Just as the Industrial Revolution transformed the production of goods and how they get to market in the 80 years from 1760 to 1840, the Information Age is transforming the production of knowledge and how students earn college degrees.
That’s the observation of Beth Crawford, who came to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga as a student in 1980. She’s been at UTC ever since, except for a year in the private sector after earning a bachelor’s degree in communications. Crawford went on to earn an Ed.D. in Leadership/Teaching and Learning and today is a UC Foundation associate professor in the School of Professional Studies.
Still in the throes of the Information Age and in the decade just ended, Crawford says, digitized information and ever more powerful handheld technology is producing important tools for higher education. “When I came here in 1980, computerized (course) registration was not something found at all universities,” Crawford says. “UTC was way ahead of the game in that but, because it was a homegrown system, it was great until all of a sudden it was out of date. In the early 2000s, we realized we just didn’t have the robust tools and, with the people who’d created our system heading into retirement, we weren’t going to continue to maintain our home-built system.”
Following studies of systems in universities around the country, UTC chose Banner, a student information software specifically for higher education, in 2010. UTC also used several “learning management systems,” including Blackboard, which was replaced in 2019 by a new alternative, Canvas.
“We made the decision to go with Canvas because of how much more helpful it was for the students, and I think that’s a big change over the last decade,” Crawford says. “I think the University has gone back to—and it sounds weird to say ‘gone back to,’ but I felt it in the ’80s as a student and I see it now more than ever since then—a focus on being a really student-oriented campus. Always asking ourselves, ‘What do we need to do to ensure student success?’
“We’ve added all kinds of tools toward that in the last decade. We’ve added the EAB—the Educational Advisory Board academic advisement tools—so students are tracked better than ever before. Similarly, faculty have tools, Canvas being one of them, and as a faculty member I can run reports to tell me who’s in trouble or run a report that I can sort by grade point average. These tools let us see who may need a little bit of extra attention, who might need to go to the tutoring center and how we can help. From what I’m seeing, I think the decade of 2010 to 2019 is one where we really grew in student-support services.”
Crawford says she expects the growth in online and hybrid classes—a combination of in-person and online—over the last decade to continue into the next. Public policy initiatives, starting with the 2010 Complete College Tennessee Act, are fueling that growth, too, by incentivizing degree completion in every sector of the state’s population, from military veterans and other non-traditional students to those who left college without graduating. “As we work toward that,” Crawford says, “I hope we find ways to embrace more online delivery options while maintaining the rigor of this university. I came to this university because of its high academic quality, and I’ve stayed here because of the high quality.”