Concentration and Infusion
Not many things in life are certainties. Death - for sure. Taxes - almost a guarantee. But for those in the field of education, there is another certainty - the approaching Third Millennium and its growing population of older adults, more than at any other point in the history of the world. These adults will bring with them a never before seen appreciation for lifelong learning. Combine this trait with the impact of current and emerging learning technologies, and educators in general are preparing to deal with the academic demands of this growing sector of our society.
Research literature on the subject indicates that adults have already accepted technology as a viable media for instruction. Their reasons for using technology are even more diverse than their younger counterparts, although they do have a unique set of challenges learning to use these tools. Too expensive; too little spare time; too few opportunities for online access. These are just a few of the obstacles confronting adult learners and computers. Proper sequencing of instruction, self-paced learning rates, active hands-on environments and "learn it now/use it now" strategies aid the adult in overcoming these limitations. For many who have been away from the classroom (sometimes for as long as 10-15 years), computers are yet another reason to fear returning to school. Real world presentations, digitized on-screen simulations and concrete multimedia applications promote successful adult learning. Instructors who are sensitive to the art of androgogy (how adults learn) design their technology-rich learning objectives with these strategies in mind and push technology forward for this cohort of prodigal learners.
The "Typical" Graduate Student
If indeed there exists a prototypical student, the examination of such an individual will lay the foundation for further discussion of the requisite technologies inherent in a viable graduate program. One survey of incoming graduate students in Duquesne University's School of Education has been underway since 1997. A total of 140 students participated in an inquiry into the readiness of students with respect to technology and produced the following results.
- Computer Hardware (see Figure 1)
Many undergraduates arrive on campus with the latest computer systems courtesy, more often than not, of their already financially overwhelmed parents. Graduate students, we have found, by and large retain their years-old technology that has served them well as a word processor, spreadsheet analyzer and database manager. The survey shows that only four percent of typical graduate students owned machines with Pentium II (or Macintosh-equivalent) processors; over half (58%) brought 386/486-based systems; and nearly one-third (38%) retained hardware that pre-dated megabyte-sized memory and gigabyte-capacity hard drives. This characteristic was particularly true for those who did not directly enter graduate school immediately following graduation with a four-year degree.
- Computing Experience (see Figure 2)
The typical graduate student considered themselves below par with respect to computer skills. Half labeled themselves as Novice (26%) or Inexperienced (24%); only 10 percent considered themselves technology masters.
- Access to the World (see Figure 3)
Electronic mail and the World Wide Web are by far the most widely pursued competencies of distance learning. E-mail accounts are virtually cost-free, with most providers offering accounts without charge when accompanied by a monthly Internet service fee. Even so, our survey of graduate students found over one-fourth (28%) of incoming post-graduates without access to E-mail. Another 70 percent had never "surfed the 'net," although they had all heard about its many capabilities.
As do most institutions of higher education, Duquesne University offers its students a menu of technology-based, self-help workshops, oftentimes included in the price of a per-semester technology fee. We asked survey participants which workshops would be most beneficial to help "level the playing field" with respect to their personal technology competency. Here are the results, in order by number of requests received.
(Connections to the Campus)
Internet Access and Search
Office Productivity Tools
(Word processing, Spreadsheets)
Graduate students will remain a unique body of scholars. And, as more and more adults re-enter the lifelong learning pipeline, technology as a teaching strategy must adjust to their distinctive and changing learning needs. In addition to surveys, Duquesne University is actively engaged in the surrounding technology-based controversy. The practical experiences being offered several doctoral cohorts and the resulting research-based findings promises to contribute to the knowledge base while simultaneously advancing the discipline of teaching adults. The ongoing debate has evidenced itself with two distinct approaches to advocating lifelong learning using technology. These two approaches are conveniently coined "Concentration versus Infusion."
Concentration of Technology
Instructional Leadership: Excellence at Duquesne (ILEAD) offers the doctoral candidate an intensive program designed for those who wish to assume leadership roles in instruction settings. It combines the best thinking in leadership training with expertise in curriculum and instruction. The 1997 cohort consists of 35 classroom teachers, corporate trainers and curriculum specialists. Housed in the School of Education, faculty contribute their array of talents, running the gamut from statistical research to discipline-specific methodologies, for teaching.
Technology was adopted early in the design of ILEAD to be an integral component in the delivery of instruction. Since program designers also wished for students to use various technologies themselves - to present papers, create instructional materials and demonstrate personal growth - the course, Technology and Leadership, was delivered early in the program of study.
The Concentration of Technology approach advocates a single course to introduce the necessary elements of technology-based instruction. The semester-long course offers six primary learning objectives gleaned, in part, from the survey results of the "typical" graduate student already discussed. They include:
- Learning Objective 1: Educational Technology in the Classroom. Given the fundamental capabilities and features of new technologies, students will explain the most appropriate applications as they pertain to given classroom situations. The technologies include: Internet Capabilities, Educational Hardware and Software, Multimedia and Distance Education.
- Learning Objective 2: Trends in Educational Technology. Given a series of narratives describing trends that emerged from the literature regarding educational technology, the student will be able to identify those trends that will continue to influence the application of technology in the classrooms of the next millennium and match each media with a description of advantages which most describes its strengths in a classroom environment.
- Learning Objective 3: Technology as Pedagogy. Given a review of educational psychology as it applies to instructional technology, the student will explore and explain the implications of the following teaching and learning strategies: Teaching Digitally, Technology and Attitude Shifts, and the Instructional System Design Process.
- Learning Objective 4: Preparing an Integrated Instructional Lesson. Given a comprehensive methodology for designing a lesson using Internet resources, the student will be able to evaluate the most important steps in preparing a new lesson using today's technology.
- Learning Objective 5: Strategic Planning for Educational Technology. Given the acknowledged phases for developing effective instructional technology plans, the student will be able to successfully design and implement or revise a Technology Plan within a school or school district.
- Learning Objective 6: Assessment and Evaluation of Technology in Schools. Given a list of the Nine Toughest Goals to Evaluate and a narrative description of 10 Possibilities for educational technology, the student will be able to evaluate a set of criteria and select those factors which will push technology to seek new heights in education by the year 2000.
Infusion of Technology
The Duquesne University School of Education's first doctoral program - the Interdisciplinary Program for Educational Leaders (IDPEL) - opened its doors in 1993. The program has prepared educators to assume roles of administrative leadership in school districts and school plants around the country.
The Infusion of Technology approach espouses an alternative delivery method for technology-based instruction. Offered over the span of the program, technology infusion occurs at the precise time when the skills and tools are required by the adult learner to satisfy other learning objectives. While many of the specific technology competencies are the same, co-locating them with their practical application produces somewhat different results. Here is the Infusion of Technology program as applied to Duquesne's IDPEL doctoral program:
- Course: Professional Seminar. Technology Competencies Infused: Office Productivity Tools; Electronic Mail; the Internet; Course Distance Education Media.
- Course: Leadership and Ethics. Technology Competencies Infused: Databases for Research/Survey; Listserves as Forums; Statistics Software; Scanning Hardware.
- Course: Society and the Individual. Technology Competencies Infused: Teaching with Technology; Classroom of the Future; Teaching in the 21st Century.
- Course: Planning, Quality and Finance. Technology Competencies Infused: Strategic Planning for Educational Technology; Use of Web Home Pages in School Districts; Electronic Spreadsheets.
- Course: Managing Environments. Technology Competencies Infused: Distance Learning; Administrative Software; Technology for Decision-Making; Policy-Making for Technology.
- Course: Program Design. Technology Competencies Infused: Electronic Portfolios for Assessment; Electronic Curriculum Design and Development.
- Course: Leading the Dynamic Institution. Technology Competencies Infused: Practicum, Educators in the Work Place.
Concentration vs. Infusion: the Debate Rages On
A single course or individual modules - which is it to be? All the technical information needed for an entire graduate program or specific competencies when they are most needed? The controversy over concentration versus infusion is far from resolved; in fact, the jury of adult learners is still deliberating.
On the Concentration side of the ledger, here are some of the more salient arguments for an individual course focused entirely on technology skills:
Tools for the Life of a Program. Concentration provides a complete "bag of tools" that can be used in many courses. Adult learners select from among the many competencies presented while strengths and weaknesses of word processors, distance media, graphics packages and Internet tools are still fresh in their minds.
Technology as a Discipline. For those who believe that technology merits attention as its own academic discipline, nothing short of a separate course would suffice. It can certainly be argued that technology has grown in stature and will only continue to expand its horizons in education. To adequately address its many facets requires a concentrated focus, not an infrequent cursory look.
"Leveling the Playing Field." With so many adult learners returning to the classroom of the next millennium, educators must be aware of the vast differences in experience with computers. A concentrated course providing technology competencies (particularly at the outset of a graduate program) can offset these inequities before they affect student learning.
Group-Assisted Learning. One of the key characteristics of all adult learners is the importance placed on social interaction in the classroom. A concentrated course provides opportunities for group work and peer tutoring.
Off-campus Clusters. For graduate programs offered off-campus or for those that offer intensive formats (e.g., weeklong sessions), the Concentration approach may be your only alternative to avoid unnecessary travel expenses and scheduling conflicts.
The Infusion approach also offers some important advantages that must be considered when designing a graduate program for adult learners. They include:
Appropriate for Adult Learning. Some adults learn best when presented with concrete instruction; others favor a more abstract venue. Certain technologies champion one or the other. For example, interactive media (video and computer conferencing) are best suited to the abstract learner. Computer-based training and electronic mail favor the concrete learner (Tomei 1997). The Infusion approach offers the broader range of alternative delivery methods. It is far easier to present the shorter infused objectives both abstractly and concretely than it would be to design and deliver an entire course in both modes.
Learn It/Use It. The Infusion approach takes advantage of an adult learner's most staunch attribute: adults want to use the learning they acquire as soon as possible. As was discussed earlier, technology infusion occurs at the precise time when the skills and tools are required to satisfy some other learning objectives. Perhaps the student needs to learn how to search the Internet to prepare an instructional classroom lesson. Now is the time to receive instruction on Web Search Engines. The best time to learn a statistics package is when a research project has produced a significant data set to be analyzed.
In-Service Training Format. Most in-service programs, whether for school teachers or corporate business, occur in short bursts - one or two hour sessions over the course of several weeks or months. The Infusion approach clusters these learning goals into more manageable "chunks" of time.
While the decision whether to employ the model of Concentration or Infusion involves many factors, some pedagogical and some more practical, the reader now has a research base upon which to base that decision. You have also gathered an inventory of the most salient technology-based learning objectives for graduate study. Compare your graduate student population to the survey results depicted in this article, consider the circumstances in which your program must integrate the technology, and appraise the learning styles of your adult learners in order to make the best decision for your students.
This article originally appeared in the 04/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.