I’m currently writing a book with Albert Sangra of the Open University of Catalonia on the integration of technology within post-secondary institutions.The book is being published by Jossey-Bass and should be out by the end of the year.

The book is based on a variety of sources, but in particular we have drawn on case studies of 11 institutions, five in North America and six in Europe. I found myself ranking the institutions in terms of how well they had integrated technology into their institutions. This led to considering what my personal criteria were for making this ranking (I’m still waiting for Albert’s response).

Here’s what I came up with, and I realised that the questions could be used by institutions to provide a framework for an internal audit on technology integration. (Note: by technology I mean primarily information and communications technologies – not waste disposal, as important as that is).

1. Are there ‘champions’ with power and influence in the institution who recognize the importance of technology for conducting the business of the institution?
The one thing all the institutional case studies had in common was a desire by the senior administration – or at least some key members of the senior administration – to integrate technology into the activities of the institution. It is now taken almost for granted that large and complex organizations, such as universities and colleges, depend increasingly on technology for the efficiency and effectiveness of at least some of their operations. The question becomes then not whether to use technology, but how best to use and integrate technology within post-secondary institutions, and whether it has powerful ‘champions’ to drive this activity. We will be discussing in more detail later in the book the whole issue of governance and decision-making, but it seems clear already that strong commitment to technology from the senior administration is a necessary condition for effective integration.

2. Does the institution have an advanced, comprehensive technology infrastructure that enables all staff, students and faculty to access computers, networks, software and services as required?
Again, nearly all institutions in the cases had good technology infrastructure in place. This is then a necessary condition. However, as a factor it was not a strong discriminator between the institutions in this study.

3. Has the institution digitalized its administrative systems, and can staff, students and faculty access administrative information and services easily over the web?
This is one of the first actions most institutions take, even in some cases before a comprehensive technology infrastructure is in place. However, we begin to see some divergences between the case study institutions on this criterion, particularly regarding the provision of web services, such as student portals, online admissions and registrations, and so on. Also there was a wide variation in the dates at which institutions reached this level of integration.

4. Has the institution identified a clear, strategic rationale for the use of technology within the institution?
We will discuss later in the book the value or otherwise of formal strategic plans for technology. This question however is somewhat broader. Why is technology being used? What benefits are perceived to be gained from using technology? How can this be measured – or put another way, how will we know whether the intended benefits have been achieved? Some institutions were using technology for quite specific reasons, such as to increase access to the university’s programs, to use technology to maintain quality with fewer resources, to improve the quality of teaching by moving to a more constructivist approach, and so on, while others were quite vague about their reasons, such as ‘to be a modern university’ or to be seen as a leading university in using technology (without defining what this meant). We will argue elsewhere in the book that clearly defined and measurable goals are essential to justify the high cost of using technology.

5. Has the institution identified additional financial resources or reallocated resources to support the integration of technology within the institution?
Information and communications technologies require substantial investment in both money, and the time of faculty and staff, if they are to be successfully implemented and integrated within the institution. There were several examples in the case studies, particularly regarding the use of technology for teaching and learning, where no investment or additional resources were provided, either in the form of cash or training of faculty.

6. What proportion of staff, students and faculty are using technology and for what activities?
This is a minimal and somewhat obvious criterion. The more technology is used, the better it is likely to be integrated within the institution. This does not of course answer the question as to whether technology is being used well; that comes in later criteria. Again, we saw a wide variation in the degree to which technology had penetrated different institutions. At one end, we have some institutions where over 50 per cent of the faculty are using technology in their teaching on a regular basis, and others where there is almost no use of technology for teaching. Some institutions have widened use beyond merely supporting classroom teaching, to new methods of program delivery. Some have almost no online distance education students while others have many (indeed in two cases, all students were online). In some cases, very few faculty were using a learning management system; in others almost all faculty were using an LMS in some way or other. Regrettably, one or two institutions did not know the level of usage of technology, because no data were collected, analyzed or published.

7. How innovative is the use of technology, particularly for teaching?
One institution had completely redesigned its mathematics undergraduate program so that it was all available by computer. Another institution was using technology for a province-wide distributed undergraduate medical program. In other institutions, the main use was for course information and loading Powerpoint or pdf files as back-up to classroom teaching, which may be useful, but is not in our view an innovative use of the technology. Again, there was not always evaluative data about the success of innovative approaches, but at least where innovation occurred the institution was trying to exploit the potential of technology for teaching.

8. What level of support and training is given to instructors to ensure good quality teaching when using technology?
We will discuss standards and best practice in more detail later in the book, but in some of the cases, instructors were woefully supported in using technology for teaching. We will argue the case that proper training for anyone planning to use technology for teaching is essential. We will also argue that instructors should have reasonably good access to instructional design and technical support.

9. Are students learning better and getting better services as a result of technology integration?

This is probably the most important question and the hardest to answer. Only one of the 11 institutions had made any attempt to measure better learning (and the answer was yes), and one had attempted to answer the better services question (the answer was also yes.) The real issue here is that there needs to be a much wider discussion about what constitutes better learning in a knowledge-based society, and how this can be measured. So in the end this was not a good discriminator, because there was insufficient information or evidence from the cases.

There are several other criteria that we considered, such as whether there are clear strategies or plans for technology integration, whether there is a shared view of the importance of technology integration in the institution’s executive team, and whether this is well communicated to all staff, students and faculty. The most important one, are students learning better, was not included, because only one of the 11 case-study institutions had attempted to measure it. However, although I think the question of better learning may eventually have to be added, these are more complex issues that will be discussed more fully later in the book. Lastly, these criteria are in no particular order of priority; we believe that each one is equally important as a measure of technology integration.

This list is considerably shorter than the 17 critical success factors in the ReVica publication reviewed yesterday, because we are looking primarily at institutional use of technology, rather than consortia. However, at this stage, I am looking for feedback, particularly on the following questions:

1. Is this a useful set of questions for assessing the extent to which an institution has integrated technology into its core activities?

2. How would you measure better learning (and better services, although I think that is easier)?

3. Have we missed anything really critical?

4. How well does your institution do on these questions? Does the institution have the data to answer them?

5. Do you have any other suggestions as to what we should be considering regarding the integration of technology within a post-secondary educational institution?

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  1. Thanks for the very interesting post about a subject very close to my heart. My observations about the handful of tertiary institutions that I am reasonably familiar with would be that most are OK with items 1 to 3 (to varying degrees). They struggle with items 4 and 5. Item 6 is difficult. I would suspect that the proportion suing technology is high but that the vast majority of staff are using technology at a minimal level. For Item 7 I think that there are (and always have been) pockets of highly innovative technology use. This is maybe 5 to 15% of the academic staff and wouldn’t have changed in proportion as a result of new edtech becoming available. I would say that the innovations that do happen are often truly innovative but they are isolated like islands in a sea of conformity.

    For item 8 I would say that functional training is often provided (although not so often taken up) and pedagogical training is less widely available. This goes with Item 5. I think staff development is generally overlooked because it is hard. The drivers of edtech in universities often prefer to concentrate on systems because it is easier to beat IT into delivering edtech ‘solutions’ than it is to develop staff.

    I often think that it would be better for an institution to spend a million dollars on developing staff understanding of Creative Commons and the concept of sharing resources than it would be to spend than money on the next, ‘groovier’ version of an LMS.
    Finally with Item 9 I think that some students are learning better and getting a better service but that number is related to the number of staff that are using edtech in an intelligent way.
    Just stepping back to items 4 and 5. I do think that many institutions take a scattergun approach to edtech and do not have an overarching strategy about the direction that they want to take with regard to learning facilitation for their courses. The lack of an articulated strategy means that new edtech cannot be evaluated against it which leads to the smorgasbord approach of having a bit of everything. This is unsustainable and wasteful. We then end up in a situation where particular edtech may have a low ROI and senior management becomes reluctant to invest more heavily in new edtech.

    Anyway, thses are just my two cents.

    I’m looking forward to your book.


  2. Hi

    Great topics. But one thing is missing: How well does the school integrate access to ICTs for learners with disabilities? Are there policies in place about purchases of institution-wide ICTs to make sure that accessible products get selected? Does the school provide training, to faculty and students, to ensure that the ICT related needs of students are met? Does the school provide reasonable access, in computer equipped classrooms and laboratories, to ensure that students with disabilities (e.g., pint impairments, such as blindness) can access the ICTs they need.

    I could go on and on, but will stop here.

    Thanks for a great listing of important topics.

    Catherine Fichten

  3. This came across my desk a few weeks ago: a person had been turned down for a job at the local landfill workplace because he did not have computer skills. Technology is no longer a matter of desk top bling and blast, it is incorporated into every facet of the workplace. Every workplace has some form of computerisation.

    Technology is now the leading component of every work activity and not only do we need to be conversant with its use and usefulness, we need to teach many forms of computer skills as well as literacy and numeracy to adults. Are we now facing the prospect of incorporating technology from the top down, teaching its uses in the workplace, before we teach how to use technology by example? Do our education leaders/managers/heads fall behind at a greater cost to our students in preparing them for the workplace?

  4. The questions you raise are gnarly ones, and it is rather tricky to separate them out in many ways…it is more like a network or ecosystem, where, if one thing is missing the initiative other ails, fragments, or never really becomes healthy and self-sustaining.

    While working in the UK, Middle East, Australia and New Zealand, I have been involved in ICT Enhanced Learning and Teaching (ICTELT) ranging from hands-on work with students, PD with practitioners, and policy writing with institutions…and it appears, fundamentally, there are issues that constantly arise: top-down implementation, concern around shift in identity as teachers and learners, etc. – and much of this appears to be psychology 🙂

    There are further issues around ‘value’ and education as commodity (which has a knock on effects around assessment, creativity, sharing/Creative Commons/open source/openness, self-determination, choice, ways of thinking, and collaboration – all of which are factors that influence what and how learners learn). The commoditisation of education seems to have backgrounded discussion and true recognition of learning as a community(ies)-wide undertaking, so that, for instance (as has been pointed out above) it appears endemic that institutions prefer to fund a new LMS rather than resource a sustainable system of PD (with something such as accompanying ePortfolios). Anecdotal evidence with well-designed empowering PD initiatives suggests improvements around attitude and ‘buy in’ for ICTELT, which have resulted in amongst other things the formation of Communities of Practice, and ‘viral’ peer influence and support. So, although there is an intensive initial investment by an institution using the ICTELT PD approach, the results are long term and observably more effective.


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