Andy Lausch is vice president of CDW•G Higher Education.

Aug 05 2011

Technology's Essential Role


Students like to own their learning experience and collaborate and interact with other classmates. It makes learning more enjoyable and, ultimately, more rewarding.

Both of those components can be enhanced by the use of technology.

The good news for teachers and students is that technology integration has expanded rapidly within higher education classrooms in the past year, according to the 2011 CDW•G 21st Century Campus Report.

For example, in 2011, 31 percent of students say they use technology in every class, versus 19 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, 65 percent have taken an online class, and 62 percent say virtual learning offers an opportunity for professional adults to take classes while working full-time.

The CDW•G report, now in its fourth year, examines the role of technology in higher education. More than 1,200 college students, faculty administrators and IT staff members took part in the survey.

Clearly, the 21st century classroom is becoming a reality, but the technology enhancements don't stop there. Twenty-three percent of IT professionals now rate their institution's technology as cutting edge, up from 9 percent a year ago. Additionally, IT shops are keeping pace with innovation, with 48 percent of IT respondents noting that their institutions run hardware and software no more than three years old.

Constructive Criticism

Although these are positive results, the study also seeks to identify barriers to technology use.

Collectively, the stakeholders – faculty, administrators, students and IT staff – see their faculty's lack of technology knowledge as a big challenge.

One IT staff member pointed to a lack of understanding of what students and faculty desire on the part of administrators, which hinders the growth of classroom technology. This staffer believes that if administrators had a better sense of what users wanted, budgets might not be as restrictive.

That may be so. Regardless, many institutions face budget challenges, prompting 50 percent of administrators to rank funding shortfalls as their second most pressing concern, behind attracting and retaining students at 60 percent.

As the study points out, although administrators are focused on student retention and budget issues, only 22 percent identify using technology to enhance learning as a top priority, and just 12 percent consider improving and enhancing IT a top concern.

These numbers are staggering when one considers that 87 percent of current college students say that a school's technology was a consideration in their college selection decision. Students report that they are more engaged when they use new and innovative technologies. So what's next?

To download the report, go to

Institutions need to recognize that this generation is accustomed to accessing information digitally and that they may be more likely to keep up with classwork and earn degrees if they can interact digitally on campus.

The corollary is that faculty must in turn think about how embracing online learning and integrating technology in their curricula affect teaching. In the case of online courses, there's more to the process than simply replicating face-to-face instruction. And finally, even though everyone realizes these are difficult times, to lessen the budget blow, institutions can take advantage of refreshes when systems come to their end of life.

Making IT improvement a focus is a direct response to the retention concern: 92 percent of current high school students identify technology as an important factor in college selection. And despite being preoccupied with budgets, administrators understand this. In our report, 98 percent say that learning and mastering technology skills will improve students' educational and career opportunities. Now that's something just about everyone can agree on.