What is your highest degree?
Ed.D., Science Education and Futures Research, University of Massachusetts, 1972
Tell us about your research interests.
My research centers on emerging information technologies, their implications for our society and its economy, and the potential of these technologies to improve education. I study technologies still in their early stages of development (examples at present would be artificial intelligence, virtual reality, distributed simulation, and hypermedia) to assess:
1) what new capabilities these technologies may impart to their users; 2) how these capabilities could impact people's lifestyles, the nature of the workplace, and the ways we learn; 3) how these shifts would alter the mission, content, customers, and location of education at all levels, formal and informal; 4) the new types of learning devices these technologies enable and how these technologies widen our repertoire of learning environments; 5) the types of changes in educational practice that must occur to take full advantage of these new models of teaching/learning (e.g., shifts in professional development, in the practices and culture of schools, in society's beliefs about education and its funding mechanisms for schooling, in public policy, etc.) and actions now that will optimize the transition to more effective, technology-based educational practice; 6) the hidden consequences and side-effects that may occur through use of these emerging information technologies (e.g., challenges in equity, privacy, dehumanization ) and the steps we can take today to minimize these potentially negative outcomes.
My work is a mixture of technology forecasting and assessment; research, development, and evaluation into the potential of emerging information technologies for learning; and public policy studies on what actions we should take today.
Why do you conduct this type of research?
I am fascinated by the ways that science shapes society and concerned about unreflective adoption of new technologies, both because this misses the new opportunities they enable and because negative effects often result from unthinking application of technology-based solutions to human problems. Education is society's major long-term mechanism for shaping its future, so the best way to control the evolution of technology is through using emerging devices creating new opportunities and threats to also enhance our learning and understanding.
What are your most influential publications?
I published a short, informal article in THE COMPUTING TEACHER in 1987,"Empowering Environments, Hypermedia, and Microworlds," that shaped many people's thinking about educational technology at that time. A recent, extensive policy study, "Implications of the National InformationaI Infrastructure for Distance Learning," is influencing many practitioners to consider how both face-to-face instruction and distance education are transforming to "distributed learning." My ongoing research in synthetic environments (virtual reality, distributed simulation) is helping to elucidate the potential benefits and risks of these technologies.
What are two or three books by other people that have influenced your work?
Drucker, P.F., "The Age of Social Transformation," The Atlantic Monthly(November): 53-80, 1994.
Senge, P. (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Doubleday.
Schwartz, P. (1991). The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World. New York: Doubleday.
Who are two or three people who've had an important impact on your career?
In the late 1960s, Dwight Allen's innovative visions of education lured me into this field. John Seely Brown's work in emerging technologies in the mid-1970sto 1980s was influential in shaping my visions.
What are the most promising emerging technologies at this time?
I have just finished a short paper, "The Evolution of Learning Devices: Smart Objects, Information Infrastructures, and Shared Synthetic Environments," that depicts the promise of these three types of information technologies for education. Briefly, smart objects with embedded microprocessors and wireless networking explain their own functioning and help us create "articulate"educational environments. Information infrastructures provide remote access to experts, interlinked archival resources, distributed investigations, and virtual communities. Shared synthetic environments, by immersing us in illusion, develop a better understanding and appreciation of reality.
What advice do you have for beginning information technology researchers?
Take a systems view of the field, considering all the aspects that influence the evolution of educational practice. Focus on technologies capable of dramatic improvements in educational effectiveness through new models of teaching/learning; don't waste effort automating conventional approaches to instruction. Always remember that the major barriers to implementing technology in education are not technical or economic, but psychological, organizational, political, and cultural.