The problem of access becomes even more acute when one considers that much of this material is being placed on Web due to its capacity to support graphics, images, sound and video, as opposed to the more "traditional" gopher or ftp site. Most computers have the capability to cope with e-mail and most of the text-only aspects of the Net. Accessing the Web, however, is an entirely different matter. As yet, higher Web functions are only accessible in a reasonably useful manner if one has access to a high-speed connection into a backbone network such as that of a large university or commercial institution.
The usual argument in response to this objection is that the technology will get cheaper, more sophisticated and therefore available to more people. But the point is that even present state-of-the-art technology cannot cope with even a moderately sophisticated resource on the Web.xxxii And the cost of the technology for barely adequate utilization of the Web is beyond the reach of most computer users. Yet the Web is the fastest growing area of the Internet and resources are being made available on the Web at a prodigious rate. At the moment, the same duplication that exists between infotech and more traditional paper resources exists on the Web, with many of its resources being doubled in less sophisticated and attractive forms in other infotech formats such as gopher.
But as with paper resources it is not difficult to conceive of a time when administrators of academic and other corporate institutions will go solely with the Web, particularly if the construction of the National Information Infrastructure necessitates the implementation of a cost-structure that makes it too expensive to make information available in multiple formats.xxxiii The new technological capabilities of the Net thus represent not so much a new frontier for most people as an ever-receding and increasingly expensive horizon.
Decisions made by university administrators, many of them with the best intentions of providing more democratic access to information may therefore have entirely opposite results. And while this is certainly a matter of some concern, with implications for how we think about using the technology in the classroom, even more serious is the potential for information technology to be used as an administrative tool under the guise of a pedagogical aid.
At a recent teaching colloquy on teaching strategies for using information technology here at the University of California, Irvine a contributor lamented the fact that there weren't more automatic assessment programmes available. What he meant by this was an arrangement whereby students could forward their work to a central departmental server, where it would automatically be graded and the results forwarded to both instructor and student.
To be sure, the teacher concerned was not motivated by the belief that this kind of procedure would be educationally beneficial. When the presenter responded by pointing out that critical thinking and imaginative problem-solving could not be satisfactorily assessed by such an automated system and that students were not ultimately well-served by such an application of technology, the teacher replied that neither were they being well-served by a single professor having to grade in excess of 400 exams. The teacher was thus responding to a situation that is becoming all too familiar to university educators: large classes, cutbacks in funds necessary to hire additional teaching support, and the necessity this creates for methods of assessment that treat students as a faceless bloc.
Teachers are caught between a rock and a hard place in a situation where federal and state governments, university administrators, and parents are all insisting more and more stridently upon the importance of a comprehensive education, but denying even more stridently any financial responsibility for providing such an education.