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Information and communication technologies: The adoption by an Australian university

Lina Macchiusi and Suzanne Trinidad
Faculty of Education
Curtin University of Technology


Background

Universities are recognised as early adopters of commercial computer applications and for the development of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in Australia. AARNet was one of the first academic computer networks in the world and its very existence and the skills of its technicians enabled Australia to be an early adopter of Internet technologies and applications. Significantly, higher education institutions continue to make major commitments to using new information technologies to improve administration, research, teaching and learning despite experiencing severe resource constraints through lack of national funding.

ICT impels change in higher education institutions. The rate of ICT adoption is likely to increase over the next few years increasing financial and infrastructure needs, such as new equipment, more user training, and new kinds of courses. Infrastructure can drive the innovation as it creates still more demand for infrastructure and support as growing numbers of Faculty across all disciplines and institutions adopt and adapt information technology resources in their instructional activities (Rogers, 1995). ICT places new demands on academic staff such as necessitating the learning of new skills in developing and maintaining course and assessment materials and spending time differently. The new products of teaching will mean some lecturers will have to make a radical shift in their orientation from a view of transmitting information - to one of directly attending to the process of learning in their students.

Drawing on the work of both Rogers (1995) and Geoghegan (1996) the question can be asked - have academic staff crossed the point of critical mass for instructional use of ICT in higher education? There is strong evidence (DETYA, 2000) that ICT applications have not penetrated university teaching at much more than a superficial level, and that the level of expertise and practice is not yet sufficient to ensure that their wider use is considered viable by academics for developing and delivering courses. Other evidence suggests that academic staff are using ICT more for personal tasks - but not as extensively in their teaching and learning (Macchiusi & Trinidad, 2000; Trinidad, 2000).

Transforming a university

Curtin University of Technology has clearly demonstrated its commitment to the use and encouragement of ICT in teaching and learning through a number of initiatives implemented in recent years:

A study of the ICT adoption at a university

This paper reports on one aspect of a larger study which has attempted to identify effective strategies for implementing ICTs into teaching and learning at an Australian university. This research component involved monitoring a group of teaching staff at a tertiary institution (case study sample where N=32) over a 16 month period in an attempt to identify how their ICT environment has evolved. The key purpose has been to identify changes in their ICT use.

A variety of instruments were used through out the study which in combination, provided a comprehensive picture of the case study sample. The Curtin University Information Technology survey (CUIT survey) was sent to all full time staff who were actively teaching in Semester One, 1999 at Curtin University of Technology (N=715). This instrument was specifically designed to establish baseline data about teaching staff at Curtin University with regards to the use of ICT in their teaching and learning. The survey was also designed to identify individual and group profiles of ICT attitude, awareness and uptake, and from this information a stratified sample was selected for in depth case study utilising the profiles of staff based on Roger's (1995) classification of innovation uptake.

A semi structured interview schedule was designed to allow the researcher to gain a deeper awareness of the ICT culture of each participant (N=37). Each interviewee was asked to participate in the following phase which involved identifying individual ICT changes which occurred over a 12 month period, on a monthly basis (N=32). The TracIT Report was used as a guide or proforma to help the case study participants focus on certain ICT issues: Teaching; Students; Training; ICT Support and ICT Facilities.

This longitudinal data collection period allowed the researcher to note changes in the behaviour and attitudes of specific individuals and to explore the origins of these changes. Figure 1 graphically depicts the relationship between each of the samples and the corresponding instrument.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Sample population used for the study

Table 1 presents the staff profile derived from the CUIT survey data for each sample group identified above. Even though this paper focuses on the case study sample, Table 1 provides an accurate picture of how representative the case study sample (N=32) were of the larger completed survey sample (N=384).

Table 1: Background information of the respondents (CUIT survey)

Background information CUIT survey
sample (N=384)
Interview
subsample (N=37)
Case study
sample (N=32)
GenderMale 60.4%70.3%68.8%
Female 39.6%29.7%31.3%
Age20 - 29 3.1%8.1%6.25%
30 - 39 25.0%21.6%21.9%
40 - 49 33.9%35.1%31.3%
50 - 59 32.3%24.3%28.1%
60 - over 5.5%10.8%12.5%
Years at the
University
0 - 5 years 41.7%48.6%46.9%
6 - 10 years 24.7%24.3%25.0%
11 - 15 years 15.4%10.8%9.4%
16 - over 18.0%16.2%18.8%
Employment
status
Tenured 61.5%64.9%65.6%
Contract 32.2%32.4%31.3%
PositionSenior Research Fellow 4.7%0.0%0.0%
Associate Lecturer 7.3%2.7%0.0%
Lecturer 50.8%62.2%65.6%
Senior Lecturer 19.8%29.7%28.1%
Assoc/Prof & Professor 15.1%5.4%6.2%
IT TrainingNone/Self taught 70.3%70.6%71.9%
Mode of
teaching
Lecture and tutorial (workshop or lab.) 86.7%91.9%90.6%
Tutorial (workshop or laboratory) 10.2%5.4%6.3%
Lecture 2.1%2.7%3.1%
External and distance 0.5%0.0%0.0%
Online 0.3%0.0%0.0%
Web based units within the above structures 4.7%8.1%6.3%

Adoption and use of ICT by academic staff across a university

One of the key questions on integration in the survey was directly linked to the theoretical framework adopted by Rogers' (1995) in his work about the diffusion of innovations. This question was a crucial one in that it not only provided a picture of the teaching staff's level of integration of ICT into their teaching and learning, but the levels were also used to select the interview subsample and hence the case study sample. The respondents were asked to rate the degree to which they had integrated ICT into their own teaching and learning practices, based on Rogers' (1995) adoption of innovation categories. This self rating exercise was intended to gauge their integration status compared to their perceptions of the standards of their colleagues within their own School/Department - in other words they were required to rate themselves against their colleagues. The rating required was on a five point scale, ranging from very low to very high. Other questions in the survey and the interviews attempted to verify this self rating.

A synthesis of the data from each of the instruments produced a comprehensive ICT profile for each individual case. This profile, which reflected each individual's working regime and environment for a period of 16 months, was used to compare and relate their level of integration to the level of integration of the others in the case study sample - enabling the researcher to assign them a 'University Rating'. Table 2 identifies the level of integration for the various samples according to the survey data and the 'University Rating' assigned to the case study sample by the researcher.

Table 2: Level of ICT integration into teaching and learning rating

Level of integrationCUIT survey sample (N=384)Interview subsample (N=37)Case study Survey (N=32)University rating case study sample
Very low12.8%13.5%15.6%9.4%
Low26.6%21.6%25.0%21.9%
Medium27.9%18.9%21.9%25.0%
High22.4%24.3%15.6%18.7%
Very high9.4%21.6%21.9%25.0%

Figure 2 graphically reflects the individual self rating (survey data) and the university rating for the case study sample.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Case study individual rating and university rating

In attempting to identify the impact of ICT at Curtin University it is important to note that individuals within the University have not felt this impact uniformly. Rogers' categories enable us to make some generalisations about the rate of adoption. Table 3 identifies common attributes demonstrated by the majority of the case study individuals assigned to each level of integration (university wide rating).

Table 3: Common attributes - Level of ICT integration

Level of
ICT use
ApplicationAttitudeAdoption
Very lowVery limited use:
Word processing, email and Internet.
No home Internet access.
Feel very uncomfortable with technology itself.
See very limited benefits.
Frustrated with the lack of ICT skill, yet don't make any effort to attend training or improve.
Extremely low ICT skill level.
Very little, if any email use with students.
LowLimited use:
Word processing (class handouts, outlines), email and Internet use.
No Internet access at home.
Are able to identify the benefits of ICT in teaching and learning.
However, many aren't convinced that it is relevant to their discipline.
Low ICT skill level.
Students are not encouraged to communicate via email.
Medium A variety of applications:
Word processing
Spreadsheets
Presentation software
Email and Internet use
Internet access at home.
Are able to identify the benefits of ICT in teaching and learning for themselves and their students.
Fairly comfortable with ICT.
Seek help through colleagues.
Medium level skills.
Producing some Web based material for delivery of resources.
Communicate with students electronically.
Set Web based assessment tasks.
High A large variety of software.
Presentation software.
Internet tools.
Specialist software use in their discipline.
High interest level.
Experiment 'play' with software.
Self motivated.
Resourceful - seek help from a variety of sources.
High level of ICT skills.
Producing Web based teaching material (delivery and interactive).
Expects extensive use by students.
Very high Create and modify software to suit their teaching and learning needs. Extremely high level of interest.
Explores & Experiments with ICT.
Self Motivated.
ICT 'a way of life'.
Extremely resourceful.
Very high level of ICT skills.
Innovative use of ICT in T&L.
Exhibit strong leadership skills - agent for change.

Identifying real change

In order to obtain an overall picture of the changes and when they occurred over the 12 month period for all of the case study sample, the comments made for each month on the TracIT Report were summarised and divided into comments which reflected 'real change' in the individual's usual pattern of ICT use and those comments which simply reflected their existing pattern of use. In other words 'real change' was seen as a behaviour which had not been identified either in the survey or the interview data. The most common changes found amongst the case study sample regarding their teaching and learning practices were involved with: adopting new software, modifying software to suit individual teaching needs, producing Web based material, and creating CD ROMs. The real changes that were identified by the case study sample specifically relating to students involved: changes in students behaviour compared to previous groups of students; changes in the tasks that had been assigned to the students which involved more ICT use; and changes relating to the problems students were facing because they were expected to work in an electronic environment.

Attending professional development courses relating to ICT was noted as real change. Over the 12 months 59.4% attended ICT professional development courses. The majority of the courses were Student One and Web based training sessions. The concept of 'self training' also featured in the TracIT reports for 31.2% of the case study sample. In total 75% of the case study sample identified themselves as either participating in formal training or were involved with 'self training'.

The changes in the ICT support structure found within the individual Departments/ Schools/ Divisions contributed to many of the real changes identified over the 12 month period, while the level of the support also drew much attention and appeared to cause many of the changes.

There were many comments which surfaced during the TracIT report expressing concern about the lack of facilities - these comments were coded as related to an 'existing pattern of environment' as they were describing the individual's current situation and in most cases the situation hadn't changed. Many of the real changes noted regarding facilities referred to hardware and software upgrades and the leasing of new equipment. Table 4 provides a summary of the case study sample who demonstrated a 'real change' in their ICT use or their ICT infrastructure, in the focus areas for the period of 12 months.

Table 4: Summary of 'Real change' for the case study sample
August 1999 - August 2000
FocusCase study sample (N=32)
Teaching71.9%
Students68.7%
Training75.0%
ICT support43.7%
ICT facilities75.0%

The researcher is by no means attempting to quantify the degree or amount of real change which occurred over the 12 months. One change in a particular pattern of behaviour does not constitute a constant change in attitude or behaviour, what it does say however, is that those case study participants are more receptive to change by attempting something new.

Increased adoption of ICT in teaching and learning - academic professionalism

An important outcome of a comparison between the CUIT survey data and the actual interview (conducted some three months later) data was that the number of respondents using Web based materials in their teaching and learning had dramatically increased from 8.1% to 32.4%. A further 13 months from the time the interviews were conducted, the TracIT reporting system revealed a further increase in the number of case study respondents who were using Web based material to 59.4%.

Over the 12 month period the majority of the case study sample indicated that they used electronic communication extensively with their students (communication, email lists, WebCT bulletin board, WebCT internal email system, acceptance and marking of assignments).

The TracIT reports revealed that existing work practices of teaching staff in this University were definitely changing to meet the needs of the University. With this changing face of academic life certain professional attributes came to the forefront:

FlexibleBeing able to work anywhere and anytime. 84.4% of the respondents had email and Internet access at home and identified that they worked at home.
Committed and resourcefulThere appeared to be a real commitment from a large group of the case study sample to improving their ICT skills, through formal training and 'self training'.
Reflective practitionersThe majority of the case study sample were reflective about their use of ICT for teaching & learning (Bromley, 1998; Neal, 1998; Ramsden, 1998).
CollaborativeMany of the case study participants called upon their colleagues for help, with the reverse also occurring, case study participants helping their colleagues.
Over workedThe references to the heavy work load (teaching, research & committees) and lack of time experienced by the teaching staff was evident through out all of the instruments used over the 16 month time period (CUIT survey, Interviews, & TracIT).
Overloaded by informationInformation overload was certainly felt by the case study sample over the 12 months (Baldwin, 1998).
StressedThere were many examples through out the TracIT report specifically relating to stress which appeared to be from having to do more tasks with less help and less time and with not so familiar tools (Simpson, 1998).
Pressure from studentsThere appeared to be an increase in pressure from students for teaching staff to adopt ICT in teaching & learning (McNaught, Phillips, Rossiter & Winn, 1999).
Requiring a variety of support needsAll of the case study respondents, regardless of their level of integration acknowledged the importance of ICT support, what differed was the degree of support and the type of support they required to effectively adopt or continue utilising ICT.

Implications for the future

The problem universities face today and in the future will not just be about creating strategies to encourage the adoption of ICTs in order to achieve 'critical mass,' the challenge will be how to keep up with the demands these changes place on the overall system. How will universities provide the appropriate infrastructure and support for academic staff to continue effectively integrating ICT in their teaching and learning? If this support isn't provided academic staff will simply return to what they know works and feel comfortable with (Fullan, 1991). For example, faced with this type of situation ICT will no longer be part of this persons teaching and learning practice:
I will not be using the web again - it is too stressful, time consuming, not worth the effort and there is inadequate support at all levels (ID:375January2000).
In response, academic staff will need to:

Conclusion

According to the CUIT survey data it appears that the teaching staff at Curtin University are adopting ICT at a higher rate than that reflected in Rogers (1995) model. This indicates that the 'critical mass' stage of adoption of ICT is well under way (Macchiusi & Trinidad, 2000). The initial survey data revealed that the teaching staff had adopted ICT for many tasks on a personal level ( including research) but not utilised it to anywhere near the same extent in their own teaching (Macchiusi & Trinidad, 2000). However, the TracIT reports reveal that these changes are now filtering through to the teaching staff's teaching and learning practices. It appears that the wheels are in motion and with the appropriate infrastructure momentum will only increase.

References

Baldwin, R. (1998). Technology's impact on faculty life and work. In K. Herr Gillespie (Ed), New Directions for Teaching and Learning: The Impact of Technology on Faculty Development, Life, and Work. 76, p7-22, Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.

Bromley, H. (1998). How to tell if you really need the latest technology. Thought and Action, 14(1), 21-28.

DETYA (2000). Learning for the knowledge society: An education and training action plan for the information economy. Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

Fullan, M. (1991). The New Meaning of Educational Change, 2nd Edition. Teachers College Press: New York.

Curtin University of Technology (2000). Curtin University of Technology Strategic Plan 2000 - 2005. http://www.curtin.edu.au/curtin/dept/planstats/plan/

Curtin University of Technology (2000). Key Strategic Priorities 1999 - 2001. Attachment 3. http://www.curtin.edu.au/curtin/dept/planstats/plan/attachment3/

Geoghegan, W. (1996). The diffusion of innovation and information technology: In response. Change, March/April, p30.

Green, K. (1996). The coming ubiquity of information technology. Change, 28(2), 24-28.

Macchiusi, L. and Trinidad, S. (2000). Implementing IT at an Australian university: Implications for university leaders. In A. Herrmann and M. M. Kulski (Eds), Flexible Futures in Tertiary Teaching. Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 2-4 February 2000. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/confs/tlf/tlf2000/macchiusi.html

McNaught, C., Phillips, R., Rossiter, D., & Winn, J. (1999). Developing a framework for a useable and useful inventory of computer facilitated learning and support materials in Australian universities. Evaluations and Investigations Program Report. Canberra: Higher Education Division, Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs.

Neal, E. (1998). Using technology in teaching: We need to exercise healthy scepticism. Chronicle of Higher Education, June 19, B4-B5.

Rogers, E. (1995). Diffusion of Innovations, 4th Edition. The Free Press: USA.

Simpson, R. (1998). The overwhelming nature of higher education. Innovative Higher Education, 22(4), 267-269.

Trinidad, S. (2000). Where are we now? Where do we go? Technology education for the 21st Century. In Fisher, D. & Jong-Hsiang, Y. (Eds), Proceedings for the 2nd International Science, Mathematics and Technology Conference, 10-13 January, Taipai, Taiwan. p193-200.

Please cite as: Macchiusi, L. and Trinidad, S. (2001). Information and communication technologies: The adoption by an Australian university. In A. Herrmann and M. M. Kulski (Eds), Expanding Horizons in Teaching and Learning. Proceedings of the 10th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 7-9 February 2001. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2001/macchiusi.html


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