We asked six scholars and writers to recommend the best recent books on digital
technology and higher education.
Hank Bromley, assistant professor of education at the State University
of New York at
Buffalo and co-editor of Education/Technology/Power: Educational Computing As a
Social Practice (SUNY, 1998).
"Public discussions of education and technology tend to treat policy issues
areas as a simple problem of efficiency -- a question of how best to attain
presumably consensual goals. There is far too little work addressing whose
interests are served by wiring our schools and colleges. Among the welcome
exceptions are David F. Noble's ongoing 'Digital Diploma Mills' essays (available
online at www.communication.ucsd.edu/dl/) and Marita Moll's edited collection
Tech High: Globalization and the Future of Canadian Education (Fernwood,
1997). For twenty-five years, Noble has chronicled pivotal moments in the
history of technology, depicting technology as 'hardened history, frozen
fragments of human and social endeavor.' 'Digital Diploma Mills' analyzes the
motives for putting universities online and traces the incursion of market forces
into the educational realm, as well as the resulting attempt to commodify core
teaching functions. Moll's book similarly addresses the broader context of
educational technologization, emphasizing economic globalization, the nature of
educational labor, and the ongoing impact of racial and sexual inequality."
associate university librarian at Yale University and editor of Visions
and Opportunities in Electronic Publishing (Association of Research Libraries, 1993).
"With the advent of the microcomputer and the Internet, information moves
among people more rapidly than ever. The ease of copying undermines old rules
and practices that were designed to turn words into commodities and intellect
into property. Universities are caught between the pressures of old and new --
the need to foster the dissemination of information and the need to control it.
Understanding these pressures is central to The Digital Dilemma (National
Academy Press, 2000). Commissioned by the National Science Foundation and
carried out by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Science,
the book comes with suitably blue-ribbon credentials. At its core lie the
complexities and ironies of intellectual property law, which puts forward
restraint and control as the best means of facilitating dissemination and
freedom. Outlining issues with clarity and judiciousness, the book is without
polemic or rancor. The volume is an excellent handbook for faculty, librarians,
and administrators seeking to understand the choices they will face as
universities produce and consume new kinds of intellectual property in a new
kind of information economy."
Patrick Clinton, executive editor of University Business.
"According to the popular press, the only thing inhibiting the growth of
computer-mediated education is a handful of technical problems -- and the
alleged Luddite tendencies of the faculty. But there are bigger, subtler problems:
How does technology fit into institutional missions; how is it to be funded; what
business models are appropriate for developing and marketing new courses; and
how are faculty to be brought on board? For insight into these issues, I like
Anthony W. Bates's Managing Technological Change: Strategies for College
and University Leaders (Jossey-Bass, 1999). Bates has a solid grasp on how
successful institutions have established new programs, and he is refreshingly
nondoctrinaire. He also manages to talk about education and money without
"Paul Duguid and John Seely Brown's The Social Life of Information (Harvard
Business, 2000) is not really a book about education, though it has a fine,
provocative chapter on universities. Rather, it examines a wide array of fields,
many of them related to business and technology, to uncover areas where
learning and competence are based on something other than the exchange of
information. The results aren't always easy to apply, but they illuminate the
extent to which classroom learning can be provided electronically, and they truly
help to combat what Duguid and Brown call 'Technological Tunnel Vision.'"
Richard E. Miller, associate professor of English at Rutgers University
and author of As
If Learning Mattered: Reforming Higher Education (Cornell, 1998).
"Nothing is generating more anxiety and rage in the academy today than
of instructional technology. Given all the money that's being thrown into the
machines, the wiring, and the dorm rooms, as well as all the attendant hype
about the cost benefits of fully automated instruction, most of us in higher
education have fallen into 'techno-despair,' a state of mind characterized by a
strong sense that the venerable profession of teaching is doomed. Fortunately
for those interested in a more nuanced assessment of how best to respond to
the revolution in the funding and delivery of higher education, Gail E. Hawisher
and Cynthia L. Selfe, longtime leaders in the use of computers in writing
instruction, have put together Passions, Pedagogies, and 21st Century
Technologies (Utah State, 1999). This edited collection, which includes essays by
some of the most thoughtful teachers and scholars working in composition
today, shows how technology has changed, and is changing, the meaning of
literacy, teaching, ethics, and the self. The result is a usefully discordant and
self-reflexive volume, accessible to those just entering the discussion and
rewarding to those more experienced readers looking for guidance about how to
make sense of this latest evolution in the form and function of higher
James J. O'Donnell, professor of classical studies and vice provost
systems and computing at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Avatars of the
Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace (Harvard, 1998).
"Bill Readings, a brilliant and provocative comparatist at the University
Montreal, died much too young, in a plane crash a few years ago. His book The
University in Ruins (Harvard, 1997) analyzes the university's inner politics and
its relationship to its historic wider social purpose. The book renders forever
questionable the language of 'excellence' in academic self-congratulation and
brings intellectual passion and seriousness to debates about university futures.
Hal R. Varian and Carl Shapiro, on the other hand, barely mention universities
in their handbook to survival and prosperity in the network economy,
Information Rules (Harvard Business, 1998). The slight is a sign of the great risk
universities face: They may well become irrelevant, regardless of how much or
how little we use the language of 'excellence.' We must learn again to link
academic discourse with academic policy or we will become only one more sector
of the service economy, awaiting restructuring and downsizing."
Karin M. Wiburg, associate professor and coordinator of learning technologies
Mexico State University and co-author of Teaching With Technology (Harcourt Brace,
"In Electronic Collaborators: Learner-Centered Technologies for Literacy,
Apprenticeship, and Discourse (Erlbaum, 1998), Curtis Jay Bonk and Kira S.
King examine how digital technologies enable teachers to implement new
pedagogical theories about collaboration. The writers study the effect on
intellectual development of tools that move learning from synchronous to
asynchronous environments. If the book has a weakness, it lies in its lack of a
critical cultural perspective and its limited view of literacy as only print-based.
Richard N. Katz's Dancing With the Devil (Jossey-Bass, 1999) suggests that one
can no longer ignore the rapidly growing competition from for-profit,
technology-based universities and colleges. The book also examines some of the
emerging problems in higher education that technology might be able to address.
These problems include a shift from just-in-case education ('study this in case
you need to know it some day') to just-in-time education and the increased
demand on higher education institutions to provide services, often at a distance,
to the larger society. Katz provides a useful glimpse of the dangers and promise
of technology in higher education."