Are High Impact Practices Available Online?

I am still wrestling with my unease with MOOCs and I think I’ve finally figured out why: High impact educational practices, as we understand them today, are unlikely at best and impossible at worst in MOOCs and other similar online environments.

First, it’s helpful to understand that “high impact practice” (HIP) is a term of art.  Although the phrase is probably very common, in the past ten years or so the term has taken on special significance in U.S. higher education.  Popularized by George Kuh and emerging partly from research using data from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), this phrase has come to mean a particular set of activities that many higher education researchers believe are especially effective in promoting important and lasting changes in undergraduate students: First-Year Seminars and Experiences, Common Intellectual Experiences (i.e. core curricula), Learning Communities, Writing-Intensive Courses, Collaborative Assignments and Projects, Undergraduate Research, Diversity/Global Learning, Service Learning, Community-Based Learning, Internships, and Capstone Courses and Projects.

Unfortunately, we sometimes place too much focus on these particular activities without understanding why these activities have a high impact.  As originally described by Kuh in 2007, these practices share six characteristics:

  1. HIPs “demand that students devote considerable amounts of time and effort to purposeful tasks (p. 7)”
  2. HIPs place students in circumstances that require they “interact with faculty and peers about substantive matter (p. 7)”
  3. HIPs greatly increase the likelihood that students will interact with people who are different from themselves
  4. HIPs provide students with very frequent – sometimes continuous – feedback from faculty and peers
  5. HIPs require students to operate in intellectually complex ways by connecting knowledge in different courses and applying it in different contexts e.g. confronting complex real-world issues, investigating unfamiliar research problems
  6. HIPs occur in the context of a “coherent, academically challenging curriculum (p. 8)”

I am particularly interested in focusing on these characteristics of high impact practices as I will be helping lead a discussion on my campus next month focused on student engagement.  Most of the participants will be faculty and much of our focus will be on activities that faculty are using or can use in their curricula to promote student engagement.  Given that focus, I don’t think it would be helpful to focus on the specific activities identified as HIPs as those are often beyond the resources and purview of an individual faculty member.  Instead, we will focus on why those activities have a high impact so we can apply those principles to the activities within the power and resources of individual faculty.

That is what was on the forefront of my mind when I “attended” an EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) online conference last week that focused on MOOCs.  The conference had some very active discussions among participants and as I participated in those discussions it occurred to me that one of the primary reasons I am uncomfortable with MOOCs is that it is difficult or impossible to apply much of what we know about good teaching in that environment.

Look back up at those six principles of high impact practices.  How do we do apply those principles in a MOOC?  More pointedly, can we apply those principles in a MOOC?  I despair that the answer is mostly “no.”  I pray that it is a simple lack of imagination on my part, a misunderstanding of what we can do in a MOOC, or that this is a fatal flaw of the dominant MOOC model that others will quickly recognize and fix or use to abandon that model.  I also confess that I don’t completely understand all of the discussions about “xMOOCs” and “cMOOCs” on anything but a very theoretical and abstract level and I have a sneaky suspicion that I’m missing something very important in how cMOOCs address some of these principles.

There is another interesting and hopeful way to think about this.  Another ELI conference attendee – I’m sorry that I don’t remember who – suggested that there may be other paradigms of effective educational practices that MOOCs might better fit.  Although I am a little bit skeptical that our understanding of effective education is going to be radically upended, this recommendation to not be too constrained by our current thinking is a very good one.  In fact, that is one important reason why I will be trying to steer our discussion here on my campus next month away from the specific activities and toward the broader principles so we can compare our thinking about student engagement with that of others’.  The idea isn’t to impose the model on my campus but to use it as a common starting point that must be adapted to our unique needs and resources.

That, of course, is what we’ll need to do with MOOCs: Use our best understanding of effective teaching and shape it to this unique environment with unique affordances.  I don’t know how to do that and I don’t know if that is what is being done.  I am wary that much of what is being done is not methodical and not built on what we know about how people learn.  I am especially skeptical that we can provide the kind of demanding and socially and intellectually connected experiences that we know provide some of the best learning.  I hope that people smarter than I are figuring this out, though, and working out how MOOCs can provide high impact educational practices.

New NSSE Survey and Technology Questions

I’m super excited that my colleagues have finally made the new version of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE)  publicly available!  We’ve spent a lot of time working on this over the past 3-4 years, including focus groups, interviews, two pilot administrations, tons of literature review and data analysis, (seemingly) thousands of meetings, and many other events and undertakings.  I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been part of this process from nearly the beginning as I’ve learned a lot about survey development and project management.  I’m leaving NSSE at the end of the month so although I won’t be here when the new survey is administered next spring I’m still happy to be here to see the final version.

I’m particularly excited that the technology module (optional set of questions) has made it through all of our testing and will be part of the new survey.  There are other cool modules but this one has been my baby for over two years.  My colleagues here at NSSE – Allison and Heather – and my colleagues at EDUCAUSE – Eden and Pam – have been wonderful collaborators and I hope that they have had half as much fun and fulfillment working on these questions as I did.  It’s poignant to have spent so much time on this project only be handing it off to others just as it sees the light of day but I know it’s in good hands.  I am very hopeful that a significant number of institutions will choose to use this module and we will continue to continue to what we know about the role and impact of technology in U.S. and Canadian higher education.

Throughout all of this, I’ve remained especially thankful to have been so involved in the development of this new survey as a graduate student. Although I work half as many hours as the full-time doctorate-possessing research analysts, they have been very open about allowing me to be involved and never shied away from adding me to projects and giving me significant responsibilities.  I was never treated as “just a grad student” or a junior colleague, just one that worked fewer hours and had some different responsibilities.  Consequently, I had genuine responsibilities and made significant, meaningful contributions; I can honestly point to the survey and see my own fingerprints on some parts of it!  When I speak about meaningful educational experiences in the future, I’ll certainly think of this one as an excellent example.  And I will work to ensure that my students and colleagues can have similar experiences that allow them to learn, grow, and meaningfully contribute by performing important work with trust and support.

Quick Update: NSSE/EDUCAUSE Partnership

(I’m working on a longer post but I keep getting interrupted by life so this short post will have to do for now.)

I’m super excited that I’m going to the 2011 EDUCAUSE Annual Conference next month in Philadelphia to work with EDUCAUSE staff and members to develop potential questions for the next version of NSSE! I’ve always been a huge fan of EDUCAUSE and the work they do so I’m very hopeful that this collaboration will be fruitful and help us figure out the right kinds of questions to ask about technology. Over the past four years I’ve been involved in several efforts to address technology in NSSE and it’s very difficult so I’m really excited that we’ll be able to tap into the experience and expertise of technology experts.

I’m also a bit trepidatious about this collaboration. It’s young and in many ways undefined. I am hopeful that it bears fruit but it may fizzle out or even backfire since there is so much ground we have yet to cover and these are two large, complex organizations. Like many such efforts, it also feels like it is very dependent on a small number of people. While we’re all very talented and dedicated, we’re also incredibly busy and it may turn out that our interests are incompatible.

I’m also very thankful that this collaboration has even made it this far. It’s very gratifying that my colleagues are still willing to take risks on public ventures like this even as we continue to experience sharp public criticism. It’s more incredible for me to know that my supervisors have been supportive of this effort even though it has largely been championed by one graduate student. Of course, I haven’t done this or anything here by myself; I’ve had wonderful support from many people in nearly everything I’ve done here, especially from my current supervisor Allison BrckaLorenz who has been an enthusiastic supporter and wonderfully capable advisor from day one. Despite all of her other important responsibilities, Allison is neck deep in this EDUCAUSE/technology-thing with me and I’m so happy that she is involved!

So even though I’m a little fearful that this particular effort could fizzle out or even publicly blow up (which seems extraordinarily unlikely but I’m always a bit paranoid), I go into this knowing I’m not alone and I’m working with and for people as supportive as they are brilliant. I really want this collaboration between two of my favorite organizations to work. If this all works out well – and it will be a couple of years before we really know – it could be very powerful in helping U.S. higher education better understand and use technology to teach and communicate with undergraduates. I know that’s a very lofty aspiration but these two organizations are more than capable of fulfilling it.

ELI 2010: Liveblogging Palfrey’s Keynote

I love Palfrey’s book and I’m taking notes anyway so might as well share them…

John Palfrey, author of Born Digital.

  • Today’s USA Today: breathless article about youths’ use of technology
  • Wrote BD to “bust myths” and combay fears (“this can’t be good”)
  • Not all young people use technology in the same way; carefully defined their subject as a subset of the entire population, not an entire generation, including the digital divide and participation gap
  • Creating a culture where students can develop technology skills (i.e. reducing/eliminating the participation gap) is our biggest challenge
  • Social media opportunities: digital identities, interoperability, and creativity
  • Will spend much of talk on the fears and negative dialogue
  • Youths don’t see a difference between their offline and online lives
  • Many tools are starting to work together; “it’s less wrenching [to get students to use new tools]”
  • Social media problems: security, privacy, intellectual property, credibility, and information overload
  • Common fears: use of social tools makes kids vulnerable (especially to sexual predators) or make available to them “bad” information
  • Review of literature for Internet safety task force: no increase in sexual predation due to social media use
  • Kids need to be able to identify bad situations/people on- and offline; don’t blame the technology
  • Not a significantly greater likelihood of kids finding “bad” information (unless they’re already looking for it)
  • Bullying is something that is on the increase online; may not be an increase in bullying but an increase in its visibility and the creation of records of bullying
  • Use of public backchannel in Palfrey’s classroom this month resulted in nasty, anonymous comments
  • Kids share too much information about themselves online; they have unintended audiences, replicability, searchability, and persistence (nice reference to “digital tattoos” that they might want to remove later) (explicit references to danah boyd)
  • Myth: Kids don’t care about privacy.  Not true!  They just think about it differently.  And many of them just aren’t sophisticated or mature (they’re kids!).
  • Myth: Kids “steal” music and movies.  True.  Those who legally purchase music do so because they were gifted it (i.e. iTunes giftcards).
  • Kids presume that the media are free.  And they know that it’s unlawful.
  • Lots of confusion about the legality of reuse and remixing.
  • Palfrey is defending Shepard Fairey (the artist who created the Obama “HOPE” image using a photograph) to help reduce the confusion about fair use.  Some of Palfrey’s Harvard Law colleagues disagree with Palfrey so even the “experts” disagree/exhibit confusion.
  • Credibility problem: With the vast amount of information out there, how do we what’s credible?  (Authorship is a confounding problem.)
  • Consistent with other research, Palfrey’s subjects reported that they would use Google as their first stop to learn about new things, looking for the Wikipedia article first.  Broad deviation after that step (some skeptics thought their classmates may arrive there first and change the information :) ).  Few would look at history or Talk tabs but many look at the cited sources.
  • Some “advanced” students would go further: grazing, deep dive, then feedback.
  • Asked audience how many edit Wikipedia.  About 20% in this audience, the highest Palfrey has ever seen.  But none of the students in his study make more than trivial edits; they’re consumers, not creators, of Wikipedia.
  • Probably some truth to the concerns about information overload.
  • We can’t just think about things at the tool level; we have to think of the system.  We have to figure out our vision of the ideal learning environment in a fast-moving time (hence the broad focus).
  • The trick: Take the cue from architects and plan the design.
  • Ended talk with video created by one of his students.  The printed version of Born Digital is only one way to present the information.  This video is an alternative presentation of one of the chapters.
  • “We have to have the guts to trust these kids.  We have to give them the opportunity to show us how wonderful they are.”
  • Question: The students have the capabilities.  But what about the faculty?
  • Answer: Hugely challenging issue.  The key is to make it easier for them.  Maybe 5 of the 100 Harvard Law faculty really, really want to do this.  But most will only do if it’s easy and useful.  Emphasizing the “gee whiz” factor won’t sell the faculty.  Work with the faculty who are willing.
  • Question: “Born Digital” was an excellent synthesis of a great deal of very good research. What ongoing research or new researchers are you keeping an eye on now?
  • Answer: Mimi Ito’s new book and research.  Most interesting work being done by the MacArthur Foundation DML group.  Follow links from DML hub. (This was my question.  I was hoping that he would share something new to me but his answers are spot on even if they’re not new.)
  • Question: Does the Socratic method preclude the use of new media?
  • Answer: No.  Can use media to provide background information.  And the method can be used via technology.  But there are times when technology is not needed and may not improve things.

Check out ELI’s official resource page for this talk; it includes a link to a video recording of the entire talk.

Just Released: EDUCAUSE Research and Implemention of Copyright Education Laws

Three documents have been released over the past couple of days that are important and interesting:

  • The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2009 is the latest report from EDUCAUSE’s research arm focusing on undergraduate students and their use and perceptions of technology.  It’s always a well-done study and EDUCAUSE makes the full study (2.7 MB pdf) freely available to everyone so you should take a few minutes to glance over at least the Key Findings (330 KB pdf).
  • The EDUCAUSE Core Data Service Fiscal Year 2008 Summary Report is another report released by EDUCAUSE this week.  As the name implies, it’s a summary of results from the last round of data collection in the Core Data Service, EDUCAUSE’s database of educational technology information.  This document is one of the best (and often the only) publicly-available empirical source of information on technology in higher education, particularly if you’re looking for campus-based statistics such as how much money is spent on technology, how many people are employed to support it, and what kinds of practices and technologies are being used.
  • The Department of Education has released its final rules (2.12 MB pdf; search for “copyright” to find the specific areas of interest) specifying how to interpret the laws passed this summer requiring (Title IV-participating) colleges and universities to actively combat online copyright infringement.  At first glance, the final rules do not appear to differ from the proposed rules.

I hope to find time to dig into all three of these documents in the next couple of days.  I recommend that you do the same.

Higher Ed P2P Legislation Passed

Late last week, President Bush signed into law legislation to renew the Higher Education act.  There were some faint rumors (sorry, don’t remember where I read them) that he was not going to sign but he has, albeit without any comment.

In connection with the provisions in the law that pertain to online copyright infringement, ACE and EDUCAUSE have put together a few resources that should prove useful.  First is a memo released a few days ago detailing what the next steps in the legislative process will be as the details in these new provisions are fleshed out.  Second is a free webcast scheduled for Thursday August 21, 2008, at 1:00 PM EDT.  No registration is required; more details can be found here under the “HEA Webcast” tab.

Last week, the Chronicle of Higher Ed reported that we are becoming “exasperated” with the RIAA and their actions and tactics.  Shockingly, the article reports that the RIAA is trying a legal tactic that attempts to use an institution’s previous actions against it.  Specifically, an institution that complained in court that it was burdensome to continue to investigate the RIAA’s complaints was told by the RIAA that “everyone else does it” and the institution’s previous compliance was presented as proof that the investigations were not burdensome.  This seems to put colleges and universities in a really bad position because it appears to force them to decide, up front, if they want to comply with every subsequent RIAA notice and demand.  This doesn’t seem right as the RIAA’s argument seems to ignore the issues of scale and changing situations.  It may not have been burdensome to reply to the first few notices; replying to the 100th or 1000th such notice can easily be burdensome.

Like William Patry, I find this all very depressing.

Copyright Update: Higher Ed Act Compromise, DMCA Spike, and RIAA Methods

Things are still busy on the copyright front. Among other interesting developments and relevant news:

  • The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that lawmakers have reached a compromise on the online copyright infringement language in the Higher Ed Act. According to a draft being circulated by aides, “the compromise adopts the House’s requirement that colleges develop plans to ‘detect and prevent’ illegal downloading of music and videos on campus, including offering alternatives to illegal downloading. But negotiators provided a possible out for colleges, adding the phrase ‘to the extent practicable’ to the language.” So it appears that our concerns have been largely unheard or ignored and we will be expected to fund unproven programs and tools even as we’re severely criticized and chastened for increasing tuition and fees.
  • In the past month, many college and university administrators have reported an increase in the number of copyright complaints sent by the RIAA. There has been traffic on some of the listservs and articles in the usual places. Many, including myself, have wondered aloud if there is a connection between this unexpected surge in notices and the ongoing legislative efforts (at the federal and state level) supported and pushed by the RIAA and others. Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA, denies that there is a connection. Given this group’s history of dishonesty and deception I am extremely skeptical of Sherman’s claims. In addition, EDUCAUSE Vice President Mark Luker expressed EDUCAUSE’s position that “counting DMCA notices is a completely inappropriate measure of success in combating infringement and an equally inappropriate basis for comparing the amount of infringement taking place campus-to-campus or year-to-year.” I don’t recall if EDUCAUSE has previously stated this position but I am happy that we agree on this common-sense issue.
  • Spurred by the attention stirred up by the increase in notices, the RIAA explained how they “catch” students by using the same software students use to share music online. Their investigative firm, MediaSentry, has automated much of the process although they do not actually download the songs. In addition, the anonymous (WTF?) person who gave the Chronicle of Higher Education a demonstration of the RIAA’s operation said that “the automated takedown notice program we have right now is solely university-focused. We’re trying to make universities aware that they have an issue with peer-to-peer file sharing on their network, and so we don’t send automated notices to commercial ISP’s, I think because they are generally aware that there’s a problem.” That, of course, clearly says that the RIAA doesn’t think that colleges and universities are “aware” of this issue. Either that statement is untrue and the RIAA knows that we take this issue seriously or the world views of these two groups – those who profit off of others’ creativity and creations and those who create and innovate – are so far apart that they are irreconcilable.
  • Finally, to step out of the world of higher education and gain a glimpse of these issues from a different perspective, DailyTech reports that the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008 (PRO-IP) has passed through the House of Representatives almost unanimously (408-11). This bill would create a new cabinet-level position to coordinate “antipiracy” efforts and strengthen many laws related to copyright and its enforcement. This bill has been calleda bill that may be the most outrageously gluttonous IP bill ever introduced in the U.S.” by William Patry and criticized by even the Justice department.

Update: The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that Congressional aides are hoping to wrap up negotiations tomorrow (Friday), publish the bill on Monday, name the members of the conference committee on Wednesday, and hold a vote before Memorial Day.  Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is threatening to hold up the bill if “he is not allowed to offer an amendment that would waive some reporting requirements for colleges that agree to other accountability measures.”  Among his many experiences, Alexander was president of the University of Tennessee from 1988 until 1991, so one would imagine that he knows a thing or two about higher education.

ResNet Symposium: ECAR and RARG Security Survey Results

Two members of the ResNet Applied Research Group (RARG), Dave Futey and Clifton Pee, joined Rodney Peterson, EDUCAUSE Government Relations Officer and Security Task Force Coordinator, to present results related to security research conducted by those two organizations. Both of these organizations conducted work related to security last year: the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR) released the results of their “Safeguarding the Tower: IT Security in Higher Education 2006” study (although the study is only available to ECAR members, the Key Findings are publicly available) and the RARG released results from their “2006 ResNet Security Practices and Policies Survey.”

The bulk of the presentation focused not on survey results but on their meaning. Rodney concentrated his presentation on relating the ECAR data to the new EDUCAUSE/Internet2 Security Task Force’s Confidential Data Handling Blueprint. (although I did not attend SIGUCCS’ Computer Services Management Symposium, I am told that Rodney presented a very similar presentation in Savannah). The RARG data was a selection of results from the larger body of results followed by several questions intended to stir discussion among attendees.

Items raised in the discussion included:

  • An observation (initially made by myself but echoed by other attendees) that the experience of small colleges may differ significantly from larger institutions. In particular, we have fewer staff less likely to have the specific skills necessary to address complex legal and technical challenges related to security. We also may perceive of ourselves as “not targets” due to our small sizes as we “fly under the radar” while attention is focused on larger institutions. In response, Rodney observed that some institutions are shifting and training staff instead of hiring new persons.
  • What has changed in the last year? Or have we finally caught up to 2003 (a landmark year for ResNet programs as various worms decimated our networks during fall opening)? The primary response to these questions was “there have been no recent incidents.” This perceived lack of incidents led us to question if we are being successful in our efforts, merely lucky, or just untested.
  • When asked how often we should evaluate our security plans, Rodney reminded us that the federal government is required to review their plans whenever an incident occurs and at least annually (as required by the Gramm-Leach-Biley Act).
  • One attendee noted that her institution is formulating a security plan that encompasses not only IT but also paper forms and data recorded on paper. Rodney agreed that was necessary and advised us to place security in the context of risk and not computers or IT (“people, process, & technology” was the exact phrase he used).
  • When asked how we should define success in relation to security, one attendee replied that success has occurred when a culture embracing security has been created. Another opined that you only know when you’re unsuccessful.

Stepping back away from the content of the presentation, it was quite heartening to see this joint presentation between an EDUCAUSE staff member and members of the RARG.  I believe that it’s a sign of healthy maturity that the ResNet organization is reaching out to and being reached out to by other professional organizations.

2006 ECAR Study of Undergrads & IT

ECAR, EDUCAUSE‘s research arm, recently released the results of their 2006 Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology. While most ECAR documents are only available to ECAR subscribers and those who specifically purchase them, ECAR released this study to the public “because of the topic’s critical importance.” While I recommend everyone read through at least the Key Findings, let’s take a look at some of the findings, place them in context with other research, and try to extract some additional meaning from them.

First, without downplaying its strengths and essential validity, we must note the limitations of this study. Freshmen and seniors at 96 institutions were invited to participate (and each institution had to seek IRB approval – 96 separate IRB approvals for one study). The response rate was about 11% for a total of nearly 29,000 students. While that is a large number of respondents the researchers correctly state that their findings may only be directly applicable to the participating institutions and generalizing these results even to those institutions should be done with extreme caution. As with most surveys, the survey also suffered from self-selection bias. However, ECAR also conducted focus groups at 5 participating institutions to gather qualitative data which may have helped to offset some of these limitations. But enough about the methodology – let’s get on to some of the results.

One of the most striking findings of this survey is that computer ownership among respondents is nearly ubiquitous: 97.8% own at least one computer with over one-third (37.2%) of respondents owning both desktop and laptop computers. However, just as we’re finding in American society at large, there is also a very small minority of students who avoid or choose not to use technology. This is a separate group from those who can not afford technology or at least the level of technology they would like. Both of these groups not only present some difficulties for technical support personnel (who must support aging computers, users with uncommonly low technical skills or knowledge, etc.) but they also reveal a segment of American society who may never cross the Participation Gap, never mind the Digital Divide.

Another finding relevant for college and university administrators is that “overwhelmingly…students prefer e-mail [for institutional communication].” This finding should not be surprising. While we know that young people prefer to use Instant Messaging and other media such as social networking sites to communicate with their friends, they view e-mail as something for “old people” and a medium to be used to communicate with “institutions.” Without discussing whether the choice of medium is appropriate (there are very strong arguments that it is), we must admit to ourselves that we are indeed “old people” who work for “institutions.” Thus we can conclude that e-mail is most likely the correct medium for communicating most information to students.

Throughout the study, differences between male and female respondents are reported. For example, when discussing self-reported skill levels, the researchers note that “gender…is an influential factor in explaining perceived differences in skill levels: being male is associated with higher reported levels of skills.” Female respondents (as well as younger respondents) indicated a preference for less technology in their courses. Not surprisingly, “male [respondents] are more likely to be gamers, reporting higher usage of computer and online games.” While there is some evidence that many of these differences can be explained by factors other than gender (personal interests, academic major, economic status, etc.), this study provides evidence supporting the common sense notion that males and females use technology differently. (This is a fascinating area of scholarship)

ResNet professionals may be interested to learn that more than one-third (36.1%) of respondents reported owning a wireless “hub” (quotation marks are necessary as hub is a technical term often misused and likely incorrect in this context). While the report does not break down the different levels of ownership among on- and off-campus residents it does show that the level appears to correlate with age – the older a respondent the more likely he or she is to own a wireless “hub.” Based on that, I suspect the level of ownership may be higher among off-campus residents. But that may be wishful thinking. We know that despite students’ desire for ubiquitous wireless is far from being a reality in residence halls. We also know that wireless is perceived by many ResNet professionals as one of their top challenges. These issues are all summed up by the ECAR researchers who state that “the 1990s battle cry of a ‘port per pillow’ may be getting supplemented this century with ‘a router for every room, or at least a hub for every home!'” We’ll have to discuss the security ramifications of this later.

One surprising item in this study is that “more than 70% [of respondents] use social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook.” Although there is significant qualitative data in this study supporting the assertion that usage is very high, this survey’s quantitative data regarding reported usage of social networking sites is much lower than reported in most other studies of this specific topic of which I am aware. Why the disparity? Perhaps the data is “stale” (i.e. too old to reflect current trends). Or, more likely, the demographics of this group of respondents differ very significantly from those in the other studies with which I am familiar. For example, this is the only study of which I am aware that included students in 2-year institutions. Given the differences between “typical” students at 2-year institutions and 4-year institutions, many illuminated and discussed in this study, this may explain some or much of the difference. Although I am initially inclined to lend more weight to the larger body of evidence presented by those who specifically study this phenomenon, the sample size of the ECAR study is much larger than most other studies and surveys which lends it considerable weight. In any case, whether it’s “more than 70%” or closer to 90% or 100%, usage is still very high.

Here’s something that will make many student affairs professionals nod their head and smile: When discussing self-reported skill levels, the researchers noted that “students who report learning a skill for employment or personal interest also report higher levels of learning.” Preceding this comment is a brief discussion of students who possess skills not learned or taught in their coursework but acquired through employment, personal interests, or other means. The researchers even included a quote from a student who talks about skills learned through volunteer work with Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Score one for internships, co-ops, volunteer opportunities, (reasonable) employment, and other experiential learning opportunities and those who support and encourage students in finding those opportunities.

Finally, when asked to select where institutions should invest more money in IT, if money were available, nearly 28% of all respondents selected “Music (Napster subscription, etc.).” Moreover, there is a very clear trend that younger respondents selected this response much more frequently than older respondents. While this is an interesting finding, I assert that the methodology significantly weakens this finding as the respondents were asked to select three responses from a pre-defined list of ten possible responses. Nevertheless, this is an interesting finding as the research into entertainment services has thus far been very limited and found mixed results.

There’s a lot more in the full report and I’m sure there any many interesting and important findings that I could not or did not discuss here. It’s a good study and the report is well-written so read it when you have the time.

ResNet Outsourcing

I’ve recently been thinking about the state of ResNet outsourcing. There is very little data about this topic and it doesn’t seem to come up very often in the ResNet community but it’s out there. Allow me to take you on a brief tour of the available data and my thoughts.

A few recent items have mentioned this topic. Actually, they’ve more generally mentioned IT outsourcing. The first of these is the just-released EDUCAUSE Core Data Service FY2005 Summary. I (briefly) discussed this in my previous post. This document notes that “the use of external suppliers to run a campus IT function appears not to be a common practice overall.” More specifically, only 3.1% of respondents are outsourcing their ResNet. Another recent item that mentions outsourcing is the just-released results of University Business’ Technology Spending Survey 2007. The reported results of this survey are more general but 20% of respondents outsource their “IT Support” and 15% outsource their “Help Desk.” The extent of the outsourcing and other details don’t appear to be available in either of these documents (they’re broad, general surveys; there is no way to construct them to answer the questions or concerns of every niche or specialty).

The EDUCAUSE data are very similar to to the data in the 2005 ResNet Survey. Only 2% of the respondents to that survey indicated that they were, at the time of the survey (spring of 2005), outsourcing their ResNet; an additional 22% have considered or were considering it.

In addition to these surveys, I also recall seeing several EDUCAUSE programs and presentations related to ResNet outsourcing. The vast majority of them, however, are all related to one company: Apogee. While I am, in general, very skeptical of outsourcing ResNet, almost everything that Apogee’s clients have said about Apogee has been very positive. While it doesn’t appear that Apogee has a large number of clients, some of them are very large and significant (University of Texas (see clarification below in Update 3) and Florida State University). Their list of clients is certainly larger than I remembered it from the last time I looked into this issue and this company and they appear, from my outsider’s perspective, to be experiencing some level of success.

So that’s the trail that I followed when trying to figure out the current state of ResNet outsourcing. If I wanted to be even more thorough, I would search the archives of the ResNet listserv and perhaps post a message asking for help, insight, or input. I monitor that list pretty carefully and have been doing so for several years and thus consider such a search unnecessary for this brief, non-scholarly overview.

I don’t care to go into a lengthy discussion of the pros and cons of ResNet outsourcing. As mentioned above, many of my colleagues who have actually pursued this option appear to be pretty pleased with their decision. I’m sure that of the 4,000+ institutions of higher education in the United States nearly every possible decision is the right decision for some of those institutions. I am wary of surrendering the incredible (but often untapped) educational value of an institutionally-run ResNet program, including the student employment and leadership opportunities possible through a well-run ResNet program. On the other hand, I am very sympathetic to those institutions whose priorities differ and who do not have or care to dedicate the resources to maintain a ResNet.

Please accept my apologies for not being able to give you a succinct, well-written, and well-researched discussion of the causes, effects, and viability of outsourcing your ResNet. As a ResNet researcher, I am acutely aware of the dearth of data in this area. I am also aware of the immense variety among American institutions of higher education. Without a significant amount of data, attempting to generalize the few focused, single-institution discussions to every institution appears to be very foolhardy and unwise. We have quite a bit more work to do in conducting descriptive research before we can think of making prescriptions.

Update: The Chronicle has a short article about the perceived increase in IT outsourcing based on data from the EDUCAUSE Core Data Service and the Campus Computing Project (a survey I did not mention as it (a) doesn’t really have much ResNet- or student affairs-specific material and (b) has only a brief executive summary with the rest of the data reserved for paying customers). The Chronicle article isn’t bad for what it is but some of the numbers are pretty small and do I have to wonder about statistical significance as the article does appear to be trying to extrapolate these surveys’ findings onto the entire population. But the gist of the article – outsourcing is slowly increasing – appears to be correct, in general.

Update 2: InsideHigherEd also mentioned the EDUCAUSE Core Data Service and the perceived increase in outsourcing. I’m puzzled why a topic that is only briefly mentioned with no fanfare a handful of times in a 121 page document is attracting so much attention (relatively speaking).

Update 3: William C. Green, Director of Networking at the University of Texas at Austin, asked me to clarify his institution’s relationship with Apogee: “The University of Texas at Austin residence network is provided by university.  It is not now, nor has it ever been, outsourced to Apogee….Apogee does provide services to off campus private dorms and apartments.  And at one point had a contract to market that service through the university.”  Thanks for the clarification William!