The fastest growing community college system in Texas just finished a research report that asked community college students across the country what they think about campus technology spending and how it affects their success in obtaining an education.
Lone Star College System commissioned the report so that college leaders could make sure their technology investments match up with what students need.
Colleges spend seven to nine percent of their budgets on technology investments each year, but board members, presidents and even CIOs don't always know whether it's being spent on the right things, said Shah Ardalan, vice chancellor and CIO for the Lone Star College System, as well as CEO of the University Park campus.
"They always wonder if they are making the right decision or not. Many of them know it or have a good feeling about it, but until now, we have not had a report that actually shows and demonstrates the voice of students."
Last year, Oral Roberts University student Jessica Mathews led the research efforts in "The National Lone Star Report on Aligning Technology with Student Success" commissioned by the Lone Star college System. Through in-person interviews, focus groups and surveys of more than 6,000 students on 36 college campuses, the research team asked students their views on a variety of issues.
"Every student had an opinion, but I found that a lot of colleges and universities aren't exactly reaching out and listening to what they have to say about how the money should be spent," said Mathews, who graduated in April.
In her four years of higher education, which included classes at a community college, she doesn't remember anyone asking what she wanted to see purchased or done regarding technology. And she saw professors ban computers or refuse to use technology that the college purchased.
Instead of banning them, students said in interviews that their professors should allow them to use computers and phones in class for learning. And students had the same concerns about technology spending and use, whether they were at a small rural community college or a large urban community college, Ardalan said.
Along with student responses, the research team analyzed 1.5 million student help desk inquiries from 55 college campuses and reviewed a number of major annual technology reports.
6 major findings
- Campus technology does not make it into the top three reasons why students choose a college, though students did say it's important. Faculty expertise and experience, student support resources and reputation took those slots.
- About 77 percent of students agreed or strongly agreed that their learning experience improved with effective technology use. About 25 percent of students missed an assignment deadline because of technology issues.
- In interviews, students said connectivity is no longer a challenge. The challenge is learning how to use campus technology and dealing with tech problems.
Students were highly dissatisfied or dissatisfied with online course management systems (4.1 and 9.2 percent respectively) and portals (4.7 and 9.8 percent respectively) more than any other technology. The majority of students were satisfied or highly satisfied with those two systems.
- Students cited three things that affect their success:
1. Lack of information on how they're doing in class.
2. Instructors who don't use a variety of methods and tools to help them learn.
3. Instructors who don't know how to use applications and technology that's available.
- They don't want technology just because it's technology. They want technology that helps them succeed and works consistently.
- Students recommended that their college presidents make a number of changes to help them succeed with technology, including giving students access to progress reports and grades throughout the semester.
College CIOs make assumptions and do a few surveys here and there, but most published reports don't separate out community colleges, Ardalan said. The college system will use the results of this research in its strategic planning process and plans to do another study next year.
He wants to make sure his college system of six campuses and more than 85,000 students is doing what students want.
"In technology, that whole notion of build it and they will come — it doesn't hold true anymore. You have to build it with them."
Note: This report is not available publicly. The college charges a fee of $500 for colleges and universities that didn't participate in the research. If you're interested in it, contact Marian Burkhart.