IT Issues & Strategic Viewpoints in Higher Education
The Syllabus2004 higher education technology study was presented at the
The study was conducted among selected IT executives and professionals of
director level and above from 52 colleges and
universities across the country: doctorate-granting institutions, master’s colleges and universities, baccalaureate colleges, and associate’s colleges.
Recorded telephone interviews were conducted during a 12-week period; anonymity
was ensured. Rankings were determined by a weighting system that assigned
a value to each topic, from 1 to 8 (lowest to highest), according to level
of importance. Assigned values for each ranking were multiplied by the number
of participants who gave them that particular ranking. Survey interviews,
tabulations, and analyses were conducted by Paul M. Hartrey and Mary A.C.
Fallon of Criterium Communications.
|2003 - 2004 Topic Rankings: Comparative Analysis
1. Course Management
|2. Network Security
|3. Enterprise Resource
|4. Portal Technologies
|Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
||Cost of Content/Publishing
Course Management Systems and Open Source
Six years have passed since course management system vendors began selling
products to universities. Today’s customers often feel shoved into a corner
by their expensive CMS investment because the system is too costly, unstable,
inflexible, and too clumsy for most faculty to learn and use effectively. The
July 2004 public release of the Sakai Project’s collaboration and learning
environment software was anticipated to shake up the market by those surveyed,
not simply because it offers an open source alternative to commercial products,
but because it provides much needed negotiating leverage when talking price
to the two CMS firms, Blackboard and WebCT, that dominate the campus market.
In addition, colleges are encouraging less dominant vendors to embrace the Open
Knowledge Initiative and Sakai standards, to produce products with a greater
competitive edge. The next 12 months should be seminal as some major universities
assess both Sakai software and their vendor’s response as they consider
whether to replace one system with another.Key findings from the 14 universities
- While 93% of colleges surveyed buy commercial CMS products, on average
only 30% of their faculty use CMS to create Web sites, manage their courses,
and integrate the Web into teaching and learning.
- CMS products from the vendors Angel (www.cyberlearninglabs.com),
and eCollege (www.ecollege.com)
were uniformly praised by their users. In contrast, WebCT (www.webct.com)
and Blackboard (www.blackboard.com)
were routinely criticized for skyrocketing prices, bugs, and ease-of-use problems.
- Vendor performance during the 2003 to 2004 academic year in problem areas
was rated as bad or worse than the previous year by more than half of those
- Pricing and scalability are the most important factors when buying CMS.
- Pricing is the CMS flashpoint. No university expressed satisfaction either
with the cost of CMS products from market leaders WebCT and Blackboard or
their sales practices.
- 13 of 14 interviewed believe the release of the Sakai Project’s (www.sakaiproject.org)
collaboration/learning environment software and the Open Knowledge Initiative
standards will positively impact the market by providing an open source option
to commercial products that could drive down prices.
- Slightly less than half of those interviewed don’t believe OKI and
Sakai will directly impact their college’s situation, largely because
campus IT can’t provide sufficient support for open source applications.
The balance between openness and security is very tough to achieve. Fifty-two
colleges and universities surveyed this year identified network security/privacy
as the second most important major issue out of eight. This year’s ranking
held steady with last year’s. Key findings from the 18 universities interviewed:
- Denial of service and identity theft top the list of concerns. Faculties
haven’t yet grasped that improved security d'esn’t hamper research,
teaching, or learning.
- Passwords scribbled on Post-it Notes, and other human errors are as big
a threat as viruses and worms.
- Preventing, detecting, and responding to security breaches is a tougher
job than ever before and requires a wide array of technologies at multiple
levels coupled with aggressive education strategies aimed at students and
- Universities have raised the bar for effective minimum security levels
among students, faculty, and staff; compliance, of course, remains a continuing
- Balancing mandates of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
and the Patriot Act is not an issue.
Portal Technologies and eServices
The promise of Web portals that offer each individual a dynamic and customized
window into a university’s Web content remains an unfulfilled dream.
the use of multiple portals is gradually becoming part of the higher education
Web site structure, none of the 12 universities interviewed offers a central
portal that users can tailor to their specific information needs. Only five
out of 12 institutions report having portals for a few departments or education
programs accessed by students, faculty, and staff. The rest are either in the
process of implementing portals for specific professional schools within their
universities or are studying the issue.
Reflecting the flurry of ongoing implementation and study, portal technologies
and eServices climbed up in importance, ranking third among eight issues for
the 52 colleges and universities surveyed this year. Last year, the categories
were separate, and respondents ranked portal technologies fourth and eCommerce
eighth (last) in importance. Key findings from 12 universities interviewed:
- Providing single sign-on and linking to administrative systems are by far
the two most important factors about implementing portal technologies.
- Developing interoperability between systems, and clarifying roles and responsibilities
to determine who can access systems are the most significant data integration
issues IT faces.
- Buying via eProcurement is very common and performing very well.
- eCommerce is as prevalent as eProcurement; paying tuition and books is
most common use.
- Overwhelmingly, colleges don’t know if their eCommerce solutions have
a positive return on investment.
Mobile, Wireless, and
Wireless access to campus networks continues to spread as the use of laptop
computers accelerates across the campus. Mobile/wireless/broadband technologies
ranked fourth in importance among eight issues for the 52 colleges and universities
surveyed this year; this result is in line with last year’s survey results.
Key findings from the 11 universities interviewed:
- Six campuses have a wireless overlay, and five have wireless regions on
campus. While laptop computer use continues to grow rapidly, growth of handheld
computers and tablets is negligible.
- Security and authentication rank as top concerns.
- Campuses have plenty of bandwidth.
- Cellular technologies are not part of strategic IT plans.
- Colleges are educating students about file-sharing, not policing for illegal
Budgeting and Infrastructure Replacement
After several years of tight budgets brought on by a severe national economic
slump, the IT budget picture seems to be improving. Twenty-one higher education
institutions report an increase in their IT budgets this year, 16 reported budgets
are the same as last year’s, and 15 saw their IT budgets decline. Even
with increases, college and university IT budgets aren’t robust enough
to fund everything IT needs to do.
Budget and infrastructure replacement ranked fifth in importance among eight
issues for the 52 colleges and universities. This is a new category for the
Syllabus survey. Key findings from the 11 universities interviewed:
- Budgets for network security, portal technologies and eServices, course
management systems (CMS) and open source, enterprise resource planning (ERP),
and mobile, wireless, and broadband categories were positively affected by
this year’s budget priorities.
- 75% of colleges don’t predicate information technology spending for
academic departments on student enrollment for each department.
- 66% of colleges do multi-year budgeting.
- Most colleges allow IT capital expense budgets to
deviate by 10%.
- Colleges report that technology fees are the most common IT budget supplement.
ePortfolios & Student Assessment
The electronic portfolio is an emerging learning technology that has grassroots
support from certain disciplines, such as law, education, and fine arts. But
ePortfolios won’t be universally adopted until course management systems
are used universally by faculty to manage teaching and learning, according to
the universities surveyed. The institutions surveyed don’t expect an all-faculty
adoption of ePortfolios for student assessment to happen for five to 10 years,
even as a supplement to traditional grading. And while potentially very helpful
to the learning process and to college graduates seeking jobs, they won’t
replace the earned credit system for at least 30 years, if ever, according to
the colleges surveyed.
ePortfolios and student assessment ranked sixth in importance among eight topics
for the 52 colleges and universities surveyed this year. Key findings from the
14 universities interviewed are:
While 10 out of 14 universities report using ePortfolios, this alternative
student assessment method is used by only a few pioneers at these institutions.
Protecting student/faculty information and maintaining ePortfolios over time
are the two most important issues for survey respondents.
- Half the colleges surveyed use commercial applications to create ePortfolios.
The other half build them using the non-proprietary, open source electronic
portfolio software developed by Open Source Portfolio Initiative (OSPI).
- The current earned credit grading system is too entrenched to be replaced
Enterprise Resource Planning
The use of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems is maturing on campuses
as universities meld human resources, student information, payroll, financial
records, and other information into a complex backbone accessed in real time,
24/7. ERPs are considered vital to college operations, but for users they can
be tough to swallow. The biggest complaint colleges have is that vendors haven’t
invested enough to make systems easy to use. One sign of market maturity is
that ERP ranked seventh in importance among eight issues for the 52 colleges
and universities surveyed this year, a significant drop compared with last year
when respondents chose the topic as their third most important issue. Key findings
from the eight universities interviewed:
- Seven out of eight colleges bought commercial ERP software.
- Strong leadership and buy-in at all levels are the top two issues when
evaluating ERP systems.
- Ease of use is the ERP issue that troubles colleges the most. 70% of the
colleges buy from an ERP vendor that offers an integrated solution.
- Migrating legacy data and integrating software from ancillary vendors into
the ERP are the most common integration problems.
- 60% of the colleges believe the consolidation of ERP vendors won’t
Cost of Content/Publishing
While “Generation E” is ready for digital content, neither publishers
nor faculty are delivering, report 11 college and university IT executives interviewed
about cost of content and publishing. Commercial publishers are very slow to
offer libraries of high-quality digital content including textbooks, slides,
and other learning aids, despite the vast proliferation of computers and Internet
popularity among students and faculty. The tipping point will be solving issues
of money and control. The publishing industry hasn’t figured out how to
make a profit from digital content, and university faculty aren’t getting
paid much to make their own. Meanwhile, Generation E waits.
Fifty-two universities surveyed overwhelmingly ranked the cost of content and
publishing as the least of their concerns among eight issues. More than half
of those polled ranked it dead last. Only three institutions ranked it among
their top three concerns. This topic is new to the Syllabus survey this year.
Key findings among 11 institutions interviewed:
- About half the colleges say textbook publishers are trying to sell them
digital content, but few faculty are buying.
- Even when faculty do buy commercial digital materials, they supplement,
not replace, their own.
- Only 5% to 30% of the faculty at 11 universities surveyed publish digital
- Very few universities pay faculty for creating course materials.
- Faculty get some staff support for creating digital content, but colleges
are tightwads about release time.
- Few institutions use templates, course management systems, or guidelines
to ensure faculty publish course content in the same way.