October 29, 2015
by Ellen Wexler
College technology leaders appear more optimistic these days about open-source textbooks and open educational resources — teaching and learning materials that can be used at no cost.
According to the latest Campus Computing Survey of top technology officers at colleges, released on Thursday, 81 percent believe that open educational resources will be an important source for instructional material in the next five years. And 38 percent report that their institutions encourage faculty members to use open-resource content, compared with 33 percent in 2014.
That was just one of the many findings in the survey, perhaps the largest annual sampling of the views of campus IT officials. The results were released during the Educause Annual Conference, where top ed-tech officials gather to discuss what’s changed in higher-education IT. This year’s survey includes responses from IT leaders at 417 two- and four-year institutions.
“There’s a lot of angst and anger about textbooks,” said Kenneth C. Green, founding director of the survey. Especially for large, lower-division courses, he said, open educational resources are starting to look like a viable alternative to expensive textbooks.
But while support is on the rise, Mr. Green is concerned about how open educational resources will replicate the infrastructure traditional publishers already have in place — like editors and fact-checkers.
And this year, only 6 percent of courses use open educational resources. The lower number isn’t surprising, Mr. Green said: IT leaders do believe that open educational resources will become an important source of course content in the next five years — but that reflects a prediction, not the current state of the market, he said. “The OER movement is still young.”
But over the last few years, campus IT departments’ top priorities have remained consistent, according to the new survey.
IT leaders’ No. 1 priority, the survey found, is helping faculty members integrate information technology into their teaching.
Mr. Green said that around 2000 or 2001 he started asking IT leaders to rank their priorities and that the top priority has been largely the same over a number of years. But even though IT leaders rate instructional integration as their highest priority, the survey found, only 17 percent of campuses include instructional IT efforts in their faculty review and promotion processes.
“This is what IT officers think is important, but then we’ve got the continuing struggle,” he said. “Why is it that we don’t recognize the faculty members who do that as part of review and promotion?”
Many faculty members, he said, are committed and want to improve — but they know it won’t count when they come up for review.
After instructional integration, IT leaders’ next priority is a tie between hiring and retaining qualified IT staff members and providing adequate user support. But 74 percent also report that IT salaries are not competitive, and 26 percent report reduced IT staffing.
“A lot of IT officers have a large number of open positions,” Mr. Green said, “but they can’t find a candidate.” IT leaders have clear priorities, he added, but factors like budget cuts and lower salaries make it challenging for them to accomplish their goals.
In another survey finding, 84 percent have an active mobile app or plan to develop one in the coming academic year. That number has doubled since 2011 and more than tripled since 2010.
Those changes reflect campuses playing catch-up, Mr. Green said. Students use apps to navigate their lives outside of campus, and they want to use them on the campus, too. “The next level up,” he added, “is mobile learning and the role that mobile apps might play in that.”