Last week at EDUCAUSE, higher education IT professionals gathered to talk about today’s toughest technology issues facing campuses globally. Recurring themes included lingering budget cuts, accessibility, security, cloud computing, the need for more effective analytic tools and the importance of a shift in campus culture to embrace technology.

Things we do vs. things we buy

Although 63 percent of CIOs and senior IT officers say their campuses have not fully recovered from the budget cuts experienced over the last several years, they continue to see rising demand for technology resources and services. That’s according to the 2016 Campus Computing Survey, the largest continuing study of higher education IT planning and policy issues in the U.S. founded and presented by Casey Green at EDUCAUSE.

The continuing budget cuts, while troublesome, aren’t the only barrier to the successful use of technology in the classroom. The topic that continued to come up at the conference was the idea that the overall campus culture needs to shift. Purchasing the technology solves half of a problem. Green, industry analysts and presenters all advised that campus leadership must focus on offering training, resources and guidelines around those technologies, and more policies need to be put in place to ensure they’re used properly for the highest student success rate.

According to the survey, nine of the top 11 priorities of CIOs and senior IT officers this year focus on things we do (services) versus things we buy (technology). They said the things they buy, they do well. They things they do involving training and user support services, not so well. Priorities include:

  1. Hiring/retaining qualified IT staff
  2. Instructional integration of IT
  3. Network and data security
  4. Providing adequate user support
  5. Leveraging IT for student success
  6. Mobile computing
  7. Supporting online education
  8. Learning and managerial analytics
  9. Professional development for IT staff
  10. IT business continuity/disaster recovery
  11. Upgrading the campus network

Campus leadership and faculty understand the immense value of adaptive learning technologies – 96 percent of CIOs and IT leaders said they believe in the great potential to improve learning outcomes for students, and 84 percent reported strong faculty support for technology to enhance teaching.

But that’s easier said than done.

The absence of clear and compelling evidence about the benefits of technology in instruction and the impact of IT on learning outcomes is problematic, Green wrote in his research report. The survey data reveal:

  • Just 23 percent said their faculty IT training is excellent
  • Only 17 percent have a formal policy to assess the impact of IT on instruction and learning outcomes

“Decisions about IT in instruction are often fueled by good intentions, anecdotal data, opinion and epiphany as opposed to research and hard evidence,” Green wrote.

top 5

Security and the slow migration to the cloud

Security, as always, is another key issue for campuses. According to the survey data, more than two-fifths of the universities lost confidential data due to the theft of a device and hacks or attacks on campus networks in the 2015-16 school year.

  • 49 percent reported a network attack
  • 48 percent said they increased spending on IT security
  • 51 percent expect the loss of sensitive campus data

Similarly, the concern of cloud security is still prevalent — 7 percent of those surveyed reported a cloud security problem in the past year, and 26 percent reported “high concern” for a cloud security incident in the coming year.

Survey data show there’s a steady increase in the move to the cloud for things like student emails, as well as a slightly slower migration to the cloud for things like learning management systems and customer relationship management services. There’s still little movement to the “High Cloud” for core infrastructure, high-value tasks due to risk, limited options from providers, trust and control.

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Accessibility Plans – ‘Litigation waiting to happen’

Green told an audience that campuses are struggling to provide legally-mandated digital access and resources to disabled students.

“This is litigation waiting to happen,” he said.

Nearly half of the CIOs and IT leaders he surveyed said that they updated their campus’ disability accessibility/compliance plan in the past 12 months.

High-profile accessibility court cases like the National Association of the Deaf case against Harvard and MIT (which claims the schools failed to provide proper video captions) have garnered the attention of instructional technologists at colleges and universities and will have profound implications for higher education. Campus leadership are looking to these cases to define where the boundaries are, and there is an increased sense of urgency to provide accessibility.

This is in line with a study Lily Bond, Director of Marketing at 3Play Media, presented at Sonic Foundry’s Unleash conference in May. 3Play surveyed caption users from 2015 and 2016 and found:

  • 43 percent expect to caption more content in 2016 than they did in 2015
  • Over 50 percent cite cost and budget as the biggest barrier to captioning
  • 36 percent caption everything by default

(Watch the full presentation from Unleash here.)

Analytics

CIOs and IT leaders in Green's survey rated data analysis and learning analytics as the least effective of the campus IT investments.

Big Data has the power to provide deep insight about the impact and value of technologies. Mediasite’s video analytics, for example, show exactly who is watching what and when to understand viewing behaviors and engagement. It monitors peak activity, server utilization, viewership by browser, operating system, device type and more to plan effectively for future video needs. But in order to effectively use these types of data analysis tools, users need the proper training and resources. And so things come full circle - there needs to be a shift in campus culture.

“The effective use of analytics involves more than deploying a new technology. While good analytic tools are, of course, important, so too is user training so that senior campus officials and faculty who are eager for just-in-time, complex analyses of student performance understand the potential and the limits of their data and their analytic tools,” Green stated in his report. “The key question should be not what did we do wrong, but how can we do better, and how do the data and analytic tools show us the path ‘to better’ for our students.”

Watch Casey Green’s full presentation at EDUCAUSE, “Campus Computing 2016: The National Survey of E-Learning and Information Technology in American Higher Education” here.