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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