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Survey Said ...

I look forward each year to the EDUCAUSE annual Current Issues Survey Report. There is always something new and interesting, be it the ways in which the survey instrument itself has been shaped to reflect the association’s view of the field or in the results of the survey. An example of the former is the inclusion of a new category of issues for 2007: "Commercial/External Online Services," which reflects the ongoing assimilation by campus IT (forced, it sometimes seems) of externally produced consumer information services, such as blogs, wikis, survey engines, Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, and Skype.

Before I get into some of the more interesting findings, a quick briefing on how the survey works is in order, because it really, really helps to better read and understand the survey’s findings, if you understand the issue lists and where they come from, the four questions that are asked, who they are asked of, and how the results are sliced, diced, and then reported, in terms of groupings of institutional types.

Lists of Issues
EDUCAUSE presents lists of issues and subtopics to respondents. The lists reflect an advisory board balance ”between preserving issues across time and introducing (a) new issues that arise as a consequence of emerging technologies and solutions, (b) converged issues that no longer make sense to separate, (c) split issues that are too complex to continue as one, and (d) changes in the evolving IT nomenclature.”

The Questions
EDUCAUSE then asks what it calls its “primary member representatives” to complete the survey. Since EDUCAUSE is a nonprofit professional association that has institutional membership, those primary member representatives tend each to be the senior IT on a particular campus who, among other things,  authorizes a continuing EDUCAUSE membership for the institution.

Each respondent is asked to answer one of four specific questions about the issues presented in the lists. I’ve abbreviated them here to save space but hopefully have not changed the thrust of each one.

Which of the issues:
  • Currently have the most strategic importance to your institution?
  • Have the potential to become more important during the next year?
  • Are you, the IT leaders, spending the most time coping with?
  • Are your campus spending the most human and financial resources coping with?
Slicing and Dicing
The report then uses various measures to “slice and dice” the findings. Three “slices” are available for the dicing operation: the institutions’ “control” structure, which means public or private; the institutions’ sizes, in numbers of students; and the institutions’  Carnegie classifications.

Context: Other Annual Measures and Indices
Since my employer’s report, Trends to Watch in Higher Education, is among them, I am happy to note this year that the report includes summary listing of issues from 19 other measures and indices from throughout higher education and from the information technology world outside of higher education.

Some Thoughts
Altogether, you could spend hours looking through this document, making connections and speculations. It’s quite thought-provoking.

I found one of the most interesting things in this year’s report to be the inclusion of a new “Commercial/External Online Services” issues choice in the listings. Ever since an NLII (now ELI) Focus Workshop on Learning Space Design a few years ago, I’ve been constantly thinking about the phrase “accommodate what they bring with them”; initially in terms of physical things (make room for the backpacks) but, obviously, in terms of technology functionalities and expectations, as well.

This category includes something I have been doing a lot of thinking about: that is, “educating students about risks of social networking services.” I happen to think that, as an issue, this particular one may be solving itself as the students’ attitudes and behaviors adjust to longer term use of such services. But who knows, we may be in for another year or two of related “horror stories.”

It also includes recommending or even leveraging the use of commercial services (often supported by advertising), such as blogs, wikis, survey engines, and the like, as well as the parallels to the recommending and leveraging issues that can be found when an institution adopts and embeds such services within its own infrastructure, such as Skype.

One of the reasons I find the latter group to be of special interest is that I think I can discern a smoothing out of the recurrent waves of “let’s build our own version of this on our own campus” mentality. Open source collaborative initiatives aside, and as much as I, too, like building my own stuff, it’s a fact that that the commercial world is developing functionalities for consumers at such a pace that no single campus IT staff could possibly keep up. We simply must face the need to accommodate the “stuff” that students bring with them, and that’s especially true of information technology functionalities, even if they are commercially oriented.

Among the findings (and it’s probably because of the part of my employer’s constituency that includes designers of technology and the built environment, as well as those who pay for such, and manage it) the move into the “top 10” of issues categorized as “Electronic Classrooms/Technology Buildings/Commons Facilities” intrigues me the most.

It intrigues me because I wonder whether the rise is due to a broader (and needed) understanding that such things are too important to be built without the closest of connections to, and fully informed by, the learning mission of our campuses or whether it is due to the costs of such things. I hope it is the former, but I fear it is the latter, especially since the issue category “Funding IT” took back its traditional first place this year.

I have not yet had the time to analyze the survey’s results with the lists of issues delivered from the viewpoints of those 19 other organizations, but I know that will provide me with some entertaining and stimulating reading and thinking.

Oh, by the way, “portals” appear to be dropping out of sight as an issue. Good.
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