IT Effectiveness Found Lacking

Campus computing leaders urged to up their game.

November 3, 2017

PHILADELPHIA -- Many campus investments in information technology aren't necessarily paying off, according to the National Survey of Computing, eLearning and Information Technology. The survey of IT leaders, conducted by the Campus Computing Project, found that many see only modest benefits from IT investments, and generally low satisfaction with many IT services on campus.

The survey, with responses from 199 public and private institutions across the U.S., asked chief information officers to reflect on computing efforts on their campus.

More than 50 percent of IT leaders said that investments in the area of on-campus teaching and instruction technologies had been effective. The next most effective areas of IT investments were judged to be library resources and services, and student recruitment, which both received approval of around 40 percent. In contrast, the areas judged to be least effective were data analysis and managerial analytics technology, which under 20 percent of respondents judged to be effective. Other areas with low reports of effectiveness (under 40 percent) included technology to support faculty research and scholarship, alumni engagement, academic support services, and online courses and programs.

Campus satisfaction with key IT resources and services was generally reported to be low. While over 50 percent of IT leaders said that their campus was satisfied with their Wi-Fi networks and user support services, satisfaction with human resources systems, financial systems and student information systems all hovered under 30 percent.

Unsurprisingly, views of the role of technology in education generally among the IT leaders were positive. Seventy-six percent of IT leaders reported that they strongly support the role of technology in enhancing teaching and learning, and 90 percent said that they believe digital resources provided a superior learning experience to traditional print materials.

While CIOs have confidence in the benefits of digital technologies for teaching and learning, actual deployment of these technologies is low. Just 14 percent of general-education classes were reported to use digital course materials, and 7 percent of developmental and general-education courses use adaptive learning technologies. Eleven percent of courses were reported to be using open educational resources, and eight in 10 respondents said that OER would be an important source of course content in five years.

Budget cuts continued to be a concern for IT leaders, with many reporting that they had experienced cuts in the last 12 months, continuing a trend of limited investment well after the economic decline of 2008. In 2016, just under 30 percent of respondents said they had started the academic year with a smaller budget than the preceding year. This year, the cuts continued, hitting community colleges particularly hard, with 29 percent reporting that their budgets had fallen from the previous year. This is a decrease from the 2016 survey however, when 42 percent of community colleges reported that they had experienced budget cuts.

Kenneth C. Green, the founding director of the Campus Computing Project, and a blogger for Inside Higher Ed, said that if he had to give campus IT a grade, he’d give it a C-plus or a B-minus at best. “We shouldn’t be willing to settle for a B-minus,” said Green at a session discussing the survey at the annual Educause conference. On demonstrating the benefit and value of IT, Green told IT leaders they must do better.

But budgetary constraints are a significant barrier to improvement, said Paul Fisher, associate chief information officer at Seton Hall University. “We all want to do better,” said Fisher, who was a panelist at an Educause session on the findings, “but how could we do better? How many of us have had budget cuts, but are still expected to provide the same services?”

Cynthia Golden, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education, described the grade awarded by Green as a “grim” indictment of campus computing. She agreed there were budgetary constraints but suggested that one way in which IT leaders could improve satisfaction and efficacy of IT services would be to engage faculty more closely on their priorities. Fisher agreed, saying that making a conscious effort to ensure that IT projects are aligned with strategic priorities would be beneficial.

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Lindsay McKenzie

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