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A Message at Educause 2007: Technology Is Underutilized in Higher Education

Seattle—On Thursday, a panel of members of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education spoke to attendees of the 2007 Educause conference about the Spellings Report and how technology might improve American higher education.

Mara Liasson, a reporter for National Public Radio, interviewed Robert Mendenhall, the president of the Western Governors University; Charlene Nunley, president emerita of Montgomery College; and David Ward, the president of the American Council on Education.

The group discussed aspects of the Spellings Report, and questions about technology and the future of education were sprinkled into the talk. The panelists said that technology would play a vital role in helping to provide access to higher education, especially among underserved communities.

The panel also said that technology and campus technologists should play a role in helping to assess the effectiveness and success of higher education. Mr. Ward said that senior administrators at colleges needed to get involved in learning more about the potential of technology in education.

Ms. Liasson quoted a portion of the report that said that public support for higher education was going down and that colleges are not operating efficiently, all of which made higher education less affordable. She then asked the panel: “Do you see IT as a means of reducing costs, or is it itself just an additional cost that drives up tuition?” The audience laughed.

Mr. Mendenhall replied bluntly: “I think technology has created the greatest productivity improvement in history over the past 20 years across every segment of our society — except in education.” The comment drew applause.

The way technology improved productivity in every other industry is that we changed the way we did things — we changed the business process, he said. “We still do education the way we did it 500 years ago,” he said. “Where technology has the potential, it’s not being realized today.” He said that technology should be used more often to deliver information to students, freeing instructors to lead discussions, answer questions, and interact closely with students.

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