The Office of Educational Technology, part of the U.S. Department of Education, recently released its National Education Technology Plan (NETP), outlining its high-level recommendations for improving accessibility, quality, and affordability in higher education through better use of technology.
The NETP contends that technology has not only rapidly changed the skills needed for today’s workforce, but has also created new opportunities for today’s institutions of higher education to improve learning experiences for a more diverse group of college students.
A host of forces including globalization, technological advances, and the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs have today made a postsecondary education essential for more and more people — and increasingly, many people who no don’t fit the traditional college student mold.
“Today’s average student is no longer the 18-year-old whose parents drive her up to ‘State U’ in a minivan stuffed with boxes. Instead, the ‘new normal’ student may be a 24-year-old returning veteran, a 36-year-old single mother, a part-time student juggling work and college, or the first-generation college student. The faces we picture as our college hopefuls can’t be limited by race, age, income, zip code, disability, or any other factor.” — Ted Mitchell, Under Secretary, U.S. Department of Education
Today’s college students require more flexibility in their courses, increased accessibility to learning materials, and teachers who are willing and able to create opportunities for more personalized learning experiences.
In the 2017 NETP, titled “Reimagining the Role of Technology in Higher Education,” a practical framework is presented alongside real case studies in order to address how both college faculty and administrators should be embracing technology to improve student outcomes. The plan is broken down into a few big ideas, each with its own set of recommendations:
Within these big ideas, the NETP repeatedly emphasizes the need for a student-centered ecosystem of technologies that creates engaging and empowering learning experiences while also providing better data to educators. A well-researched vision for transforming education with technology, the plan, however, does not discuss specific educational technologies.
In a rapidly changing market of more than 400 technologies aimed at higher education, selecting the right systems can seem overwhelming. Eduventures recently released a visual overview of the education technology landscape for 2017 — within the Student Success & Instruction category alone, there are 16 subcategories of educational technology tools, including:
Fortunately, a growing number of today’s technologies include capabilities that serve multiple categories. Colleges and universities don’t necessarily need a tool from each category to achieve their goals. But where do you begin to innovate your educational technology systems and build a better student-centered ecosystem?
We break down the process into 4 main steps.
Why you are using technology is as important as how you are using it. What parts of the student learning experience do you want to improve with specific technologies and how do you expect outcomes to change? Administrators should support educators in developing research-based, technology-enabled teaching practices that are validated by data.
By identifying goals up front, you are more likely to find the right combination of tools that help you improve student learning experiences.
Most institutions already utilize multiple technologies to support various aspects of their students’ learning experiences. Recognizing this reality, it will be best for most schools to start by evaluating what you are already using.
Educators testing new technologies should consider any existing solutions already in place when defining the criteria that will measure success, and pay close attention to any challenges that arise while piloting with new, additional tools.
Administrative and technology teams on campuses can also partner to tap into data from existing applications that provide insight into student progress and outcomes. When silos are broken down and data is aggregated, institutions can gain a better understanding of existing learning ecosystems built on technology, demonstrate their effectiveness, and use the data to make improvements.
The next step towards building a better learning ecosystem is to scale the systems that work — migrating to one or a few connected systems that can be used campus-wide not only creates efficiency, but also improves adoption and data sharing.
For example, you may have different LMS or video software systems that are used throughout departments on campus. By standardizing on a single LMS and a video platform that integrates well with that LMS, you can maintain flexibility, increase adoption, collect better learning data, and ultimately improve student outcomes.
According to the NETP, campus-wide adoption of interconnected systems that have been proven effective, are likely to create the best outcomes when reimagining the design and deliver of education across your campus.
The Office of Educational Technology predicts that our current education system will struggle to keep pace with the changing needs of students — unless institutions move to adopt a more nimble approach and more scalable tools and solutions. Fortunately, many colleges and universities are already moving away from ad hoc technology adoption driven by faculty and departments, and instead implementing standardized systems campus-wide.
In planning for the future, leaders in higher education should continue to explore new technologies that improve access, affordability, quality, and outcomes. Embracing a “test and learn” philosophy when it comes to new technologies will better inform your academic practices ultimately help shape how students learn in the future.