By Jesse Drake
Jon Thomas, director of UIT's Teaching and Learning Technologies (TLT), will lead a working group to better align the investment in computer labs with student needs.
Lab use, or in some cases, lack of use, was a key finding from a 2016 survey on technology devices and services most used and valued by University students. The survey was designed to help the Teaching & Learning Portfolio make informed Learning Spaces allocation decisions and address overall IT spending.
“As we were trying to make decisions based on the best interest of students, we wanted to get their voice,” Thomas said. “The bottom line here is we want to make sure that our assumptions about their needs are correct.”
The survey was sent to 5,222 randomized undergraduate and graduate students (excluding freshmen) striated across college departments. Of that number, 645 students provided responses (12.35 percent of those surveyed). The final data set was 397 students after filtering out professional schools and PhD students, who appear to have specific needs.
In January, Thomas and and Kirsten Butcher, Associate Professor in Educational Technology, presented the results to the U’s IT governance committees. Thomas also presented at the IT Professionals Forum in February
The survey found that printing and computer labs are used by 53 percent of students at least once a month. Printing, completing assignments, and specialized software were listed as primary reasons that students frequent the labs. The busiest labs are located in Marriott Library and colleges/departments, and the least used are in the student union and residence halls.
Even though technical support scored low on the usage scale, students reacted negatively (47 percent) at the prospect of losing this service.
“Students are saying yes, we use these rarely, but when we need it, we need it,” Thomas said.
Thomas will lead a working group to take deeper dive into lab use data and explore enterprise-wide lab monitoring software to meter labs in a common format. Depending on the results, one viable option may be to reduce the overall number of computers in regular open labs without reducing the size of the lab – a model that’s proven successful at Marriott Library and elsewhere.
At the January 17 Strategic Information and Technology Committee meeting, Matt Irsik, Marriott Library director for user support and computing services, said that through fall, computers in the library’s Knowledge Commons never exceeded 76 percent use. In response, 42 systems were cut at the library, 43 in the student union, and 12 in residence halls. Irsik estimates that by fiscal year 2020, this will result in an estimated $110,000 a year savings.
“We’re grateful to the students who responded to the survey,” said Cory Stokes, associate director of Undergraduate Studies. “Their input helps us update our thinking around the supporting technologies they need. It’s part of our overall efforts to support student success while ensuring sustainable University services and infrastructure.”
- Devices: 91% of respondents have a laptop (74% carry on a weekly basis) and 97% have a smartphone (93% carry on a daily basis).
- Student study station preferences: Free-form responses revealed that students ranked “quiet spaces,” wireless access, charging stations, and powered furniture highly, while expressing moderate interest in collaborative study stations.
- Printing: Students indicated a strong desire to receive free printing services. Thomas said that a card-swipe program allotting students a limited number of free copies per year has proven popular at Utah State University. Chief Technology Officer Jim Livingston informed the Architecture and New Technology Committee in January that an effort led by Auxiliary Services is underway to standardize printer, copier, and multi-function devices (as well as servicing those devices) across campus. Goals with this effort include achieving cost savings around hardware management and servicing, streamlining the process of tracking the cost of printing pages, and creating the ability to print from any device to any printer to which a user has access.