ECAR Study of Faculty and Information Technology, 2017
Postsecondary instruction in 2017 often involves—and even depends upon—a staggering array of sophisticated technologies and complex systems, some of which faculty may or may not fully understand how to use or even wish to use. For the third edition of our study of faculty and information technology, ECAR has sought to map and understand faculty use and perceptions of these campus- and classroom-based technologies and systems. Drawing on responses from thousands of faculty members across dozens of U.S. institutions, this report offers a rich and challenging contribution to the higher education field’s developing understanding of faculty engagement with and use of technology.
It is clear from this report that faculty have critical roles to play in shaping the experience of campus technology for their students and other faculty, and that in some ways faculty are embracing and thriving in these roles. It is also clear, however, that in other ways faculty are struggling to accommodate the preferences and requirements of an increasingly high-tech student body. Among the important findings put forth in this report, we are faced with the possibility that faculty optimism about the benefits of technology-based instruction may lag far behind the optimism of the students they teach. And when faculty are not optimistic about the benefits of certain instructional technologies, they tend not to engage in the teaching modalities that use those technologies, resulting in a gap between student needs and faculty practice. In a postsecondary environment that will likely only continue to become more digitized, awareness and understanding of faculty skepticism about and even resistance to new educational technologies will be critical for future pedagogical effectiveness and student learning outcomes.
It is my sincere hope that faculty, institutional leaders, and other higher education professionals will engage deeply with this year’s ECAR faculty report and that this report will enlarge institutions’ and higher education leaders’ understanding and resourcing of faculty’s technology-based needs and practices. I also strongly encourage readers of this report to read ECAR’s companion report on students and technology, ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2017. The shifting balance of faculty and student technology-based experiences and preferences, I believe, creates rich opportunities for institutions to innovate and build better paths toward institutional and student success.
May you enjoy and benefit from this excellent report, as I know I have.
—Mark McCormack, EDUCAUSE
This report is the third study of faculty and information technology to be conducted by ECAR. While the form, function, and findings of these reports have evolved over the years, the common thread that binds them is a desire to understand how faculty are using technology in service to their teaching and research. And although higher education IT organizations are the primary audience for this report, we think that many other stakeholder groups can make use of the findings and recommendations presented here as well, including those who run faculty and professional development programs; instructors drawn from every type of institution, discipline, and level of experience; student affairs professionals; and of course faculty members themselves.
In this year’s study of faculty and IT, we have elected to present and discuss only findings that have analogs in this year’s companion study of undergraduate students and IT. In both this report and the student study, readers will find data and analysis related to the following topics:
- Device ownership
- Campus technology experiences
- Security training and practices
- Sources of technology support
- Classroom technology experiences
- Desired technologies for teaching and learning
- Student success technology evaluations
- Perspectives and preferences for teaching and learning environments
- Classroom mobile experiences and policies
In this way, the reports can be read side by side, in tandem, or as a “call and response” between instructors and their students.
Understanding how faculty relate to and use educational technologies, and what they think about their IT services, is essential to meeting instructional technology and research computing demands. In this third edition of the faculty study, 13,451 respondents from 157 institutions in 7 countries (including the United States) and 37 U.S. states participated in the research. The quantitative findings in this report were developed using the 11,141 survey responses from faculty at 131 U.S. institutions. All types of faculty were invited to participate: part-time and full-time faculty; teaching and research faculty; faculty working with undergraduates, graduates, and professionals; tenured and nontenured faculty; and all levels of academic rank (e.g., full, associate, and assistant professors; lecturers, adjuncts, and instructors).
This report makes generalized statements about the findings based on the large number of survey respondents. Applying these findings, however, is an institutionally specific undertaking. The priorities, strategic vision, and culture of an institution will inevitably affect the meaning and use of these findings in a local context. Moreover, by combining the findings reported here about faculty with ECAR’s findings about undergraduate students, this report series can help institutions gain a better understanding of IT on campus in relation to many aspects of institutional operations. This report should therefore be seen not as the end of the discussion about faculty use of IT on campus but only the beginning.
- Faculty are quite happy with the technology and support provided by their institution. Those faculty who seek technical support from their institution’s help desk are the most satisfied. Teaching and research assistants are also a valuable source of informal tech support to faculty.
- Technology training offered to faculty is an opportunity to “train the trainers.” When seeking technology support, faculty prioritize information sources that they perceive as signifying expertise. Faculty seek technology support from their institution’s help desk first, then figure it out themselves, then ask colleagues.
- Faculty are critical to raising awareness among students about technology training offered to students. Such technology training is critical for student success. About half of faculty believe that their students are prepared to use institutionally specific technology, though fewer than half of students believe this of themselves. This is a major point of failure for students but one that can be overcome by the institution’s identifying students’ most critical training needs and faculty’s raising awareness of available training.
- Faculty have confidence in their institution’s ability to safeguard their data and that of their students. The institution’s actions to safeguard this data, however, are largely invisible to faculty. Nevertheless, there has been a jump since the previous faculty survey in the degree to which faculty claim to understand their institution’s policies about data use, storage, and protection, which may indicate the success of efforts by campus IT units to communicate policies.
- Many faculty buy their own personal computing devices. Most institutions provide faculty with a laptop or a desktop, yet many faculty additionally buy themselves a personal laptop, and nearly all faculty own a personal smartphone. These high ownership rates for personal devices, which are presumably used on campus at least sometimes, raise the potential for security risks to the institution’s network.
- Despite the increasingly widespread use of student success management systems in higher education, many faculty do not use them. This, despite these systems’ potential to inform faculty members’ teaching and advising. This may point to faculty concerns about the functionality of such systems.
- The LMS that is implemented at an institution has little impact on faculty members’ use of it or their satisfaction with that use. Faculty use their institution’s LMS at high rates but mostly only for operational, course management functions like circulating information such as the syllabus, handouts, and assignments. Faculty satisfaction with these operational, course management functions of their institution’s LMS is high and varies little across different LMSs.
- Faculty have a love–hate relationship with online teaching and learning: They don’t want to do it but think they would be better instructors if they did. Most faculty agree that online learning makes higher education available to more students, but few agree that online learning helps students learn more effectively. Faculty predominantly teach courses with no or only some online components, and this is how faculty members prefer to teach courses. Yet most faculty believe that they could be more effective instructors if they were better skilled at integrating various technologies into their courses. Media-production software and open educational resources (OER) top this list. In other words, faculty say that they do not want to teach online and do not believe it helps students learn more effectively, but when asked about the tools and technologies that enable online learning, faculty believe that their teaching would be improved by their use.
- Faculty are self-selecting into the teaching modalities that they believe in. Of faculty who prefer to teach entirely face to face, most do not believe that online learning helps students learn more effectively. Of faculty who prefer to teach completely online, however, most agree that it does.
- The greater a faculty member’s skill in classroom management, the more likely the faculty member is to encourage or require students to use devices in the classroom. A large percentage of faculty either discourage or outright ban computing devices of all types from their classroom. Older faculty members with a greater number of years in a faculty position, however, are less likely to establish such a policy. With age and experience in a faculty position, of course, generally comes greater skill in classroom management.