in student behavior, we'll see little progress.
What Should be Taught and Learned?
Some years ago, when I was with FIPSE, one of our projects supported a major curriculum reform at the University of Montana Law School. A new Dean named Jack Mudd began the process by polling every lawyer and judge in Montana. Jack asked them what they thought of fifteen or twenty of the competences of the new graduates of the Law School. Those lawyers and judges had strong opinions, some positive, some quite negative (e.g., that the graduate's trial skills were poor). The problem was that Montana had been following a pattern set by other states where young, green lawyers typically first join big law firms and get a whole second round of training (analogous to a medical residency). In contrast, in a rural state like Montana, many graduates hung out their own shingles or joined small law firms. They were not adequately prepared.
Jack was able to use those “employer reactions” to guide and power his program for change, e.g. redesigning the whole curriculum to improve students' trial skills. This is an example of what I mean by “studying the goals of an academic program.”
Here's a second example of a study to decide what a program should teach. In the early 1980s, FIPSE received a proposal from the American Management Association. The AMA cited studies that show that there is no relationship between the grades of MBA students and what they are able to do later on.6 The AMA proposal went on to say that, on the other hand, there is research on the competences that do distinguish superior managers (Boyatzis 1982). It is not irrelevant to the argument of this essay that the most important of these organizational competences is the ability to create and work with coalitions. The AMA proposed a master's of management program whose curriculum (quite different from that of a typical MBA) would teach the competences needed by superlative managers.
Such studies are not rocket science but they are harder than they look, and they can be time-consuming. It would take an unusual foreign language program that could do one on its own. More typically one would need to work with a university unit or consultant.
Activity Based Costing
I could talk about a number of other coalitions within your institution—for instructional and faculty development, for example, or for technology support— but in our limited time together I'd like to mention just one: activity-based costing.
It is amazing how little we know about what our educational programs cost and why. Some educators look at any effort to study costs as a threat. I suggest that instead we look at costs from the point of view of those who have to pay the bills: students, taxpayers (most of whom are not well off) and alumni who are making gifts to us in the faith that we will spend the money well.
Typical university costing schemes lump many items as “overhead.” That suggests that they have no consequence, and are probably wasteful. Activity-based costing, in contrast, tries to associate each “indirect” cost with one or more activities and their outcomes (Brimson 1991). An activity based costing study find that one course may generate far more per-student costs than is apparent on the surface, because it generates a hidden chain of indirect costs. Because these chains of costs are hidden, we cannot ordinarily ask whether there are ways to control them. I am not for a moment suggesting that we run only inexpensive course. But if we get a better fix on how costs are created, we are one step closer to getting better results for the time and money that
we do spend. If technology is to save us money (or, at the least, not bankrupt us), we need to know what things cost.
Obviously your department cannot implement activity based costing on its own; too many of your costs are tied to activities outside the department, where you serve others or others serve you. Activity based costing ordinarily needs to be an institutional commitment.
Let me suggest just four types of coalitions with people or organizations outside your university: to share instructional ideas and experience, to develop materials, to develop evaluation tools, and to develop infrastructure. Again, this list is meant to be suggestive, not exhaustive.
Rethinking Courses of Study: National Faculty Networks
We educators advance as communities of inquiry, groping forward together through the dark. We help each other and advance, or else we fail to advance.
In the past, helping each other move forward has not been easy. Travel to workshops and long distance phone calls to pioneering colleagues around the country are expensive. Communication via journal publication can take years, if the journal will publish your case experience or instructional materials review at all. It was easier (and, perversely, more rewarded) to assume that you were unique and try to reinvent the wheel than to find and learn from colleagues. Many square wheels were reinvented this way.
The Internet and its World Wide Web bring some rays of sunshine into this darkness. They make it possible for faculty to exchange insights into new means of teaching in an orderly and speedy fashion. The Annenberg/CPB Project has recently funded six projects (none of them, unfortunately, in foreign languages) to create national networks for rethinking courses and courses of study in different fields. These projects are doing research on programs around the country that are taking advantage of technology to deal with the Triple Challenge, are analyzing that experience, and are making it widely available through imaginative Web sites, workshops, videos, awards programs, and other means.7 Our funding in this arena is complete for the time being. We hope that these projects can serve as models for other disciplines and other funders for how to use the Internet, train-the-trainer workshops, and other techniques to foster national and international sharing of experience.
Earlier I mentioned our study of computer software that had proven to be not only valuable but also viable (Morris, et al. 1994). I said that curricular courseware was rarely viable and that it thus had had little impact on curriculum because it had not survived
long enough to make a difference. That was a generalization made from a study that covered many disciplines, looking mainly at software developed in the 1980s. I do not really know if these lessons are true in your field, or what the lessons of your field are for the desirability and methods of creating courseware that will be widely used. I do not know if the field is changing in the late 1990s.
My first suggestion, therefore, is that you do your own study of “valuable viable software” in your own field and discover what lessons the past suggests for the future. The Morris book includes some suggestions for how to conduct such a study.
My second suggestion is that, having done such a study, you use its findings to help decide whether to emphasize the development of curricular software and, if so, how your institutions might work together to get that job done. What role, if any, should grants play? What role, if any, should publishers play? Should the software be simple and almost disposable? Should it be object-oriented and extensible? The better you understand the way that the economics and politics of your field have affected past courseware, the better positioned you will be to develop valuable viable software for the future.
Evaluation, Outcomes and Accreditation
It is difficult to change strategy if you cannot see what you are doing. But that's the situation facing virtually every university and department. A faculty member can see what goes on in a classroom. A student knows what he or she is doing. An employer can see how well a given graduate is performing. A college may know what it costs to install and maintain internal and external networking. But who knows whether that networking has provided significant assistance for increasing collaborative learning or using resources from off-campus? And if those improvements have occurred, who knows whether they are helping graduates to do better in life? We are used to such ignorance, yet, without such information, it is difficult to sustain or steer efforts to create change.
The Flashlight Project, mentioned earlier in this essay, is creating survey items, interview guides, cost analysis guidelines and other measures to help educational institutions monitor whether and how their educational strategies are changing, whether and how technology is playing a role in such change, and whether and how the institutions are able as a result to respond to the Triple Challenge. In the 1995-96 academic year our draft instruments are being tested by a coalition of five diverse institutions with whom we and our contractors have previously worked to plan the project. We hope to release the instruments for wider use in the fall of 1996.8
Infrastructure for Integrated Access
Foreign language programs, especially programs in lesser taught languages, need to operate in the context of a national and international infrastructure that helps mate
distant instructors, distant students, and distant academic resources (e.g., resources in the country under study). Very little of the appropriate infrastructure exists as yet. We need to:
• Help distant learners find distant providers that offer the particular language and teaching approach that they need, while helping distant providers find enough students (at minimum) to keep their faculty busy.
• Provide learners with access to computers and networks, especially learners who are economically disadvantaged. Many states have begun to support internetworking. I am particularly impressed with states like Maine, which puts points of access in high schools, and West Virginia, which has used public libraries. They have shown that they care about providing equal opportunity for education.
• Help foreign language programs find the resources and conversational partners they need in the country that they are studying. One class in one year might find five pen pals in Russia and some good stuff on the Internet. But that solution does not necessarily “scale up” to national proportions. To assure wide spread, long term access to resources requires organization. What would it take to make it easier for hundreds of thousands of students in other countries to study Russia and Russian? To help a million Asians study ESL and the United States? Perhaps ESL study in other countries can be made a true partner of foreign language study here, despite the distance and the differing number of learners. All this is far easier said than done, but aren't we going to have to do something like that, and soon?
• Proctoring for exams and other services. When working adults are using multiple educational providers, in sequence or simultaneously (as they do),should there not be someway of coordinating basic functions such as proctoring for exams, technology training, counseling and other functions that are universally needed?
• Consumer protection. When providers can reach in from far away, learners are less able to rely upon local word of mouth to decide which provider to use. The questions of who, if anyone, can protect consumers is an important and difficult question.
Creating Coalitions: TLTR and NLII
As one faculty member, how can you help to create or take part in such coalitions. There are (at least) two organizations that are trying to make that process easier.
The American Association of Higher Education has a program called “Teaching Learning Technology Roundtables” (TLTR). The TLTR program is helping colleges and universities across the country to organize their own internal roundtables. A roundtable is usually led by the Provost or someone from that office and includes faculty members (both technology pioneers and those who are not necessarily hot for every new technology that comes down the pike) and the deans and directors of the offices that provide technology services (academic computing, libraries, bookstore, distance learning). This internal think tank becomes a hub for thinking more strategically about educational strategy and the use of technology to support it. A roundtable would be a great platform for organizing the three internal coalitions I have described.9
For the four external partnerships, one venue to check out is the National Learning Infrastructure Initiative (NLII) sponsored by Educom. NLII member institutions can submit “Requests for Partners” to one another in order to organize multi-institution initiatives. The NLII includes not only colleges and universities but also government agencies, publishers and other organizations interested in the systematic improvement of our educational uses of information technologies.10
WHO WILL TAKE THE LEAD?
Who should take the lead? I agreed to come and give this keynote as a partial repayment of the debt I owe to this field for all I have learned from you in the past. I wanted to show you that you already are leaders. Should you wait until someone knocks on your door and says, “Come join our coalition?” I don't think so. When it comes to changing the way we teach foreign languages and helping our institutions meet their Triple Challenge, I think the leaders are in this room.
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Bowen, Howard R. (1980). The Costs of Higher Education: How Much Do Colleges and Universities Spend per Student and How Much Should They Spend? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Brimson, James A. (1991). Activity Accoounting. An Activity-Based Costing Approach. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
Cohen, Peter (1984). “College Grades and Adult Achievement: A Research Synthesis.” Research in Higher Education 20, 3, 281-293.
Ehrmann, Stephen C., (1985). “Asking the Right Questions: What Does Research Tell Us About Technology and Higher Learning?” Change. The Magazine of Higher Learning 27, 2 (March/April), 20-27.
Hiltz, Starr Roxanne (1988). “Learning in a Virtual Classroom” (Executive Summary and two volumes), Research Report #25 and 26, Computerized Conferencing and Communications Center. New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Morris, Paul, Stephen C. Ehrmann, Randi Goldsmith, Kevin Howat, and Vijay Kumar (1994). Valuable, Viable Software in Education: Cases and Analysis. New York: Primis Division of McGraw-Hill.
Pascarella, Ernest T., and Patrick T. Terenzini (1991). How College Affects Students. Insights from Twenty Years of Research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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Study Group on the Conditions of Excellence in Higher Education (1984). Involvement in Learning: Realizing the Potential of American Higher Education. Washington, DC: National Institute of Education.
1 For more information on “French in Action,” see the Annenberg/CPB Project's web site athttp://www.learner.org/educ_home.html
2 I use the term “technology” to denote all the means of teaching and learning, and what we know about using those means. Chalk is an educational technology, along with what we know about how to use it.
3 This process was assisted by one of our contractors, the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications. The model we developed at that time, with support from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), is now being used by the Western Cooperative and our second contractor, IUPUI, to develop the Flashlight suite of evaluation procedures.
4 This common strategy is described in detail in the first Flashlight Report on the World Wide Web (http://www.learner.org/ed_strat/eval/evalflash). For this and other Web citations in this essay, if you do not have Web access contact me at our offices and I'll send you hard copy.
5 As indicated above in the description of the strategy, this does not mean that the faculty member ceases working. It does mean a change in faculty role, away from being the center of attention and toward being more of a coach, creator of learning situations, and, occasionally, developer of materials. It also implies, as I'm arguing in this section, that the faculty spends more time working in teams, and less time working alone.
6 That happens to be true generally. There is only a minuscule relationship between a student's cumulative undergraduate GPA and any measure of that student's success in later life: salary, chance of winning a Nobel Prize, whatever (Cohen 1984; Pascarella and Terenzini 1991).
7 The quickest way to find out about them is on the Web; check out http://www.learner.org/ed_strat/ed_courses.
8 Much more information about Flashlight is available at our Web site: http://www.learner.org/ed_strat/eval/evalflash
9 To learn more about TLTRs, check out their Web site (http://www.ido.gmu.edu/aahe/Welcome.html) or contact Steven W. Gilbert at AAHE (Gilbert@Clark.net and 202-293-6440x54).
10 Information on the NLII can be found on the Web at http://www.educom.edu/program/nlii/index.html or by sending e-mail to its leader, Educom Vice President Carol Twigg at Twigg@Educom.edu.