The 2015 Campus Computing Survey

The 2015 National Survey of eLearning and Information Technology in US Higher Education

Great Faith in the Instructional Benefits of Digital Technologies;
Great Expectations for the Rising Use of OER

New data from the 2015 Campus Computing Survey reveal that college and university CIOs and senior IT officers believe that digital technologies do (or will) have a significant impact on student learning and outcomes. Almost all (94 percent) of the fall 2015 survey participants, who represent 417 two- and four-year public and private colleges and universities, agree or strongly agree that “digital curricular resources make learning more efficient and effective for students.” Similarly, most (87 percent) report that “digital curricular resources provide a richer and more personalized learning experience than traditional print materials.” Finally, the survey participants also overwhelmingly agree (96 percent) that “adaptive learning technology has great potential to improve learning outcomes for students.” Across all segments and sectors, from community colleges to research universities, the numbers expressing support for the benefits of digital resources are very high on these three survey items.

Yet even as CIOs express great confidence about the impact and benefit of digital curricular resources, the current deployment numbers are low: survey participants estimate that just a tenth (10 percent) of general education courses make use of educational courseware, and just 4 percent of developmental and general education classes utilize adaptive learning technologies.

“This strong statement of support for digital instructional resources is not surprising,” says Kenneth C. Green, founding director of the Campus Computing Survey, which marks its 25 anniversary this fall. “CIOs and senior campus IT officers are, understandably, advocates for the instructional use of technology at their institutions. Although faculty make decisions about curricular resources for their courses, CIOs are responsible for the enabling infrastructure, including training and user support.”

Yet Green notes that clear and compelling evidence about the benefit of technology in instruction and the impact of IT on learning outcomes can be problematic. For example, the survey data reveal that just a fifth of the institutions that participated in the 2015 survey“have a formal program to assess the impact of IT on instruction and learning outcomes.” Consequently, says Green, “decisions about IT in instruction are often fueled by good intentions, anecdotal data, opinion, and epiphany as opposed to research and hard evidence.” Green cites the continuing discussion about Learning Management Systems as an example: “Is the LMS just a platform that supports instruction or does the LMS – or a specific LMS platform – actually have a clear and discrete benefit on learning outcomes? Fully 15 years after many campuses first deployed a LMS, we really don't have good data to provide a clear answer to this question.”

The Coming of OER

Related to the enthusiasm for digital instructional resources, four-fifths (81 percent) of the survey participants agree that “Open Source textbooks/Open Education Resource (OER) content “will be an important source for instructional resources in five years.” Advocates believe that OER titles, which are typically distributed to students in a digital format, offer a viable, very low cost alternative to expensive textbooks.

While the 2015 survey data indicate that OER utilization levels are currently low (just 6 percent of courses), fully two-fifths (38 percent) of the survey participants report that their institution encourages faculty to use OER content, up from a third (33 percent) in fall 2014.

“The emerging OER movement may offer a viable alternative to commercial textbooks and course content,” says Green. Yet he expresses some concern about the absence of infrastructure to support OER – the editors, fact-checkers, instructional designers and others who add value, as well as costs, to the development of commercial textbooks and course materials. Too, Green notes that many faculty depend on book updates as well as the ancillaries such as class presentation materials, test sets, and supporting web sites routinely provided by commercial publishers. While the immediate “text to text” comparisons may be favorable for OER, Green notes that “looming issues for the OER movement are the review process, ancillaries, and updates that many faculty have come to expect, even if the cost of these resources and services are paid by students when they purchase commercial titles.”

Campus IT Priorities

Again this fall, CIOs and senior campus IT officers identified “assisting faculty with the instructional integration of information technology” (80 percent) as the their top institutional IT priority over the next two-three years, followed by hiring and retaining qualified IT staff and providing adequate user support (both at 78 percent). Network and data security was fourth in the fall 2015 survey (76 percent), followed by “leveraging IT for student success, which dropped to fifth in 2015 from fourth in 2014 (74 percent).    

“Viewed in aggregate, these data document the continuingchallenges that CIOs and senior IT officers confront, and that faculty and students experience,” says Green. Moreover these priorities stand in stark contrast to some of the related survey data on these issues. For example, even as instructional integration is the top institutional IT priority again this fall, less than a fifth of campuses (17 percent) recognize instructional IT efforts as part of the faculty review and promotion process.

Similarly, although IT officers express concern about hiring and retaining qualified technology staff, three-fourths report that that salaries and benefits for tech staff at their institutions are not competitive with off-campus job opportunities. Moreover, a fifth of campuses cut funding for professional development for IT staff this past year, and a fourth reduced central IT staffing. And although IT user support is a perennial concern, only a fourth (27 percent) of CIOs and senior IT officers rate IT training for faculty and staff as excellent at their institution, while just a tenth (10 percent) believe that their campus offers excellent IT training for students.

Outsourcing Online Programs

In aggregate three-in-ten (29 percent) of the institutions participating in the 2015 survey report outsourcing their online programs, about the same as in 2014 and up from 23 percent in fall 2013. The outsourcing numbers range from 41 percent in private universities to 16 percent in community colleges. However, CIOs and senior campus IT officers are not upbeat about outsourcing: just 45 percent view outsourcing as a viable instructional strategy for their institution’s online efforts and only a third (34 percent) believe that outsourcing provides a profitable revenue strategy for online programs. The clear exception to these low numbers is in private universities, where two-thirds (65 percent) of CIOs and senior IT officers agree that outsourcing online programs is a viable academic strategy and more than two-fifths (45 percent) believe outsourcing also provides a viable revenue strategy.

Going Mobile

The 2015 survey documents the continuing campus movement to mobile. More than four-fifths (84 percent) of the institutions participating in this year’s survey have activated mobile apps or will do so in the coming academic year, compared to 78 percent in 2013, 60 percent in fall 2012, 42 percent in fall 2011, and 23 percent in fall 2010. Across sectors, private universities lead the mobile movement: 99 percent will be up on mobile apps by the end of the current academic year, followed by 92 percent of public universities and public BA/MA colleges, 79 percent of community colleges, and 73 percent of private BA/MA institutions.

What explains these gains in going mobile? “Colleges and universities continue to play catch-up with the consumer experience. Students of all ages come to campus with their smartphones and tablets expecting to use mobile apps to navigate campus resources and use campus services,” says Green.

Interestingly, although CIOs and senior IT officers representing 70 percent of the institutions that participated fall 2015 survey identify “implementing/supporting mobile computing” as a top institutional IT priority over the next two-three years, less than a fifth (17 percent) rate mobile services at their institution as “excellent,” about the same as in 2014.

Small Gains in Cloud Computing

The proportion of campuses reporting a strategic plan for Cloud computing rose to 33 percent in fall 2015, up from 29 percent last year, 21 percent in 2011, and 9 percent in 2009. Just 12 percent of the survey participants report that their campus has moved or is converting to Cloud Computing for ERP (administrative) services, compared to 9 percent last year, 6 percent in 2012, and up from 4 percent in 2011 (range: from 22 percent for private universities to 4 percent for public universities.) Almost a third (30 percent) appearconvinced that Cloud computing is no more secure than their own, on-campus management of technology and data. And less than a fifth of institutions expect to be running mission-critical finance and student information systems on the Cloud by fall 2020.

About the Campus Computing Survey

The 2015 Campus Computing Survey is based on data provided by senior campus IT officials, typically, the CIO, CTO, or other senior campus IT officer, representing 417 two- and four-year public and private/non-profit colleges and universities across the United States. Survey respondents completed the online questionnaire from September 17 through October 22.