Technology in Higher Education: What’s Next?

The online and open education world is changing the way education is delivered. In the next decade, e-learning is projected to grow fifteen-fold, accounting for  30% of all educational provision.

In order to ensure technology is used effectively and efficiently, this shift needs to be shaped by educators. The impact of new technology will shape the way students learn, collaborate and engage with their education.

To support these developments, educational providers must ensure that an appropriate infrastructure is put in place, that learning spaces are modified to support new teaching methodologies and that teaching staff are trained to use technology effectively.

Some of the key ways in which technology is expected to change education in the years to come include collaborative learning, learning analytics, innovation culture and mobile learning.

Collaborative Learning

Collaborative Learning

Many universities have made changes to encourage collaborative learning. Whereas more traditional models of higher education meant 50-minute lectures in lecture halls and hours spent studying alone in the library, future-oriented universities encourage group learning.

This has meant changes to the interior architecture of learning spaces as well as the adoption of new technologies for teaching staff and students to share research. Classrooms may no longer have a fixed focal point of a podium at the front facing rows of chairs and desks. Instead, spaces are open with movable furniture, multiple screens, and whiteboards for developing ideas within small groups.

Citing research showing that an active learning environment is best for students, Boise State University converted a traditional computer classroom into a collaborative learning space using Solstice technology which allows faculty and students to stream or share files to any of the monitors in the room.

Unlike traditional classrooms, there is no focal point and furniture can be rearranged easily as needed. Open learning spaces encourage sharing of ideas by breaking down the silos and reducing the gap between students and the perceived authority of the educators. They are more closely aligned to real life work environments where graduate employees will be expected to speak up in meetings, defend and develop new ideas and work with people from diverse backgrounds.

Measurement of Learning/Learning Analytics

Measurement of Learning/Learning Analytics

Educational providers can now track data on their students as never before. Where previously the only blunt measures available were attendance and the results of tests, nowadays staff can track students’ engagement in online discussion groups, their mastery of topics through self-assessed online quizzes, and even the amount of time they spend in the library through their swipe card entry and exit.

While there are obvious ethical implications for universities to consider in retaining and accessing this data, it can allow staff to reach out to students who might otherwise slip through the cracks. Students themselves should have to access this data to rate their own engagement against their peers. 

In Nottingham Trent University students have a dashboard which compares their performance to their peers. As well as allowing staff to intervene sooner with students who appear to be struggling, these developments should allow students to take responsibility for their own studies.

The information can also be used to assist teaching staff in adapting the delivery of courses and concepts. In the University of Hong Kong, student engagement scores are fed back to teaching staff to aid curriculum development and adapt teaching methods. No longer will lecturers have to wait until finals for the unpleasant surprise that their students have failed to grasp one of the fundamentals of their studies! Instead, real-time learning analytics will help them to modify their teaching in order to ensure that students understand the core concepts. 

When the University of Purdue, Indiana introduced data analytics it led to earlier identification of problems, as early as the second week of term, to students reaching out for help earlier. This resulted in a 12% increase in B and C grades while D and F grades decreased by 14%. 

A Culture of Innovation

A Culture of Innovation

Innovation has become one of the buzzwords in education and industry in recent years. But what implications does this have for the education providers of the future?

Educational institutions have been acknowledged as drivers of innovation and entrepreneurship. The Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA) published a study which identified factors needed to support strategic innovation. One of the factors identified was the need to have a diverse body of people “who bring along a variety of proficiencies and opinions.”

This has implications for teaching delivery and how technology may be used to support innovation. For example, faculty have to take the role of facilitators to ensure that groups can work together to generate new ideas, rather than delivering lectures from a fixed podium.

Diverse groups will have diverse preferred learning methods. The use of adaptive learning technologies could support students from different backgrounds with different needs. Learning analytics will be crucial to developing adaptive learning technologies. And while there may be front-end expenses in developing adaptive learning technology the value of it can be seen in the increased student engagement and faster mastering of subjects.

According to EDUCAUSE, when at-risk students used  blended learning their pass rates increased by one third. The students also mastered the content at a faster rate by 50%.

Mobile Learning

Mobile Learning

With virtually every student carrying a computer in their pocket in the form of a smartphone or tablet, mobile learning will continue to be a key trend in the short term. In fact, it is estimated that the global market will grow by 36% annually, rising to $37.6 billion by 2020.

While many educators accept that mobile devices can enhance education, some still view them as a distraction within the classroom. However, education providers can leverage mobile technology use within the classroom to increase student engagement.

Middlesex University conducted a study into the use of mobile technology by a group of first-year anatomy students. Some students were given iPads with access to apps featuring 3D muscle and skeletal imagery and incorporating activities to use in the classroom. The group which used the iPads earned higher grades than those without and declared that the technology was “fun” to use.

Some universities are creating their own apps to provide mobile learning and supports to their student body. Involving key stakeholders such as students and educators in the development ensures that the apps developed are relevant to the needs of those using them.

Colorado Technical University offers a best practice example of how involving students in the design of mobile learning apps can reduce pain points and create technology to help students to “fit education into their lives – not the other way around”. After listening to students’ feedback the app focuses on access to university support, real-time notifications and time management tools. More than half of all students have downloaded the app and logged in. The developers continue to listen to feedback from students to ensure a better user experience and incorporate suggested changes in future updates. 

Conclusion

As new technologies are adopted, the ways in which education is delivered are changing too, lessons are no longer restricted to the classroom, to studying alone in the library or to sitting passively in a lecture hall. Content can be explored in group collaborations in re-configured classrooms, in bite-size nuggets at any time of day or night on a smartphone, or through 3D or virtual reality models using bespoke apps.

The one size fits most model of education delivery will not be accepted by the diverse groups needed to drive innovation within educational institutes. Learning analytics means that students and staff can track progress and use blended learning to ensure that they stay on track to graduate. It will allow earlier identification of problems students have with material and lead to earlier interventions to help students where necessary.

Undoubtedly introducing new technology is not without risk and expense. However, it can bring great rewards in terms of student engagement, grades, graduation rates and employability – all of which reflect well on the educational institutes teaching them. The students of tomorrow are digital natives for whom using technology is as natural as talking, universities should be places that reflect this, rather than technology-free zones.