Other papers and publications by the writer are available from his personal website



Uys, P.M. & Siverts, S.A (2001, April). Managing Technological Transformation in Higher Education: A Southern African Perspective. Proceedings of the 22nd World ICDE (International Council for Distance Education) Conference". Dusseldorf, Germany: ICDE





Managing Technological Transformation in Higher Education:

A Southern African Perspective



Dr Philip Uys

Deputy Director: Educational Technology

University of Botswana, Private Bag UB 0022, Gaborone, Botswana

Tel:  +267- 3552799 Fax:  +267-302884

E-mail: philip.uys@globe-online.com


(Formerly Senior Lecturer and Director: hydi Educational New Media Centre

Massey University at Wellington, New Zealand)


Prof S. Siverts

University of Botswana, Private Bag UB 0022, Gaborone, Botswana


Tel:  +267- 352252 Fax:  +267-584747 E-mail: ssiverts@mopipi.ub.bw



Contact person: philip.uys@globe-online.com


E-mail: philip.uys@globe-online.com

Personal homepage: http://www.globe-online.com/philip.uys



Other On-line Papers




If you need assistance in the strategic implementation of e-Learning (networked education/distributed learning) in your institute, you are welcome to contact philip.uys@globe-online.com to discuss your needs.







This paper reports key aspects of managing technological transformation in higher education particularly as it applies to Southern Africa. It is based on a four-year study of implementing e-Learning in higher education in South Africa and Australasia. Massey University in New Zealand and the Cape Technikon in South Africa were used as primary case studies. These findings are examined in the context of the University of Botswana, which recently started a research initiative for the transformation of this University through technology applications. The paper then suggests an approach to technological transformation for the national university of Botswana that might be generalised to other institutes of higher education in developing countries.




The pursuit of technological transformation in higher education has become widespread also in Southern Africa with the extensive pervasiveness of global networks like the Internet. There is furthermore a growing awareness and commitment to prepare students for effective participation in the emerging global knowledge economy. Technologically based education is further seen by some as a way to address the increase in the world demand for tertiary education. Daniel (1998:12) states that "one new university per week is required to keep pace with world population growth but the resources necessary are not available. Higher education must develop more cost-effective methods so that public resources can be focussed on schools and youth training". Bates (1999) concurs that by using technology for teaching universities can serve the public more cost-effectively and in particular can prepare students better for a technologically based society. In view of growing globalisation and transnational exchanges in many fields (Marquardt, 1996:3), scholars like Evans and Nation (1993:7) indicate that in "… these circumstances politicians, policy-makers and citizens are making demands upon education systems to reform. Open learning and distance education are at the forefront of educational responses to the changes that are taking place locally, regionally, nationally and internationally".


Technological transformation however has major systemic implications and needs to be carefully managed as Drucker (1998, p. 100) points out:  "… as soon as a company takes the first tentative steps from data to information, its decision processes, management structure, and even the way it gets its work done begin to be transformed." Attempts to introduce any significant reform will impact on all of its sub-systems. Bates (2000:196) contends, "…using technology to extend the campus on a global basis will affect all aspects of a university or college, but particularly administrative systems". Fullan (1991:349) refers to the necessity of looking at innovations within the framework of institutional development.


Thomas, Carswell, Price and Petre (1998) argue for a transformation of practices (both teaching and administrative) in order to take advantage of technology so as to provide needed functions, rather than superficial translation of existing practices. Bates (1999) argues that the introduction of e-Learning will prompt "…a thorough re-examination of the core practices of an organization, whether advertising, or registration, or design and delivery of materials, or student support or assessment of students, in order to arrive at the most effective way of providing these services in a networked, multimedia environment."


Managing change in general and in higher education in particular is however problematic and it is therefore necessary, as Fullan (1991:350) suggests, "… that we explicitly think and worry about the change process" in educational reform.


This paper presents some aspects of the doctorate research of Uys (2000) since 1995 and contextualises it within higher education in Southern Africa. It is primarily based on the action research findings at Massey University, New Zealand in implementing e-Learning since September 1995 and a five-month consultancy in 2000 at the Cape Technikon, South Africa to initiate the wide implementation of e-Learning. The research findings are also examined in the context of the University of Botswana, which recently started a research initiative for the transformation of this University through technology applications.


Educational reform


There is no neatly formulated theory of generic change (Goodman and Kurke, 1982). Cannon (1986) further points to the absence of a general theory of educational development and notes that educational developers therefore draw on theories from other disciplines to inform their educational practice.


Tertiary educational institutes in general are very conservative and have been highly resistant to change and reform over the centuries (Evans and Franz, 1998 April; Richardson, 1979). Educational institutions in general "…which exist to open minds and challenge established doctrine, are themselves extremely resistant to change" (Robbins and Barnwell, 1998). Higher education can be described as largely bureaucratic and "…bureaucracies by definition resist change…" (Tapscott, 1996:36).


Technological innovation has often been implemented as an isolated, bottom-up initiative of academic staff for efficiency purposes. In this scenario the wider systems within tertiary education are often not considered and neither affected by the innovation. The management of an institute may thus feel justified in disregarding the innovation. Systems theory calls for an integrated approach to technological innovation: "a system is a whole that cannot be taken apart without loss of its essential characteristics, and hence must be studied as a whole" (Ackhoff, 1972:40).


Technological innovations have also experienced difficulty in education because of a problem that Michael Porter calls "metrics" (Pastore, 1995, October 1). Higher education, similar to other sectors of society, has often responded to new ICT applications on the basis of efficiencies rather than using more strategic considerations. Porter  (Pastore, 1995, October 1) describes this problem as follows: "The traditional criteria by which IT applications have been chosen have been ones of operational effectiveness—How many people can we save? How much faster can we process the paper?—rather than more strategic measures, such as how much have quality or service levels gone up". Fullan (1991) further refers to first order (or first level) and second order (or second level) changes to explain this phenomenon. He believes that most changes in education in the twentieth century have been first order changes, which are aimed at improving efficiency and effectiveness of current practices.


To ensure ownership by academic staff as well as sound educational quality in e-Learning, it is important that educators and educational principles drive the technological transformation of higher education (Willmot and  McLean, 1994; Caladine, 1993). The structures supporting technology-based education have to ensure an educational focus and pre-eminence of educational principles rather than administrative desires or technical possibilities. Caladine (1993:7), who reviewed the literature on non-traditional modes of delivery in higher education using state-of-the-art technologies, indicates that the extensive use of ICT in education "...poses previously unencountered problems in pedagogy and andragogy". Bates (1992:265) contends that "… technological decisions need to be preceded by policy and educational decisions...". This also highlights the importance of following bottom-up and more organic approaches during technological transformation in higher education.


Tillema (1995) considers engaging academics in the reform process as one of the two significant management issues to address in educational reform and in education in general. He asserts that reform has to be based on the development of 'learning communities'. That means that the actual process of reform must engage academics in local communities of discourse about their educational practices. Tillema further points out that historical studies, based largely on experience in schools, show that 'top down' attempts to achieve educational reform have failed, and suggests that they will be doomed to failure until they 'confront the cultural and pedagogical traditions and beliefs that underlie current practices and organizational arrangements' (Goodman 1995:2). In technological transformation in higher education, it therefore seems necessary to address the concerns and perceptions of academic staff in the light of the need for changing their attitudes and to ensuring ownership by academic staff (Evans and Franz, 1998 April; Taylor, Lopez and Quadrelli, 1996).


Ownership of the technological transformation by academic staff is critical as Bates (1984:227) contends that "… the introduction of new technology in distance education requires major changes in professional roles". Bates (1984) points to the need for specialised roles and the need for academics to gain the skills and knowledge for effective use of the new technologies, and the requirement for extensive training. These aspects would be amplified when managing the transformation of higher education through technology with its ICT base and range of technical options. Mason (1998:157) asserts that the new technologies in global education point to "… a new role for the teacher, for the student and for course material. It centres on the construction of knowledge by the student... a teacher as facilitator… information is no longer something to organise, transmit and memorise, but something to work with, think with, discuss, negotiate and debate with partners".


Academic staff may also act as the content experts in a multi-disciplinary course development team. (Holmberg, 1995:135) contends that "…the various tasks are divided between a group of highly specialized team members, among them subject specialists, specialists in instructional design, media, technical production etc. and editors". Paquettee, Ricciardi-Rigault, Paquin, Liegeois and Bleicher (1996, June) describe the team roles in terms of "five actor categories", namely learner, trainer, content-expert, manager and designer. Katz and Tushman (1997:331) further highlighted the importance of the role of gatekeepers in the "… effective transfer and utilization of external technology and information". Gatekeepers can be defined as key individual technologists who have a strong connection to both external sources of information and internal colleagues. 


The specialized skills needed to develop technology based learning materials further point to the rationale for using development teams. Bates (1993:232) asserts that producing good quality technology based learning materials "…will require people who can combine good pedagogic practice with an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of different media and technologies". Garrison (1989:98&117) points to "…course design teams… as the accepted model in distance education" and that the British Open University uses course development teams extensively. Holmberg (1995:98) confirms the predominant course-team model in distance education and that the main advantage of this model is that it operates to high professional standards. Garrison however also indicates that in distance education this model is not always considered "…feasible or appropriate for all distance education enterprises". Holmberg (1995:135) described the drawbacks of the team model as impeding personal approaches and also dealing with knowledge as a finished product instead of a complex process of "knowledge under development".


In educational reform in particular the reward systems need to be tied to engagement with the processes that facilitate the desired reform. To enable the wide technological transformation of higher education, it needs to be stated as a strategic objective and direction, and the reward systems then need to be tied to its implementation (Munitz, 1997). The institute's reward systems should encourage academic staff and students to become and remain involved in e-Learning if it desires to implement technology based education widely within the institute. Marquardt (1996:97) contends that "one of the most powerful management principles in the world is 'That which get rewarded gets done' ".


Implementing innovation


Technological transformation often relates to innovation as it is frequently based on new approaches to organizational processes.   An innovation can be described as "...an idea or behaviour that is new to the organization adopting it" (Swanson, 1994:1070).


A top-down innovation process is important. Drucker (1985) points to the importance of a top-down process for a successful innovation aims at leadership. He believes that if it does not aim at leadership right from the outset, it is unlikely to be innovative enough, and therefore unlikely to be capable of establishing itself. This statement is made within the context of the business world, but with the increasing competitive nature of the educational milieu this assertion is becoming more relevant for higher education.


A combination of top-down and bottom-up processes seems possible in the learning organisation. Marquardt (1996:218) contends in the context of the learning organisation that "…it is possible for any member to be an awareness-enhancing agent or an advocate for new competence development. In this way, both top-down and bottom-up initiatives are made possible". Gunn (1998:142) asserts that

An effective technology strategy works in both directions. From the top down, it is articulated through institutional objectives, sensitive to existing culture, constraints, strengths and weaknesses, and presented as a coherent, achievable set of goals with appropriate incentives and rewards. It must also move from the bottom-up where knowledge of teaching strategies, learning contexts and disciplinary expertise can be translated into action plans geared to achievement of institutional strategic objectives and so creating a sense of ownership at all levels of the institution.


Innovation diffusion theory (Rogers, 1983) provides a general explanation for the manner in which new entities and ideas like IT and technology based education over time, disseminate through social systems, in this case higher education. Rogers reviewed studies of diffusion of innovations from many technological contexts and forwarded a model for adoption of innovations describing key roles and behaviours in the adoption. Innovation diffusion theory is essentially a bottom-up approach based on individual responses.


Roger's diffusion of innovation curve can be used as a starting point to depict technological transformation in higher education. Initially there is a take-off stage (that is introduction) during which an innovation is introduced in a social system. An entrepreneurial group called the innovators often then adopts it. During the next phase of maturation the "early adopters", who are change agents or opinion leaders among the social system, will enter the process thereby legitimising the innovation and opening the potential for adoption to all members of the system. The final saturation stage in an innovation's adoption is characterised by widespread adoption. The innovation saturates the social system and growth tapers off. This process can be plotted as an S-shaped growth curve.


Innovation in higher education – as with most innovations - takes place within the context of the organizational and management structures. According to Daft (1989:274) "... organic organizations encourage a bottom-up innovation process" which is seen as typical for technological innovation. This position aligns itself with Roger's diffusion theory that also proposes a bottom-up approach when the innovation starts from outside management. Daft (1989:274) however also indicates that administrative innovations follow a top-down direction of change within a mechanistic management structure. Daft (1989:570) observes that "… the trend over the last thirty years has been toward more organic structures" which he partly attributes to "… greater environmental uncertainty and nonroutine technologies". In contrast, it seems that conventional management of tertiary education does not provide the required organic structures that foster innovation. Fullan (1991:349) refers to this dilemma as the tension of "… combining individual and institutional development..." and the necessity of having both in tandem for successful educational change.


Bates (2000) suggests a distributed organisational structure for the support of e-Learning. His model includes a fairly large professional centre while each faculty (or school) or large department will have a small flexible unit of technical support and generalist educational technology support. The center will operate on a project management model with many of its staff seconded to work in the faculties on a continuing basis while the units will provide immediate support and find appropriate support from the centre for bigger projects. Szabo, Anderson and Fuchs (1997) who reported on technological transformation in higher education at the University of Alberta, Canada suggests a similar approach:

There are two major intended goals of TIES [Training, Infrastructure and Empowerment System]. The first is that the chief academic officers identify a vision for alternative delivery systems of instruction for the university, publish that vision widely, and demonstrate their commitment to it in a clear and convincing fashion. Secondly, departments within the university create leadership task forces to interpret the vision for their unit and prepare colleagues to implement the shared vision.


Managing technological transformation at Massey University and Cape Technikon


A few aspects of technological transformation, which stood out at Massey University and Cape Technikon, are highlighted below.


1. Using both top-down and bottom-up strategies


"Top-down" and "strategic" need to be interchangeable concepts for diffusion to be effective. At Massey University the president was the sponsor of the project but the project was not viewed as being of strategic importance that led to limited diffusion. At both Massey University and Cape Technikon however the level of resources made available would not have been possible without senior management and middle management support. Furthermore when typical political problems like irrational resistance to change were encountered, senior management was able to step in and direct matters. Middle management, that is heads of academic and administrative departments, played an important role in controlling resources; in some cases in a positive way and in other cases in restricting support. At Cape Technikon where the initiative was regarded as one of strategic importance, the top-down strategies which included the creation of a widely owned strategic plan that included a clear and unified vision, having the vice-rector as sponsor and a task group with wide and senior representation as a sub-committee of Senate. Furthermore a high level summit on E-Learning was held, an extensive business plan was developed which was approved by the finance committee of Council, a presentation to Council was made and fortnightly input was provided at rectorate meetings. This created a strong top-down impetus and the creation of a reward structure by means of a central fund that encouraged participation, which confirmed the view of Berge and Schrum (1998:35) that the key to success of campus initiatives in technology-enhanced learning and distance education is the support of campus leaders. This further correlates with Drucker's  (1985) assertion that a successful innovation should aim at leadership from the beginning in order to be innovative enough and capable of establishing itself.


Running regular workshops on relevant aspects for academic staff members was an effective bottom up strategy at both Massey University and Cape Technikon. At Cape Technikon the bottom up strategies further included using pilots to create successful role models in each faculty, aggressively extending the library holdings on e-Learning, distributing possible research topics in e-Learning to academic staff, holding an e-Learning seminar week, running information sessions in each faculty and having a project team with wide representation. Furthermore a centre for e-Learning was established, an acronym and slogan competition for the project was held, regular news items appeared in the campus newspaper and in the Alumni and Student publications, a library exhibition on E-Learning was organised, departmental meetings on e-learning was encouraged, e-Learning was linked to other thrusts within the organisation, and extensive conferencing occurred on an individual level with interested academic staff members. These strategies led for example to an overwhelming response of 40 proposals for pilot projects.


Bottom-up and top-down strategies converged at Cape Technikon at faculty level in the workgroups that were established under the leadership of the deans in each faculty and chaired by an enthusiastic and capable academic. Each faculty workgroup consists of keen academic staff members and further with wide representation including administration, the information technology group and the Centre for e-Learning. 


The findings in this research therefore suggests that Rogers' diffusion of innovation theory, when the innovation emerges from outside of senior management, needs to be augmented with a top-down component that includes both senior and middle management in order to accomplish effective diffusion of technology based education.


2. A team approach is required for the development of e-Learning materials


At both Massey University and Cape Technikon a development team for e-Learning were effective in operationalising the strategic directives which included the development of materials. The following roles were used at both Massey University and Cape Technikon: a sponsor, project manager, content provider, creative director / graphic designer, computer specialist, instructional designer, editor and media developer.


At Cape Technikon the team was extended to include a business manager, project secretary, IT representative, library representative and representative from administration and the six chairpersons of the Faculty E-Learning Workgroups.


The role of each team member at Cape Technikon to be a gatekeeper was emphasized.


During the development process at Cape Technikon students were used to test and provide feedback on the materials. The student representative role however could be included on the team to be consistent with the central role that students play in e-Learning. The student representative role can provide essential feedback during the development process and contribute to the internal quality assurance process.


3. A distributed implementation structure is required


At Cape Technikon the diffusion has been sustained through the use of a distributed implementation structure. A Centre for e-Learning was established to provide central support and to coordinate the progress of the project. The task team on e-Learning of Senate furthermore creates institute-wide policies.


Linked to the central structure are workgroups within each faculty that includes a representative from the Centre for e-Learning.


This structure seems to be working well and confirms suggestions by Bates (2000) on having a fairly large professional centre while each faculty (or school) or large department will have a small flexible unit of technical support and generalist educational technology support. Szabo, Anderson and Fuchs (1997 suggests a similar approach where departments within the university create leadership task forces to interpret the vision for their unit and prepare colleagues to implement the shared vision.


4. Ownership by academic staff


Ensuring ownership by academic staff was found to be essential in the diffusion of e-Learning. Strategies such as one-to-one and small group discussions, demonstrations, academic involvement in decision-making wherever possible and explanation of the benefits of e-Learning were used to ensure academic ownership.


In order to ensure ownership by academic staff as well as sound educational quality in e-Learning, it was important at both Massey University at Wellington and Cape Technikon for educators and educational principles to drive the technological transformation. This confirms similar views held by Szabo et al. (1997), Willmot and McLean (1994), Caladine (1993) and Tillema (1995).


The extensive interest in the workshops that the writer conducted regarding e-Learning indicates that staff development can be used as an important strategy to advance the transformation of higher education through technology among academic staff.


The benefits and advantages of technology based education for the institute, teachers and students were consistently highlighted in order to gain the positive interest of administrative managers and academic staff in the technological transformation of higher education. At the same time specific issues relating to e-Learning were identified and strategies to address these were developed as part of the strategic plan. The issues of intellectual property (Johnston and Challis, 1994) and copyright (Barnard, 1997; McCullagh, 1995 September) in particular are amplified in e-Learning where copying and replicating materials are alarmingly easy. This issue is further complicated by the notion of instructional design through teams. A model of shared ownership can be explored where the institute retains the right to use the materials if members of the course development team should leave, and where staff have the right to use the materials developed by the team in their new environment.


5. S-curve has a rather ragged contour


The experience of pursuing technological transformation at both Massey University at Wellington and Cape Technikon does not confirm the smooth contours of Roger's diffusion of innovation curve. The various barriers that were encountered (both internally and externally), the uncontrollable events that negatively impacted on the implementation like key staff being allocated work with a higher priority, mistakes made and some fruitless experiments all point to a more ragged contour of the innovation curve.


Technological transformation at Massey University and Cape Technikon proved to be complex within its systemic dimensions and required a high level of determination by all involved and high standards of teamwork.


Planning the technological transformation at the University of Botswana


The University of Botswana has been fortunate in many respects regarding the application and implementation of educational technology into the curriculum and using such technology to expand access. For example, the university has a very robust technology infrastructure. Every staff has a Pentium computer, printer or access to a printer, access to the Internet and e-mail with power failures and network shutdowns minimal. A new library addition is in final stages of construction and will make available 800 new student workstations to create a technology rich learning environment.


The University has recently completed a major restructuring exercise, which among others, created a Centre for Academic Development. Key components include a subunit for Teaching and Learning, focussing on the transformation to a student centered learning environment and a subunit on Educational technology, a subunit focused on assisting staff in the use of educational technology to improve their teaching and further engage students in collaborative learning.


And, recently the university engaged in a process to redefine itself, resulting in a new vision and mission statement including a revised process for planning. Within this context, the use of technology to assist in institutional transformation is a central element. The institution has furthermore recently received a two million dollar grant within the Education, Democracy and Development Initiative (EDDI) program of the US government to assist in expanding the use of technology on campus and in distance education.


These and other factors posit the University of Botswana for effective transformation to appropriate application and implementation of educational technology through the fibre and fabric of academic enterprise.


At the same time, there are challenges. The University of Botswana, like many institutions is steeped in the traditional mould of lecture, staff dispensing information.  Thus the challenge of changing the mindset of both staff and students. The second is that of adequate staffing. Without adequate professional and technical staffing it is difficult to make the kinds of changes needed within a speedy timeframe in order to keep up with the massive changes occurring in technology and its related application to sound educational practice. Needless to say, this is compounded by traditional faculties, increasing number of students, limited academic staff resulting in heavy teaching loads, often leaving little time for innovation and change in one's teaching.


But the University of Botswana is committed to the integration of technological transformation of its educational enterprise and will be using both top-down and bottom-up strategies to achieve this. The challenge is making sure key administrators understand the talk and walk that talk. A team approach for the development of e-Learning materials will furthermore be used, but first support and technical staff must be located and recruited. This is the challenge. Perhaps this is where partnerships with developed universities with experience in this area can occur.


The University of Botswana recognises that without academic staff buy-in, involvement in setting the educational technology transformation agenda and adequate reward structures, change is extremely difficult. Thus, as the process unfolds, this critical element must receive the highest priority.


The challenge to an institution in Southern Africa, even though with so much to its credit, is for the university leadership to continue to vision the future and create the enthusiasm and wherewith all for staff to catch the vision in a way that together there is every opportunity to be an institution that creates an educational environment to assure that the quality of graduates matches that of the developed world, thereby adding value to the global economy.




Creating an enduring vision and a strategic implementation framework for the effective implementation of technological innovations seems critical. Berge and Schrum (1998:35) contends that "the most important function of institutional leadership may be to create a shared vision that includes widespread input and support from the faculty and administration, articulates a clear educational purpose, has validity for stakeholders, and reflects the broader mission of the institution". Naidoo and Schutte (1999:90) also point to this need in the African context: "If African countries cannot take advantage of the information revolution and surf this great wave of technological change, they may be crushed by it… Catching this wave will require visionary leadership in Africa".


"In a time of drastic change it is the learners who survive;

the 'learned' find themselves fully equipped

to live in a world that no longer exists"

Eric Hoffer





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