The 2014 National Survey of Computing and Information Technology in US Higher Education
Campuses Struggle to Provide Effective User Support and
IT Training, and Also Digital Access for Disabled Students
Four decades into the “computer revolution in higher education,” new data from fall 2014 Campus Computing Survey reveal that although CIOs and senior campus IT officers proclaim IT user support to be one of their top institutional IT priorities, many campuses continue to struggle with providing adequate support services and IT training for students and faculty. The new survey also documents a serious challenge of providing digital resources and services for disabled students, major concerns about IT security on the Cloud, and a big decline in the percentage of IT officers who view MOOCs as offering “a viable model for the effective delivery of online instruction.”
Campus IT Priorities
Four-fifths (81 percent) of the CIOs and senior campus IT officers who represent the 470 colleges and universities that participated in the fall 2014 survey report that “assisting faculty with the instructional integration of information technology” is a very important institutional IT priority over the next two-three years. Three-fourths (74 percent) also identify “providing adequate user support” as a top campus IT priority. Yet when asked about the quality of user support services and training, just under three-fifths (58 percent) assess the IT user support services at their institution as “excellent.” Additionally, less than three-in-ten (28 percent) report that their institution provides “excellent” IT training for faculty while only an eighth (13 percent) rate IT training for students as “excellent.”
“Viewed in aggregate, these data document the continuing challenge that CIOs and senior IT officers confront, and faculty and students experience, in the realm of user support” says Kenneth C. Green, founding director of The Campus Computing Project, which is the largest continuing study of IT planning and policy issues in American higher education. Moreover placed in the context of the priority for the “instructional integration of information technology,” Green notes that the dismal numbers for faculty and student IT training help to explain the frustration that many faculty experience in their efforts to use technology resources effectively for teaching and that students experience when they use technology tools and digital resources for learning.
IT Services for Disabled Students
Less than half (47 percent) of the 470 institutions participating in the fall 2014 survey report having a strategic plan for IT compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates; less than one-fifth (19 percent) rate services for disabled students as “excellent” (range: 14 percent in private four-year institutions to 24 percent in community colleges).
“While many IT officials feel that their institutions are making a significant effort to provide access to digital curricular resources and services to disabled students, there is often a large gap between what is offered or available and what the current law mandates," says Green. Advocates for the disabled are using litigation and also proposing new legislation such as the TEACH Act to cajole campuses into complying with the current ADA mandates.
Assessing the Effectiveness of Campus IT Investments
The focus on IT services becomes even more interesting when viewed in the context of how campus IT officers assess the effectiveness of campus investments in information technology. Two-thirds (64 percent) view the campus IT investment to support library resources and services as “very effective,” followed by administrative information systems and on-campus teaching and instruction (63 percent), student services (55 percent), and academic support services (53 percent). In contrast, just 30 percent cite the IT investment to support analytics and alumni services as very effective, followed by development efforts (32 percent), and online courses (45 percent). The numbers regarding the effectiveness of IT investments to support research and scholarship understandably vary by sector, highest in universities (51percent) and lowest in private four-year colleges (25 percent).
“These data suggest that CIOs and senior campus IT officers assess the effectiveness of IT investments at their institutions as ‘okay to good,’ but not great,” says Green. He acknowledges that across almost all campuses there have long been great expectations for the role of technology in instruction and campus management, and that both technology providers as well as campus technology advocates and evangelists may have contributed to unrealistic expectations about how quickly an investment in IT could deliver expected gains in instructional outcomes or institutional performance and productivity. “A key responsibility of and challenge for IT leadership is to manage expectations and to communicate the effectiveness of IT investments, both to senior campus officials and also to faculty,” says Green.
MOOCs and Online Education
The 2014 survey data suggest that “MOOC madness” is beginning to decline. Less than two-fifths (38 percent) of the 2014 survey respondents agree that “MOOCs offer a viable model for the effective delivery of online instruction,” down from over half (53 percent) in fall 2013. Concurrently, expectations for making money on MOOCs also declined by a third: just a fifth (19 percent) percent agree that MOOCS “offer a viable model for campuses to realize new revenues,” down from 29 percent last fall.
Yet even as senior IT officers are less sanguine now about MOOCS, the 2014 data reveal that a small but significant (and slowly growing) number of campuses are contracting with third party providers for various services (recruitment, curricular development, student services) to help develop or expand their online programs.
In aggregate three-in-ten campuses (29 percent) that participated in the 2014 survey report outsourcing for their online programs, compared to 23 percent in fall 2013. The outsourcing numbers range from 35 percent in private four-years colleges to universities to 16 percent in community colleges. However, here as with MOOCs, senior campus IT officers are not upbeat about outsourcing: just 43 percent agree that outsourcing offers a viable instructional strategy for their institution’s online efforts while just a third (34 percent) believe that outsourcing provides a viable revenue strategy for their institution’s online activities. The clear exception to these low numbers is among IT officers in private universities: two-thirds (67 percent) view outsourcing some aspects of online education as a viable instructional strategy, while three-fifths (59 percent) view it as an effective revenue strategy.
The 2014 survey documents the continuing movement to mobile. More than four-fifths (83 percent) of the campuses participating in this year’s survey have activated mobile apps as of fall 2014 or will do so in the coming academic year, compared to 78 percent last year, 60 percent in fall 2012, 42 percent in fall 2011, and 23 percent in fall 2010. Across sectors, public universities lead the movement: 99 percent will be up on mobile apps by the end of the current academic year, followed by 95 percent of private universities, 92 percent of public four-year colleges, and 77 percent of community colleges and 73 percent of private four-year institutions.
What explains these gains in going mobile? “Colleges and universities are clearly playing catch-up with the consumer experience. Students come to campus with their smartphones and tablets expecting to use mobile apps to navigate campus resources and use campus services,” says Green. Also of note is that senior campus IT officers now report that tablets and smartphones have higher priority in their IT planning activities: 83 percent cite tablet devices and 82 percent note that smartphones will be “very important” in IT planning over the next two-three years, compared to just 64 percent who cite laptop computers. This focus on mobile devices in IT planning, says Green, “suggests that IT leaders are following the ‘Gretsky rule’ and are skating to where the digital puck is going.”
Interestingly, although CIOs and senior IT officers representing 70 percent of the institutions in the survey identify “implementing/ supporting mobile computing” as a top institutional IT priority over the next three years, less than a fifth (17 percent) rate mobile services at their institution as “excellent.”
Small Gains in Cloud Computing; Some Concerns About IT Security in the Cloud
The proportion of campuses reporting a strategic plan for Cloud computing rose to 29 percent in fall 2014, up from 27 percent last year, 24 percent in 2012, 21 percent in 2011, and 9 percent in 2009. Just 9 percent of the survey participants report that their campus has moved or is converting to Cloud Computing for ERP (administrative) services, compared to 7 percent last year, 6 percent in 2012, and up from 4 percent in 2011 (range: from 19 percent for private universities to 4 percent for private four-year colleges.)
Also, security in the Cloud is a major concern for a significant minority of the survey participants: fully a third (33 percent) disagree that “cloud computing offers a level of data reliability and security that equals or excels the level of security and reliability we can provide with on-campus hosting.”
Although almost half (47 percent) of campuses now report running their LMS in the Cloud, less than a tenth of CIOs or senior campus IT officers who participated in the 2014 survey believe that their institution will be running a “high value” application such as finance or student information systems in the Cloud in five years, by fall 2019. However, more than a fourth anticipate that their college or university could deploy a Cloud-based application for collaboration platforms, content management, ePortfiolios, lecture capture, and video management in five years.
About the Campus Computing Survey
The 2014 Campus Computing Survey is based on survey data provided by senior campus IT officials, typically, the CIO, CTO, or other senior campus IT officer, representing 470 two- and four-year public and private/non-profit colleges and universities across the United States. Survey respondents completed the online questionnaire from August 12 through September 22, 2014.