Published on 2017/01/13
Co-written with Darcy Janzen | Director of eLearning Services, University of Washington Tacoma

The EvoLLLution | Looking Ahead: Five IT Trends for 2017
Further integrating the physical and digital worlds is going to be a chief area of focus for postsecondary IT leaders in 2017.

Monkey mind: an unsettled restlessness. Always looking to the next bright, shiny object.

We confess: love of the next shiny object in technology is our weakness. If you’re an IT professional, it’s probably one of yours too. This trait often makes us better at what we do; it makes us fearless with new technologies, willing to test and imagine them enhancing the student experience and the work of our faculty. But then it gets the better of us and the bright object we bought last month sits on a shelf as another catches our eye. Ooh, look 3D printing! Virtual reality! Gamification software! Maker Spaces! Wearables! All wrapped in the Cloud, delivered to your door—where they’ll soon be sitting on the shelf behind Google Glass and those digital note pads with the clunky pens.

We will never give up exploring and sharing the next thing that catches our eye, and there’s no better time to share than an approaching new year. So here’s our end of 2016/start of 2017 essay, joining the ranks of IT pundits and futurists applying favorite technology innovations to education.

Most often, the pundits are wrong, and their shelves stacked higher with last year’s shiny toys than anyone else. We make room on the dusty shelves so as to stay informed, explore, and not fall behind our peers. How many of us in 2016 bought a 3D printer and spent time, money and effort to create a small plastic box that would never catch our eye at the dollar store?

Let’s not do that this year. Let’s keep our eye on the prize (student success) and imagine the use of new technologies and trends, that are showing promise in helping learners persist.

Here’s our take on taking the student-centered approach and we’d love to hear yours. Our wish for 2017 is that together, with all of us collectively ignoring monkey mind, we find tools, trends and practices that are strategic and integral to the campus of 2017. Five trends? Here they are:

1. Analytics

You knew it would make the list. If your campus doesn’t yet have an analytics tool to provide thin-slice, real-time understanding of your students, their challenges, and powerful predictors, it’s very likely you’ll be looking for one in the coming year.

The University of Washington Tacoma went live with Civitas Learning in 2016 and here are some things we learned that we had no ability to know before:

  • Our students are 6 percent more likely to be retained to the next quarter if they took one online course.
  • Despite the cost of college today, our highest attrition group is self-pay students.
  • When students leave, it’s less for academic reasons and more related to engagement and overcoming stresses.
  • 75 percent of our “leavers” are in good academic standing when they leave.

The obligation of data is that once you know where your students are struggling, you need to plan support around that struggle. Analytics is changing our strategic retention efforts, and if it hasn’t yet changed yours, it’s likely to do so in the near future.

2. Personalizing Student Support

Tolstoy said, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” He could have said it about college students. Their struggles are personal, unique and happen at different times in the quarter—whether academic, at home or on campus. The blanket email won’t work in an age where machines are aware of our interests and updates.

Although our lower division (highest persistence risk) students don’t declare major until junior year, we’ve begun a pilot to collect interests and information relevant to each student and send out mobile nudges, reminders, links and announcements that matter to them. Only to them. Fingers crossed that personalized support will mean that our students will now read the messages sent.

3. Mobile Everywhere

In an increasingly digital world, we store much of our minds in our mobile devices. Expectations are that needed information or access sites will be available as apps and that the user interface will be friendly, fast and intuitive. According to a 2015 EDUCAUSE report, students depend on their mobile devices, with 86 percent owning smartphones, 47 percent a tablet, and more than 50 percent saying they have brought laptops to class. Students are looking to the campus to provide fast wifi and electrical outlets everywhere. They’re looking to the campus to allow access from the internet of things. The challenge for IT will be to respond and to support students and instructors in understanding mobile, digital affordances.

4. The New Learning Commons

As campuses explore hybrid, online and flipped courses, we are learning that many students want to leverage campus technology and space to take their classes at home and come to campus to study. Work is being done to create rich, technology-infused hubs where students can find support, collaborative spaces and screens, comfortable furniture and diverse just-in-time resources. Spaces are now being reinvented, often in the library, where students can come together to study, learn, get a coffee or tea, and socialize in a comfortable, flexible place. In 2017, the higher education community will continue to build, assess and grow our understanding of how to offer a digital, social, collaborative learning commons.

5. Digital Fluency

Technology change is happening at increasing speed. Some are embracing this change, but higher education—rooted in our traditions and age-old practices—is increasingly seen as challenged to adapt. Thoughtful implementation of the other trends on this list will be to no avail if we don’t have a common understanding of new learning outcomes and the nature of digital fluency.

It is our obligation to prepare our students for the world they’re entering and for careers that don’t yet have names. Not just in the discrete and narrow outcomes of majors, but across the curriculum and fluencies (information, technology adoption, visual media, data manipulation and graphing). Campuses are beginning to think about digital portfolios, and requiring learner competency in e-collaboration: blogs, wikis, simple but well designed web sites, and even rich uses of the LMS. For students to be comfortable with ever-changing technology and its fluencies, it’s necessary for academic programs to have common goals and understanding of how we know that our students know what we need them to know. This is the trend that matters.

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