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Organizational Theories and the Educational Organization

Jennifer Powers Secondary Specialization Comprehensive Paper Organizational Studies Spring 2000

This paper has two goals: (1) to survey the current institution of higher education and its environment within the context of a collection of organizational theories and (2) to examine the classroom structure in terms of structural contingency theory. The first part will focus on: institutional theory as a nonchange perspective of the educational organizations themselves population ecology and resource dependency theory as change perspectives of the educational environment and the impact those changes have on the organizations. Within this part, each theory will be explained and then applied to the educational setting. The second part presents Donaldsons SARFIT model of structural contingency theory (Donaldson 1996). It briefly examines organizational structure and uses Mintzbergs five organizational structures to develop a new model of classroom structures. Classroom contingencies are outlined and the final model shows how different classroom structures are more suitable to different contingencies. A hypothetical case is presented for illustration.


Institutional theory can help explain why some colleges and universities are the way they are: What makes certain practices legitimate? What are the values imbued in some universities and copied by others? Why are sets of universities, such as the Ivy League, so similar? The institutional model of organizations does two things very well: it explains the different types of legitimacy an organization can attain and it explains why organizations can be so similar. Scotts (1995) definition of institution highlights the multifacetedness of this unique type of organization: Institutions consist of cognitive, normative, and regulative structures and activities that provide stability and meaning to social behavior. Institutions are transported by various carrierscultures, structures, and routinesand they operate at multiple levels of jurisdiction (33). Furthermore, Selznick (1996) explains the function of the institutional model, which traces the emergence of distinctive forms, processes, strategies, outlooks, and competencies as they emerge from patterns of organizational interaction and adaptation. Such patterns must be understood as responses to both internal and external environments (271).

Institutional theory helps explain why some organizations take the form they do and why they are considered legitimate institutions. Selznick (1996) explains that legitimacy is seen as an organizational imperative that is both a source of inertia and a summons to justify particular forms and practices (273). Scott (1995) introduces three bases of legitimacy for organizations: regulative, normative and cognitive. The regulative pillar involves rules, laws and sanctions (i.e., what is the law is the right way). The normative pillar involves social obligation, norms and values (i.e., what society says is right is the right way). Finally, the cognitive pillar involves symbols, beliefs and social identities (i.e., this is the right way because there simply is no other way). Institutions gain legitimacy based on these three pillars: regulative legitimacy comes through following the rules; normative legitimacy is developed through complying with internalized morals; and cognitive legitimacy evolves from doing things the way they have always been done. Furthermore, there are certain myths and rituals that have come to symbolize how an organization should be structured and work. These values drive organizations, not rational choice. There is a taken-for-grantedness that pervades organizations. Because organizations seek legitimacy, they tend to seem similar. DiMaggio and Powell (1983, in Mizruchi and Fein 1999) explain this as isomorphism and classify it into three types: coercive, mimetic and normative. Coercive isomorphism occurs when organizations are forced to act a certain way by either another organization or cultural expectations (i.e., the government said so). Mimetic isomorphism is when organizations copy each other when they are uncertain about which course of action to follow themselves (i.e., it worked for them, so it might work for us). Finally, normative isomorphism occurs when managers at different organizations are trained in similar way or when they interact professionally (i.e., we all do it this way). DiMaggio and Powell also explain that more than one of these processes may occur at the same time. Subsequent articles regarding institutional theory, however, have concentrated primarily on mimetic forces. Mizruchi and Fein (1999) explore this selective attention, explaining that just as organizations socially construct their own knowledge, so too do organizational scholars, especially in North America. In addition to Mizruchi and Feins finding that coercive and normative explanations are often overlooked due to reliance on mimetic isomorphism, one of the most common criticisms of institutional theory is that it attempts to explain everything, bringing forth the question: What is institutional theory not? Hall (1992) explains that the problem is that IT can be given as the explanation for all unexplained variance (82). Hall also highlights additional problems with institutional theory explanations: the reasoning is often tautological, or circular; little attention is paid to what is institutionalized and what is not (79); there is a love of myth, to the exclusion of seeing problems as real; and there has been inconsistent operationalization of some major concepts (82). Mizruchi and Fein (1999) agree that operationalization of normative and coercive influences has been problematic and could be a contributing factor to the seeming neglect of those forces. Institutional Theory and the University Schools gain legitimacy in much the same way other organizations do: through regulative, normative and cognitive processes. A regulative form of legitimacy, for instance, can be seen

in that some state schools are required by the state government to make physical education a mandatory course. Normative legitimacy can be gained through doing things like other schools, such as offering financial aid to students and requiring a certain number of semesters of foreign language study. Finally, a form of cognitive legitimacy is demonstrated when guidance counselors in high schools always recommend certain colleges. Catholic high schools, for instance, will strongly encourage their students to apply to Catholic colleges. Like legitimacy, isomorphism of colleges and universities can be tracked to the three main forms: coercive, mimetic and normative. Coercive isomorphism happens because of regulations, such as requirements for accreditation. Mimetic isomorphism occurs when schools copy each other, such as by all requiring SAT scores. Normative isomorphism comes about from the same people moving from school to school or, for instance, when all doctoral students are taught the same way, as professors, they bring the same teaching styles with them to their classrooms.

Population ecologists believe that the environment determines the chances of success or failure for organizations. Baum (1996) categorizes these processes of determinism into three sets: (1) demographic processes, which include age dependence (i.e., liability of newness, liability of adolescence, liability of obsolesence) and size dependence (i.e., liability of smallness); (2) ecological processes, which include niche width dynamics (i.e., specialist vs. generalist), population dynamics (i.e., prior foundings and failures), density dependence and community interdependence (i.e., both rely on population density); and (3) environmental processes, which include institutional factors (i.e., government regulations, political turmoil) and technological factors (i.e., technology cycles). Because the overriding position of this model is that environments determine how organizations are created and what they do, goals do not play a prominent role in organizations. Instead, organizations go through a cycle: variation > selection > retention ( > competition) Baum (1996) explains that Variations are human behaviors. Any kind of change, intentional or blind, is variation (78). Because managers can not determine in advance how variations will affect the organization, selection is a stage when the environment selects the organizational population (or not) and its response to the variation. Retention is when the forms selected by the environment become characterized by the variation. Aldrich and Auster (1986) point out that selection and retention, combined with the creation of new organizational forms, transform the composition of the whole population of organizations so that they are better suited to their environment (166). Baum adds competition to the standard variationselectionretention cycle, which is when competing organizations become a key part of an organizations environment. A key aspect of population ecology is that other organizations play a role in affecting the chances of success or failure for an organization. For instance, a high number of organizations already occupying a particular niche will make the founding of a new organization in that niche less likely to occur or, if it is founded, to succeed. Likewise, the model itself

focuses on populations of organizations, not individual organizations, which also emphasizes the interplay among organizations. Baum and Oliver (1996) recognize the areas of concern relative to organizational foundings: organizational niche differentiation, or resource nonoverlap; organizational niche as including differences in the competitive orientations and social legitimacy of organizations (1380); and the level of analysis as including institutional processes (and the degree of embeddedness). Population ecologists believe that because environments change faster than organizations, the performance of organizations is determined by the environment and not managers or strategic choice. Population ecologists believe that organizations are born and die due mainly to environmental factors. As the density of a population of organizations grows, it becomes more difficult for new organizations to be born within that population and for existing organizations to continue existing as resources become more scarce. For instance, Aldrich and Auster (1986) focus on liabilities of age and size, recognizing that large or old organizations may have a more difficult time maintaining vitality. They have either retained routines that cannot adapt well to a changing environment or their niche has become increasingly vulnerable to invasion by newer forms of organizations (168). At the same time, liabilities of newness and smallness have related concerns. As previously mentioned, foundings themselves can be difficult. Additionally, the rate of dissolution of new firms is also remarkably high. Liabilities of newness may include: (1) product differentiation, (2) technical barriers, (3) licensing and regulatory barriers, (4) barriers of entry due to vertical integration, (5) illegitimate acts by competitors, and (6) experiential barriers to entry (Aldrich and Auster 1986, 177). Although little has been studied regarding liabilities of smallness, Aldrich and Auster (1986) have identified four constraints: (1) raising capital, (2) tax laws, (3) government regulations, and (4) competition for labor. In contrast to notions of selection, adaptation is a relatively new area of interest for population ecologists. Hannan (1998) explains that four aspects of organizations that can have a significant bearing on their ability to withstand or adapt to environmental changes: endowment, imprinting, capability and position. Hannan (1998) defines endowment as the quantities and qualities of their initial resources. Some get endowed with extensive financial and social capital, because their founders have great wealth, status or political influence or because the social conditions of founding are favorable (131). There is a period of immunity for organizations from environmental factors while the endowment is high. As the endowment dwindles, however, this period tapers off as well and organizations then become exposed. Imprinting is a process in which events occurring at certain key developmental stages have persistingperhaps lifelongconsequences (Hannan 1998, 132). Hannan further explains that if imprinting occurs, then founders build organizations that fit historically specific environments . . . then environmental change will erode the fit between organizations and environments (132). Capability refers to the ability to execute routines and solve problems . . . capabilities are context specific (Hannan 1998, 132). This sounds like structural contingency theory (explained in more detail below), however, and is a move away from traditional population ecology.

Position is the organizations position in the social structure (Hannan 1998, 134). It involves trust and good relations with other organizations and actors. It can also include traits such as high status, market power, political influence and favorable reputation. These positions also bridge structural holes. There are two types of position: fragile and robust. A fragile position can be destroyed by environmental changes, while a robust position can withstand environmental drift. There are criticisms regarding population ecology explanations, however. One is the relative lack of attention paid to which organizations are affected by which process and why. Why are certain organizations imprinted and others are not? There appears to be a black box process that is left unexplored. Amburgey and Rao (1996) explain that because of the dearth of research on the subprocesses of incorporation and operational start-up in single organizational forms, researchers know little about the antecedents of successful organizing attempts (1273). A related concern deals with mortality rates. Embeddedness is often overlooked when predicting mortality because population ecologists often fail to examine how existing organizations are relationally embedded in social networks (Amburgey and Rao 1996, 1274). Structural embeddedness, too, may play a role in spreading hostile influences and promoting organizational death, but is often ignored. Finally, Perrow (1986) offers additional criticism, charging that some versions of population ecology ignore issues of power, conflict, disruption, and social-class variables. . . . It neglects the fact that our world is made in large part by particular men and women with particular needs (213). Powerful people, as well as ecological processes, create and destroy organizations. Organizational Ecology and the Education Environment The environment of universities is changing. But some universities have characteristics that shield them from these pressures. For instance, there is no question that some universities are well-endowed, both financially and socially. But there are also many that are not. Will they be the ones that cannot withstand the rapid pace of change in the environment? This section will use Hannans (1998) model to examine universities through a population ecology lens. Imprinting may be an issue for universities, in two respects. The first is that universities that were founded centuries ago may get stuck. For instance, these universities are less likely to change because of their history. But, at the same time, if they still exist, and many do, it may be an indication that they have become institutionalized and are not historically specific. The second issue is that there are also universities that have been imprinted, but are not institutionalized and these are the ones that are in jeopardy of dying. Some schools also have the capability to deal with new environments. For instance, some schools are beginning to offer courses online to tailor to the nontraditional students who cannot be bound by time or place. Other schools are also beginning to reward faculty members, through tenure and promotion, for innovative teaching, not just research. Furthermore, some schools have robust positions, such as the California state universities, and are not in jeopardy of dying, regardless of the environmental drift. Likewise, other

schools are in a fragile position and are faced with declining enrollments because they did not meet the needs of the new environment. Other universities are using the environmental shift to establish themselves in new niches. Concord University Law School, for example, is a newly-founded online law program catered to non-traditional students. Concord was founded to appeal to students, professionals, family caretakers, students in rural communities and other individuals whose circumstances prevent them from pursuing a legal education at a fixed facility (Concord website). Concord is the first online law school, grabbing a niche in the eduction market. Because Kaplan Educational Center and the Washington Post are the parent organizations, Concord has an available audience or set of consumers, imprinting the organization with certain standards and giving an endowment of Kaplans experience and students.


Like population ecology, resource dependence theory also focuses on environmentally driven aspects of organizations. Because organizations can not generate all their needed resources, they must depend on their environment (other organizations) for resources. Donaldson (1995) reports that Salanick and Pfeffers research shows that only ten percent of an organizations performance is determined by internal factors and the rest is externally motivated. Like population ecology, the resource dependency model holds that organizations go through a selection and retention cycle. Unlike the other model, however, this one believes that selection is determined by decisions made within the organization. Furthermore, like population ecology, this model holds that goals are not the driving force behind what organizations do. Instead, Pfeffer and Salanick (1978) believe that organizations alter[ing] their purposes and domains to accommodate new interests, sloughing off parts of themselves to avoid some interests, when necessary, becoming involved in activities far afield from their stated central purposes (23). Rather than change their structure or strategy to meet changing demands, it is believed that organizations change their goals to meet the available resources. Another similarity between the two models is the belief that other organizations play a significant role in what organizations do. This model believes that organizations must rely heavily on other organizations for resources they do not make themselves. This is the basic tenant of the resource dependence model. Resource dependency, however, holds that managers are vital in making decisions about resource acquisition and determining how the organization should respond to the environmental pressures. Furthermore, these decisions are made in relation to strategy (although the strategy may change with changing goals, as mentioned above). Additionally, the internal power structure is very important to organizations. Those managers who make the decisions have autonomy. Power is also centralized in the hands of the resource holders. For instance, resources that are crucial will give more power to the resource holder. There are certain restrictions to decisions, however, such as legal or economic constraints. Meanwhile, resource dependency theorists believe that organizations can and will adapt to environmental misfit. This can be either through altering their goals, as noted above, or

through attempting to alter the environment. Again, strategic choice is crucial to organizations and their managers. Organizations can attempt to manipulate their environment through various means, such as initiating mergers, influencing legislation and creating a demand for their resources. Donaldson (1995), however, challenges Pfeffer and Salanick (1978) on a set of issues, of which only two will be examined here. First, he introduces the phenomenon of counterinfluence. This phenomenon states that the more one organization depends on another, the more it disobeys that organization. While resource dependency theorists argue that if one organization depends on another, that organization has power over the dependent organization, Donaldson is suggesting that the opposite may also be true. Furthermore, Donaldson challenges Pfeffer and Salanicks assertion that organizations want to maintain autonomy in the face of resource dependence. He argues that often it is more important to organizations to thrive than merely survive, therefore they realize that some autonomy may need to be sacrificed. Resource Dependency and the Educational Environment As demonstrated throughout this paper, the environment of higher education organizations is rapidly changing. More and more, students are a scarce resource and universities are faced with pressure to manipulate the environment in order to attract more students. Realizing IT is causing some of the changes in education, universities are attempting to change both how they provide services and how they think about education in order to meet the demands of the environment. Indirectly, this is also changing the environment itself. For example, recognizing the need for access to IT, many schools are wiring the dorms so students can access the network from their rooms, or are installing computer labs in the dorms for easier access. As already mentioned, some schools are beginning to offer online courses for nontraditional students. Many schools are using an online application system as well. A significant change can be found at some schools, like Indiana University/Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), where they have incorporated innovative teaching with traditional research as criteria for tenure. They have also set up support services for innovative teaching, such as time off and grants for planning their courses. By altering their processes, these schools are changing the educational environment for other schools, causing a circle of manipulation of the environment in an attempt to attract more students, a critical resource.




While the previous three organizational paradigms explore the interactivity between organizations and their environment, they pay less attention to organizations internal demands. Structural contingency theory, on the other hand, focuses on how organizations determine which organizational structure to take. Likewise, as institutional theory, population ecology and resource dependency can explain aspects of university behavior and decision making, structural contingency theory can be used to examine different classroom structures.

This section will present Donaldsons SARFIT model and apply it to classroom structure misfit in higher education organizations. But first, a brief overview of organizational structure and five specific structures will be presented. Mintzbergs five structures will serve as a basis for five classroom structures, which will then be examined for their ability to meet various contingencies.

An organizations structure includes the recurrent set of relationships between organizational members, such as authority and reporting relationships, behaviors as required by rules, patterns of decision-making, communication and other behaviors (Donaldson 1996, 57). Hall (1999) discusses organizational structure in terms of three variables: formality, complexity and centralization. Formality can be measured by the written rules in an organization and involves organizational control over the individual (Hall 1999, 64). Complexity can be measured by the division of labor, job titles, multiple divisions, and hierarchical levels (Hall 1999, 50). Centralization refers to the distribution of power within organizations (Hall 1999, 74). These three variables will be used later in examining the fit between classroom structures and contingencies. Mintzberg (1979) discusses five organizational structures that have varying degrees of formality, complexity and centralization: simple structure, machine bureaucracy, professional bureaucracy, divisionalized form and adhocracy. He holds that organizations are made up of a combination of five elements (though not all elements need be present in all organizations): the operating core, who does the work; the strategic apex, who does the planning and controlling; the middle line, who joins the operating core to the strategic apex; the technostructure, who plans the work and organizes the assets of the organization; and the support staff, who provides support outside the workflow of the organization. His five organizational structures will be used as the basis for the five classroom structures developed below.


Structural contingency theory holds that there is no single, effective structure for all organizations. Instead, organizations must adapt their structures to fit the contingency factors and the environment as they affect the organization. Contingency factors can include: strategy, size, task uncertainty, parent organization, public accountability, critical assets and technology (Donaldson 1996, 206). Not all organizations will face these contingencies and some organizations will certainly face contingencies not mentioned here.

SARFIT The key element of structural contingency theory is that organizations must fit their structure to the contingency factors in order to maintain and improve performance. Donaldson offers an explanation of the cycle with his SARFIT (structural adaptation to regain fit) model (Donaldson 1995; Donaldson 1996). The stages of this model are: (1) An organization is in fit; (2) There is a contingency change; (3) The organization is in misfit and performance suffers; (4) The organization does structural adaptation; (5) The organization achieves a new fit and performance recovers. Strategic choice also plays a role in the SARFIT model in that the organization bows to the imperative of adopting a new structure that fits its new level of the contingency factor in order to avoid loss of performance from misfit (Donaldson 1996, 66). Donaldson also notes that often organizations must suffer a severe loss of performance before acknowledging that they are in misfit and must adapt the structure.


Instructors face contingencies every time they plan a course. These contingencies include: (1) the learning objectives; (2) the cognitive domains they hope to obtain; (3) the technology they will use; and (4) the assessment techniques (Rueter & Perrin 1998). Finally, they must determine which classroom structure will fit with these considerations. Considering fit of the classroom structure, the issue of different students having different learning styles becomes obvious. Sometimes, students learning styles do not fit with the instructors teaching styles. Does this explain why some very bright students have trouble in certain classes? Does this explain why certain types of assignments work for some students and not for others? There are different aspects (contingencies) involved in classroom structure and sometimes they get crossed in a misfit. For example, a teacher might expect her students to reach the synthesis cognitive level, but rely on lectures as the technology. But, lectures are not an appropriate method of teaching for this cognitive level. This will be explained in more detail below. The learning objectives usually depend on the field of the course. For instance, physical science courses usually have objectives of: following processes, explaining relationships and recognizing how things work; as opposed to social science courses which would strive to teach students to identify features of certain phenomena and differentiate principles. Humanities courses, on another hand, would probably want students to engage in a dialogue about a topic to further their understanding (Rueter & Perrin 1998). Cognitive domains, according to Blooms Taxonomy, are: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation (see Figure 1). Faculty recognize that it is necessary to have a grasp on the lower levels before moving up to higher levels. Certain tasks are geared towards mastery of each cognitive level.






Figure 1. Blooms Taxonomy

There are many choices in the technology used in teaching. Some examples include: lectures, student presentations, experience through field trips or laboratories, independent research, topic-specific software, videos, electronic communication and multimedia presentations. Teachers can use different technologies in one course. Assessment is a way of evaluating how well a technology fits with the students learning style in achieving the learning objective and cognitive domain. It is an evaluation of performance. Like technology, assessment can take many forms, some of which include: mini papers, quizzes, in-class exercises, class discussion, research papers, listserv activity, takehome exams and individual or group projects. Instructors often use a combination of assessment tools that result in a final grade. Performance of the teacher is also assessed, usually with a course evaluation at the end of the term.


Modeling Mintzbergs classification, I have developed five types of classroom structures, as an example of how the classroom structure can affect the way teachers and learners interact. Table 1 gives an overview of each structure.


Classroom Based on Structure Mintzbergs Traditional Structure Machine Bureaucracy

Structural Characteristics

Key Part of Classroom Design

Main Feature of Classroom Design Lectures

Cognitive Level Knowledge

Learning Objective Understand vocabulary and simple processes

high formality Teacher low complexity high centralization high formality high complexity low centralization Learner

Star Structure

Professional Bureaucracy

Presentation by learners

Synthesis and Evaluation

Integrate information from multiple sources

Circular Structure

Simple Structure

low formality Real World low complexity high centralization

Experience, observation, laboratories Individual pursuit of knowledge


Observe, gain knowledge first-hand

Flat Structure

Divisionalized low formality Research Form low complexity high centralization Adhocracy low formality Learner+ high complexity high centralization

Application and Evaluation

Find information and judge its quality

Complex Structure

Assessment of All Levels information, transformation of information into knowledge

Appreciate the effort needed to integrate materials and convert data and information into knowledge

Table 1. Outline of Classroom Structures

The traditional structure, based on Mintzbergs Machine Bureaucracy because of its hierarchical nature, is probably the most common classroom structure. In this model, the teacher is the sole source of knowledge (high centralization) and uses lectures, handouts and notes to impart this knowledge onto the students (high formality). The students are passive learners. Tests are usually the method of assessment (low complexity). The goal of this type of structure is for the teacher to give the student knowledge on vocabulary and basic processes. Figure 2 illustrates the traditional structure.






Figure 2. Traditional Classroom Structure

The star structure is one in which the student is the focus of the activity. This structure is based on Mintzbergs Professional Bureaucracy because while it is complex, it is also stable, since everyone relies on everyone else for knowledge. The teacher, however, is still present in order to guide the students, ensuring a standard set of skills. The students and teacher are all active learners who engage in conversation to teach each other (low centralization).

Student presentations on their individual learning experiences can be the basis for assessment (high formality). The goal is for students to be able to integrate information from multiple sources and attain the synthesis and evaluation cognitive levels (high complexity). Figure 3 illustrates the star structure.






Figure 3. Star Classroom Structure

A circular structure, based on Mintzbergs Simple Structure because of its centralized and organic nature, is one in which the learner draws on a circle of knowledge sources, including other students, teachers, real-life experiences and observation (low formality, low complexity, high centralization). Through first-hand experience with the subject matter, students are expected to attain the cognitive level of comprehension. Figure 4 illustrates the circular structure.

Learner Observation Learner

Experience Teacher

Figure 4. Circular Classroom Structure


The fourth classroom structure can be called the flat structure, based on Mintzbergs Divisionalized Form because of its focus on specialization and autonomy. The student is solely responsible for her learning through independent research (high centralization). There is no class with which to share this knowledge and the student relies on her own learning style to attain knowledge (low complexity). Assessment is on an individual basis (low formality). Figure 5 illustrates a flat structure.



Figure 5. Flat Classroom Structure

The final classroom structure is called the complex structure and is based on Mintzbergs Adhocracy because of its complex and dynamic nature. The complex structure can be a combination of any or all of the first four structures (high complexity). For instance, a student may draw on their knowledge gained in a traditional structure course, and do independent research, and use real-life experience, and gain knowledge by discussing with other learners. Assessment is on an individual and personalized basis (low formality, high centralization). This is illustrated in Figure 6.


Observation Learner




Experience Teacher


Figure 6. Complex Classroom Structure





When deciding how to structure their classrooms, instructors must consider contingencies. This section is an attempt to formulate a schema for determining which structure will have the best fit according to the contingencies. Table 2, developed through consideration of the contingencies (pp. 910 of this paper) and the structural characteristics of each classroom type (pp. 1113 of this paper), outlines these contingencies crossed with classroom structures. Further discussion follows.
Traditional Objective by Field Social Sciences Physical Sciences Humanities Arts Math Cognitive Domains Knowledge Comprehension Application Analysis Synthesis Evaluation Technology Lectures Student Presentations Field Trips Laboratories Independent Research Software Videos Electronic Communication Multimedia Assessment Objective Subjective Star X X X X X X X X X X X X X Circular X X X X Flat X X Complex X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X




Table 2. Model for Classroom Structures in Fit with Contingencies

Not surprisingly, the traditional structure fits best with fields that are based on facts (or knowledge), such as the physical sciences. This structure is also suited to technologies that rely on the instructor sharing knowledge with students, such as lectures and multimedia presentations. The star structure, on the hand, is better suited to fields that rely on learning through doing, discussing or experiencing, such as the social sciences or humanities. It is assumed in these courses that the facts are probably already known or are not central to the goals of the course. Instead, these courses are geared towards synthesis and evaluation of information. Art appreciation, for instance, is not something that can be taught as a checklist

of memorizable facts. It is much more subtle than that. The star structure, relying on individual students and the instructor sharing their knowledge and understanding of an area, allows subtlties to become more evident. The circular structure can be applied to almost any field because of its loose nature, relying on a variety of technologies and achieving a collection of cognitive levels. Because the flat structure is so similar to the circular structure in levels of formality, complexity and centralization, only lacking a class with which to share learning experiences, it too can be widely applied across fields. One of the most notable aspects of Table 2 is that the complex structure seems applicable to almost any contingency. This is because it is so versatile and can consist of any combination of other structures. The only aspect for which it is inappropriate is objective assessment. Because the complex structure does include many aspects of learning, a simple multiple choice examination, for instance, would not accurately assess the amount or quality of learning accomplished. Another striking feature of this table is that, in general, as you move to the right (i.e., away from the traditional structure), more contingencies are met. For instance, the flat structure encompasses more technologies for learning than the traditional, star or circular structures. This can be explained by the notion that the structures, as they move across the continuum, become more learner-centered and less instructor-centered, to the extent that the flat structure does not even have an instructor. As mentioned earlier, this list of contingencies is not exhaustive, but they do give an idea of how contingencies in the classroom could fit with the classroom structure.


As universities and faculty members are considering adding information technology resources to their classrooms, they, as managers, should also be considering the risk of misfit and the steps needed for refit. By adding information technology, they are changing a set of contingencies and the traditional classroom structure will provide a misfit. Information technology can manifest itself in various ways, from using computers in the classroom and for independent research to changing the technology of teaching. This section will examine the SARFIT cycle of changing from a teacher-centered to a learner-centered approach, and assumes IT will be part of that shift. First, however, a note regarding IT in higher education: Adding an IT component to a course is only one example of a contingency faced by an instructor. This section is intended only as a hypothetical example to illustrate how the SARFIT process might benefit determining classroom structure in higher education organizations. Step 1: Fit Traditional classrooms involving a teacher-centered approach are in fit. This is the approach that many faculty use, most students are accustomed to, and administration expects. The faculty member has authority because she is the sole source of information. The hierarchy is rigid, with the teacher at the top of the hierarchy and the students below

(see Figure 2). There is a high degree of formalization in that the standard procedure involves the teacher lecturing during class time, the students take notes on what the teacher says and at the end of the semester, the teacher tests that the students remember what she said by giving an objective exam, such as a multiple choice test. These behaviors are governed by rules, both written (e.g., required attendance) and unwritten (e.g., note taking). The decision making is done by the teacher (e.g., what will be read and presented when). Communication relies on face-to-face time in class and during office hours. Step 2: Change in Contingencies And then information technology gets injected into this classroom, in a variety of ways. Rather than give exams, the faculty member expects the students to write original research papers (change in technology and assessment). Because students can use information technology resources, such as the Internet, for knowledge gathering, the teacher no longer is the sole source of information and students are expected to analyze and synthesize information (change in cognitive domain). Class discussions replace lectures during class time (change in technology). Step 3: Misfit But if the teacher and students expect to shift to a student-centered approach to learning in the traditional classroom, performance will suffer. Information technology can not just be an add-on in a traditional setting. For instance, multiple choice test questions can not effectively evaluate the knowledge and critical thinking skills developed by students who have done their own research. Grades, the measure of student performance, will suffer. Students will become confused with the mixed signals sent: first, they are told that the teacher is the provider of information, then they are asked to gather their own information, yet the teacher makes the final decision on what should be learned and tested. Student evaluations of faculty, a measure of faculty performance, will reflect this dissatisfaction. Step 4: Structural Adaptation Realizing performance is suffering and accepting that information technology is changing the contingencies, teachers will have to make a strategic choice on how to refit the structure to meet the contingencies. This structural adaptation will include changes to authority, for instance. Because the learners will contribute as much to the teachinglearning process, authority will be shared among learners and teachers. This will then shift the hierarchy, to a more equally-distributed one (see Figure 3). Because there may be less classroom time and more time spent on individualized learning, the rules of behaviors will change. For instance, classroom time will be spent actively sharing knowledge, rather than passively absorbing information. Furthermore, as each participant contributes knowledge, they will each be making decisions about what content the course will include and will share responsibility for what is learned. Finally, communication will probably be extended to outside the classroom and outside the bounds of the teacherstudent relationship. E-mail, class discussion lists and scheduled online chats will help facilitate on-going communication among all the learners, including the teacher. The Internet and e-mail also provide a means to contact people outside of the classroom, such as scholars at other institutions or students in similar courses elsewhere (see Figure 4).

Step 5: Refit As students, faculty members and the administration begin to develop and accept this new structure as it fits with the new contingencies, performance will improve again. Through individualized learning, student grades will improve. As the unexpectedness of a learnercentered classroom decreases, students will be more comfortable in such a setting and will probably give better faculty evaluations.

But, certainly, it is not as easy to change the classroom structure as has been presented here. There are sure to be major hurdles to overcome. The biggest challenge would probably be changing the way people think about higher education. The four structures, other than the traditional structure, all require the student to be an active participant. This is completely different from secondary schools, in which the student is a passive learner in all but the rarest situations. (Again, this does depend in part on the field, one of the contingencies, as art classes are non-traditionally structured, but I think this is a special situation.) So to expect students to go from passive learner of information one year to active sharer of knowledge the next is not trivial. Furthermore, to expect professors, who have very little, if any, formal teaching instruction, to become adept at all five (or even two or three) structures is another nontrivial concern. This may become even more complicated if teachers are expected to use more than one structure each semester or even just more than one structure during their tenure. It may be more likely to succeed if different professors just used different structures. This would also depend, however, on the field and goals of the course. Another issue concerning the expectation of professors to use different structures, is their time allocation. A general, but serious, concern in the literature about professors using IT in their courses is that it just takes more time to teach with IT than to teach without it. Similarly, it will take more time for the professors to learn and become comfortable with new classroom structures. Time spent on this, or the integration of IT, is time not spent doing and publishing research. How will tenure decisions reflect this time reallocation? If universities are expecting professors to use new structures in order to make a better fit with students learning styles, will the criteria for tenure reflect this change in emphasis? A related issue is the allocation of time in the course itself. For instance, what content will have to be dropped from the lecturestyle course in order to allow enough time for students presentations? This is essentially a zero-sum game (Marchionini and Powers 1996). For whatever new thing (whether content, presentation or technology) is added, something must be dropped. This may be a hard reality to face, especially for professors who have taught a course many times before. This example is used to illustrate how the model developed in this paper could be tested. This paper suggests that instructors and administrators must consider the classroom structure while evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of information technology. IT can change the classroom contingencies and the classroom could then slip in misfit, unless structural adaptation is achieved.

This paper was an attempt to show how organizational theories can be used to explain various aspects of higher education organizations. I am not proposing that the SARFIT model is the only way to determine classroom structures, but I am suggesting that it might provide an organized way of beginning to look systematically at how different classroom structures meet different contingencies. Nor am I suggesting that only one classroom structure could be used in any given course. Rather, the structures are likely to overlap, but, again, they should overlap as called for by the current set of contingencies, which are always changing. Like many organizational goals, classroom contingencies are likely to conflict as well, and hybrid classroom structures will surely develop. This paper is also limited to only four organizational theories. Certainly others, such as network analysis, could have been added. Additionally, I could have borrowed terminology from the network literature in describing the five classroom structures. I chose not to use those terms, however, in order to lend the newly developed structures their own legitimacy. Finally, while the majority of this paper was devoted to structural contingency theory, each paradigm has a valuable explanation to offer in understanding how higher educational organizations function and make decisions. Further analysis of this topic should focus on integrating these models to develop a fuller explanation of higher education organizations. This paper should be used only as a first step.

Using a combination approach to examine organizations can produce a fuller understanding of how organizations are structured, what informs their decisions, and how other organizations can affect an organizations internal and external actions. This approach can be applied to colleges and universities in an attempt to understand them as organizations. This paper used institutional theory to consider legitimacy and isomorphism; population ecology to contemplate endowment, imprinting, capability and position; resource dependency to examine how universities can manipulate their environment in order to obtain scarce resources; and structural contingency theory to consider alternative classroom structures according to varying contingencies. Finally, it developed a new model, based on Donaldsons SARFIT and Mintzbergs organizational structure models, of classroom contingencies and structures.


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