Educational technologies are transforming higher education, enhancing student outcomes, providing more and improved access to increasingly non-traditional students, reducing administrative costs, and a litany of other benefits.
Of course, no one solution will ever be a magic bullet for every institution.
It is the obligation of campus administrators to carefully assess the unique needs of their own students, faculty, and facilities, and to design technology-supported learning ecosystems that are optimized for success.
Building a technology plan without a strategy is a bit like constructing a lesson plan without a learning objective — understanding why you are using a technology is just as important as how. Similarly, if you try to provision technologies throughout campus without an understanding of the students and/or faculty needs they support, the results can be both chaotic and ineffective.
College faculty often lead the way when it comes to experimenting with new instructional methods and integrating new technologies to improve learning. And while testing new tools and pedagogies in classrooms is invaluable, it is just one of many steps toward creating a student-centered ed tech ecosystem that supports student success.
More and more, it’s becoming standard practice to conduct a detailed educational technology needs assessment in order to identify systemic deficiencies that, if addressed, can improve the quality of education at a college or university.
Educational Technology Needs Assessment Process
Whether your institution is performing a needs assessment for the first time or is simply updating a previous effort, this 5-step educational technology needs assessment process will help you establish and optimize your school’s master technology plan:
- Survey Stakeholders
- Prioritize Needs and Identify Themes
- Document Functional Needs
- Identify Desired Technology Features
- Cite Technical Requirements
1. Survey Stakeholders On Campus Who Can Help Identify Needs
Gathering information about the various needs of both faculty and students on campus is no small task. However, this information will be vital to informing future solutions. Each time you conduct an assessment, you’ll want to take the following steps:
- Identify the stakeholders (typically those who use ed tech the most like faculty, department heads, educational technologists and even students) you want to survey.
- When in doubt, err to conducting more interviews — casting a wide net can help you identify the bigger problems that need to be solved.
- Choose the interview or survey methods that you think will work best, such as personal interviews, group interviews, online questionnaires, or focus groups
- Draft the questions you want stakeholders to answer
- Follow-up for non-response
This can be a lengthy and time-consuming process but it is paramount to collecting the best data possible to inform your future technology decisions.
2. Prioritize Needs and Identify Themes
Following your survey, look for themes and similarities in the responses to your stakeholder surveys in order to codify needs into actionable asks. For example, if several stakeholders identify needs around creating more digital course materials for students or flipping their classrooms, you could identify a general need for better technology to support blended course designs.
The point of this exercise is to identify the gaps or deficiencies that exist, not to determine the exact technologies that are needed. Often needs will fall into these three main categories:
Start by grouping responses under these high-level categories and then identify similar asks as one overarching, yet specific need.
3. Document The Functional Tasks That Need Technological Support
Defining the tasks that your technologies need to support is the next step in completing a technology needs assessment. Continuing with the previous example, you’ve identified the need to better support faculty who want to implement blended course designs — what are the related tasks or actions that technology should support?
Technology may be needed to support a number of aspects of blended course design, including:
- Creating digital content (recorded lectures, lab demonstrations and more) that can be accessed by students online
- Providing a forum for online discussions
- Offering online quizzes and surveys
- Allowing students to record their own video presentations for assignments
Once you have documented the tasks that need to be supported by technology, you can begin to identify the features that will support the unique needs of students and faculty on your campus, which is the next step.
4. Identify The Features Your Educational Technologies Should Have
At this point you will have a well-informed understanding of both the needs and functional tasks your educational technologies should support across campus. The next step is to identify the features and capabilities your technologies should have.
In our blended learning example, the following are features needed to support many of the components of hybrid course designs:
- LMS integration
- Teacher-student messaging
- Course calendar creation tools
- Interactive quizzing
- Recording and sharing for video
- Advanced search for video and other content
- User/engagement analytics
You may not find all of the features your campus needs in one tool, but knowing what you need will certainly help you narrow down your options and minimize your costs.
5. Cite High-Level Requirements Of Technology Systems
There will likely be specific high-level requirements that your campus has when it comes to software and technology, including security & privacy features, accessibility, and other considerations. Understanding non-negotiable features and specifications can help you eliminate tools early-on as you begin to evaluate technologies that align with your plan.
With unique populations of students and varying institutional goals, each college campus must develop its own needs-based instructional strategy that leverages educational technologies. A thorough needs assessment will inform a better technology plan for your school. And having both the needs assessment and the resulting technology plan will help when it comes to requesting funding, getting buy-in to upgrade current systems, as well as documenting mission-critical needs for future administrators at your school.
A Video Technology Needs Assessment In Action
Yale University has used video tools for decades to support faculty needs. Upon conducting a formal needs assessment, Yale’s learning technology team was able to reduce the number of video tools in use across campus to one platform that centralizes video content and integrates seamlessly into other campus technology systems.