Colleges Want More Digital Courseware, Fewer MOOCs

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What you buy doesn’t always reflect what you value.

The latest Campus Computing Survey, taken by senior-level technology officers from 417 two- and four-year US public and private colleges, revealed several gaps between priorities and spending.

Just like results from the 2014 survey, helping faculty integrate technology in their instruction is the highest priority for universities this year, followed by recruiting and retaining IT staff. But this year, 74 percent of respondents acknowledge their schools do not offer competitive salaries for these positions; 26 percent even reported cutting IT staffing, and 18 percent slashed professional development funds.

The products that are making headlines and raising capital, such as learning management systems and enterprise resource planning tools, rank at the bottom of this year’s priority list.

There is plenty of untapped demand, however, for digital instructional resources and adaptive learning products; over 94 percent of respondents believe these tools can deliver better student outcomes. But just 10 percent of general-ed courses currently use digital courseware—and only four percent use adaptive tools. And only six percent of courses make use of open educational resources (OER), even though 38 percent of respondents say their schools encourage faculty to do so.

“The emerging OER movement may offer a viable alternative to commercial textbooks and course content,” said Kenneth “Casey” Green, Director of The Campus Computing Project, in a prepared statement. There will be plenty of options to choose from. Already, startups including Lumen Learning and panOpen offer to help faculty curate, customize and measure the efficacy of OER content. Similar tools have sprung out of universities including Carnegie Mellon (Acrobatiq), Penn State (BBookX) and Rice University (OpenStax).

The increasing confidence that technology officers have in digital courseware should be a welcome sign for the education technology industry. But here’s what they’re less enthused about: MOOCs. Only 35 percent of respondents currently see them as a viable model for delivering online instruction—down from over 50 percent in 2013. And less than 20 percent believe MOOCs offer a viable business model for generating revenue—down from nearly 30 percent in 2013.

But whether schools opt to adopt OER, MOOCs or other forms of digital courseware, only one-fifth of them “have a formal program to assess the impact of IT on instruction and learning outcomes,” said Green. Often, “decisions about IT in instruction are often fueled by good intentions, anecdotal data, opinion, and epiphany as opposed to research and hard evidence.”

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