The University Record, April 30, 1996

Whitaker to seek and develop cost-effective applications of technology in higher education

By Deborah Gilbert
News and Information Services

Gilbert R. Whitaker Jr., professor of business economics at the Business School and former provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, is launching a research project on behalf of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to seek out and develop cost-effective applications of electronic technologies in higher educa tion. The foundation will fund the project with a three-year $485,000 grant.

"The key word is 'cost-effective.' In almost all instances, the introduction of technology to higher education---while it may have increased productivity---has increased costs. Under the right circumstances, however, the potential of technology to reduce costs is very considerable," Whitaker says.

Whitaker, who has been appointed a senior adviser to the Foundation, added that "the dollars saved could then be re allocated to enhancing more traditional, face-to-face classroom teaching."

"I am delighted that Gil Whitaker has agreed to lead this new Foundation initiative in higher education," says William G. Bowen, president of the Mellon Foundation. "It offers the prospect, in my view, of ameliorating the 'cost dis ease' that has afflicted higher education while simultaneously improving educational outcomes. Gil's wide experience as an administrator, coupled with his training as an economist, qualifies him superbly for this role."

Certain learning situations seem to lend themselves best to technology, according to Whitaker. "For instance, it may be that electronic technology is cost-effective in learning situations that require intense practice in the use of basic concepts, such as double-entry bookkeeping."

Universities and colleges might also cut costs if technology could substitute for professors on sabbatical or "beam" instructors of courses such as foreign languages to several different settings simultaneously. Well-designed computer simulations also might be effective "stand-ins" for expensive laboratory equipment.

Whitaker expects to experiment with technology in a variety of higher education settings including research universities, liberal arts colleges, community colleges and at universities in developing countries.

The Mellon Foundation will provide a portion of Whitaker's salary and benefits, and logistical support. The Business School's M.B.A. students also will participate in the research.