Melissa Woo, Vice Provost for Information Services & CIO, University of Oregon
To hear some tell it, technology makes institutions of higher learning obsolete. Online learning platforms are the future, they say. University libraries are being converted to learning commons with nary a book in sight. The future of education is mobile, social, individualized, and in the cloud. Technology is reshaping higher education, and higher education needs to stop being complacent or it will go the way of record stores and traditional news outlets.
Technology is reshaping how students want to be educated. Students are increasingly more mobile, and expect to be able to access information anytime, anywhere. They are comfortable in an Internet-enabled world, constantly texting, sending photos, posting status, and accessing information from the world ease of access and control for what they need for their educations?
College students are looking to their educational institutions and instructors for opportunities to use their mobile devices for learning. Device ownership is rising: 58 percentof students own three or more Internet-capable devices, 89 percentown a laptop, 76 percentown a smartphone, and 31 percentown a tablet. Ownership of the more recognizably mobile devices—smartphones and tablets—rose 14 and 15 percent, respectively.
Adoption of social media technologies by students is driving new ways to communicate, interact, and share information. Nearly a third of the people on the planet use some sort of social media platform. It’s only natural that if students are comfortable using social media and “live” in these environments for much of their time that they’d want to learn in them as well.
The quantified self-movement, in which individuals acquire data on their daily lives through the use of technology, is becoming increasingly popular as seen in the increased adoption of health monitoring wearables and other lifelogging technologies. Through this form of self-tracking, students are able to collect data on their mental and physical performance, their moods, and their environments. Advances in wearable technology are likely to lead to the ability for students to track their own learning progress and productivity through constant feedback.
The confluence of the rise in the use in mobiles, exponential adoption of social media, and the emerging quantified self-movement is behind a shift towards a “creator society” away from one that merely consumes information. Students are posting videos to YouTube, photos to Instagram, blogging content to various platforms, posting their lifelogging data, and engaging actively in the creation of new information. They expect to be able to create their world, shape their existence, and drive their learning.
“New mobile and web-based apps appear daily through both entrepreneurial new companies and established industries trying to remain current”
This plethora of student activity leaves a data-rich footprint. “Big data” may be an increasingly overused buzzphrase, but these data-rich footprints that students generate are a source of Big Data that can be mined to create learning experiences customized to each individual student. Analysis of how a student learns most successfully, at what pace, and what interests each student most can provide insight to inform changes for individual dynamic learning experiences.
Meanwhile, technology is driving the development of new cloud-based service and product offerings. New mobile and web-based apps appear daily through both entrepreneurial new companies and established industries trying to remain current. Not long ago, students often needed expensive licensed software provided by their institutions to learn. Now, cloud services and products allow students to pick and choose what works best for them, often at little to no cost.
What does this all mean? Students expect to be able to create their own environments, expect the world to provide them individualized experiences, and expect to have nearly unfettered access to services and information. The Ivory Tower of academia, in which the “sage on stage” in the classroom is still the predominant form of teaching, instructors are considered to be the gatekeepers of information, and students are being prepared for yesterday’s jobs, would seem to be the antithesis of what today’s students want and expect.
How do we turn the tide? How do we transform an industry rooted in a long history and tradition that can be notoriously staid and slow to change, to one that is agile and accepting of rapid and constant change—whither traditional higher education?
We need to embrace new models for learning, utilize technology to generate greater student engagement, and develop an environment that fosters agility and rapid change. How do we take on these big challenges at a time that higher education institutions, both public and private, are increasingly being squeezed financially and judged by a society that questions its value?
Campuses are often self-contained businesses, supporting commodity services that aren’t core to the mission and don’t offer competitive differentiation. Technology now enables a shift to commodity service providers, freeing up local resources to focus on activities that bring higher value to students. Higher education needs to shed its prevailing philosophy of building and maintaining monolithic enterprise services in order to create an environment that can rapidly adopt, and just as rapidly drop, remix, and re-imagine services as needed.
Faculty and staff often live in an uneasy alliance with technology, knowing how to use the technology but not truly changing to use technology to its best advantage for the students. It’s not knowing how to use the tools that matters, but it’s thinking differently that does. Much of the current technology training offered to faculty and staff focuses on how to use tools and platforms; the benefits of such training are transient. Instead, they need to be taught the new and constantly changing “digital literacy,” and learn to think critically about using technology in an environment where the student wants to be in the driver’s seat.
Moving away from long-term enterprise service investments and changing the way we train our faculty and staff requires a major cultural shift, a sea change, from where we are today. There’s a saying often attributed to Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” One wonders if today’s higher education institutions will be around for dinner.