Victoria Getis, Senior Director of Teaching and Learning Technologies at Northwestern University, Jay Gladdin, Associate Vice President for Learning Technologies at Indiana University, Jason Beaudin, Executive Director of Educational Technology at Michigan State University, and Charlie Collick, Director of IT Accessibility and Academic Technology at Rutgers University, discuss how to use data collection to provide meaningful IT support. 

Oct 28 2022

EDUCAUSE 2022: How Data Collection Can Improve Student and Faculty IT Support

Ongoing communication and shared governance will be vital for university IT teams to support the next normal of learning.

The rise of online learning and exponential growth in the use of digital technologies in higher education has students and faculty talking, and IT teams should be taking this feedback seriously. At the 2022 EDUCAUSE Annual Conference, a panel of teaching and learning technology experts discussed how their institutions are collecting and implementing learnings from this data.

“What are we doing in this not-quite-post-pandemic moment to understand the needs of our campuses in terms of teaching with technology and learning with technology?” said Victoria Getis, senior director of teaching and learning technologies at Northwestern University. “What can we do to improve the faculty experience and the student experience?”

IT Leaders Gather Student and Faculty Data from a Variety of Sources

This improvement starts with gathering information, which can include formal institutional surveys and informal methods, like reviewing the school newspaper or speaking with student organizations.

Jay Gladdin, associate vice president for learning technologies at Indiana University, said the data gathering method he finds most effective is small group dialogue, particularly with faculty. They can provide specific feedback about the technologies that impact their teaching.

“It can be really simple things, like learning that our audio was insufficient to handle hybrid learning experiences, so we updated our standard bill to include better audio throughout the classrooms,” he said. “That’s nothing too creative, dynamic or innovative, but it comes specifically from listening to faculty, based on their experiences listening to students.”

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Working directly with the student body can be another way to gain insights into their experience. Student governments, for example, typically have a more direct line of communication to the student population than the IT department, said Jason Beaudin, executive director of educational technology at Michigan State University.

Charlie Collick, director of IT accessibility and academic technology at Rutgers University, said data is best used to support meaningful campuswide change when it’s shared across departments.

“For us, it’s less about the data that we’re collecting, because we certainly are collecting a lot of it. But when it ends up in a silo, and strategic decisions are made in that silo based on that data set, that’s where we’re falling short in meeting the needs of our students and faculty,” he said.

Combining centralized and distributed data collection methods can provide insights with wide-reaching implications. At Michigan State, campus departments and organizations are collecting data independently, but in Beaudin’s experience, these organizations are increasingly asking to share their data across the university.

“We’re getting requests coming from all these other groups,” he said. “They approach us with data that they have or request data they’re missing, and then they use it to navigate dialogues with other stakeholders.”

Ongoing Communication Will Lead to Meaningful Outcomes

Anecdotal data is important, Collick said, but should be collected and analyzed effectively to make real change. Faculty and student input should be used not only to prioritize projects, but also to validate the efficacy of how feedback is implemented.

“Often, it’s the loudest voice in the room or the first or last ones to come to us that we’re acting on, jumping on technologies they’re requesting or changes to the technology we’re using,” he said. “I think we need to do a better job of aggregating the information that’s coming in and using it to justify what actions we’re taking, whether that’s selecting a new technology, consolidating technologies or putting policies around the ways our technologies are used.”

This involves a level of communication with students and faculty to ensure their needs are being met.

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At Indiana University, Gladdin said, to make life easier for students and faculty, they implemented a course template for the Canvas learning management system. In a follow-up faculty survey, results were split: They either loved it or hated it. Faculty advisory committees were able to provide more insight into the division, leading to further enhancements.

Beaudin’s communication tactic is to cross the boundaries between his role and the rest of the university, showing up to meetings and asking about the concerns of the campus community. From there, maintaining an ongoing relationship helps him better engage long-term.

“Even as IT becomes that central contact point for teaching and learning technology and support, we can’t just be a shuttle for information,” he said. “We have to be able to connect those stakeholders with each other and with ourselves to have more robust dialogue across constituencies.”

Implementing End User Feedback to Meet Long-Term Needs

IT support shouldn’t end with a survey or an initial discussion, Collick said.

“How are we keeping faculty and students engaged throughout the entire process? We get these anecdotal stories about what’s working and what’s not working, and then that’s it,” he said. “They don’t see us again until something is implemented.”

Rutgers is starting to include students and faculty on steering committees and in other advisory roles, but Collick said long-term, permanent governance structures with strategic oversight over all projects can ensure no one is competing for resources, time or staff.

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Faculty support is also going to be key for long-term success of these digital environments.

“Technology is great, but how are we supporting faculty in using that technology?” he said.

In most cases, the IT teams designing the classrooms, selecting equipment and providing support are not the end users, so getting this feedback from faculty who use the equipment to teach and students who use the technology to learn is vital to improving the experience for both groups.

At Michigan State, Beaudin said this currently happens as they consider changes to their classroom design methodology.

“We design it in IT, we build it in IT, and we fix it in IT when it turns out we missed the mark because it doesn’t do what faculty needed it to do,” Beaudin said.

Bringing student and faculty voices in at the onset will ultimately help the team standardize classroom design properly from the beginning, rather than having to make changes when the project is finished.

“How do we standardize our designs based on input from faculty and students who are in those conversations up front?” Beaudin said. “Because on the tail end, we don’t want to be bolting another camera in place on a system that was never designed for two, but that’s what faculty told us they needed, or that’s what students who are remote are telling us they need to be able to see content.”

Keep up with EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s coverage on our EDUCAUSE event page and via Twitter with the hashtag #EDU22.

Amy McIntosh/EdTech

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