The Psychology of Technological

Guest Editoral by Dr. Chong-ho (Alex) Yu, Ph.D., CNE, MCSE

As an educational psychologist and technologist, I have found that "psychology of technological change" is a very interesting subject. The University of California at Los Angeles' implementation of web-based courses is a good case study. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education (Aug. 1, 1997), UCLA now requires a web site for every course taught at the university. This means hiring 60-80 technology consultants who are mostly students. Also, UCLA will charge each student a $100 course fee per year to support the information infrastructure.

Some students dislike the extra charge. A student committee is opposed to this plan. Besides the cost issue, the committee is also afraid that the increase in web traffic will overload the campus network. In addition, some professors fear that maintaining the web pages will be time consuming. Moreover, students might find so much information on line that they won't bother to attend class.

Will the problems be solved if UCLA administrators reduce the additional course fee from $100 to $10, install a 100-megabit-per second fast Ethernet, hire more students to assist professors in maintaining home pages, and make attendance mandatory? I am afraid the answer is still negative. I think that the major hindrance to this change is psychological rather than financial, technical, or procedural. Corporate re-engineering consultant James Champy pointed out that change usually provokes fear because people may no longer do what they feel comfortable. This psychological issue gets even more complicated when student webmasters can instruct or challenge faculty on how to put together their class materials. The challenge goes beyond the procedural aspect. Rather, it is about the philosophy of instructional effectiveness. As educational psychologist J. Harvey said, "Change is a challenge to one's belief system."

With the introduction of new technologies, always comes resistance. The explosion of the Internet is just one of many examples. When I was a kid, my parents disallowed me to use a calculator because they believed that using my head was the only right way to learn math. When the automobile was invented, some people feared that our hearts could not stand the pressure resulting from high-speed traveling. When tunnels were constructed for trains, some people said that passengers could be killed inside the tunnel due to the lack of oxygen. Those people still insisted that riding horses was the only proper means of transportation.

The same example could be found in China during the late Ching dynasty. At that time China was very reluctant to adopt Western sciences and technologies. A Chinese official Li Hung Cheung said that the Western challenge was a change that had never occurred in China for three thousand years. A modernization scheme entitled "Self-strengthening Movement" was launched and failed shortly because the movement stressed on importing only Western technologies and political systems, but ignored facilitating the change of mentality.

Addressing the psychological issues of change is a difficult task. When a new idea is still in an infant stage, any mistakes can lead to a stronger disappointment and resistance. Champy asserted that corporate leaders have to help people put aside the mentality of the "perfect solution," and emphasize the experimental nature of a new idea.

Learning from UCLA's experience, perhaps ASU should hire educational psychologists/technologists and corporate re-engineering consultants to work out the psychological issues (of "technophobia") before we implement campus-wide courses on the Web.

Reprint from ASU Computing News Online, Fall 1997


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