IT Trends | Research

The Problem with Classroom Technology? Faculty Can't Use It

The top challenge to implementing classroom technology on campus is faculty's inability to use it. That's the consensus among faculty, students, and administrators on campus, according to a new report. Only IT staff said budget concerns were a bigger challenge.

It isn't simply a lack of professional development holding back instructors either. Eight out of 10 institutions provide some form of tech-specific training, according to faculty, in the form of group meetings and seminars, videos, and online tutorials, one-on-one-meetings, and peer mentoring. The problem, cited by a couple of faculty members, is that the training is too general for specific disciplines to use and that those doing the training don't always have experience in using technology in the classroom.

These findings and others come out of an annual research project sponsored by CDW-G, with an online survey of the college community conducted by O'Keeffe & Co. in June 2011. A total of 1,209 people responded, about a third students, a quarter instructors, a quarter IT staff, and the remainder administrative staff. That's an overall 3 percent margin of error with a 95 percent confidence level.

The 2011 CDW-G 21st Century Campus Report, now in its fourth year, also reported the desire for digital resources--online textbooks and other course material available for download--is steadily burning through the halls of college campuses, primarily because both students and faculty perceive the possibility of cost savings for the students. Yet IT staff reported that only 15 percent of institutions are using digital resources as an alternative to printed textbooks.

Yet potential challenges abound. The one identified most readily by faculty and students is the affordability of buying a digital textbook device with which to access the content. (Last year, the top perceived challenge was the simple fact that some students prefer printed material.) Those same constituents also offered a straightforward solution: Let students decide whether to buy a printed textbook or an ereader device; don't make one or the other mandatory.

Students are also drawn to virtual classes; two-thirds reported that they've taken at least one online class during their college career. The benefits they're drawn to: increased flexibility for taking courses, it provides more opportunity for working adults to take classes and maintain their jobs, it increases the variety of courses a student can take; and it provides the opportunity for the student to study with a broader set of faculty members.

This year, which is the first in which administrators were included in the survey, the report's authors noted an interesting disconnect. When asked what their top two priorities were for the coming school year, six out of 10 reported that it was attracting and retaining students. Half said it was addressing funding shortfalls. The use of technology to enhance student learning came in a distant third with 22 percent of the votes. Yet campus technology offerings are a driving force for nine out of 10 current college students. As one student respondent explained, "It puts me more in charge of my own learning and enables better interaction with my classmates, which can lead to better understanding of the course material."

"Administrators have to continue to attract and retain students, even amid a tough economic landscape and harsh budget cuts in higher education," said Andy Lausch, vice president for higher education at CDW-G. "Technology can be the differentiator for administrators looking to meet current students' expectations and capture the attention of future students."

Another disconnect surfaces among IT professionals and faculty when specifying essential technologies in the classroom. IT staff believe that mobile devices hold a much larger potential than faculty do. For example, whereas 44 percent of IT staff identified the smart phone as essential, only 12 percent of faculty chose that. Wide gaps also existed when considering e-readers and media tablets.

Yet IT staff isn't necessarily complaining. In spite of budget concerns, nearly a quarter of them described their institutions' technology as "cutting edge." That's up from just 9 percent last year.

The CDW-G survey results are available online with registration.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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