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Colleges Push for New Technology Despite Budget Woes

Campus information-technology budgets showed signs of a gradual recovery in 2010, with 20-percent fewer programs than last year reporting financial cuts, according to the new Campus Computing Survey, which was released today at the Educause meeting in Anaheim, Calif.

That doesn’t mean the good times are rolling, however. With 41.6 percent of colleges still reporting cutbacks, IT departments continue to feel a pinch.

Kenneth C. Green, founding director of the survey, said even though the budget cuts seem to be waning, IT departments are still reeling from deep cutbacks over the past few years. “There’s just tremendous financial pressure,” Mr. Green said. “For the campuses where the numbers are going up, it’s not enough to upset what was cut in prior years.”

The annual report is based on a comprehensive survey of top IT officials from 523 two- and four-year private and public institutions, and is meant to give a snapshot of technology use on college campuses. The survey was conducted in late September and early October.

Despite budget woes, the report shows many colleges are moving forward with plans for new technology in several areas.

Colleges are putting more course content online with wikis and lecture-capture techniques. Approximately 65 percent of colleges said they are developing a strategic plan to deliver instructional content through lecture capture and podcasting. The survey found, however, that only 4.4 percent of classes now use lecture capture and just 4.5 percent use podcasts. Only 3.5 percent of respondents used lecture capture and 3.9 percent used podcasting last year.

Meanwhile, 70.3 percent of institutions said mobile apps are an important part of campus plans to improve instruction and campus services, though only 13 percent of campuses use mobile apps tied to an online learning-management system.

While many campuses are looking for ways to use the technology, Mr. Green said they are in the very early stages of deployment. “It’s not a matter of if, but when,” he said.

Four out of five institutions—86.5 percent, compared with 73.6 percent last year—said they believed e-book content would play an important part in classroom instruction over the next five years. But only 4.5 percent of classes use e-books or electronic textbooks.

As e-books and mobile apps gain traction outside of academe, students familiar with the technology will expect colleges to make use of it. Mr. Green said colleges are now starting to build up their infrastructure—beefing up bandwidth on campus, for instance—and running pilot programs to prepare for students coming in with the equipment. “Campuses may have some play in the pilot projects,” he said, “but the model is still going to be students buying that stuff.”

In addition to classroom technology, colleges are increasingly concerned with student activity on social networks like Facebook. More than 15 percent of institutions reported an “incident” related to social networking—cyberstalking or cyberbullying, for example—in the past year.

Many colleges have taken steps to help students navigate social networks safely. About 20 percent of campuses said they have a policy on student use of social media in place, and more than 65 percent said they provide counseling on online privacy.

The problem with social networking, Mr. Green said, is that student attitudes on online etiquette develop even before they get to campus. However, as online behavior causes social problems among students, he said, “addressing these things is increasingly becoming a campus issue.”

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