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technology trends in higher education

 

As a technology dean with a distance education card in my hand, I began a process at Santa Barbara City College in 2007 that led to the development of a customized open-source LMS known as the Human Presence Learning Environment.This platform improved student satisfaction, class completion rates and academic success by integrating enabling technologies that allow for high levels of student agency through synchronous and asynchronous communication, embedded video, linked electronic texts and interactive learning objects, anonymous student recommendation engines, and much more. This work was highlighted by Steve Kolowich in this Inside Higher Ed article.

 

Since Moore’s Law suggests that we have witnessed remarkable advances in the two years since Kolowich’s article, I thought we might take a brief tour of some emerging educational technology trends that are either affecting higher education now or will do so soon. Let’s start by viewing "Did You Know 4.0," paying close attention for this quote:

The computer in your cell phone today is a million times cheaper and a thousand times more powerful and about a hundred thousand times smaller than the one computer at MIT in 1965.

Watch this video at YouTube.

Do educational leaders recognize how emerging consumer technologies impact the ways in which we teach and learn? According to the Economist Intelligence Unit and the New Media Consortium (NMC), “nearly two-thirds (63%) of survey respondents from both the public and private sectors say that technological innovation will have a major influence on teaching methodologies over the next five years. In fact, technology will become a core differentiator in attracting students and corporate partners.” In The Future of Learning: 12 Views on Emerging Trends in Higher Education, William Flynn and Jeff Vredevoogd note that “advancements in technology will drive ongoing changes in all aspects of college and university life and offer new opportunities to enhance and broaden learning experiences. There is no service or activity conducted in higher education that will not be increasingly affected by advances in technology." In light of this, it is imperative that institutions of higher learning focus on solutions that will increase their productivity, thereby allowing them to keep pace with the social, economic and pedagogical consequences Moore’s Law.

The Highly Efficient Institution

Notwithstanding our obvious appreciation for the new, anecdotal data suggests that operational processes at many colleges lack technical sophistication. For example, when was the last time you filled out a purchase requisition or signed off on a faculty evaluation in pen and ink? And how often do these documents wait in someone’s inbox until they can be signed and forwarded to the next person by campus mail? "Requisitions were one of my nightmares” admitted Director of IT Robert Szabo in a Campus Technology article by Diane Shaffhauser. “Having information available online, knowing who submitted what, who needs to take action, and having the ability to look up anything is critical. That's why the business process approach was necessary for us." Thus I would suggest that one of the enabling technologies that will help administrators take advantage of new approaches is electronic workflow.

Rise of the Smart LMS

Although learning management systems (LMS) have been with us for over a decade, technically speaking they are still in their infancy. Developed for distance learning, the LMS is swiftly coming to be seen as a ubiquitous learning tool that can bridge the heretofore distinct worlds of online learning, blended learning, and now, Web-enhanced classroom-based instruction. At Santa Barbara City College where Banner and Moodle are integrated to auto-populate all course shells each semester, these worlds are beginning to merge towards an integrated spectrum of instructional modalities supporting common learning outcomes.

As customized as this system is, currently it cannot adjust to each student’s individual learning needs. Karen Cator, Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, feels that intelligent learning environments are on the rise. "I think the thing we'll see in 2012 is the increasing use of learning analytics to better personalize the learning environment. Basically, these products that are adapting to the learners, products that are returning to the learner the next thing based on data and analysis of that data."

Adaptive learning companies such as Knewton and Grockit are using learning analytics to provide individual learning environments tuned to each student’s distinctive fingerprint of knowledge, skills and experience. According to the 2012 Horizon Report:

The goal of learning analytics is to enable teachers and schools to tailor educational opportunities to each student’s level of need and ability ... By offering information in real time, learning analytics can support immediate adjustments, suggesting a model of curriculum that is more fluid and open to change.

Cloudy with a chance of Brain

We’ve all heard about the cloud, but what is it? Chan, Holznagel and Kranz write that “as you sit hunched over your laptop at home watching a YouTube video or using a search engine, you’re actually plugging into the collective power of thousands of computers that serve all this information to you from far-away rooms distributed around the world. It’s almost like having a massive supercomputer at your beck and call, thanks to the Internet. This phenomenon is what we typically refer to as cloud computing.”

Cloud computing moves much of the processing load from the machine that you are working on to one or more computers on the Web. This means that your local machine is merely acting with the Internet as an input-output (I.O.) device, sending keystrokes and delivering screen views. The consequence of this is that, for many basic applications, you can use a fairly simple machine to deliver complex data sets or display infographics such as this one:

Infographic Created by Sam Johnston

 

Concurrent Licensing, Electronic Texts and Open Educational Resources

Because cloud computing allows end-users online access to information, software and services, it can be viewed as an enabling technology for three further trends. The first is concurrent licensing, whereby an institution can purchase a minimal number of software licenses for its federated users. Concurrent licenses are not site or machine-specific. Rather, they float on a cloud, ready to be shared by simultaneous users. By not having to image every lab and classroom computer, concurrent licensing lowers the overall cost of software for institutions while providing free access to students. This then enables organizations to create and share open educational resources (OER) that can be plugged into a variety of courses and re-used semester after semester. The Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT), a program of the California state University in partnership with higher education institutions, professional societies and industry, is an excellent example of an OER that comprises over 35,000 materials in subjects ranging from Agriculture and Environmental Sciences to World Languages. It can be found at http://www.merlot.org/merlot/index.htm. Frank Ganis, a general partner at the Gilfus Education Group, notes that:

The way many college and university budgets work is that they can't depreciate the equipment fast enough before it becomes not so useful. So what a lot of schools want to do is get out of the hardware and technology stack business, focus on content, and put as much in the cloud as possible. It's just starting and will continue to increase. And as the equipment becomes depreciated, it will accelerate the movement to the cloud.

Watch this video at YouTube.

Writing for Campus Technology, Dian Schaffhauser notes that “California's Senate is pondering legislation to mandate the development of digital textbooks in order to save college students money. A new bill proposes that the state invest $25 million to create 50 new textbooks, which would be made available free to students in digital form or would cost $20 each in printed form. The legislation would create a request for proposal process inviting faculty, publishers, and others to develop digital open source textbooks and related courseware, 25 for fall 2013 and 25 for fall 2014. The materials would be placed under a Creative Commons licensing structure that would grant readers free access and also allow instructors to customize the content.”

In print form, wiki texts could transform campus bookstores into on-demand print kiosks residing in the hallway next to the coffee vending machines. In digital form, these texts could come alive. PushPop Press’ digital version of Al Gore’s 2009 bestseller Our Choice is rife with interactive exercises and multimedia sidebars. David Pogue states that “the real magic is all the visual elements. You can expand every photo and graphic to fill the whole screen; they look spectacular. At this point, you can interact with them. You can tap the corner of any photo, for example, to see where on the planet it was taken. You can press your finger on a bar of a chart to “explode” it into smaller bars, showing the component data underlying the primary bar… The interactivity, the zooming into graphic elements and the videos aren’t a gimmick. They actually add up to a different experience.”

Karen Cator believes that when e-books and the Internet interact, digital learning environments result. “When we think about the expansion in digital books or digital learning environments, it also includes not just the text and pictures, but also video and Web sites and simulations, visualizations, and environments where you're testing yourself and lots of other kinds of things that would be important."

Augmented Reality and Geolocational Instruction

What happens when augmented reality (AR) and geolocation services come together in the classroom? According to the New Media Consortium (NMC), AR can provide “additional information to whatever users are viewing on a screen device. This information is ‘layered’ over whatever the user is viewing at the time (e.g. whether in the real world, or on a screen). While most applications have been in the consumer sector (tourism is one application example), we can expect new applications to become available over the next 1-3 years that will enhance learning. Augmented reality brings a significant potential to supplement information delivered via computers, mobile devices, video, and even the printed book.” According to the project known as Augmented Reality in School Environments (ARiSE), “students will have the possibility to interact together with the virtual objects in a virtual shared space provided by an AR display system and thereby perform learning by doing instead of learning by reading or listening. “ I cannot stress the significance of technologies that help students learn through experience, even if this experience is virtual.

The Superabled Student

 

Dr. Dennis Wilson, author of the upcoming book Amped, claims that “we are fast approaching a milestone in the eons-long relationship between human beings and their technology. Families once gathered around the radio like it was a warm fireplace. Then boom boxes leapt onto our shoulders. The Sony Walkman climbed into our pockets and sank its black foam tentacles into our ears. The newest tools are creeping still closer: They will soon come inside and make themselves at home under our skin—some already have.” He is referring to a new, generation of implantable technologies that will lead to “superable” students and thus, fundamentally alter the intellectual and social landscape of the university.

Yet, with facts and figures at their fingertips, today’s students already represent a “superable” college population. This came about when the personal computer evolved into the laptop, the laptop evolved into the tablet p.c., and the tablet p.c. evolved in conjunction with the mobile phone to become today’s lightweight tablet.

The NMC states that “we have now reached the point with near ubiquitous cellphone ownership among adults, and growing ownership among children. More than three-quarters of teens own a cellphone, and about 40% own a smartphone. As such, these mobile devices will help unlock some of the promise of “anytime, anywhere” learning opportunities.” Somewhat larger than a mobile phone today, tablets “will surge as a means of delivering courses and e-learning media” according to Gilfus Education.

I often say that the iPhone killed the Swatch. After all, who really needs to wear a wrist watch these days? Similarly, the tablet may soon be a smartboard killer, delivering individualized, annotatable, archivable lessons to students in their classroom seats, at work or at home. NMC considers tablets de rigeur for the next generation student because these devices are “easily adaptable to almost any learning environment, with tens of thousands of educational applications emerging as part of a new software distribution model.” Additionally tablets “present an economic, flexible alternative to laptops and desktops due to their lower cost, greater portability, and access to apps.” While the Samsung Galaxy that I recently purchased for under $250 is a fraction of the size and weight of a textbook, it can theoretically store an entire library. Thus by integrating a student’s WiFi-accessable tablet with an institution’s virtualized application solution, the result will likely be a giant step in student productivity. According to NMC’s Horizon Project:

Tablets have come to be viewed as not just a new category of mobile devices, but indeed a new technology in its own right, one that blends features of laptops, smartphones, and earlier tablet computers with always-connected Internet, and thousands of apps with which to personalize the experience. With significantly larger screens and richer gesture-based interfaces than their smartphone predecessors, they are ideal tools for sharing content, videos, images, and presentations because they are easy for anyone to use, visually compelling, and highly portable.

This has led institutions to what Audrey Watters, in her Mind/Shift blog calls “BYOD,” bring your own device. Colleges can now save money, energy and staff time by providing the ubiquitous power and WiFI that students require to operate their mobile devices. As a result, those hulking institutional workstations with their hefty wattage footprints may soon go the way of the Tasmanian Tiger. And if this comes to pass, the walls of the traditional university will truly tumble as students begin toting their learning with them, wherever they happen to go.

What used to fit in a building now fits in your pocket. Within 25 years, what fits in your pocket will fit inside a blood cell. —Ray Kurzweill

As computing technology continues to follow Moore’s Law, these devices may well become wearable fashion accessories like the Jawbone. They may even provide layers of AR upon request. Soon after that, such devices may be implanted under the skin or directly into the brain. Wilson claims that “these tools aren't sinister. They're being created to solve real problems. Simply put, prosthetic limbs help people move, and neural implants help people think. Solutions may not only erase physical or mental deficits but leave patients better off than "able-bodied" folks. The person who has a disability today may have a superability tomorrow.” Time to short Adderall futures?

Let 1000 Majors Grow

We’ve all recognized the administrative clarion call to “remove the silos” that have long separated educational units and programs. Yet when institutions possess technology sufficient to deliver personalized instruction, it may be our students who demand new programs and combined majors.

The decentralization of the educational enterprise will be driven, in part, by technologies that allow learning to occur anywhere, anytime and thus lead to the increasing popularity of multi-disciplinary programs. Flynn and Vredevoogd argue that the university must become more flexible to combine the multidimensional aspects of subject matter in ways that support student interest. According to The New Media Consortium:

The active learning approaches are decidedly more student-centered, allowing them to take control of how they engage with a subject and to brainstorm and implement solutions to pressing local and global problems. The hope is that if learners can connect the course material with their own lives and their surrounding communities, then they will become more excited to learn and immerse themselves in the subject matter. Studies of challenge-based learning in practice, depict an increase in the uptake of 21st Century Skills among learners, including leadership and creativity.

Continuity from Disruption

If you have read this far, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed by all that disruptive technology. Yet the status quo at many institutions may be likened to driving a smart car on the Autobahn. According to Gannis, “with budget cutbacks, rising costs, and the need to change outmoded business models, many institutions are candidly realizing that if they don't rapidly pursue smart innovation, they may severely undermine the future continuity of their schools." While ensuring the continuity of educational opportunity is essential, the transformation in what we teach and how we teach it will be the measure of how we, as campus leaders, embrace these innovations and thereby make the 21st century our own.

"Why all the trouble? Technology provides value" image courtesy of Gilfus Education Group, all rights reserved. http://www.gilfuseducationgroup.com/