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Obstacles and Opportunities in Tech Transformation

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, most colleges and universities were working to adopt digital tools to support teaching, learning, research, and business operations. By forcing many institutions to switch quickly to online learning and remote work, the pandemic may have accelerated efforts to develop what might be called a “digital ecosystem.” But the pandemic also highlighted the tension on many campuses between balancing immediate and short-term needs for technology with realizing the full value of a more strategic approach to building out digital capabilities.

To better understand some of those issues, The Chronicle of Higher Education surveyed 855 administrative leaders, faculty members, and technology officers at two- and four-year colleges in the United States in late May and early June 2021. This report summarizes those findings and also includes interviews with key college leaders and national experts in technology.

The survey explored three broad areas: processes for and barriers to institutional progress in developing and executing a strategy for digital transformation; how institutions establish priorities for investment in the digital campus; and how institutions are dealing with the “digital divide” that impedes access to technologies by some learners. Respondents indicated that staff and faculty members in higher education are working to develop their own skill sets in technology, and that additional training is a continuing need. In the wake of the pandemic, institutions are acutely aware that they must do more to make educational technology more uniformly accessible to all learners.

Survey results indicated that some of the institutional-technology areas that are of pressing concern include cybersecurity, online education, the use of mobile devices, hybrid education, open educational resources, cloud computing, learning analytics, and adaptive courseware. Respondents said adequate funding is a key stumbling block in institutional progress toward building a digital campus, as are such typical institutional divisions as the one between administrative and faculty interests.

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