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Computer Literacy Among Entering Allied Health Students and Faculty

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According to a study issued by the Campus Computing project, approximately 50% of American colleges have developed strategic information technology (IT) plans. Less than 40% of these colleges have IT financial plans (Syllabus 1999). Yet increasing use of technology in higher education is apparent. There is pressing need to allocate finite technology funds cost effectively and to positively exploit those expenditures through careful targeting of identified needs.

According to a study issued by the Campus Computing project, approximately 50% of American colleges have developed strategic information technology (IT) plans. Less than 40% of these colleges have IT financial plans (Syllabus 1999). Yet increasing use of technology in higher education is apparent. There is pressing need to allocate finite technology funds cost effectively and to positively exploit those expenditures through careful targeting of identified needs.

Temple University’s planning process for technology integration and fund allocation has evolved as the demand for resources skyrocketed. A major source of funds for several years has been student computer technology fees. Colleges submitted requests each year for funds from these pooled fees to purchase computers and peripheral equipment. Initially, requests were largely priced equipment lists. As the requests for these funds became increasingly competitive, the process for obtaining them also became more sophisticated.

In 1995, the Teaching, Learning, Technology Roundtable (TLTR) and the TLTR-Academic Planning Committee (TLTR-AP) became a forum for interested faculty, staff and senior administrators to develop strategies for the use of technology to improve teaching and learning practices. In 1996, the TLTR-AP developed guidelines for University-wide technology planning. Based on these guidelines, academic units have developed or updated their plans annually. Each plan is reviewed by the TLTR-AP and feedback is provided to the developers for implementation and for use in future plan revision. A successful plan is academically driven. That is, it focuses on the needs of teaching and learning rather than solely on the administrative or support structures of the institution.

The College of Allied Health Professions professional programs in Fall 1997 included Health Information Management (HIM), Nursing (NUR), Occupational Therapy (OT) and Physical Therapy (PT). (see Table 1) To obtain baseline data for the College of Allied Health Professions (CAHP) technology planning, it was essential to determine the level of computer literacy among incoming students.

In addition, it was important to identify where faculty were on their computer learning curves, and to identify areas for faculty development. Most CAHP faculty did not use computers routinely in their student years, and many acquired computer proficiency on an ad hoc basis, either independently or with some assistance.

Project Objectives

Specific project objectives were to:

  • Determine the level of computer literacy among entering students. More specifically, to determine: 1) how many students had direct experience using a computer prior to entering the professional curriculum, and 2) what level of computer proficiency/literacy the entering students bring with them to the health professional curricula.
  • Compare the computer knowledge and experience of Allied Health Professions faculty and entering students to: 1) determine the extent to which faculty and student literacy levels are compatible, 2) identify technology content areas for faculty development, and 3) identify content areas for potential interdisciplinary technology courses.
  • To provide each TU/CAHP program with current aggregate data about the level of computer literacy of departmental: 1) entering students for course content and curriculum planning, and 2) faculty for faculty development initiatives.

Methods

The survey originally developed by Patrikas to assess computer literacy of all students entering Health Information Management programs was updated (Patrikas 1995). The revised questionnaire was administered to all 259 new students entering the TU/CAHP programs and to the 49 faculty members at the beginning of the 1997-98 academic year. Data were entered into SPSS 6.4.1, and appropriate statistical analyses were used to determine the compatibility of self-reported computer knowledge and skills between students and their departmental faculties. Grouped data for both faculty and students were analyzed to identify possible technology content areas for faculty and student development.

Four sub-scales developed from selected questionnaire items were analyzed to identify possible technology content areas for faculty and student development. All four sub-scales showed acceptable to good reliability with Cronbach’s alpha ranging from 0.71-0.94.

Results

Initial review of the data has revealed both expected confirmations of pre-survey perceptions and unanticipated findings. These findings raise critical issues about how best to develop instructional technology initiatives and how to use the finite dollars available. Examples of selected survey results illustrate how such data raise issues for departmental and college technology planning. Findings and the associated issues or implications related to strategic planning are shown in Figure 1 (on page 64).

Initial descriptive statistics comparing aggregate student data for the College and by Department were provided to all CAHP faculty. The information was provided for use in year-end curriculum review and departmental planning activities (Patrikas and Newton 1997). Each CAHP faculty member received an additional report containing parallel comparative data for the students and faculty of their home departments only. Selected project data, including the final project questionnaire, have been provided to University level academic administrators for possible use within the larger University community.

Conclusions

Timely data on student and faculty computer knowledge and experience can support instructional technology planning and resource allocation at department, college and university levels. In addition, such data can assist with the development of discipline-specific and cross-discipline competencies for computer technology and application use. Targeted, non-redundant course content and curriculum design is cost-effective and more satisfying to both students and faculty.

Lastly, these data can be used to support faculty with varied technology experience. Strengthening faculty technology skills and knowledge can enhance instruction, research and scholarship opportunities, professional collaboration and institutional service. All of these contribute to more robust faculty portfolios for promotion, tenure and merit consideration, as well as the less tangible rewards of job satisfaction.

 

Elaine O. Patrikas is the founding Chair of the Dept. of Health Information Management (HIM) at Temple University, where she developed a nationally recognized baccalaureate program for HIM. After 18 years as Chair, she continued as a Professor of HIM with teaching and research activities until July, 1998. She was selected as the 1995 Distinguished Member by the American Health Information Management Association for her contributions to HIM education, research and service.

E-mail: mozart@vm.temple.edu

 

Roberta A. Newton is Professor of Physical Therapy at Temple University. She is a nationally recognized expert in balance and equilibrium and has developed a graduate level online course in fall prevention and risk assessment for health care professionals. She is the recipient of the 1995 Silver Quill award of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association.

E-mail: newtonra@vm.temple.edu

 

References:

Syllabus, January 1999 (http://www.campuscomputing.net/)

Patrikas, E.O. Computer Literacy Among Students Entering the health Information Management Programs JAHIMA 66:29-33, 1995

Patrikas, E.O. and Newton, R.A., "Comparative Report: Students & Faculty by Departments September, 1997"

1 Supported by a Temple University Research Incentive Fund, 1997-98, with assistance in statistical analysis by F. DeWitt Kay, Ph.D.

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.

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