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Report: Universities Struggle To Provide Adequate Bandwidth

SIIA’s annual survey finds that bandwidth is not keeping up with demand at higher ed institution, but suggests progress on digital content, e-portfolios.

As more classroom activities require Internet access, the number of college and university educators who believe they have access to adequate Internet bandwidth levels is declining, suggesting that bandwidth is not keeping up with demand, according to the most recent annual survey by the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA). Yet educators noted improvements in other areas, including security measures and e-portfolios.

The SIIA Vision K-20 survey was first developed by SIIA and its partners in 2007, piloted in 2008, and conducted every year since 2009. This year it included 121 postsecondary educators and transitioned from a four-point to a seven-point benchmarking scale. As in past years, it asked respondents to compare their current level of technology integration to an imagined ideal state. A number of benchmarks saw statistically significant increases in ideal scores over 2013, which SIIA said may indicate increasing expectations for technology integration. There is still a significant gap between the current and ideal levels and technology integration continues to resonate as very important, SIIA reported.

Only 37 percent of postsecondary participants described their current level of technology integration as high, yet most aspire to a high ideal level and view technology integration as highly important in all benchmarked areas. Among the benchmarks with the highest gaps between current and ideal usage was access to adequate bandwidth. Only 36 percent of respondents defined their current campus bandwidth as meeting their ideal level — a decline from 2013. That finding was not a surprise, said Karen Billings, vice president of the SIIA Education Division, which represents more than 180 companies that provide software, digital content and other technologies that address educational needs. "As there is more and more use of the Internet in the classroom, the bandwidth is not keeping pace," she added.

Besides the bandwidth issue, the areas with the largest perceived gaps between the current state and the ideal were:

  • Educators have access to the level of technology resources common to other professionals.
  • Institution leaders use technology tools for decision-making.
  • Digital student achievement data is always available to guide instructional decisions.
  • Online tutoring is available to all students.

Strengths and Improvements

Survey respondents perceived the deployment of security tools to protect student data and online privacy as strong on their campus. Like their counterparts in the K-12 setting, postsecondary IT officials have had to meet some stringent federal regulatory requirements, Billings noted. In fact, the security-related benchmarks were among those closest to ideal levels. Other benchmarks that approached ideal levels:

  • Students have access to digital educational content online.
  • An institution Web site/portal provides the education community access to appropriate resources.
  • Online courses are available to all students.

Benchmarks that showed significant improvement in the current level of integration include:

  • Institutional management is supported by digital enterprise systems.
  • All multimedia instructional materials are interactive.
  • Personal e-portfolios incorporate a wide range of students' skills and knowledge.
  • Personal e-portfolios travel with students.
  • Access to online professional learning courses is provided.

Increasing usage of "Bring Your Own Device" (BYOD) and a decrease in restrictions over last year were apparent in both K-12 and postsecondary segments of the survey. Almost all postsecondary participants reported mobile devices are allowed in the classroom, usually without restrictions.
In this year's survey, 2-year and 4-year institutions were on par, with approximately 90 percent currently accepting mobile devices in the classroom.

Billings said that one thing that has remained remarkably consistent over the seven years of the survey is the gap between higher education and K-12 in terms of their assessment of their current level of technology integration. This year, 22 percent of K-12 respondents reported their technology integration as high, compared to 37 percent of higher education respondents. She added that the survey also highlights that as universities make progress on technology integration, their successes raise the bar in terms of expectation levels.

The full report can be downloaded for free at the SIIA site.

About the Author

David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Innovation and Government Technology.

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