UW News

February 26, 2009

Wiring University for 21st century educational needs remains work in progress, survey shows

News and Information

Three years ago, students, faculty and TAs responding to a survey on technologies for teaching and learning identified the need for more access to technology and software in classrooms. Students also asked for more access to wireless networks.

Three years later, the needs are still there. Wiring the University for 21st century educational needs remains a work in progress. Moreover, despite the availability of a host of new products with implications for instruction, the landscape is still dominated by four applications: e-mail, Web pages, word processors and presentation software.

These are the results of a recent survey conducted by Learning and Scholarly Technologies. The survey showed that the chief obstacles to employing technology involve lack of time to learn how to use new technology or to maintain and monitor technology once implemented, as well as lack of training “Lack of time is a huge issue, especially for faculty,” says Cara Lane, of the survey’s authors. “Faculty report that even when they have some familiarity with the technology, they often don’t know how to use it to achieve their goals.”

The results will be presented at a Spark Session from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Thursday, March 5 in 220 Odegaard.

The survey suggests that support issues will not be solved centrally. While faculty and TAs would like to see better integration of the online technologies that they use, they are more likely to rely on faculty or staff in their unit as their primary source of expertise than they are to turn to centralized resources. . Online help and tutorials are also frequently used, but tend to be the most helpful to those with the greatest expertise.

It has become accepted wisdom that students are more expert at using technology than faculty. However, when asked to measure their technical expertise using defined skills with common technologies as reference points , the faculty who generally report the least expertise — the most senior faculty — estimate their level of mastery at about the same level reported by the average lower division student.

Three years ago, students strongly urged that faculty be required to post Web pages for all their classes. Despite the lack of a central mandate, the world has evolved to the point where more than 90 percent of lecture classes are supported by Web pages. However, the level drops to about 67 percent for classes of 25 students or less.

“There are still large gaps in technology use,” Lane says. “TAs use technology much less than faculty, and this has implications especially for what is going on in lower division classes.”

There has been periodic agitation for mandating a set of common software for use in classes, but survey respondents, in all groups, did not think this was a high priority. “People tend to use a combination of tools, available from multiple sources, and the options available are continually changing” Lane says. “Because this varies widely, and because of where people seek support, a centralized ‘one size fits all’ approach is unlikely to meet everyone’s needs.”

As the University looks forward to a lean fiscal climate, the survey’s results can help the UW make targeted investments with the most payoff. “Many faculty and students still need the basics,” Lane says. “We still have great potential for expanding the appropriate use of technology for teaching and learning.” And because of time pressures, those technologies need to be easy to use.

The entire survey is available online.

The technology survey is conducted every three years. In addition to Learning and Scholarly Technologies, partners include UW Libraries, UW Teaching Academy, the Office of Information Management, the Faculty Council on Educational Technology, the School of Medicine, the Office of Educational Assessment, and other units of UW Technology.