HIGHER EDTECH | by Julie Smith
Students lead the edtech evolution and bring tools from their personal lives into the academic environment.
Not long ago we were looking forward to the 21st-century and the expectation that technology would be integrated into every aspect of our daily life. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that our expectations have been exceeded. Personal computing, once defined by a large desktop computer monitor and a huge hard drive, has given way to netbooks, e-readers and tablet computers not much bigger than a book, and certainly much lighter. Land lines are now considered dated technology and wired car phones turned into cell phones, which evolved into smartphones. Further, millions log into Facebook and Twitter often while simultaneously listening to music on an MP3 player and sending IMs.
Our college campuses have also adapted to the changing technology, but higher education’s pace of adoption still lags compared to our everyday lives—or more importantly, compared to our students’ lives.
Since 2008, CDW-G has conducted an annual survey of college students, faculty and IT staff to gather a first-hand account of campus and classroom technology, technology integration and identify what is still needed to move our campuses to the forefront of 21st-century technology. Our findings have been encouraging.
The 21st-Century Campus Report* found that students and educational technology advocates have pushed technology to the top of the higher education agenda, with an ever-increasing number of higher education faculty and IT professionals echoing the importance of technology as a learning tool.
The 2009 report asked faculty about the technologies that defined a smart classroom. The responses demonstrated a somewhat narrow understanding of technology and its educational potential; Internet/wireless access and an LCD projector were the only technologies to draw a majority response. The 2010 report, however, reveals forward momentum and indicates that institutions are successfully integrating new technologies into classroom experiences, with a majority of IT staff reporting that their colleges offer digital content (70 percent), virtual learning (61 percent) and online collaborative software (58 percent).
More telling, perhaps, is that this year, 88 percent of faculty report that technology is essential to success in their class and a useful tool for students. Critically, three-quarters of students believe that their college understands how they want to use technology as a learning tool. Now that’s progress.
It’s all too easy to congratulate ourselves on these technological accomplishments but, before we get too comfortable, we are well-served remembering one crucial fact: Each fall, a new class of students arrives on campus. Not only is each entering freshman class more tech savvy and tech dependent than the previous, but they arrive on campus with high expectations. They expect that their campus’ use of technology will neatly align with how they use technology in their personal lives.
In a similar survey of 400 high school students, 93 percent said that an institution’s technology offerings are important to their college selection process. Only 63 percent of today’s college students used that same criteria when they were looking at colleges. Current high school students also reported high expectations for how and how often they wanted to use technology in their college classes. The conclusion is clear: Institutions that do not offer technology-rich campuses risk losing potential students to institutions that do.
So, what do we do?
When asked about the biggest barrier to technology integration, not surprisingly, faculty and IT staff cite budget as king. In education we have barely enough budget to accomplish everything we need to, and rarely enough to accomplish all the things we’d like to. There are ways, however, to work around the issue. Focusing on technologies that deliver a high return on investment (ROI) is a great place to start. For example, server virtualization, IT infrastructure upgrades and unified communications all provide institutions with an immediate and cost-effective impact to the campus, while simultaneously laying the foundation for better classroom technologies.
Inside the classroom, replacing costly print textbooks with digital content and a computing device provides students with better access to information and offers new learning experiences to faculty and students. Additionally, videoconferencing technologies can augment course offerings and enable classes to connect with partner schools in different cities, states or around the world.
Finally, administrators, faculty and IT personnel must accept that social media is here to stay and usage increases with each successive cohort of students. While 64 percent of current college students use social media to connect with classmates/professors to study or work on assignments, 76 percent of high school students—our future students—report doing the same.
The Millennial generation will continue to enter college for another ten years. Their expectations will not diminish. Standing still is not an option for incoming college students who believe the whole world is ahead of them. Although moving forward can be difficult for educators and institutions, we must also reject the option to stand still by looking to the future, embracing the next generation and continuing to integrate technology into the curriculum. Institutions that do not meet these expectations will risk being left behind.
*CDW-G 21st-Century Classroom Report: www.cdwg.com/21stCenturyClassroomReport
Julie Smith is vice president of higher education for CDW-G, where she leads a team providing best-in-class information technology products to address higher education institution issues with processes and reporting, state mandates, institutional funding, staff resources and technology standardization.