September 1996

Root Page of Article: Computer-Mediated Communications Networks and the Organizational Life of Schools, by H. L. Fuller


The deployment of a computer mediated communications (CMC) network in a school represents a structural change in the organization which has repercussions in many dimensions of organizational life. This paper explores the impact of a CMC network on the organization by examining four of these dimensions. It looks at structural impacts--transformations of roles, reallocation of resources, redistribution of activities--which may be anticipated in the wake of CMC implementation. It examines the impact of CMC on human resources, articulating the adaptive challenges confronting an organization which integrates a new tool in a fundamental organizational system--the communication system. It addresses the political ramifications of this change, both within the organization and between the organization and its external political environment. Finally it assesses the impact of CMC implementation on the symbolic dimensions of organizational life, reflecting on the values and the meaning of work in a school and how leadership may guide the influence that a CMC network could exert in this domain.

The conceptual framework for this analysis is drawn from the work of Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal, whose book Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice and Leadership (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1991) uses the structural, human resource, political and symbolic frames to explicate organizational theory. I draw upon lessons from the private sector--specifically, from the management literature, which is already quite rich in this area--attempting all the while to acknowledge the differences between schools and firms which make direct transposition to education of the lessons learned by business somewhat problematic. I also draw upon research in educational administration and organizational theory. Finally, this paper also reflects my own experience in state funded higher education, and in a dozen years of personal exploitation of the technologies described, including their application to specific tasks in teaching/learning and academic administration.

The much-touted "information superhighway" has arrived at the school-house door. Some people are thrilled with the educational promise of easy access to abundant information resources, while others remain justifiably skeptical of its significance in light of the many other challenges besetting American schooling. The literature documents an ambiguous array of impacts on schooling from new information technology: it can support a reform agenda (Sheingold, 1991; Means, 1994) or it can reinforce the status quo (Cohen, 1987; Blacker, 1993; Benyon & Mackay, 1993). It can also create new challenges to effective school functioning (Newman, 1994).

I am not concerned here with resolving this disagreement. My purpose is rather to alert members of the education sector to potential impacts of CMC implementation on the organizational life of schools which may not be initially obvious. It is my hope that this paper will stimulate coherent thought about information policy in an organizational context, by pointing out impacts which have been realized in other settings or which maybe anticipated on the basis of organizational theory. --

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