Colleges seek cash for educational technology as budgets shrink

Thirty-five percent of college students said lecture capture technology has improved their grades.

Thirteen states are set to drop higher-education funding by double digits in 2012, the federal stimulus has run out, and student enrollment continues its uptick, forcing colleges and universities to find financially creative ways to fund pricey educational technology such as campus lecture capture systems.

By reclassifying lecture capture technology in a bid for federal money and dispersing the cost of lecture capture systems over several parts of a campus budget, educational technology leaders from colleges large and small are engaged in a kind of budgetary gymnastics to keep lecture capture systems that have proven popular among most students.

The budget-conscious ways to maintain—and even expand—lecture capture systems were detailed in a report published recently by the Center for Digital Education and Tegrity, a company that makes lecture capture technology.

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In “Funding Lecture Capture in Higher Education,” researchers say ed-tech funding isn’t as easy to find as states slash college funding, but there are still reliable methods for keeping lecture capture systems on campus.

Schools still can secure a healthy chunk of federal funds if they specify a “technological advancement clause” in official requests for lecture capture funding, the researchers wrote. Including in a federal grant application that lecture capture technology is “essential for faculty and student development” could qualify the technology for government money.

Following the example of ed-tech administrators at Pace University in New York, colleges and universities also can spread the costs of lecture capture systems over a range of campus budgets.

Drawing money from the school’s general fund, maintenance and operations, and instructional technology allocations can piece together enough funding to maintain lecture capture systems in lecture halls and classrooms, researchers wrote.

“Higher-education leaders just need to be prepared and do their homework to determine which solutions fit best,” said LeiLani Cauthen, vice president of the Center for Digital Education. “Given the recent budget constraints that higher-education institutions are experiencing as a result of the loss of federal funding, it is clear that administrators must search for alternative ways to secure the funds needed to maintain their institution’s [educational] technology leadership.”

Pace University officials first brought lecture capture technology to classrooms in a pilot program funded entirely by the campus’s centralized operations budget. When the pilot ended, the university sought technology fees from students to pay for lecture capture technology and licensing costs.

Portland Community College reallocated the school’s funding for an educational cable station to pay for its first lecture capture hardware. And if campus decision makers hedge on commitments to lecture capture funds, the researchers suggest pointing out the expansion of online course offerings made possible by recording lectures and posting them to course websites.

Reallocation of funding and tweaks to a school’s federal grant requests aren’t the only ways to keep lecture capture technology alive during budget crises. The report shows that nongovernmental organizations could be key in expanding educational technology across campus as well.

Respondents in a 2010 survey of family foundations, philanthropic groups, and private and public charities said these organizations prioritize higher-education initiatives that “improve outcomes” for economically disadvantaged students, support classroom innovation, and provide learning beyond the typical school day.

Those criteria, researchers said, make lecture capture technology a prime funding candidate.

The rise of social media-based fundraising in higher education has opened another avenue for securing lecture capture money. The University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine, using only alumni donations, was able to fully fund its lecture capture program in 2010, and that was before college donations spiked in 2011.

A wide range of surveys and reports have documented the effectiveness of lecture capture systems, but the technology isn’t universally favored by college students or professors.

Student respondents in a 2011 Clemson University study of the campus’s lecture-capture use gave the recording technology mostly rave reviews, but among their critiques was concern that simply watching a lecture online wouldn’t let students try to stand out in class.

Pamela Havice, an associate professor at Clemson who oversaw the lecture capture survey, said some student respondents were dismayed that they no longer were able to show peers and professors just how much they knew about a topic.

One student who answered survey questions anonymously said watching recorded lectures alone meant he couldn’t “gain the professor’s attention” and beat students to the punch during class time.

“There’s a real sense of competition there,” Havice said. “And it was kind of disturbing information … to know that [students] think professors are going to look down on them” if they’re not the first to answer a question.

Some campus ed-tech leaders have maintained skepticism of lecture capture systems as they have become commonplace in most corners of higher education. Critics charge that students, knowing their professor’s lecture will be recorded and available online, have no reason to pay attention during class, or to engage with a lecturer.

“The large-scale implementation of lecture capture is probably one of the costliest and strategically misguided educational technologies that an institution can adopt,” Mark Smithers, an educational technology blogger who has worked at universities in Australia and the United Kingdom, wrote in a blog post. “The technology does nothing to engage the student who, instead of sitting passively in a lecture theatre checking their text messages, will now sit passively in front of a screen at home checking their text messages.”

Meanwhile, nine in 10 students said they would use lecture capture video if given the choice, according to the survey, conducted by Echo360, a Virginia-based company that makes a lecture capture program.

Thirty-five percent of undergraduate respondents said reviewing lecture recordings online was most valuable in improving their grades, while 18 percent said it improved their academic efficiency.

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