Something Old, Something New

Campus Computing Project's 2015 survey finds enthusiasm for open resources, adaptive learning and digital courseware, but basic issues such as supporting faculty members and students dominate IT officers' list of priorities.

October 29, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS -- Finding the right technology is one thing. Finding a place for technology across a university -- and creating the support structures to make sure it is put to good use -- is a whole other challenge, according to the results from this year’s Campus Computing Project survey.

The survey, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, offers an annual look at the issues and trends chief information and other senior IT officers are seeing at their campuses. The release is timed to coincide with the Educause Annual Conference, which is being held here.

Top IT Priorities:
  • Helping faculty use technology in the classroom
  • Hiring and retaining IT staffers
  • Providing user support
  • Protecting networks and data
  • Leveraging IT for student success
  • Supporting mobile computing
  • Supporting online education
  • Offering professional development for IT staffers
  • Planning for emergencies
  • Using data analytics

Three-quarters of last year’s respondents returned this year, strengthening the survey’s position as an educational technology barometer.

“The value of this project is it provides trends over time, and trends by sector,” Kenneth C. Green, founder of the Campus Computing Project, said in an interview. “What I try to do is build a narrative. It’s not one data point.”

The narrative that continues to unfold in Green’s surveys is one that places people, not technology, at its core. A central part of the survey has chief information officers list their top IT priorities over the next two to three years. This year, once again, all but one of the top priorities have to do with technology as a service, such as helping faculty members use technology to improve their courses (80 percent of respondents rating it very important), training or finding new IT staffers for those and other initiatives, and providing support for the students in those courses (both at 78 percent). Those issues take the top three spots, respectively.

The survey respondents, who represent 417 colleges and universities from all sectors of higher education, give high marks to technology that can be purchased, plugged in and turned on, such as wireless networks, emergency notification systems and multimedia-enabled classrooms. But they admit that they struggle to adequately support students with disabilities, plan for emergencies and provide IT training for faculty members and students.

Only 10 percent of respondents, for example, say their institutions offer excellent IT training for students. Faculty training polls slightly higher, at 27 percent. Since the survey is aimed at IT officers, however, it is not known how faculty members and students rate those services themselves. (Inside Higher Ed's most recent survey of faculty attitudes on technology found faculty members are split on the issue of whether colleges provide adequate support.)

Similarly, only 19 percent of respondents rate the resources and services they provide for students with disabilities as excellent. In fact, only half of the respondents said their institutions have a strategic plan in place to ensure they comply with federal and state-level accessibility requirements.

“These are lawsuits waiting to happen,” Green said.

Chris Danielsen, director of public relations for the National Federation of the Blind, said in an email that the findings are “dismaying but, sadly, not surprising.” He said the organization has repeatedly found that colleges lack strategic plans to assist students with disabilities.

“The lack of clear and meaningful guidelines to help institutions evaluate technology for accessibility aggravates this problem by making such planning difficult,” Danielsen wrote. “That is why the National Federation of the Blind is working with stakeholders in the higher education community to develop legislation which would require the promulgation of voluntary guidelines that would aid colleges and universities in ensuring the technology and content they intend to procure will meet the needs of all of their students, including the blind and others with disabilities.”

Other significant findings in the report include:

  • Network and data security, coming in at No. 4 on the list of IT directors' priorities, is only nonservice priority to crack the top 10. Its climb into the top five has been fueled by attacks against institutions such as Pennsylvania State University as well as highly publicized data breaches at retailers and government agencies. In the wake of those attacks, cybersecurity experts have warned colleges must do more to protect the information on their networks.
  • More and more IT offices are encouraging faculty members at their institutions to use free open educational resources over traditional textbooks. This year, 38 percent of respondents say they encourage the use of OER, up a few percentage points from last year across all institutions. The survey results estimate only 6 percent of courses over all use OER, but chief information officers see the course materials playing an important role in the future. A large majority of respondents, 82 percent, say OER will be an important source of course materials in five years.
  • IT officers are excited about the prospect of digital courseware and adaptive learning, with 94 percent and 96 percent, respectively, saying the technology can make learning more effective and improve student outcomes.
  • Nearly two-thirds of respondents, or 61.6 percent, say their institutions will consider moving to a different learning management system than the one they use today. That could mean further decline for Blackboard, which -- although it controls 39.1 percent of the market -- faces challenges from companies such as Instructure (14.2 percent market share) and D2L (11.8 percent), according to the survey. Those market share estimates are in line with other reports on learning management system usage data.
  • Chief information officers are including smartphones, tablets and laptops in their near-future IT planning and policy work, but smartphones and tablets narrowly edge out laptops. Wearable technology is still a few steps behind those other types of devices, with chief information officers rating them about a four on a seven-point scale, where a seven means “very important.” Other than examples such as Oral Roberts University’s fitness tracker experiment, few colleges have so far found a use for wearable technology.
  • Enthusiasm for massive open online courses continues to fall at most colleges and universities. In 2013, about half of respondents said they believed MOOCs offered a viable online education strategy, but today, only about one-third of institutions say so. Enthusiasm is still high at private universities, where nearly two-thirds of respondents see the viability of MOOCs. Doubt about MOOCs as a source of tuition revenue is widespread across higher education, however, with less than 20 percent of respondents over all saying MOOCs offer a viable business model.


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