The rate of change in technology presents challenges for all of us in our daily lives. Whether it’s the latest apps or newest phones, it’s a steep and continuous learning curve. For universities and colleges, the choices about how we use technology to educate students are many and the options potentially costly, in dollars as well as opportunities. Should we explore or expand online courses, degree programs, or MOOCs (massive open online courses)? How should we invest in hardware, software, and humanware? Should we beat the competition to it, or learn from the mistakes of early adapters? What do we need to do now? Decisions about educational technology are among the most consequential. They affect the core of academic institutions: how faculty teach and students learn.
Board members of universities and colleges, most of whom are between 50 and 69 years old, are not digital natives and, if given a choice, are more likely than not to ask their kids (or grandkids) for help with their electronic devices. How prepared are these boomers to make strategic decisions in the boardroom about the role of educational technology at their colleges or universities? Are they asking the right questions and are they getting the right information?
The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) conducted a survey about boards and educational technology in Spring 2013. More than 2,000 board members of AGB member institutions participated (15 percent response rate). We’ve learned from this survey that more than half of boards (57.6 percent) are spending more time on educational technology issues (Fig. 1), but not many (about one-third) are getting board-level information on online learning they would consider to be excellent or even good (Figure 9). More than twice as many board members think online learning will be “important” or “essential” at their institution in five years (71 percent), compared to today (28 percent) (Figure 12), yet only 19 percent of board members think their boards are “prepared” for making decisions about educational technology (Figure 6). And, while five years is a very short timeframe for change in higher education, more than one-third (35 percent) think their institutions are moving too slowly with online learning; almost none (one percent) think they’re moving too quickly (Figure 11).
AGB’s recent white paper on MOOCs¹ advised: “While information technology (IT) is the medium through which disruption of the academic enterprise is taking place, that disruption is not about IT. IT is an enabler of almost every aspect of life in the 21st century—on our campuses, in our workplaces, and in our homes. But what is most important for higher education is the transformation of teaching and learning. The ‘techies’ are indeed backstage, making things happen, but the ‘stars’ on the stage are the faculty and instructors. This revolution is not about IT. It is about teaching and learning.”
We hope these data from AGB’s survey on educational technology help inform you and your board as you consider the impact of technology on teaching and learning at your institution. In addition, we offer these questions from a report of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation Chief Information Officers² to guide board discussions and decisions about these issues:
- What kinds of online experiences are needed as substitutes for current models [of teaching and learning], and/or as complements for current models?
- How—and why—does scale matter? Should there be a focus on massive courses versus smaller ones? Whole programs versus a course-level focus? For-credit and fee courses versus noncredit and free courses?
- What is lacking at the institution to achieve online objectives? What must be put into place strategically, tactically, and operationally to advance success?
- What kinds of partners are needed, and why?
- What is the degree of urgency? Are there issues that should be addressed sooner as opposed to later?
1 Brian D. Voss, “Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): A Primer for University and College Board Members,” AGB White Paper, March 2013, pg. 1.
2 “Is This Time Different? Questions for MOOCs and Online Learning Beyond 2012,” Committee on Institutional Cooperation Chief Information Officers, August 2012, in Brian D. Voss, “Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): A Primer for University and College Board Members,” AGB White Paper, March 2013, pp. 17–19.