Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Community Colleges Lead in Classroom Use of Computers, Survey Shows: Questions Arise about Productivity Gains

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Community Colleges Lead in Classroom Use of Computers, Survey Shows: Questions Arise about Productivity Gains

Article excerpt

Community Colleges Lead in Classroom Use of Computers, Survey Shows.

Questions Arise About Productivity Gains

by Carol Cross

Community colleges have the highest student-to-institutionally-owned desk-top computer ratio and the highest percentage of classes using computer technology for instruction, even though they own less than one-tenth the number of computers per campus than their four-year counterparts, according to the latest national analysis of postsecondary personal computer resources.

Released late last year at EDUCOM '94, the report, "Campus Computing, 1994: The USC National Survey of Desktop Computing in Higher Education," was conducted under the auspices of the Technology, Teaching and Scholarship Project at the University of Southern California.

The survey, the fifth one conducted by USC, is based on responses from 716 public and private institutions -- over 300 of which were community colleges -- on a series of questions about desktop computing planning, acquisition and implementation. Tabulations show that two-year colleges lag in funding, planning and ownership of computing resources, but clearly target the resources toward instructional services that provide direct assistance to students.

According to Kenneth C. Green, professor-in-residence of higher education at USC and project director, the report indicates several distinctions regarding the use of, and approach to, desktop computing. "One of the things that stands out most clearly is that while the overall level of classes using computers in instruction is still quite low, community colleges lead in the percentage of courses reporting use of classroom computer technology. The data doesn't tell us specifically what is being done in the classroom, but there is a movement toward using computers for instruction in community colleges that is quite significant," said Green.

High Computer Use

Indeed, the study shows that community colleges use computer-based labs or classrooms in almost twice as many courses as other segments of higher education, ranging from a high of 21.0 percent of classes in two-year colleges to a low of 8.9 percent of public university courses. Community colleges were also leaders in using computer-based simulators or exercises, computerized presentation handouts, CD-ROM materials, commercial courseware and multimedia technology. The only two instructional applications in which community colleges trailed were the use of electronic mail and interactive data analysis and display for classroom use.

Green said that the relatively high percentage of community college classes relying on computers demonstrates the relatively low number of computers owned by two-year colleges. Two-year colleges own an average of 604 computers per campus, while public universities own an average of 7,995 per campus. Community colleges also show much less variety among the types of desktop computers used on their campuses; appearing to rely more heavily on Win-dows-based computers. They also plan to rely more on 486 processors in the future than any other type of postsecondary institution.

But while the average ratio of student-to-desktop computers at community colleges is commonly double that of other institutions, Green contends that "the student-to-computers available in labs ratio is strikingly close." In fact, community colleges have the next-to-lowest ratio of students per lab computer -- 24.0 -- than public universities, which claim to have 28.4 students per workstation in computer labs.

"When you look at the allocation of computing resources," explains Green, "it is very clear that community colleges make most of their machines available to students. While public four-year colleges report many more computers per campus, vast percentages of that equipment is going to support faculty and other research agendas. …

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