IRC Conclusions Drawn From the Faculty Survey

Preface: The IRC is very satisfied with the response rate of the survey to assess faculty use of IT. The 216 forms collected represent an 85% response rate. This lends statistical credence to the findings. Admittedly, the fact that it asked for a self-assessment of faculty's expertise may introduce problems of definition and increase the survey's subjectivity. The method of executing the survey may not be flawless, but it was effective. Overall the survey can confidently be taken as an accurate picture of IT use by faculty members at this time.

  1. The number of classes identified as involving a significant use of computers (for course preparation, in class, or for student class assignments) is surprisingly large. This undermines any misconception that might be held that faculty are not using technology in the classroom. (Note: at present there are four "media" classrooms, plus two fully-equipped auditoriums, with plans to outfit the third auditorium and a fifth classroom. In addition there are two computer- intensive classrooms, and two general purpose classrooms with projection-only capability.)
  2. In all categories of teaching, scholarship and professional activities, E-mail and web-pages were among the top four technologies used. Over a third of all faculty members use E-mail for all purposes, and 92% of the faculty use E-mail for one or another purpose. It has become embedded into the life of the campus, in ways that are seemingly ineradicable, and presumably essential. It is no longer useful to separate E-mail out as an IT -- just as we might not consider the telephone an IT instrument. Although student and staff access to and use of E-mail may not be as uniform, it is still consistent with the trends identified in the faculty survey. The IRC supports initiatives to reduce where possible dependence on paper for the distribution of information, and to nurture an ethos of self-restrained consumption.
  3. On the other hand, Chat rooms and high-end graphics are not being utilized by many faculty in any area. These and other low-use tools need to be reconsidered: are they ineffective tools for the delivery of the curriculum and research, does the faculty lack interest in them, or does the faculty lack knowledge about their availability and functions? The IRC encourages the development of methods to assess the educational impact of high-end graphics, and cost-benefit analyses.
  4. On-line bibliographic resources also figure in the top four of most if not all categories of use. This suggests that the library's embrace of IT has paid dividends for its users.
  5. Although the response rate of assistant professors was less than their actual representation on campus, assistant professors' use of IT is higher in certain areas than that of other ranks. Overwhelmingly, they use presentation software more than any other rank in class, for publication or for professional presentations. Conclusions to be drawn are tentative and contradictory. Does it reflect a greater interest in IT on the part of assistant professors as a group, a greater willingness to explore IT, or a greater need to produce tenure-winning publications and presentations? At any rate, their increased use of presentation software in classrooms will drive the need for more lecture halls with the appropriate projection equipment.
  6. Natural/Mathematical and Social Science faculty are heavy users of the Web, On-line Bibliographic resources, and Discipline specific software. There is some difference of opinion on the conclusions to be drawn regarding discipline-based usage. On the one hand, patterns are perceived which may have implications for the outfitting of classrooms with IT most conducive to certain disciplinary tendencies. On the other hand, some regard the differences as negligible, or feel that differences in overall usage based on discipline are not major. Where the differences exist is at the level of software. Interestingly, the usage pattern seems to resolve into a great collection of individual interests, and not consistencies within disciplines. At a certain level, the variation among faculty within a department is greater than the variation among departments. This would seem to argue for a diversity of information technologies being made available and supported on campus, rather than a narrowing of choices. Initiatives like that of Bob Jones seem tailored for this situation, in that it draws on faculty expertise in one department and makes it available to interested members of different departments. The IRC will monitor this initiative and determine if it is a model which can be applied more frequently and broadly.
  7. The World Wide Web is used so extensively in teaching and for professional work, that it may require a re-ordering of priorities so that this can be maximized. In other words, it may be necessary to institute a policy of providing effective access to the Web in every faculty office, with ongoing updates to ensure the use of the most current browsers. The implementation of the new administrative system will make it even more important for every faculty member to have access to the web, since student advising and registration functions will have web interfaces.
  8. The use of software is surprising in its depth and breadth. Nearly fifty programs are supported on a high, medium or low level of familiarity by the CITS staff, but another 110 or more are unsupported at any level other than the most general by CITS staff. This means that the faculty respondents are using a very wide range of software with general or non-CITS technical help. This is an impressive number and suggests that the level of IT use beyond the user-friendly E-mail, the Web, and personal-computer word processing applications is substantial. No one is being forced or even encouraged to use non- supported software, yet its use flourishes.

In summary, close consideration of both the faculty survey and the Hawkins report has led the IRC to the following resolve: we urge that Skidmore College not reduce its financial commitment to IT. The benefits to the academic and financial health of the college, its faculty, staff and students, are tangible and compelling. Careful scrutiny to ensure the equitable and judicious distribution of IT resources needs to continue, and instruments to assess classroom and cost effectiveness of IT need to be developed. However, the aggregate sense is that Skidmore Colleges investment in IT was wise and should continue.

Approved by the Information Resources Council, March 26, 1998

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