Developing and Implementing Information Technology in Teaching and Learning: A Critical Success Factors Perspective

R Debreceny

School of Commerce

Southern Cross University

PO Box 157


NSW 2480


A Ellis

School of Social and Workplace Development

Southern Cross University

PO Box 157


NSW 2480



Southern Cross University is a small, but complex institution which offers programs across a range of levels, at a number of physical locations and in a variety of modes. The University has set out a direction for change both at a ìvisionî and ìimplementationî level.

The paper analyses the preconditions for successful implementation of the University's plans in the context of a critical success factors framework. It identifies ten critical success factors including factors relating to curricula, funding, change in management of learning, matching of student resources and institutional infrastructure spending and the management of broking and partnering. The paper analyses those CSFs which relate to the use of information technology in teaching and learning.

1 Introduction

The Critical Success Factors paradigm is a framework to develop action plans for change management primarily in an information systems environment. It is an appropriate framework to analyse the management of change within a ìnewî university such as Southern Cross University, which is a regional university which has ambitions to deliver quality education and research at a national and international scale. After a long period of ongoing change through the 1980s and early 1990s the University has set a course for further substantial change and for development of innovative educational delivery and the relationship of faculty and students. It is a case study of institutional development which is relevant to Universities throughout Australia.

This paper sets out a number of critical success factors which should be addressed in the management of change with a particular emphasis on the information systems, broadly defined, of the University. The remainder of this paper is set out as follows: Section 2 provides background on the development of the University; Sections 3 and 4 set out the National and Institutional Contexts respectively; Section 6 introduces the Critical Success Factors paradigm; Section 7 analyses the application of this literature to higher education; Section 8 lists and reviews the perceived critical success factors for SCU and Section 9 provides a conclusion and indicates where further research is necessary.

2 Background

Southern Cross University (SCU) was incorporated on 1 January 1994. Its foundation was a twenty five year period of higher education delivery in Lismore on the Far North Coast of New South Wales. First as a Teachers Training College, then as a College of Advanced Education and finally as a network member of the University of New England. SCU is a small but relatively complex institution. It has three campuses It teaches in both on-campus and ìdistanceî modes. Students are also supported by University Centres in regional population centres as well as in Sydney and in Coolangatta and Brisbane in Queensland. In 1996 just under half of SCUís students were studying ìexternallyî.

3 National Context

The 1980s saw a considerable increase in places in both traditional and ìnewî Universities. There was a recognition that existing practices could not simply be extended into the 1990s and new forms of delivery and learning and teaching would be necessary. Technology was seen by many as a panacea.

These concerns at a national policy level culminated in the release of a series of government reports on the opportunities might which arise from the application of technology to teaching and learning in universities and on non-traditional delivery methods (Taylor, Kemp and Burgess (1993); Deakin University (1993); Tinkler et al (1994); Caladine (1993); Hamer (1993); Lundin (1993); Davidson, Dekkers and Booth (1994)).

A number of policy developments arose during this period. The Open Learning Agency was founded in 1993. It provided a brokerage for off-campus educational delivery at both the technical and university levels. OLA broke new ground in Australia by making available full fee paying courses for which there were no prerequisite entry requirements. In a closely related development the then Labor Government sought to bring ubiquitous computer network access to OLAA and other off-campus students.

Following a study by Deakin University (1993) the subsequently ill-fated OpenNet was formed. The National Priorities Reserve Fund was used to direct substantial funds to the application of technology in teaching and learning. And while not directly related, the first years of the granting process of the new Committee for Advancement of University Teaching (CAUT) allocated a substantial proportion of its funds to technology based teaching projects. Finally, the Education Network Australia (EdNA) was formed in the mid 1990s to provide a cross-sectorial directory and information service.

4 Institutional Context

Against this national background Southern Cross itself embarked upon a number of plans, reviews and evaluation exercises that were aimed at informing and directing its future operations. These included:

University Plan

The development in 1994 of a University Plan which saw considerable expansion in the University's outreach via its University Centres and distance education programs and a fundamental change in the nature of educational delivery over the following six year period. The Plan was updated in 1996 and further emphasised the radical changes which the University faces.

Restructuring of the University

The restructuring of the University in 1996 from six faculties into a flatter management structure with thirteen Schools and three Colleges.

Formation of TiLT

In 1996 a new unit, the Technology in Learning and Teaching Unit (TiLT) was formed to assist the University in applying information technology to learning and teaching programs as well as to facilitate the applications of information technology throughout the University

Information Technology Strategy and Plan

The release in 1996 of an Information Technology Strategy and Plan which contained a detailed series of aims, actions, responsibilities and target dates.

Survey of student access to technology

A major survey of students in relation to the use and availability of educational technology was completed (Ellis, Debreceny and Hayden (1995)).

Educational Underpinning

The development of a ìnetwork learning modelî gave an educational underpinning to subsequent development in (Debreceny, Chua and Ellis (1995)).

Analysis of multi-modal off-campus learning environment

An independent report on SCUís multi-modal off-campus learning environment was prepared by the Socio-Technical Research Group of Telstra Research Laboratories (Telstra Research Laboratories (1996)).

These activities predict significant shifts in the University's operations within the next few years. As the University Plan notes, some of the changes which face the institution include:

Taken as a whole this institutional vision has a high degree of congruence with the proposed directions articulated at the national policy level. Many of the forecasted changes required support in administrative, library and academic information systems. The vision presumed a high degree of reliance on technological solutions to overcome the problems caused by the geographic distribution of the Universityís campuses and centres and the delivery of programs to students at a distance from these physical facilities.

It is appropriate, then, to analyse the critical success factors which should be addressed in implementing the University Plan and other elements of the change management scenario at the University.

5 Theoretical Framework

This paper analyses these issues a "critical success factors" approach to map any achievements in relation to specific objectives and to identify barriers to implementation (Cooper and Kleinschmidt (1995). Critical success factors is associated with the Sloan School of Management and has been used as a model for information systems development and integration (Rockart (1979); Rockart and Morton (1985); Rockart and Hofman (1992)). Critical success factors have been defined as ìthe limited number of areas in which results, if they are satisfactory, will insure successful performance for the organizationî (Rockart (1979), 85). Lindsay (1994) notes, critical success factors analysis:

is a process of consensus building with the agreement of all participants being needed to establish that a factor is critical. The extent to which resources must be made available to satisfy the criticality helps to distinguish between a CSF and a wish list of niceness or motherhood.

Rockart and Hofman (1992) conclude that there are ìfive organizational components that must be kept in balance when introducing a change into an organizationî:

In a critical success factors study of the information systems development in twelve large US corporations Rockart and Hoffman found that the firms were, either deliberately or otherwise, moving through a two stage process. In the first ìenvisagingî stage the firms were determining:

The second stage encompassed the transition from ìthe current [development] environment to the projected development environmentî. In analysing the business objectives of the firms studied, the authors almost provide a direct mirror of systems (in the broadest sense) development in todayís Universities:

The kinds of information systems that are needed to support the process-oriented, interdependent, and information-rich organization of today are vastly different. The organization that works across functional (and sometimes divisional) boundaries needs supporting cross-functional transaction systems, where the focus is on satisfying end-to-end business events or service strategies rather than discrete activities.

A University such as Southern Cross, which enjoys relatively low levels of funding but has ambitious plans, clearly must pay attention to these issues in the development of its information systems.

6 Critical Success Factors and Universities

The critical success factors model has been found to be a useful paradigm in which to view higher education (Penrod and Dolence (1991)). Goldenfarb (1995) analysed the adoption of a Campus Wide Information System at a large and complex university within a critical success factors framework. The CSFs identified included:

Sabherwal and Kirs (1994) conducted an empirical study of ìproduct developmentî in information technology in 244 Universities. The authors note that Universities can be seen as ìinformation richî organisations and that appropriate use of information technology can provide particular institutions with a strategic advantage. The benefits of spending on Information Technology will not be realised effectively unless IT planning is aligned with the CSFs for that organisation. As Sabherwal and Kirs note ìalignment is the proximity of the organizationís IT capability to the ideal IT capability for its CSFsî (emphasis added)

Sabherwal and Kirs developed a list of 34 CSFs addressing issues such as student academic development, student/faculty interaction, evaluation and government funding and financial contributions from industry. These were matched with three antecedent factors of ìenvironmental uncertaintyî, ìintegrationî between service functions and IT ìmanagement sophisticationî.

IT capability was assessed on a four factor scale including information retrieval, ìelectronic communicationî, computing facilities for studentsî and ìcomputer aided instructionî. Using cluster analysis, the institutions were categorised as ìacademic comprehensivesî, ìreputed giantsî and ìsmall educatorsî. Whilst developed in a US context, this categorisation can be conceived as being relevant to the Australian University scene with SCU falling in the ìsmall educatorsî group.

Determining factors for the small educators group included the importance given to teaching effectiveness and non-academic aspects of student development. Again, a direct analogy to SCU is in the longstanding concern for teaching at the former College of Advanced Education and the geographic advantages for students found in the North Coast Region of New South Wales. They found that information retrieval and computer aided instruction were perceived as important for the small educators and academic comprehensives. The only factor that was regarded as significant for perceived IT success in the ìreputed giantsî group was electronic communication.

Interestingly, the study did not find for the small educators group a significant correlation between perceived success and the provision of student computing facilities. It is hypothesised that this can be explained by the presence of a significant number of liberal arts colleges in this grouping. Such colleges are less likely than small institutions in Australia to require extensive use of computers by students.

7 Analysis

Figure 1 is a map of the theoretical dictates which arise from the research conducted into Critical Success Factors in large organisations in general and universities in particular along with the actions undertaken by Southern Cross University and the identified Critical Success Factors which are generated from the research. While recognising that these binary distinctions are artificial, the identified critical success factors are divided into those which involve information systems development and ìothersî. These are discussed in turn.

7.1 Information Systems Critical Success Factors

Technology based ìInnovative teaching approachesî

The University has set a course which is heavily dependent on technology. It has not only stressed the role of information technology in the University Plan but has also heavily invested in the Technology in Learning and Teaching Unit. This has been staffed with Director at Professorial level, training, administrative and technical staff. The appropriate steps have been taken to clearly demonstrate to the University community that the Universityís leadership is serious about the application of information technology to the learning process. A number of staff have made innovative uses of information technology in teaching and learning and a number of successful CAUT grant applications have been made.

Yet it is equally clear that for the great bulk of teaching staff and academic administrators within the Schools that technology is not an issue which warrants substantial investments of time and effort. This applies even for those Schools which have substantial distance education responsibilities where the return on investment is arguably greater than for those Schools which have a greater proportion of campus based programs.

There is a general perception amongst academics within the institution that the application of information technology to teaching and learning is risky. It is considered that the technical infrastructure, both physical and staff, is insufficient to support the major developments that are envisaged by the University Plan.

Figure 1 Critical Success Factors Map

For at least some academics there is a concern that the personal aspects of the current delivery models will in some way be lost by the application of information technology and particularly networked information technology. The Telstra report (p 9) noted that ìthere are still strong pressures operating at the [University] Centres and within the Faculties for the creation of mini-campuses rather than for the development of more ëremoteí learning materials or teaching materialsî. The report noted:

The reason usually given for this situation was the time and the cost involved in developing new materials, however it was also apparent that the current generation of lecturers was not fully convinced that they should be moving in this direction. There was little evidence to show that many academics were seriously addressing the pedagogical issues underlying development of new kinds of teaching/learning environments.

Finally, there is a strong perception amongst academics that despite what the University might say about the balance between the teaching, research and service criteria in the promotion process, that promotion is based primarily on research outcomes. Whether the perception is matched by the reality of promotions is almost irrelevant as it is the perceptions which is governing the decisions of academics on the investment of scarce time.

Management of partnering and broking

The geographic distribution of the Universityís activities and the ubiquitous nature of Information Technology means that partnering and broking will be an important element of the change management process. Rather than a small institution undertaking all aspects of course development and delivery, it can bring in partners to work with joint course development.

A particularly good example of such a relationship is the School of Tourismís joint venture with the University of Humberside in the UK. Under this joint venture, each University completes half of the course development of a Masters degree in International Tourism.

Relationships of this type can work well with established delivery models such as those applied to this degree. They are put under considerable strain when new delivery models are under development. Learning to work together is difficult enough without the additional strains of innovation. A critical success factor is to manage this process to mutual advantage.

The global nature of the Internet means that broking and partnering of the type envisaged by the University Plan should be relatively straightforward. There are, however, very few models of such developments. The Open Learning Agency is perhaps the best example in our region but has not developed networked learning based models. The integration of tools such as registration databases, mailing lists and Web sites presents a major challenge to successful institution to institution co-operation.

Matching of student resources and competencies to institutional resources

Universities will not be able invest in all the technology needed to deliver the types of programs envisaged by the SCU University plan. Much of the technology which will be needed in the hands of the students. This will include computers, CD-ROMs, modems and Internet connectivity.

There is a fine balance between developing courses and units which are far in advance of the availability of student resources and those which lag the availability of resources. If programs lead students resources there will be equity considerations and the program might require delivery in alternative modes which adds significantly to the cost of course development.

There is some evidence that the investment by students now leads the application of technology by the Universityís teaching programs. Although conducted nearly two years ago, the study by Debreceny, Ellis and Chua (1995) showed that nearly two thirds of students studying at a distance from the University had access to information technology in the home. There was considerable evidence that substantial purchasing had been going on in the year of the survey. Unfortunately the survey has not been repeated so that there is no clear evidence of recent purchasing intentions, or more importantly perhaps, future purchasing intentions or of the training needs of students.

An important Critical Success Factor will be to match student access to technology which they or their employer have provided and their ability to use this technology.

7.2 Non Information Systems Critical Success Factors

Client focused administrative structure

When a University attempts to taken on the radical directions indicated by the Southern Cross University Plan, the level of support to the delivery process is brought sharply into focus. Academics in a traditional face to face teaching and learning environment may have relatively low levels of contact with administrative and support structures in student services and the library. In a ìnetworked learningî model the support from these two areas is intensified in complexity and new areas of support are introduced. In particular support must come from information technology and systems providers in central computing and at the School level.

For students there are similar issues. The Telstra report (p 10) noted that ìthere appeared to be limited and uneven understanding [amongst academics] of what kinds of support will be needed for students studying via the ënewí methodsî.

New and unfamiliar technologies will be used by the academics which will require considerable ìhand holdingî. Support structures within the University must be proactive. It is clear that for Southern Cross University and for other universities in a similar change process, there is much to be done in addressing this Critical Success Factor.

Faculty as learning facilitators

A fundamental change in the role of the University teacher is predicted by the University Plan. There are many challenges in an educational process that sees the staff member as a ìfacilitator of learningî rather than a ìteacherî. For University organisations such as, in SCUís case, the Teaching and Learning Unit and TiLT as well as School management, there is much to be done to provide strong leadership to the change in the ìnewî teaching and learning styles.

360 degree evaluation

An important Critical Success Factor in building the learning organisation will be ì360 degree evaluationî (Quinn (1994)). This will require on-going vertical and lateral evaluation of courses, faculty, administrative and other support structures and students.

Promotion of benefits of local environment

A relative advantage for a regional university is the benefits of its local environment. Housing is cheap and available and, importantly, the university education is provided in a secure environment. A Critical Success Factor is to build upon this environment and to use it in all aspects of marketing and in the growth of the University.

7 Conclusion

Southern Cross University is an excellent example of a ìnewî University. It has nearly half of its students studying externally with a range of physical locations at campuses and University Centres. The University Plan calls for radical changes in the mode of educational delivery and internal and external organisation. This paper has identified a number of Critical Success Factors which should be addressed in the achievement of the University Plan.

It is clear that ongoing management attention to each of these Critical Success Factors will be necessary if the promise of the University Plan is to be fulfilled. The recent Telstra report on ëCreating a Multi-Modal Off-Campus Learning Environmentí shows that there many interrelated issues of concern. Until the Critical Success Factors are seen as a ìpackageî and addressed as such by individual academics, School and University management and the support structures of Library, Information Technology, Student Services, Teaching and Learning, TiLT it is unlikely the University Plan will be implemented.

8 References

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A Ellis and R Debreceny ©1996. The authors assign to ASCILITE and educational and non-profit institutions a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant a non-exclusive licence to ASCILITE to publish this document in full on the World Wide Web and on CD-ROM and in printed form with the ASCILITE 96 conference papers, and for the documents to be published on mirrors on the World Wide Web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the authors.