Several short years ago, the institution I was working for decided to implement a customer relationship management (CRM) tool. Sales teams in the business world have used CRMs such as ACT! and Salesforce since the 1980s and 1990s but as higher education tends to be a little behind, most colleges and universities were slow to adopt the utilization of CRMs. Our CRM implementation team introduced the new tool to the admission staff and the faculty that would be using it. The team excitedly shared the many amazing uses, and how processes would be streamlined, emails automatically sent, and many other tasks, all completed with a touch of a button. Sheer fear filled the room. Collectively a question loomed, does this mean some of us are losing our jobs? Was technology replacing the need for people?
Nick Bostrom’s discussion on TED titled, What happens when our computers get smarter than we are, speaks to the fears that some have in technology not only potentially replacing the need for humans in the workplace but the prospect of technology spinning out of control. Bostrom’s discussion self-admittedly reeks of something out of a science fiction film, but in the ever-changing world of technology we live in, it seems believable. For now, technology mistakes tend to be due to human error and not the error of a computer trying to admit students on their own for example. As reported by the New York Times in December of 2016, mistakes may be blamed on new software as Tulane University pointed to as the reason 130 new freshman students received congratulatory emails in error. The truth is, Tulane like many other colleges and universities have in recent years, made human errors with the use of technology. The fact is, technology has aided higher education far more than it has hurt it. It has opened doors for institutions and students by expanding reach throughout the globe in recruitment efforts as well as in delivery modalities and learning experiences.
Thomas Friedman describes a world that continues to become increasing more flat in his book; The World is Flat. Friedman suggested technology, among other things, has created a world that is connected like it has never been before. At the end of 2015, it was expected that nearly half of the world would have access to the internet. The forecast for 2017 is there will be 4.77 billion cell phone users in the world. In 2014, the U.N. reported more people had access to cell phones than they did to toilets. Cell phones and the internet have made it easier for people to connect and interact. These types of technology advancements have created greater opportunities for people to advance their education and knowledge regardless of where they are in the world. My previous institution started with the letter “A, ” and I am willing to bet, it was a significant reason we experienced an increase in international inquiries. When students went online to research colleges and universities in the United States, the lists are often alphabetical and that put us near the top.
Richard Florida agreed with some of what Friedman offered, but in the article The World is Spiky, Florida offered the idea that globalization, including technology, did not make the world flat but rather the most advanced and thriving areas of the world were concentrated in large urban areas. While the world of online programs and free online courses such as Coursera, Khan Academy, and EdX have opened the world of education to people all over the world, the schools that have potentially benefited the greatest are those that are near large urban areas. The alphabet undoubtedly helped, however; the fact that my university happened to be in the second largest city in Illinois and located 40 miles from Chicago may have played as big of a role. Students want the opportunities both socially and professionally that large urban areas provide. It is not a coincidence that you can find dozens of colleges and universities in and around urban areas. I would argue that Friedman’s idea that the world is flat in not accurate. Rather the world is flatter than it was and is becoming more so as technology continues to advance.