The University Record, October 2, 2000

Survey: What IT tools faculty want

By Rebecca A. Doyle

What information technology tools do faculty use to teach the more than 38,000 students at the U-M, to continue their research, and to communicate and share findings with other researchers and faculty? And how do they use them, what would they like to use and what changes would they like to see?

These and other questions were asked of 1,500 faculty in spring 1999 when the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs and the Office of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) sponsored the “Faculty Survey: Information Technology Uses, Resources and Support.” The survey, conceived by Carl Berger and Karen Kost, was prepared and conducted by the Institute for Social Research. Berger, professor of education and academic liaison in the Office of the CIO, says that there was a high rate of response to the survey—743 answered the questionnaire, only slightly fewer than one-half of those contacted.

“We got some very straightforward responses,” Berger says. “The responses we got are helping to explode some of the myths about who uses information technology in an academic world.”

Kost, who is an administrative associate in the CIO’s office, was responsible for much of the data analysis and presentation. The report of results is available at www.sitemaker.med.umich.edu/cberger.

Faculty, Kost and Berger say, do not conform to the idea that the older one is, the less likely to use technology in either academic, research or personal application. Results show that U-M faculty rate themselves as novice, intermediate, advanced and expert users of technology, not at all according to age.

Berger points to several answers from the survey that are important to note for those who provide software, support and information to faculty members.

  • Most faculty would prefer to learn how to use technology from friends, colleagues and family; few like or would utilize online support or classes. Most who consider themselves expert in information technology say they learned on their own from reading or exploration and from seminars. Those who considered themselves novices in the technology world learned more from others and from University computer classes. While a number would like to learn from telephone consultants, few noted that they had, and those few rated themselves at the novice or intermediate level.

  • While it was not surprising that nearly 99 percent of those responding use e-mail and 98 percent use some form of word processing, it is surprising that fewer than one-third use a calendar program regularly, and two-thirds or more of the responding faculty never use multimedia, Web software, modeling, project management or courseware applications.

  • A large majority of faculty use computers at home (about 92 percent of the respondents) and are connected through dial-in modems to a network.

  • Faculty in both tenured and non-tenured ranks say that the amount of time and energy they must expend in order to learn and use available technology in scholarly work is substantial.

  • Asked what they would like to learn to use, faculty listed as their top picks an e-mail list of students in class; a Web page with course materials on it; a Web bulletin board/forum; audiovisual clips, animation and slides; and computer simulations. Berger notes that with the institution of U-M CourseTools this past summer, many faculty had the opportunity to learn a lot of new technology. He expects that future surveys will reflect an increase in both knowledge and use of technology covered by the course. More than 1,000 faculty and others had completed U-M CourseTools classes by the end of the summer.

    This fall, Berger and Kost plan to poll U-M students about their use, comfort level, support and wishes for information technology. Another survey of faculty is planned for winter term.


    What faculty said

    Many faculty responding to the survey took time to reply not only to questions, but gave additional information about what they use, what they would like to see, how they learn and the importance of information technology in their academic endeavors.

    “My experience is mostly that I can never figure out how any of this technology works unless an actual human being shows me.”

    “My courses rely on use of the Web for activities as well as information.”

    “. . . if the U wishes IT to be used in teaching and research, it really should provide solid support and encouragement, visible to all, and it should do it for all units.”

    “Acquiring the knowledge to use IT productively takes tremendous time and effort—using that knowledge takes even more.”

    “. . . I don’t understand why it was so difficult to find someone who could help with this!”