Teaching and Learning Transformation to Impact University Change
The rapid pace of technological change and innovation in the consumer marketplace is well documented. All of us personally experience the impact of technological advances and critical decision making as we engage in the seemingly routine task, every two years, of replacing a smart phone and contracting with a cellular service provider. How many of us are considering a new investment in an ultra-compact laptop, or are we asking ourselves, should our new mobile device really be one of the 2013 tablet computers? The internal dialogue that we engage in as individual consumers of information technology mirrors the institutional conversation taking place in higher education about how we can best plan the resources needed for the ever-changing demands of keeping up with the higher education technology marketplace and the new “learner/consumer.” The debate about how higher education can best embrace large investments in technology and yet remain technically and fiscally nimble is most often framed by the aspirational belief that relatively new trends such as “bring your own device (BYOD)”, mobile learning and “cloud technologies” will provide the answer.
It is not clear at this point in the modern information technology roadmap that consumer-based technology access solutions will be able to provide the complete portfolio of digital tools needed to complement the traditional faculty triad of teaching, research and outreach. In fact, faculty and student expectations in higher education are increasingly about real-world experiences and problem solving that effectively leverages technology resources. Student engagement and collaboration and demonstrated expertise with 21st-century learning have become the foundational game-changing skill set needed by all learners. More recently, many universities have piloted their own virtualized or VDI computer desktop platforms and cloud storage systems that are designed to efficiently deliver large-scale computer desktop functionality and 24/7 user access to an increasing array of research and curricular software and data. Learning and discovery are increasingly being mediated by diverse technologies that are redefining what it means to be an effective lifelong learner. Universities that are mindful of the importance of the pace of digital technology and learning trends, and who are investing in expertise and training designed to increase eLearning capacity, will be much better positioned to manage 21st-century learning and discovery. Digital learning is one of this year’s fastest growing sectors in national enrollment trends in higher education. Further, eLearning trends and institution capacity building in eLearning is a top priority of higher education across sectors of academic leadership.
Universities that understand and embrace the disruptive forces that the consumerization of technology are delivering to our campuses have the opportunity to be at the forefront of major advances in learning sciences and academic program delivery aimed at redefining the learner and the teacher. For example, online education was previously understood to be specific to students we teach at a distance. The rapid evolution of eLearning science is now applicable to all learners, especially those students with individual learning needs. A student engaged in online eLearning is just as likely to be a resident in the nearby university dorm as he or she is to be an out-of-state resident signed up for an online degree program. Universities that invest in faculty professional development in eLearning science and in the technology resources needed to support eLearning will be positioned to meet the digital learning needs of the modern student. In effect, the rapid evolution of eLearning is redefining the alignment of digitally-mediated pedagogy and successful learning outcomes. Universities that embrace the new learner will be successfully positioned to benefit from the new higher education marketplace, including the rapidly increasing demand for just-in-time learning options and mobile/hybrid teaching solutions that are reducing our historical reliance on the traditional classroom.
A second emerging technology trend indicates that some universities are contracting with enterprise cloud storage providers and have effectively relocated much of the university’s traditional data center functions to a third party-hosted solution for both servers and long-term storage. At the same time, academic administrators have become preoccupied with concerns about providing scalable institutional digital portals and data repositories to support e-science research and the digital humanities. Learning management systems, including systems that support the enrollment numbers and storage needed for massive open online courses (MOOCs), are also key elements of the new focus on scalable and cost-effective data storage solutions. The eLearning trend in combination with high-capacity digital networks in turn fuels debate and dialogue about how best to leverage a university’s eLearning portfolio versus traditional costs and buildings needed with face-to-face and new forms of “hybrid” and “flipped” instruction.
In short, many of us in higher education have come to the realization that in this “new normal,” every human activity is mediated by some form of reliance on information technology, high-speed communication networks and an ever-savvy and demanding global digital higher education consumer. Universities that have embraced the fast-trending digital eLearning roadmap are revising both their mission and vision statements to reflect their priority for effectively serving many more global and digital citizens.
Information technology has quickly become the essential partner in every component of the diverse portfolio of traditional and new higher education endeavors. As such, it has the status of being a very successful “universal disrupter” of the status quo. Higher education’s core business is the education of students, and eLearning technologies are effectively challenging our traditional assumptions about the delivery and ownership of knowledge. Equally salient to our understanding of the positive disruption led by technology and eLearning is the impact on the traditional university’s business model. Digital learning, mobile learning applications and MOOCs are some of the technology-driven trends that are not just changing the geography of higher education; they are the harbingers of the transformation of learning and teaching.
Author Perspective: Administrator