To: Faculty, Staff, and Administrators

From: Robert P. DeSieno, Acting Associate Dean of the Faculty 

Subject: Survey of faculty to determine their use of information technology in support of teaching and learning

Date: January 22, 1998


In December of 1997, with assistance from departmental secretaries, the Information Resources Council launched a survey to learn how and how much Skidmore faculty use information technology to support teaching and learning. The executive summary attached to this note reports the most evident findings of that survey, and provides the community with several insights about the role of information technology in the mission of the College: education of our students.

The reliability of surveys is always constrained by their design, by the percentage and representative qualities of those who respond, and by the effectiveness in administering the instrument. It is our response to the second of these constraints upon which the Council hangs its hat: 216 people responded and that number is 85% of the population we aimed to survey. This level of response encouraged us to believe that we had chosen a reasonable means for administering the survey. Analyses of this population taught us that various sectors of the community responded in numbers that were representative of their relative populations in the faculty. As for design of the survey, we stand by that which we selected; other questions might have been asked and other answers retrieved. We are persuaded that the questions we asked elicited valuable information that helps us understand how much and how deeply our faculty are using information technology.

The Council believes this is an apt time to study faculty use of information technology. College investment in information technology (and staff to support its operations) is considerable. We wished to assess in some framework how much our faculty use this investment and to what ends. The response is remarkable, though less than surprising. Every segment of the faculty (across disciplines, rank, and gender, for example) is richly represented by people who use information technology in one form or another (web, e-mail, on-line resources, etc.) to assist teaching and learning. These finding exist within a local context that exhibits, over the last four years, an average increase in the monthly transmission of e-mail messages of 135% per year. To convey order of magnitude, in October 1997 the College e-mail system handled 151,000 messages. Meanwhile, by October 1997, 1000 of our students had connected the computers in their dorm rooms to the RESNET. Now, our faculty report that they use digital information technology in over 700 courses, or 45% of the courses in our curriculum.

Moving beyond the boundaries of our campus, we observe in The Eighth National Survey of Desktop Computing and Information Technology in Higher Education report that faculty at liberal arts colleges in America are accelerating rapidly their uses of information technology to help educate their students. Ann Henderson reports that a recent survey of our frosh informs us that 69% of these students use computers and that three fourths of that group consider themselves frequent and proficient users of computers. At the January 1998 meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, we observed many colleges and universities deeply concerned with issues of 'collaborative inquiry,' 'hands-on/experiential learning,' and 'research and inquiry-based learning.' Modern information technology is fast becoming an integral part of these ways of learning.

In matters of education and information technology, we are moving in a stream that races toward ends we can neither see nor know. As we follow that flow, we must ask penetrating questions about the depth of our commitment to information technology and make difficult choices about spending resources to sustain and enrich our uses of that technology. The Council believes this survey will supply useful insights that help Skidmore assess the merits of recent College investments in information technology and provide some guidance for analogous investments in the near future.