Information Technology in European Higher Education (Hopkins)

Information Technology and the Information Society in Europe:
Expectations and Barriers to the Implementation of New Media
in the Higher Education and Research Sector
Deploy Project Summary Report, August 1996
Prepared For The Confederation of European Union Rectors' Conferences
John D. Hopkins

Executive Summary - Introduction - Information Collection Procedure
Desk Study Synthesis Report - Desk Study on Higher Education and Research
General Observations - Insufficiently-addressed Issues - Positive Expectations - Perceived Barriers
National Report Recommendations - Portuguese Rectors' Recommendations - Missing Issues
Use of the Recommendations

I. Executive Summary of the Higher Education Sector Report

This report is a 'deliverable' of the Deploy Project, an EC-funded bridging initiative between the European Commission Telematics Applications Programme (TAP) and both users of and providers to the 'Information Society' at public, private, national and regional levels throughout Europe.

The Confederation of European Union Rectors' Conferences, as a partner of the EU-funded Deploy Project, surveyed via reports from twelve national and international panels of experts in EU countries both expectations of and perceived barriers to the implementation of new information technologies (IT) in European higher education and research. The higher education sector is significant for IT implementation, inasmuch as universities have played key roles in IT development from the beginning, consider the use of IT as indispensable to the future of higher education, and exert significant influence on national political and budgetary decisions regarding IT.

The reports submitted by the panels were based on, though not limited to, an 11-page Desk Study on Higher Education and Research and 6-page Desk Study Synthesis Report, provided as a stimulus for discussion and response. These presented a wide selection of issues relevant to the increased usage of IT in higher education as culled from publications of experts in the field. The national panels were asked to verify, falsify, qualify, clarify or expand upon the issues in their reports.

The national panels all felt that IT was of crucial significance for higher education. The most-cited benefits were the growing immediacy of access to information via the World-Wide Web and other internet tools; remote access to computerized libraries and archives; the potential of computer-assisted learning -- ranging from web or CD-ROM-based courseware to help teach basic subject studies to the visualization of complex scientific modelling on high-end workstations; and the extension of the learning environment itself beyond the classroom to homes, workplaces, and remote or rural areas. This step could, when complete, enable truly equal opportunity in life-long learning.

However, the panels voiced concern about a number of real and potential barriers to IT implementation. Foremost was cost. The oft-heard suggestion by politicians and budget planners that IT would have a high initial cost followed by economies of scale that would allow 'educational savings' and staff 'efficiencies' was rejected outright. The panels felt that costs will be high initially and higher thereafter. Massive continual investment in hardware, software, and both intra- and inter- institutional networking infrastructure is needed on the one hand, and vastly-expanded staff (and student) training on the other, concurrent with the establishment of funding for courseware development.

There were also concerns about the widely varying capabilities of European regions and countries, as well as the mutual and urgent need to expand internet bandwidth. Bandwidth must be expanded exponentially in order to cope even with current demand, not to mention the vastly increased demands of the near future. Also, as capability to communicate across cultural boundaries increases, so must the ability to cope with cross-cultural complexities inherent in that communication. As computer-mediated independent learning expands, universities must understand and address the changed roles of teacher, learner and educational institution alike in the new educational process.

The panels felt that little research has been done on the pedagogical or psychological implications of Open and Distance Learning, or on what the goals, objectives and problematics of IT are in the educational process. Other perceived barriers included a lack of qualified instructors to relay IT expertise in a pedagogically meaningful way; the lack of standardized software, both within institutions and between education and the workplace; and a lack of adequate computers for staff even to keep up with innovation in their own fields of expertise, much less to be able to meaningfully incorporate IT in their teaching or serve as developers of new courseware. Both the peculiarity of university bureaucracy and the institutional rivalries within higher education are also handicaps to the increased cooperation within and among institutions that is needed for efficient development, evaluation and deployment of training expertise or educational courseware.

The national panels unanimously recommended more funding, more training and more information toward solutions to these problems. The social and educational context of IT is not yet fully known. Research must be funded into the broad effects of IT as well as into its expansion. In the social context, research is urgently needed on health issues rapidly emerging from greater use of computers, as well as on the potential of telematics to fragment traditional social structures and isolate individuals.

In the educational context, IT should be understood as simply one more tool (albeit a powerful tool) for teaching and research. It offers ways to enrich and compliment traditional 'face-to-face' learning. But the notion that distance learning will supplant or even reduce the need for physical human instruction or tutoring is unlikely to happen, nor in most cases is it desirable.

Fully integrating IT into higher education will be a long-term process. To succeed, it must be supported by coherent training implemented through clearly-defined policies at Department, Faculty, University and National levels. Higher education (in common with the larger society around it) has not yet thought through what it wishes to do, or can afford to do, with IT. It must do so.

Better coordination is needed among IT users at all levels of higher education and research, as well as closer cooperation among educational institutions and between higher education and its social, economic and political environments. Tele-learning must become application-specific, user-specific and user adaptive. Quality standards must be maintained. Educational end-user needs must be understood and appreciated for the market to produce viable courseware. Teachers need time as well as legal, financial and academic-status incentives if they are to produce useful courseware. Bandwidth must be increased Europe-wide to ensure better research and education data flows. And more human understanding is needed of the personal and cultural contexts in which this data flows.

The immense potential IT holds for higher education is apparent, but so is the realization that implementing IT will carry its own costs. European higher education and research will undergo significant change in the near future, the exact nature and influence of which is not easily predictable.

The Report's recommendations will be submitted to the Members of the Confederation of European Union Rectors' Conferences, with a view toward establishing comprehensive guidelines for the deployment of information and communications technologies in higher education and research.

II. Introduction to the Higher Education Sector Report

Deploy's objective is to "improve the understanding of and the conditions for the implementation of an Information Society". The first step was to identify key issues relevant to the deployment of telematics in an Information Society. Through autumn 1996, Deploy focused on Education and Research, Rural Areas, and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, in order to extract from users in these three sectors a wide range of reactions, perceptions, and possible strategies or architectures for the implementation of information technology which would be relevant not only to these three, but by extrapolation also to other IT sectors, such as Transport or Medicine and Health.

Issues identified in the feedback have been validated via workshops and local user group meetings throughout Europe to ensure that they are representative across all TAP sectors and European regions. Issues on which there has been consensus will be presented to "Public Authorities, Service Providers and Private Industry in order to gain resolution". The second Deploy phase will then test specific solutions to issues and concerns that were validated during the initial phase.

The Deploy partner responsible for surveying the implementation of IT within European higher education and research is the Confederation of European Union Rectors' Conferences, a membership association of the national Rectors' Conferences of all fifteen European Union countries, together with seven non-EU Associate members.

Higher Education may be considered the most significant of the Deploy sectors. Whereas Deploy distinguishes between three main types of information society actors, (1) users of telematics; (2) providers of telematics; and (3) economic, social and political decision makers of telematic policies; the higher education sector is unique in its representation of all three groups:

  • Universities have developed much of the existing IT infrastructure, and university-based researchers and consultants are universally engaged in developing and assessing local and national IT options;
  • Universities provide a high proportion of IT user access via the telematic enfranchisement of their students and teaching and research staff -- as well as individuals and institutions outside higher education who enjoy access to the information society via university facilities;
  • Universities through their Rectors, professors and other public policy shapers exert a high degree of influence on IT policy development within their nations.

Thus, issues in the Higher Education and Research Sector should provide an overview of IT prospects and problematics which are relevant well beyond the educational sector alone. Higher education represents the leadership in both information society experience and innovation throughout Europe.

III. Information Collection Procedure

The collection procedure used by the Confederation produced a wide cross-section of perspective from throughout European higher education. Report requests were submitted to the national Rectors' Conferences of all fifteen EU countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom). This is sixteen Rectors' Conferences in all, since Belgium has separate Conferences for Francophone and Flemish universities. Requests were also sent to the Confederation's seven Associate Members (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Norway, Poland, Slovak Republic and Switzerland). EU funding to subsize the costs of national meetings was available for the 15 EU countries.

Requests for reports were sent in January 1996, with followup in March for conferences who had not yet responded. Submission of reports was voluntary; each national Conference could determine if it wished to submit a report, and if so what the composition and working procedure of its local panel of experts would be. Reports were to be submitted by June 1996.

Reports from ten countries, including nine Rectors' Conferences, are included in this Summary. The Conferences represented are Belgium-Flemish, Belgium-Francophone, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands and Portugal. A report from a Deploy seminar on "Open and Distance Training Systems" in Valencia, Spain was included due to its topic and the fact that its participants were university-based, even if it was not sponsored by the Spanish Rectors' Conference.

Two other reports were also included in this Summary; those of an 07 May Brussels meeting of national representatives from participating EU Rectors' Conferences, and an 08 May Brussels meeting of Confederation "sister organizations", including EUCEN, EuroPace 2000, the Association of European Universities (CRE), ESMU (European Centre for Strategic Management of Universities), the Coimbra Group, and the European Association for International Education (EAIE).

The totalling twelve reports which form the foundation for this Summary were detailed and indicative of much reflection and concern on the prospects for new information technology media in European higher education. The reports ranged from two to twenty pages in length (usually single-spaced and small print), with a median length of about eight pages. The numbers and identities of the national panels of experts were not given in all reports, but where available they averaged about nine participants, who represented different institutions and regions of the country. Where identified, participants were most often Rectors or vice- rectors, professors from a range of disciplines, and directors of computing, hypermedia or information technology centers, with occasional representatives of Ministries of Education and higher educational professional associations.

Reports were based on (though not limited to) an eleven-page "Desk Study on Higher Education and Research" prepared by the Confederation in March 1996 and six-page "Desk Study Synthesis Report", both of which were sent to each national Rectors' Conference for dissemination to its local panel(s) of experts (both form part of the WP3 deliverables). The Desk Study and the Synthesis Report were intended as general, non-exhaustive 'snapshots' of the IT status quo in February 1996, designed to elicit comments from the national panels of experts on issues which had been identified in the two reports, as well as any additional issues which each panel was free to contribute. Issues presented in the Desk Study and the Synthesis Report were taken from recent publications of experts on IT in higher education. While the Confederation assembled the Desk Study and Synthesis Report, the issues and opinions presented in the two documents were those of the authors of the publications, not of the Confederation itself or its member Rectors' Conferences.

The function of the national panels of experts was to qualify, verify, falsify and/or clarify the issues and opinions presented in the Desk Study and the Synthesis Report. As the selection of issues and the way particular issues were described in the two documents may have been significant in influencing the responses of the national panels of experts, summaries of both the Desk Study and the Synthesis Report are presented below.

IV. The 'Desk Study Synthesis Report'

The "Desk Study Synthesis Report" outlined the Deploy focus and methodology, and identified Key Issues common to all three Deploy sectors, e.g. Market, Environmental, Psychological, and Political/Power issues. Subordinate concerns within these Issues, as had been reported in current literature, included (abridged, numbered and slightly reworded for this Summary):

  1. Costs: High investment costs, the need for constant updating of hardware, unpredictability of long-term costs for hardware, software, training and infrastructure, restraints on external funding; perceived high overhead operating costs.
  2. Psychological Barriers: Lack of confidence in telematics, lack of privacy, fear of technology, fear of loss of jobs, cultural traditions, personal habits, general ignorance.
  3. Lack of Training: Lack of time for training, age/education as factors, limited computer literacy among teachers, lack of incentive or motivation to employ IT.
  4. Organization and Structure: Conflict of organizational hierarchies and local/regional power structures; implications for IT diffusion; limited time for managers to be informed on IT, lack of managerial open-mindedness (lack of confidence, perceived threats).
  5. Culture: Different European attitudes toward "progress", group working, etc.
  6. Legal Aspects: Copyright integrity, security, individual rights to use private electronic audiovisual conferencing.
  7. Language: User manuals and on-line help often available only in English, and even this often incomprehensible jargon.
  8. Market Issues: Lack of information about IT markets for designing/producing/selling IT content, lack of clarity on obtainable benefits, services perceived to be technically driven rather than content-driven, radius of targeted users.
  9. Tariffs, Data Transfer Rates, Standards, Services: There are still regions where basic telephony is unavailable or erratic, thus blocking IT usage; when it is available, long connection periods produce high tariffs for on-line access; broadband evolution is needed to speed data transfer; more network services (file transfer, remote access, etc.) are needed; information on user needs is inadequate; open systems and interoperability is needed; non-standardized systems and proprietary solutions are feared, but so is the destructive potential of standardization on market niches.
  10. Time and Effort: Concern that IT may represent too little value for the time invested to learn and properly use it; that it may create too many distractions from what the employee or the student, for example, should be doing.
  11. Traditional Thinking, Lack of Enthusiasm: Universities see growth in terms of physical size (buildings, libraries, etc.) rather than progress through IT development; rural areas see growth as a threat to traditional jobs. The design or focus of most broadband networks is on entertainment and commerce, not education; designs are not in accordance with local needs; the needs of end-users are often neglected.
  12. Bureaucracy and Power Play: Bureaucracies of national and European policies and organizations are obstacles as such; the restructuring of society and change in the balance of power is seen as too-new, threatening, and expensive.

V. The 'Desk Study on Higher Education and Research'

The "Desk Study on Higher Education and Research" put the general issues of the "Synthesis Report" into a higher education context. It defined IT for Deploy purposes as including virtually any telematics or computer-assisted tool, including e-mail, internet and WWW facilities, CAD/CAM, video-conferencing, multimedia educational software, satellite communications, on-line search systems, electronics-based distance education, and advanced library cataloging and search systems.

'Education and research' was defined as all types of higher education where research is a fundamental part of the activity, including universities, technical and agricultural institutions, architecture schools, business schools, music and art schools and conservatories, other specialized higher educational institutions and also public bodies such as ministries of education, research councils, associations of deans, and agencies for cooperation within higher education.

Most of the Desk Study citations came from education, teaching and learning rather than research or university policies or strategies. However, the way in which IT is spreading into all aspects of higher education administration was illustrated, as was a cautionary note that opportunity to benefit from IT still varies greatly from one university, region or country to another. The Desk Study also included two chapters on "Using IT to Enhance Education" (is it 'teaching to use, or using to teach'?) and "What Can IT Contribute to Increase Learning?". The latter described five potential benefits:

  1. Economies of Scale: the cost of IT instruction per student is expected to be low after a large initial investment -- the number of students educated can be multiplied without a proportional increase in resources; distance learning cooperation among universities will result in considerable savings; enormous quantities of information can be navigated at low cost.
  2. Customization: IT will offer mass customization, allowing institutions to accommodate individual differences in student goals, learning styles and abilities while providing improved convenience for both students and faculty on an "any time, any place" basis.
  3. Information Flow: IT will ease the limits of time and space in educational activity, providing necessary student- teacher communication over less-necessary direct physical contact, a resulting improved convenience for both student and faculty, and higher motivation to follow.
  4. Self-Paced Learning: IT will enable a self-paced learning which is sensitive to individual learning styles. Interactive technologies can deliver education to students where and when it is needed, in structures and at speeds in line with individual requirements. Through continuous assessment, teachers will be able to pinpoint areas where more study is needed, with specialized multimedia applications triggering further practice.
  5. Availability. Services will need to be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Can this be reliably provided?

Finally, the Desk Study identified ten perceived "Barriers" to increased IT implementation in higher education. These were presented as:

  1. Costs. Initial costs, though soon recoverable, are often substantial, and in the early stage advantages may be outweighed by disadvantages. Networking and communications technologies must become cheaper and faster; the combination of high cost for connective infrastructure and slow data transfer rates is seen as a major development handicap. Further, the high infrastructure costs may not be viewed by all as an 'investment for the future', since IT changes so rapidly that there is a constant need for updating.
  2. Traditional Thinking. Universities often consider 'growth' in terms of new buildings and physical expansion, rather than IT progress. There is often a belief that IT development will translate into reducing faculty numbers and increasing student-faculty ratios.
  3. Lack of Services. According to an EITIRT Report on "Distance Learning", the availability of interoperable network services (e-mail, file transfer, remote access) in Europe is uneven, and further hindered by poor cooperation among local, regional and national actors.
  4. Tariffs. Distance learning requires lengthy on-line connections, resulting in high communication tariffs. Total connectivity costs cannot easily be calculated; this makes budgeting and decision-making difficult.
  5. Data Transfer Rates. The limiting factor of slow data transfer rates must be addressed by developers and standards bodies, and the high cost obstacle resolved by politicians, administrators and governing bodies. Further, the importance of the education and training market should be emphasized to service providers, relative to games and light entertainment.
  6. Limited Computer Literacy Among Teachers. Faculty members are often ill-prepared to design new courses for new media and developing technologies. Discussions of pedagogy are rare in most research universities, and there is little incentive for professors and lecturers to work with new media for teaching, even if they had the training to do so. Also, teachers do not agree on methods for teaching/training. New technologies are not perceived by all as the path to pursue for improved teaching and training.
  7. Time and Effort. Some institutions feel that IT requires too much time and effort, creates too many distractions, and yields too little value relative to investment. Faculty are often ambivalent to using technology in their teaching. Administrators may be more positive, but when faced with budget shortages may find it difficult to shift their importance. There is also suspicion of systems reliability and data corruption, both of which are sometimes perceived as resulting in 'more work in the long run' for teachers who do begin to use technologies in teaching.
  8. Lack of Enthusiasm Among Service Providers. IT delivers only what the marketplace provides. Most service providers are currently supplying for the commercial sector of the present, not the educational sector of the future. Designers are primarily concerned with commercial rather than educational requirements. The need for interaction is not well understood by the design or the education communities.
  9. Bureaucracy of National and European Organizations and Policies. The key to European competitiveness will be the harmonization and deregulation of structures. This is occurring too slowly for IT to gain critical mass, considering the diversity of European society.

The Desk Study concluded with a List of Main Actors Involved in European IT, a review of educational end users identified by the DELTA BEACON programme (Initial and Basic Education, Vocational Training, Continuing Education, Professional Training), a brief case study of the U.K.'s Open University, and a Bibliography of print and web sources used in compiling the Desk Study.

VI. General Observations on the Study, Report, and Panel Responses

The various national panels of experts employed the Desk Study and the Synthesis Report quite differently in formulating their reports. Some referred point-by-point to the opinions presented; others used the Desk Study and Synthesis Report as background for their own observations, with little direct reference to points presented in the two documents. Several reports criticized the Desk Study and Synthesis Report as presenting the role and potential of IT in higher education as self-evident, but at the same time with a tone that emphasized the problematics of employing IT rather than its intrinsic value or application potential. The language and structural clarity of the reports was also criticized.

However, apart from these relatively-minor criticisms of clarity, weight and language, the Desk Study and Synthesis Report were employed by the national panels as they had been intended -- as brief summarizations of published expert opinion on IT issues in higher education and research taken from current literature which were designed as a stimulus for discussion and for the production of the national panel reports. One should thus bear in mind when reading this Summary that most references to the 'Desk Study and Synthesis Report' were to the opinions of experts cited in those documents, rather than to the Study and Report as 'policy statements' in their own right.

Each national report was a useful addition to the body of responses; some were themselves worthy of publication. However, due to wide variation in the styles and translations of the reports, this Summary will present issues on which there was consensus without attribution to individual countries except where the reference is self-evident. The Summary's organization was influenced by the five-day 'window' remaining for its production after all the national panel reports had been received.

VII. Issues the Panels Felt Had Been Insufficiently Addressed

The reports generally adopted the definition of IT, assumptions of IT potential for higher education, and the practical problems and technical barriers to current and future IT utilization as presented in the Desk Study and Synthesis Report. However, there were a number of issues which the national panels felt had been missing or insufficiently addressed in the two documents.

Political problems were felt to overshadow other problems, especially in light of recent European higher education budget cutbacks. The recent buzzwords when discussing educational technologies have been 'educational savings', 'economies of scale' and 'cost reduction'. From a political point of view the savings objective seems to have played a larger role than concepts of improvement, flexibility or learner efficiency. The figures imagined for cost reductions seemed highly overestimated unless they were, as one comment put it, "part of a cover-up for the devaluation of European higher education." If the political interest in educational technologies for the benefit of savings could be separated from the genuine pedagogical and learner-oriented interests, IT implementation could be much easier, without many of the problems mentioned in the Desk Study.

A further criticism of the Desk Study was the assumption that initial costs would be high whereas running costs would be low. Indeed one of the most remarkable results was that none of the national panels of experts agreed with "Potential Benefit #1" of the Desk Study that the introduction of IT would bring economies of scale after an initial high investment.

According to the panels, "economies of scale" is a frequent claim of politicians and budget planners who are not familiar with IT development. This is sometimes called the "Dilbert syndrome", after a cartoon in which the "Dilbert" character observes that the world will soon evolve into two distinct classes, those who know computers and those who do not, both of whom have their own evolutionary destiny. "But then, as now..." observed Dilbert, "... policy will be made by the latter group."

The consensus of the reports was that budgeting should rather show initial costs as high, but with system maintenance, continuous infrastructural development, increasing user support, and both hardware and software upgrades combining to make future running costs even higher.

This is for infrastructure and user access alone. When one considers the 'life expectancy' of scientific data in either teaching or research software, the running costs for development and upgrading alone will be enormous. 'Economies of scale' is a myth, since investments must continuously be channeled into new new areas, new equipment, and new projects.

Assumptions about the availability of adequate bandwidth to supply rapid data transfer for all were also simplistic. The demand for greater bandwidth is far greater than the ability for this to be provided, which also means that tariffs are unlikely to be reduced significantly. Even in individual universities the concept of equal, unlimited access is technically unworkable. Bandwidth may be adequate for 10% of students to have unlimited access, but what if there are 80,000 students and 100% were to have access? The hardware costs alone would be prohibitive.

The IT capabilities of European countries vary widely. While some countries, notably in the Nordic region and the northern tier of continental Europe, have excellent communications infrastructures, with ATM and optical cable networks within institutions and between cities, and ISDN facilities available at relatively low cost for home use, the ability of educators to work with colleagues in other countries is hindered by the lack of matching capability across regional or national boundaries.

In universities the obstacles for applying information technology often are not technical, but rather those of organizational culture and changes in traditional procedures. For instance, university computing centers were formerly service providers, but their role is now changing almost entirely to one of support and maintenance. The Desk Study did not deal with who has the responsibility for applying the power of information technology.

Moreover, the role of communication (ICT) as part of information technology (IT) was not addressed in the Desk Study. Apparently it was assumed that communication was intrinsic to IT. But is it? The main problem within universities may be the flow of information, not the equipment. And with ICT involving different nations, cultures, and languages, the problematics inherent in ICT are manifest.

Distinction should be made among the three different uses of ICT in higher education, (1) learning about ICT; (2) learning with the aid of ICT (software tools), and (3) learning through ICT (courseware). The first point requires adequate technical infrastructure, especially in software. The first and second points combined would enable students and staff to have easy access to databases, search systems and the like. Point three relates directly to the learning process itself; it requires much greater self-reliance from students.

The consequence of the vast increase in the amount of information available and the ability to access it telematically is that the traditional relationship between teacher and student will change dramatically. The benefit may be that 'students' will evolve into 'independent learners' with the skills necessary for 'life-long learning'. However, there was little reflection in the Desk Study about the use of new technologies in the educational process. What do people want to do with them? Which are the ways in which to obtain the envisaged goals?

IT functions best in disseminating raw data, not 'information' in the sense of data which can be effectively applied; certainly not 'knowledge' in the sense by which historical and cultural wisdom is used to reflect on ways in which context may make data differently informative. How to 'improve the learning process' was totally absent from the Desk Study. The function of IT is not to 'increase learning' but rather to 'contribute to learning'. The Information Society may well prompt a return to classical education to help people absorb and interpret the increased flow of raw data.

The problem of 'minority languages' inherent in IT was also not addressed in the Desk Study. With English as the de facto language of internet software and communications, and most major databases also in English, lesser-spoken European languages such as Greek are disadvantaged. Greece, for example, cannot easily obtain and transfer information in Greek. This is an impediment both for communication within countries such as Greece and for international cooperation. European agreement on communications standards may not be resolved until all EU languages and national character sets are perceived as having equal opportunity.

VIII. Positive Expectations Presented in the National Reports

The expectations of the national panels of experts on what benefits would accrue from the increased application of information technologies within higher education ranged from greater ability with simple practical computational skills to the emergence of relatively abstract large-scale social change.

The ability of students and staff to work productively with basic word processing, spreadsheet and database software, and navigate independently through data in computerized libraries and archives and on the World-Wide Web was viewed as one of the greatest benefits, as was IT's ability to extend the learning environment via direct access or the internet to student flats, allowing interactive work from home as well as from university classrooms.

In short, IT can provide rapid access to comprehensive sources of knowledge to support teaching and research; telecooperation which will allow groups of people to work on projects simultaneously, even from different locales and time zones; and telematically-mediated educational environments in which interactive teaching and learning courseware, intelligent tutoring systems, and/or computer-assisted teaching and learning may be combined.

The potential of open and distance learning (ODL) was considered as holding the most promise. ODL could provide a flexible and economic solution to the problem of overcrowding in university classrooms, create a stronger professional training and continuing education connection between the university and the employment market, and provide an easier basis for life-long learning. It could enable access to significant lessons for every student, with instruction that is more interactive and individually relevant than attendance at mass lectures. It could be adapted to every subject and discipline, allow independent, self-paced studies, and provide individualized student follow-up. It could save physical mobility costs by bringing training directly into the workplace or the home.

Moreover, educational management changes, such as on-line institutional promotional material, student recruitment, admissions counseling, language and subject testing, university orientation, course registration, degree certification, and job placement were all seen as areas in which IT could have immediate application, potentially enabling the reduction of administrative personnel.

Other desired benefits repeatedly cited among the teaching and research expectations were improved searching capabilities of computerized libraries, archives, and museum collections (both locally and by remote access); quicker and more reliable communication among research teams; a greater ability to use sophisticated modeling to study the effects of complex interactions; the ability to use 3-D virtual reality for the visualization of physics phenomena, engineering processes, and the complex organisms and interactions of biology, medicine and the life sciences; automated teaching and training; the utilization of distance expertise; the synthesis of complex presentations in case studies; and greater potential for student performance evaluation via tele-interaction. A shift to more case study-based self-tuition and project and assignment-oriented education is also expected, with a corresponding decrease in lectures and the improvement of communication between students and teachers, as well as among students themselves. The desired result is more quality and efficiency in teaching.

Tele-working, telecommuting and telematically-mediated distance education may also combine to reduce problems of over-urbanization in many countries, revitalize remote rural areas, improve the quality of life and reduce environmental pollution by lessening traffic congestion. It could provide access to education and training to those who are unable to travel to the universities and training centers where it was formerly offered physically.

IX. Perceived Barriers to Information Technologies

The chief and most immediate problem faced by universities is the lack of time and training for staff to learn the basics of IT competence, two factors which are essential before one can even think of properly using IT in one's instruction, or producing courseware oneself. It is unreasonable to expect faculty to combine the development and introduction of new educational materials with their regular teaching jobs. Staff are not given time to invest in IT, nor are they rewarded for such investment even if taken on their own initiative. The teaching staff often does not even have adequate computer hardware and software to allow them to keep up with what their students are doing, much less for them to be leaders in IT-based research methodology or developers of educational courseware.

Further, staff are extraordinarily sensitive to frequent claims by politicians and university administrators that increased use of multimedia study modules, telematically-mediated distance education and other forms of IT in higher education will lead to 'economies of scale' with more education being provided by a reduced teaching staff. There could hardly be a greater dis-incentive for teachers than the prospect of their investment in IT training and resources leading directly to reduced status or outright unemployment by their institution.

On a Europe-wide perspective, student access is also problematic. Although most university students in the Nordic region and several countries in northern Europe have Internet access, it is rare even here that use of the Internet would have been integrated into the educational process itself. Moreover, the mere fact that students may have access to unlimited amounts of information via the Internet does not in itself induce a spontaneous learning process.

Although there has been much publicity about the promise of IT for higher education, less is being done in universities than the media might lead one to believe. Even where IT is being used, the usage is uneven in the various disciplines. A German evaluation of 3400 questionnaires revealed that ICT is used in some way in 51% of all subjects at universities and 64% of subjects at technical universities or Fachhochschulen. However, the proportion of academic staff who used ICT was significantly lower, ranging between 0.2% for dentistry and 7.6% for surveying at universities, and from 0.3% for process engineering to 11.4% for mathematics at Fachhochschulen. Average use of ICT for all subjects was 2-3% for universities and 3-5% for Fachhochschulen. Expansion of their use of ICT was planned in 31% of universities and 48% of Fachhochschulen, especially in networking and software.

ICT was used primarily for simulation and demonstration purposes, followed by reinforcing or complementing syllabus material. It was used least of all for imparting knowledge in a more efficient manner; easing the burden of the teacher and/or increasing the motivation of the students played only minor roles. Further, the high proportional usage of simulations and demonstrations may suggest that some of the software employed was not originally designed for teaching purposes.

Perhaps key to these points was the observation that "As far as the calculation of teaching capacity and crediting of teaching loads is concerned, it must be borne in mind that the development of New Media calls for 50-100 times more input than that of conventional teaching units. And in calculating the resulting new teaching loads it must also be considered that new and in some cases more intensive supervisory services will be necessary in order to reap the full benefits of learning processes tailored to a far greater extent to the requirements of the individual."

Although much research is being done on IT and educational innovation, this has not been matched by an application of IT to the educational process. Funding is not available to train university staff in the use of IT. Too often a blind faith in technology prevails, a sort of technical determinism, seeming to suggest that merely installing a machine will lead to its efficient and rational use.

It is difficult to provide adequate training for either students or staff. There are few instructors who have both the technological and pedagogical expertise to present such courses successfully. Further, there is a severe shortage of computers on which to hold training classes, and an even more severe computer shortage to allow adequate independent student followup of lesson assignments, not to mention the productive individual work for which the training was designed.

Neither hardware nor software for training is standardized within institutions, and they are certainly not standardized between institutions and the commercial marketplace. Students may be trained on PCs and be expected to work on a project involving Macintoshes or on large UNIX-based databases, or vice-versa. Software which is the computer instructor's favorite, or which was the least-expensive in the institution's training budget, is generally different from the software applications professors expect students to use during their specialized studies.

The inadequate quantity and quality of computer resources within institutions forces students and staff who can afford the cost to purchase their own hardware and software. 'Standardization' is then even less possible as individuals obtain whatever hardware and software they can afford, and configure it to their personal working habits as best they know how (not necessarily according to 'standards'). A gulf rapidly ensues between those who are 'IT-enfranchised' and those who are not. Frustration often emerges for both students and teaching staff, as the potential for IT innovation with any semblance of transparency in communications among the different individual technical solutions or any concept of equal opportunity between the members of the learning group rapidly vanishes.

Funding is also unavailable to develop educational software. Currently, educational IT is mostly linked to experiments in courseware development. With courseware development, IT can compensate for a shortness in university personnel when different universities work together. However, it is not self-evident that the application of courseware itself can compensate for teaching personnel. Moreover, new technologies should not be considered as just a means to cope with mass education.

Computers and appropriate software are not available for each student, nor is there the time for students or staff to learn about IT or for staff to develop educational software. Even those who have personal computers or have had training are unable to cope due to the rapid development of technological systems, in which investments in hardware, software and training one year are rendered 'obsolete' the following year. Also, the high cost of communications tariffs often means that one cannot afford to take advantage of distance learning or tutoring from one's home.

Bureaucracy, regulations and official university procedures, combined with inadequate budgets and ICT fear and/or illiteracy particularly by older members of the administration and teaching staffs, who are often key decision makers within the institution, may stifle attempts at ICT innovation. It is often easier for administrators just to continue with 'business as usual'. On the other hand, higher education budgets are increasingly keyed to 'results-oriented criteria'; university and department funding may soon depend on whether students have adequate ICT resources, including access to certain services, courses, examinations and automated learning options. In time, universities will have little choice but to adapt to changes in the society of which they are a part.

How to distribute user costs and cover these costs through fees or income is important for institutional budgeting, especially in view of recent stagnation or cutbacks in the public financing of higher education. A critical problem of IT innovation which particularly concerns individual distance learning is that it is impossible to budget exact-enough estimates of the costs of setting up and operating tele-learning structures. Will an individual's needs be only for one-way access to information, or for complex interactive teaching-learning systems? Will work be done on-line or off-line, in-house or remotely, using simple databases or complex multimedia?

A paradox emerges: to the extent that IT enables individual self-tutoring and exploration of optimal personal learning solutions, it renders unworkable the traditional budgeting models that would finance the operation of the IT systems these learners would use.

Is customized self-paced learning really possible at the level of higher education? Current teaching loads and scheduling demands make it almost impossible to customize teaching to the needs of individual students. Moreover, at university level few teachers have pedagogical training. They may not understand the concept of personalized learning programs, much less how to implement these using advanced information and communications technologies.

New teaching media have not been established as an integral part of education. There is an absence of coherent institutional or departmental policy, a lack of resources and training, nonexistent or inadequate funding, and almost complete failure to employ teaching assessment methods.

There is little incentive to develop media-based teaching aids since these are not recognized by specialists or scientists to nearly the same extent as classic academic publications, and therefore seldom offer younger academics a basis to obtain qualifications. Producing new teaching media is very resource-intensive, further hampered by complicated and unclear copyright regulations, which particularly affect the potential for distribution and marketing of courseware.

The cost of producing, evaluating and implementing courseware within many countries, especially in their own languages, is a significant barrier to widescale IT adaptation. The continual production of new up-to-date educational tools cannot easily be covered with the relatively low number of students in many countries. The majority of a university's institutions do not function according to a pyramidal hierarchical structure; there is rather a multitude of small pyramids with quite a lot of independence. This often means that material produced in one place has a tendency to cover only the needs of local teachers, and therefore has no market outside its place of creation. The enormous costs involved in production therefore cannot be covered by a sufficiently broad distribution. In some sense this model is even being encouraged by the current trend toward 'profiling' of universities and university departments, to reduce duplication of the same instruction at multiple venues.

The low 'life-expectancy' of information in some of the most important areas makes it very costly to keep them updated. Further, costs linked to developing and maintaining educational software and IT infrastructure is often grossly underestimated. On top of the costs involved, the time needed to develop new multimedia products is a serious obstacle: professors who have obtained grants are often forced to decline them, due to a lack of time. Further, if courseware is to be used on a widescale basis, it must first be tested and validated by scientific peers.

Courseware assessment is an area where inter-university cooperation is needed; it would be impossible for any one institution to acquire or test all of the available products. But collaboration among institutions would require agreement on the didactic methodology and precise content of the products to be developed, as well as the academic background(s) and study preferences of the target audience -- which itself must be large enough to justify the cost of production. Is this possible? If so, it would be sensible to subsidize various language versions of products produced jointly.

However, producing educational multimedia for a large audience, with several language versions, risks being dominated by lukewarm compromises between very different understandings of the audience, content and pedagogy alike. This is a too-familiar result of many European projects, where it is 'good practice' to establish many and varied forms of international collaboration which often lead to questionable compromises and weak results.

IT may also work against the university ideal of producing intellectually curious thinkers who are exposed to and challenged by a wide range of ideas and apparent contradictions. The 'exactness' demanded by most technologies may lead to a conformity and rigidity in the presentation of information that is different from the ebb and flow of face-to-face encounters by students and teachers, who can 'interactively' discuss whatever aspects of an issue may come to mind. With IT, issues can often be presented only in a fixed manner; there is little opportunity for digression or questions; the technology conveys an 'authority' through its own intrinsic structure and limitations.

The opposite of this may be the distractions and wastes of time involved in WWW, on-line archive and database searches which can produce overwhelming floods of data with little if any relevance.

In many universities, technology is seen primarily as the domain of internal administration, not generally accessible to or for the benefit of teachers or students. Systems rarely exist which would recognize the implications of teaching using computers. There are no inter- or intra-institutional mechanisms to support interdisciplinary or inter-institutional course development for remote teaching. The recruitment, promotional and reward systems in universities, or even basic recognition of achievement, is a major barrier to developing courseware and support systems. For benefits to be achieved, completely new structures are needed. Motivation, performance and reward systems for teachers need to be radically altered. Time must be freed from teaching and administrative timetables to allow teachers to respond, once trained, to new opportunities.

Inter-personal, inter-departmental and inter-institutional prejudices and rivalries are a major constraint to developing remote teaching and learning programs using new technologies. At the institutional level there is often considerable resistance to using materials from outside the institution. A common belief is that courseware developed and accredited by one institution can not be brought into another if it had not been conceived within and subjected to the host institution's approval procedures, which exist primarily for the approval of materials emerging from within the institution. The use of courseware developed outside one's institution is also seen as implying an inability of the host institution to produce its own high-quality courseware; in other words, a lack of expertise. The only exception is when European Community funds are available for collaborative projects.

The potential of IT to achieve economies of scale was felt to be a myth, at least in current circumstances. Within existing structures, economies of scale can rarely be achieved in the development of new courseware and teaching support programs. The Desk Study's suggestion that "Distance learning will afford cooperation of universities and generate considerable savings" was risible in the context of the lack of inter-institutional cooperation. The twin pillars of traditional systems of individual recognition and reward on the one hand, and state funding procedures for institutions on the other hand, are seen as mitigating against cooperation.

X. Recommendations Presented in the National Reports

The national panel reports were virtually unanimous in their recommendations. More funding from European and national levels, more (and more up-to-date) information on IT development opportunities in different fields, more training in the design, production and implementation of IT learning solutions, more time for interested teachers to work with IT, and the creation of concrete incentives and rewards for teachers who invest their time and energy in IT were seen as the keys to whether electronic media could realize the potential it is felt to have for higher education.

On the national level, governments should create special budgets to support innovative teachers and projects and the introduction of information technologies in higher education. University computer centers, libraries and media centers should take an increased role in providing services for the various faculties and departments, with the first two perhaps focusing on obtaining software licenses and providing greater computer capacity and network access, and the latter providing advice on and access to specialized teaching peripherals. All three should advise their institutions and departments on options for the expansion of multimedia teaching/learning, and assist in training staff and students. Libraries should have a centralized collection of updated, currently-available educational software.

At the same time, IT must be put into a proper context. Technology as such is not always an adequate answer to the problems of higher education. IT is merely a tool to assist universities in their basic task of higher education and research; IT is not itself the main thing. Is IT always useful in teaching? It may certainly enhance the distribution of information, but does it or can it enhance the development of critical and independent thinking?

The national panels agreed that distance learning and/or "Open University" models cannot and should not replace traditional university teaching with its physical "face-to-face" proximity of student and professor. IT should enrich and compliment traditional face-to-face learning. Moreover, tele-education must take pedagogical criteria into account. It must be application-specific, user-specific, and user-adaptive. It must be able to monitor the performance of individual users. If the educational market is to be developed, designers must be interested in the needs of educational end-users.

End-users should be seen as members of the larger social fabric, rather than as 'objects' for whom new technological solutions are being designed. When planning remote access to education and training, or designing tele-tutoring or tele-working schemes, the need for humans to meet and work with each other must be recognized. The potential of technology to isolate humans and inadvertently promote social fragmentation and the breakdown of family and organizational structures and relationships must be considered hand-in-hand with the potential benefits of remote work or study.

The importance of ICT as a tool is expected to increase, both for general and scientific discipline-specific purposes. Its chief value is in the improvement of communications and the ability of software tools to aid learning. ICT will change the content and objectives of the curricula. The organization of the teaching process will also change. More interactive distance teaching will be used in place of face-to-face teaching. However, ICT in teaching and learning cannot succeed unless both students and teachers perceive it as being relevant. One relevance factor is student employment prospects on the labor market. Universities must establish better cooperative linkages with the labor market in relation to worker needs for specific types of IT. Attempts should be made to agree on things like standard software.

The development and application of ICT is a long-term process, which must be supported by a conscious and coherent training, implementation and financial policy at the Department, Faculty and University levels. Priority in ICT development should be given to products and/or services that have a high 'surplus value' over other educational means.

The current practice of relying on the uncompensated initiative of individual teacher pioneers is not tenable; public support is necessary to coordinate such initiatives and provide a means to implement cooperation. Useful initiatives and 'pockets of activity' should be recognized and given a role as the driving force in future collaborations. Currently, there are two very different types of IT users in universities: IT specialists and everyone else. More interest in training the latter must be taken to move beyond the improvisations and do-it-yourself productions which now prevail.

XI. Recommendations of the Portuguese Rectors' Conference

The most explicit of the recommendations presented by the national panels of experts were those of Professor of Chemistry A.J. Ferrer Correia, Head of the Multimedia and Distance Education Centre of the Universidade de Aveiro, on behalf of the Rectors' Conference of Portugal.

The Portuguese Rectors' Conference stated that universities have both the responsibility to adapt themselves to the evolution of society and to influence that evolution. In order for an information society to develop, and be accepted within the educational process of each country, universities must make the teaching of advanced communications technologies (ACT) an important priority.

Toward this end the Portuguese report included a slate of recommendations to be distributed to each European Rectors' Conference and to each of the higher educational institutions within their country (reproduced below in slightly revised form).

  1. General National-Level Recommendations

    1. To create special bodies at the national level to define distance learning policy in each country, including the definition and support of national telecommunications infrastructures and a prioritization of research topics;
    2. To create a permanent discussion body involving all higher education institutions with the aim of reflecting on and evaluating the evolution and impact of ACT on the educational process and on society;
    3. To compile a database with all national teaching and research projects which are significantly based on ACT, which itself would be publicly available on the WWW;
    4. To promote demonstrations of the potential for ACT in teaching and research and provide incentives for its use, aimed particularly at non-technological Departments;
    5. To recommend the mutual acknowledgement and crediting of distance learning courses offered by each higher education establishment;
    6. To study and support ACT-based actions aiming at improving the performance of students and decreasing the degree of failure, where this is a problem;
    7. To recommend to each higher educational institution the implementation of distance learning in a significant, if small, fraction of the total credit units of each degree course;
    8. To promote the access of academic staff and students to electronic communication from home, at realistic and affordable cost;
    9. To promote initiatives aiming at fostering international cooperation in the field of ACT-based teaching, including non-European countries.

  2. Recommendations for Each Higher Educational Institution

    1. To create within each institution an open and distance learning (ODL) policy, including a definition of objectives, strategies, budgeting and timing;
    2. To establish a training and integration plan for staff, aiming at achieving efficiency in the implementation of new learning models based on ACT;
    3. To implement resource centers for support of the production, diffusion and research on new methodology and new technology-based learning material;
    4. To stimulate the participation of non-technological departments in new ACT-based learning processes;
    5. To provide incentives for the implementation of distance learning courses, either autonomously or as a part of degree courses;
    6. To provide incentives for the electronic publication via the Internet of lecture notes, problems, laboratory manuals and other documents related to each subject;
    7. To provide all students full individual access to e-mail;
    8. To stimulate the electronic publication of student papers and projects via the Internet.

XII. Brief Observations by the Author on 'Missing Issues'

As an administrator and long-time user of telematic communications in higher education, the author would like to comment on four issues he was surprised not to find in the panel reports.

  1. E-mail was only mentioned indirectly as part of the general 'potentially-enhanced communication' of IT. But e-mail, the most basic telematics technology, has many educational and research applications. It can be used for list-based enhancement of classroom discussion; for remote collaboration on research projects; for document retrieval from remote archives (as opposed to WWW or FTP); for interactive communications between universities and prospective students, or graduates now in the labor market.... The successful applications of e-mail within higher education during the past decade could continue almost ad infinitum.

    While e-mail may nowadays be considered so 'commonplace' that it no longer qualifies as 'new media', the facts remain that:

    1. Many barriers to IT implementation noted by the panels could have partial solutions via e-mail, which of all the 'new technologies' is least affected by lack of bandwidth, differing infrastructural standards, and the like. E-mail is the lowest-cost, most universally available, most reliable, and most cross-platform-capable computer-mediated communications technology.
    2. E-mail has a history of successful usage in telematically-mediated distance education that well precedes the WWW era and is still in use. In many regions, countries or personal situations e-mail remains the only viable option for reliable, cost-effective on-line access to education.
    3. E-mail should still be considered a foundation technology for higher education. Its full potential has not yet been reached, nor is this potential self-evident. The 'expectations' of E-mail for educational purposes should be discussed along with those of all other IT forms.
    Likewise, 'barriers' still remain, and should also be discussed. E-mail has its own problematics. There are technical issues with the file types, text formats and character sets that can be easily received regardless of what mailer software one is using. And there are human issues, such as frequent misunderstandings from highly cultural-intensive messages ('humor' being one of the most notorious) sent across intercultural boundaries. These are only two of the most common.

    E-mail in teaching also imposes significant time requirements. Using e-mail lists for information dissemination, course administration, or group tutoring demands both time and technical expertise from teachers who must also function as list administrators. Further, responding to the increased volume of queries via e-mail, with students expecting rapid and personalized replies, is quite different from the time requirements of non-electronic teaching, tutoring or counseling.

  2. While all of the national panels adopted the Desk Study's wide definition of IT, most of the 'expectations' and 'barriers' they reported seemed only to concern materials on the WWW, along with with remote access to databases and archives. There was ample reference to multimedia courseware (primarily to the lack of it) but no reference to the use of courseware (either CD-ROM, diskette or web-based) which had been specifically designed for teaching or research.

    While it was not the purpose of the reports to discuss specific courseware, the general way in which instructional media were often described could be interpreted as suggesting that the panels had relatively little direct experience using courseware, as opposed to administering its usage by others, or knowing in principle what courseware should be able to do. One might posit that the relatively 'high-level' composition of the national panels of experts reflected a more theoretical knowledge of what IT should be doing rather than practical, hands-on involvement. Also relevant to this reasoning might the seeming absence of pedagogical professionals, courseware authors, lecturers or other teaching-specific staff from the national panels whose members had been identified.

    However, if teachers, pedagogues and courseware experts were missing from the panels, then it is all the more remarkable how strongly and knowledgeably the national reports spoke to the need for more training and time for teachers and courseware developers in particular.

    But it was also curious that the lack of a royalty system or clear copyright protection for authors and developers of on-line materials was not specifically mentioned as a 'barrier' to courseware production, considering that the influence of commercial web publishing on universities was one of the main points of Eli Noam's article in Science on Electronics and the Dim Future of the University that had been circulated to the national panels and cited in the Desk Study.

    If teachers are to invest time and expertise producing Web-based instructional resources that will be available to all the on-line world, it is reasonable for them to expect royalties for the use of their material, and legal protection for the rights to their material, similar to royalty conventions and copyright protection that would accrue from a commercially-printed textbook or CD-ROM.

  3. Further, the immense cost and time requirements of digitizing the vast records of human cultural history that are not yet in machine-readable format (not to mention 'on-line format') is a significant barrier to research, particularly in the Arts and Humanities. While some steps have been taken to distribute literary works that are no longer in copyright via the internet, the quantity of data that can be examined with computer research technologies is a pittance compared to the un-digitized billions of archival records and other human artifacts that art, music, history, literature or folklore scholars (to name but a few) would require to research the known corpus of human endeavor.

  4. Finally, health and human ergonomics were absent from both the Desk Study and Synthesis Report and the national reports. Health and ergonomics is an issue of growing importance for the knowledge workers of higher education. It is becoming difficult to find university staff who are not painfully aware of the consequences of increased computer usage in dysfunctions of the neck, shoulders, back and eyes; of repetitive strain and stress injuries of their arms, wrists and hands; and of overweight and poor muscle tone which may have come as the result of too many hours, weeks and months captivated in front of their terminals without adequate (compensating?) physical exercise.

    Universities are facing significant budgetary increases for the prevention of such injuries by purchasing new tables, chairs, stands, lighting and other furniture and fixtures which are ergonomically designed for computer users rather than traditional office workers. They are often also being required by national health and worker safety organizations to provide physical therapy and other ameliorative treatment for staff who have suffered computer-related injuries, on top of which both productivity and budgeting will suffer when staff are absent from work due to computer-induced injuries.

    And while the national reports often deplored the time wasted through inefficient searching ('relevance filtering?') of the vast realms of data on the World-Wide Web, the related new concepts of burnout through 'info-overload', 'computer addition' or 'web addiction' were not noted. Reports of students becoming psychologically enslaved to their computers and the torrents of new data accessible through them are alarming not only for their human implications, but also for what they may portend about the viability of telematically-mediated distance learning.

The implementation of IT would seem to be fostering a paradigm shift in education, away from the traditional emphasis on activity of the teacher toward a new activity of the learner. To be effective, will telematically-mediated education first require a new sense of cyber-awareness and personal discipline? How would one incorporate this into teaching and research? What methodologies are needed to pass by the new seductive sirens in wait along our digital odysseys?

Further aspects of IT in higher education are noted in the author's paper "New Technologies and the Future Dimension of the University".

XIII. Use of the Recommendations in The Summary Report

The recommendations in this Summary Report will be submitted to the Member Conferences of the Confederation of European Union Rectors' Conferences for further debate with a view toward establishing an overall set of recommendations concerning ICT in higher education and research.

The Confederation will discuss ICT within higher education and research in general: in research-based teaching, in scientific and research cooperation, in university administration, and as a component of national higher education and research strategies, with a special aim of defining strategies to be recommended for the enhancement of quality of learning and quality of research.

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