Tech Officials Weigh in on Big Data, MOOCs, and open source
DENVER -- The idea that colleges should be more data-driven has some traction in executive circles. But few campus technology officers think their institutions are making smart investments in technology tools that would realize the promise of “Big Data,” according to a new survey from the Campus Computing Project.
Only 23 percent of technology officials in the project’s annual survey rated their institution’s investment in technology resources aimed at “data analysis and managerial analytics” as “very effective.”
That is a cold water bath for proponents of Big Data in academe, many of whom occupy other leadership positions. Presidents and provosts, in separate surveys conducted earlier this year by the organization (in collaboration with Inside Higher Ed), assessed the effectiveness of data-related technology investments more favorably.
The technology officials also gave low ratings to their I.T. infrastructures for “data warehousing” and “digital dashboards/ERP analytics.” (Most, though, gave “networks and data communication” good marks.)
And as far as using data to size up the effect of certain teaching technologies on student learning, institutions have plenty of room for improvement: only 23 percent of respondents said their campuses “have a formal program to assess the impact of I.T. on instruction and learning outcomes.”
The Campus Computing Project’s annual survey, released on the first full day of the gathering of college tech heads here at Educause, is a barometer for a wide variety of tech-related issues in higher education. This year’s iteration relies on responses from technology officials at 543 institutions, spanning all the Carnegie classifications. (Disclosure: Kenneth C. Green, the founder and director of the Campus Computing Project, blogs and has conducted surveys for Inside Higher Ed.)
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For the first time, the survey solicited its respondents’ views on massive open online courses, also known as MOOCs.
This new breed of online course, which was barely a blip on the radar at the time of last year’s Educause meeting, has sparked debates over the last 12 months about when and if largely automated teaching platforms can produce good enough learning outcomes for degree-granting institutions to take them seriously as potential game-changers.
Just over 50 percent of the technology officers said they believe MOOCs present “a viable academic model for the effective delivery of online instruction.”
There was some variation across the different types of institution — although even the most skeptical group, community college officials, were optimistic about the academic potential of MOOCs, at a rate of 43 percent. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently sought proposals for MOOCs aimed at community college students, sparking debates about whether such a format could effectively serve that population.
The most favorable group comprised respondents from private universities, 60 percent of whom saw MOOCs as a potential academic asset.
The technology officials were less optimistic about the prospects of their own institutions making money by creating MOOCs of their own. Coursera, the largest MOOC provider, struck its first content licensing deal with Antioch University; foreshadowing possible revenue for some of the company’s university partners and their professors, who would see a percentage of any profit from the deal.
It remains to be seen, however, whether MOOC profits will flow only to the prestigious institutions handpicked by certain well-positioned MOOC providers, or whether the global demand could enable many different institutions to make money by licensing their courses.
Over all, 32 percent of respondents said they believe MOOCs “offer a viable business model for campuses to accrue new revenue from online courses," with little variation across institution type.
As MOOCs inch closer toward the hypothetical goal of credit-worthiness, some observers have raised questions about how well the managers of the massive courses will be able to keep participants from submitting work that is not their own.
Many purveyors of conventional online education have addressed this problem by deploying software designed to detect plagiarism. In fact some experts believe that the maturation of such technology, combined with the prevalence of electronic submission, has the potential to make plagiarism less of a problem in the online era than it ever was when instructors had to rely on their instincts to sniff out plagiarists.
This year’s Campus Computing Survey suggests that while many institutions have purchased anti-plagiarism software, a relatively small percentage of their instructors are actually using it. Nearly 70 percent of respondents reported that their institution has bought a license to plagiarism detection software. But they estimated that only 19 percent of courses at their institution were using the technology.
Learning management systems (LMS) remain the most prevalent campus technology -- although the percentage of institutions that are running open-source software, rather than licensing a proprietary LMS product from a vendor, continues to creep upward. Moodle, the most popular open-source LMS platform, cracked 20 percent market share among survey respondents. Instructure’s open-source platform, Canvas, leaped from 1 percent to 6 percent.
Meanwhile Blackboard, historically the leading LMS provider, which held 71 percent of the market in 2006, dipped below 50 percent for the first time in the new survey, clocking in at 45 percent. (Blackboard has anticipated the decline of its proprietary LMS product for some time; after making a habit of buying out competing platforms last decade, the company recently has invested heavily in a new division that sells support to open-source systems -- as well as other planks of its business.)
However, the survey also suggests that the market for open-source LMS applications may be reaching a plateau. Together the open-source LMS providers -- Moodle, Canvas and Sakai -- accounted for about 33 percent of the market. In a separate question the survey asked the technology officials if their campus would be using an open-source LMS by 2017; 33 percent said yes.
Despite the inroads open-source technology has made in the LMS market, many respondents (65 percent) said their institutions were making limited or no use of open-source applications in general.
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