Associate Provost Strolle, Vice-Chancellor Schwartz,
Members of the Faculty and Staff of the Monterey Institute for International
And Participants in this 49th International Conference of the Council for
International Educational Exchange
We are living in an era of rapid and significant change. This change
is perhaps most visible in the information and communications
technologies on which our profession relies, and in the rapidly increasing
'globalization' also central to our profession that is
resulting from the application of these technologies.
Changes in the demographic and economic profiles of those to whom we
provide education and training are rapidly producing a globalization of
higher education. In consequence, our role as educators is changing. In
the new global marketplace, our ability to compete will depend on our
ability to harness new information technologies. These technologies will
be intrinsic to the production and deployment of the services we provide.
My task is to address 'The Role of Technology in International
What has the role of technology been thus far? What lies ahead?
New technologies are primarily tools of communication. They can
provide a dramatic increase in networking and outreach for both
individuals and institutions. Over the past decade, even the simpler 'new
technologies' electronic mail, word-processors and standalone
databases have brought significant advances to almost every sector
of educational mobility.
Let me give just a few examples of how simple technologies have changed
the way we work during the past decade, from times when the telex,
telegraph, cable, airmail and telephone were all most of us had to work
with in our international communications.
E-mail has replaced modes of international communication that were
either very time-consuming or very expensive with one that is quick and
insignificant in cost. In situations such as helping students decide
whether placement in a particular institution or program abroad is the
most appropriate option, e-mail can reduce the interval of correspondence
from weeks to hours, and the cost per message unit to a fraction of what
it was before. Details which previously had required too much time,
effort, or money to check consistently can now be quickly confirmed. Ease
of communication has resulted in more communication, and more information
being made available. This has led to more informed choices for our
students, and to the production and delivery of higher-quality educational
services. In consequence, our identity as international education
professionals is also changing, to a more positive and proficient image.
Students and their deans, registrars and parents can
now be assured that the courses of study they plan to take will be
available at the right level, in the right language, and during the right
term. The productivity and reputation of study abroad has benefitted
accordingly. Many of the risks and unpleasant surprises of exchanges in
the past have now become history.
Other simple technologies are also improving our profession. Databases
in international offices help us track which programs international
students have chosen, found useful, and succeeded in. Our curricula can
be tailored accordingly. Productive courses can be bolstered; the
unproductive pruned. The database also tracks from which institutions,
countries and world regions students have come, and any aspects of
academic or cultural adjustment which records over time may show to be
particular to different backgrounds. Using this data, orientation
services can be tailored from the general one-size-fits-all model to
highly profiled briefing modules which can be combined into individually
customized packages and e-mailed to students in advance for their
For institutional linkage exchanges, or within sponsored programs
involving mobility among relatively few institutions, e-mail enables
international office administrators on both the departing and receiving
ends to share these modules for a coordination of their pre-departure and
post-arrival orientations; students will hear both outbound and inbound
what adjustment factors are likely to be part of their experience abroad,
and accordingly can prepare more thoroughly. For short-term studies
particularly, this greater knowledge of the conditions and expectations
into which one is moving means more effective use can be made of one's
limited time abroad.
In these examples, technology has helped reduce the risk and enhance
the incremental value of each exchange experience. Data can be recorded,
supplemented, expanded, analyzed, profiled and distributed more rapidly
and more easily. There is always a certain risk in any venture abroad, no
matter how informed one's preparation. But technology helps us manage
risk, and reduce it to minimal margins. It allows us to promote
international education to students, parents, professors, institutional
lawyers and public relations managers in good faith that we are offering
sound value to all who are concerned. The reputation of study abroad
increases; in turn, exchanges increase.
As we continue to collect and process new data, knowledge banks of
cumulative experience emerge. Incremental values can multiply
exponentially. Our database can be used to identify and invite past
exchangees from specific programs to local orientations for new
exchangees; track the influence of study abroad on the job placements and
career advancement of our graduates, and help us solicit community
support. They can support fundraising and sponsorships from alumni and
their employers where our records and continuing contact with them
indicate that they have benefitted from the experience abroad we helped
them to get. In short, with the knowledge banks we have created, the
administration of our programs can be more efficient, our marketing and
recruitment can be more informed and effective, and greater value will
accrue to the field in which we work.
As we become more proficient, our outreach potential grows. Using
e-mail, we can easily share our expertise with colleagues nearby, or in
neighboring countries or regions, or in distant corners of the globe.
Sometimes these are colleagues we have never met in person, but through
the proximity or 'telepresence' of rapid communication by e-mail, we might
soon feel we 'know' them better than even our workmates in their offices
Through such mentoring and consulting, expertise in international
exchange can spread more rapidly into new world regions, opening further
options for our students, increasing the flow of human capital, of ideas
and understanding or perhaps from the more prosaic institutional
perspective, new institutional linkage partners, research data, and
Technology has made all this possible, nor are these 'high' or even
'new' technologies. All that has been required is basic e-mail, a
standalone database, and simple word processor or text editor. But one
tool leads to another. If we wish to extend our range of contacts and
sample a wider range of opinion, we may join e-mail lists to share ideas
simultaneously with thousands of colleagues worldwide.
We can use these lists to check identities of institutions or
credentials in newly-emergent nations whose former names have changed,
request help with interpreting new visa and work permit regulations for
scholars and their dependents, quickly create and share responses to
health or political emergencies abroad, announce last-minute program
openings where slots might still be filled and funding not wasted, or seek
help with any of the dozens of other problems we are facing for the first
time, where others may have solutions all this as most of us in this
room have been doing, somewhat routinely now, for years.
In these examples, the role of technology has been one of empowerment
and enfranchisement. Individually, we are empowered to communicate more
widely, frequently and cost-efficiently than was possible before.
Collectively, our voices enfranchise new dimensions of professional
capability and achievement, and create new identities for the field. We
can record the data of our work more efficiently, analyze and learn from
it more effectively, and communicate it more capably. There can be
simultaneous, and largely transparent, advancement of personal
professional development, institutional and program outreach, and the
concept and good practice of mobility itself.
But there are also concerns, even at this simple level. There is
little coordination, or systematic analysis. Even our best achievements
are mainly individual, standalone efforts. Cooperation is difficult. Our
databases work on different platforms, use different data fields, and
assess the data in different ways. We know much about the experience of
some institutions and organizations, but not enough about the field as a
whole. To truly understand the dynamics of what we do, and to develop as
a profession, we must establish ways and means for significant research.
Broad-based access and equal opportunity also remain a concern. Study
abroad has often been portrayed as a privilege of the affluent. Will the
increasing digitalization of educational services, and expectation that
students will be able to use these services, result in more
enfranchisement across economic divides, or produce the opposite result?
At present, access is expensive. While the cost of technology continues
to fall, its curve of obsolescence is rising ever faster. Many cannot
afford either the tools or the ongoing training to fully participate in
the digital world. This issue grows more urgent as severe bandwidth
shortages on campuses worldwide are forcing students, and staff, into the
private sector for their internet access, and as pressure on the capacity
of our telephone system itself is bringing higher user charges for
Another potential threat may be more insidious. For students abroad,
will the ease of e-mail communication reduce the depth of host-culture
immersion that ostensibly they went for? While on the positive side,
e-mail allows students to quickly check questions of course equivalence or
credit transfer, or resolve other uncertainties that might complicate
their experience abroad, it is also an umbilical cord to the friends and
associations of their mother culture. Will the ease with which they can
stay in touch with old contacts in their home culture reduce the making of
new contacts in their host culture?
Technology also provides concerns for us, the providers and
administrators of study abroad. Are we sufficiently adept at using our
technologies? Do we understand their roles? Technologies change the way
we work, and may well change us too. As we come to rely ever more upon
technology, we find ourselves caught up in its underlying logic, that we
should do ever more, ever more quickly, and ever more efficiently, as if
to become as one with the machines with which we work.
In our professions, we cannot choose not to participate in this
culture. Rapid, widescale communication has become essential to our work.
Responsiveness is expected; it is presumed by the nature of the medium. It
is assumed that we will be on-line, have the knowledge at hand, and be
willing and able to help. The more our colleagues or clients assume that
we know, the more inquiries we get. To whom do we say No? When we fall
behind, what perceptions do we leave? To delay in reply, or not to reply,
is often perceived as indifference or even affront, by those who want help
Now. So the logic has come to be ever More, and Faster. Thus the
question is raised: what is the effect of our tools upon us?
We are judged by what we send. Each message we post sends clear
signals about our proficiency with the technology, even before one reads
what we have written. What we write also carries a message: layout,
spelling, style, tone; the questions we ask, the responses we send, the
perception we give of our knowledge. Or, how frequently we post, how
strident we may sound, what turf we claim as ours, what our agendas may
appear to be to others?
When looking at traffic on our electronic forums, one may wonder what
collective impression we convey of our stature as 'professionals', or of
the institutions we represent? Yet what is the solution? It is not just
our knowledge of technology at issue. Reflected in our communication is
an image of our knowledge and conduct overall, amplified and defined more
sharply and occasionally distorted through the technology.
This image may also be changing our identities, though no longer in a
Technological training and a sharper awareness of how and what we
communicate will assume more importance as we move from simple
technologies into the multimediation of the World-Wide Web. There is
fantastic new potential for our empowerment to learn. But it will require
enormous amounts of time and money, expertise with the new technologies,
thorough research in the field, and coordination of effort across
institutional boundaries for us to produce the content which will allow us
to realize the potential of our new technologies in a meaningful way.
The churning innovation of the evolving Web, and our relationship to
it, has been described with different metaphors. One has been taken from
the Hollywood film Field of Dreams, in which the phrase of that
film, "if we build it, they will come"; has come to be a mantra to justify
innovation. Or, it is described with historical imagery, as a virtual
Land Rush, a reincarnation of 1890s Sooners galloping into the new
territories of Oklahoma, desperate to stake out claims before others get
there first. Or, it is described as a frontier-era Patchwork Quilt,
each component its own unique creation, with little coherence apart from
association within the larger whole.
As with all of these metaphors, the Web itself projects a very American
assumption of cultural identity, requiring those in other countries to
learn and understand our language and culture to use the technology. For
those of us in American Studies abroad, it can be, with proper guidance, a
powerful didactic tool. But for American students abroad, the seductive
appeal of this omnipresent mass of home culture can easily tempt them away
from the real world in which they are living into a virtual world from
which it may be difficult to escape.
What lies ahead? We live in an era of changing definitions of who we
are and what we do. Increasing demands are being placed on our knowledge
of our own and other cultures, and on our ability to work effectively in
the intensely 'intercultural', 'transcultural' or 'virtual' environments
in which we live.
Our tools are also changing. Today we still have telephones,
telefaxes, televisions, radios, VCRs, computers, and on-line services as
separate media; tomorrow their functions will be subsumed into new
technologies, and converge into a single mode of delivery.
This convergence will bring a transparency of communications, or
'ubiquitous computing' communication instantly wherever we may be.
Through personal devices that will always be with us, and indeed even
become part of our personal identities, we will be able to communicate
with others and entertain ourselves and each other, wherever we are, 24
hours a day. This is the 'promise' of ubiquitous computing. We will
become part of the information itself, virtually 'present' as never
What will be the impact on study abroad? Up to now, students have had
to go for their educations to the information or to put it another way,
to the books and teachers who are regarded as the holders of that
information located in physical places we call "universities." Today,
virtual information can come to us, wherever we may be. Some question
whether this virtual culture will soon make traditional universities
obsolete. For those who work with 'educational mobility' the question is
even sharper. In future, education will certainly be more mobile. But
will students need to be?
Already, European Union policy calls for more virtual classrooms and
virtual campuses, where any student in any part of Europe (or elsewhere in
the world) will have 'access-on-demand' to education and training
to professors, counselors, libraries, and self-paced multimedia
In taking education to the students, rather than needing to bring
students to the education, life-long learning and training for a
highly-educated workforce can become a reality; mobility back and forth
between virtual learning and an increasingly virtual workplace will be
available when and where one needs it.
But with education-on-demand available to our students as well, will
there still be a market for traditional study abroad, with its higher
costs for travel and displacement inconveniences?
Will a 'virtual study abroad' evolve, building on our technical ability
to be telepresent in other cultures and languages, while never physically
leaving home? If so, how would this impact the traditional exchange
experience? What would our roles become?
Thinking of these questions, I am reminded of my first experience
abroad, transported at the age of 20 from small-town Mid-Missouri to rural
Middle East. There, in the midst of that human panorama of histories,
cultures, languages, rhythms, aromas and personalities as different from my
home as one could imagine, I began learning who I really was.
Reflecting on that experience, I think of the cultural allegory of the
fish and its water. Swimming in the water, a fish is seldom conscious of
the environment which nurtures and sustains him. Removed from that
water, the fish becomes acutely aware of all that is absent.
Before my first trip abroad, much like the fish in water, I had not
been aware of the signficance of the culture and language in which I had
been living. Abroad, a fish out of water, I became acutely aware of my
linguistic and cultural identity.
Removed from the setting with which I was familiar, I began learning
who I was, by the cultural reflection of who I was not. It was an
experience that changed my life, and my identity. It was the sort of
experience I firmly believe that our students today should continue to
have. But will such experiences remain available in the years to come?
Among the roles technologies may play, none may be greater than their
challenges to our various identities, as individuals and as professionals.
As technologies are gradually converging us into the virtual world, we
need ever more the humanizing experiences the physical dimension of
international education can provide.
Through technology, or despite it, it is our role to provide
these experiences. How we do so will change our identities.