Education technology enjoyed a headline-grabbing year in 2013. Debate about the potential, and the limitations, of massive open online courses reached a fevered pitch. Technology-enabled, competency-based degrees got a green light from the U.S. Department of Education. And data analytics proved to be an increasingly important reference point in campus operations.
The momentum shows little sign of abating in 2014. New tools are shaping everything from in-classroom instruction to White House policy making. The Chronicle asked five education-technology experts to think about the year ahead and identify major themes at the intersection of education technology and higher education.
Interim president and former chief information officer
University of Hawaii
Openness: Open software and content (open-source software, community-source software, open education resources) obviously save students and institutions money on licensing fees. Perhaps more important, they also promote collaboration and innovation by inviting users to improve, customize, and build on initial solutions. And the communities of interest around open software and content may well be the next hotbeds of innovation for institutions seeking new paths to address the challenges and opportunities of the new normal.
Analytics: Our opportunities for improvement are immense, and data provide a powerful lens to understand how we are doing internally and relative to our peers. This applies across all segments of what we do, from teaching and learning to administrative support. Performance metrics and dashboards are the beginning, but using data to understand deeper correlations and causality so we can shape change will be critical as we strive to advance our effectiveness.
Cloud: The original NSFNET, which provided access to national supercomputer assets, created an early higher-education cloud. And the value of the cloud for commodity services is already evidenced through our adoption of cloud-based email, calendaring, storage, communications, and similar utilities. Our next breakthrough will be in shared multitenant applications that not only reduce costs but also enable a faster pace of improvement in software quality and support analytic insights across institutions.
Diana G. Oblinger
Diana G. Oblinger
Courtesy of Diana Oblinger
President and CEO
Connected learning pathways: Technology is relevant at every point in the learner pathway. Leveraging it thoughtfully and effectively for learning will continue to attract significant interest throughout 2014. Institutions will focus on online learning and student-success strategies, emphasizing greater student engagement, clearer learning pathways, and cost-effectiveness. Growing adoption of flipped classrooms, blended models, and competency-based learning will challenge traditional academic structures and institutional business models. Emerging technologies and extra-institutional learning options (e.g., MOOCs) will accelerate the redefinition of courses, credits, and degrees. And, thanks to the data generated from online activities, analytics will become more sophisticated and more widely adopted, improving student choice and success through degree planning and advising systems, as well as providing early alerts triggering interventions for at-risk students.
Online learning may not be new, but heightened attention to the value of technology throughout the learner experience is—and will continue to be—a major trend in 2014 and beyond.
Courtesy of John Unsworth
Chief information officer and university librarian
"MOOC" ends up standing for "marketing over other considerations": Online education partnerships (both commercial and nonprofit) shake out and consolidate, with a focus on pedagogy, smaller classes, and better outcomes. The reassessment of these partnerships coincides with a reassessment of campus priorities and financial realities. Commercial partners, with whom faculty members at Brandeis and elsewhere are experimenting, turn out to have some real expertise and value, but the business model that lifts all boats remains a bit elusive.
Actionable data: Data analytics, becoming established as a graduate concentration, begin to attract undergraduates as well and to serve as tools for teaching them. Data for pedagogical analytics were, in some sense, the point of the MOOC experiment, but now analytics are embraced as tools for teaching on a smaller scale. Crossover ventures, born in universities and made market-ready by academic publishers, bring live data to bear on both classroom and administrative activities, in some interesting ways. Everyone still worries about how to assess learning, and some point out that analytics are the basis of metrics, and that we are measuring not just the learner but also the teacher.
Courtesy of Phil Hill
Education-technology consultant and blogger
Moving beyond ed-tech hype: After three years of significant investment and national media attention, the party is over for purveyors of ed-tech hype. This does not mean that ed tech will not play a major role in the evolution of higher education, but it does mean that we will see more sober judgments on whether innovations actually work in real educational environments during 2014. This will also lead to a shakeout of ed-tech vendors, with many going away within the next year or two.
Greater focus on course design: Online education is not magic dust to be sprinkled on top of traditionally designed courses. It is becoming more apparent that online and hybrid education work when the courses are deliberately designed, including the provision of adequate support. In fact, online education opens up new possibilities of course design, such as allowing multiple or even personalized learning pathways to a degree not feasible in most face-to-face courses. In 2014 we will see more real-world example of effective course redesign focused on learners.
Courtesy of Jeff Borden
Vice President for Instruction and Academic Strategy and Director, Center for Online Learning
NCS Pearson Inc.
Gamification: Games aren't new, obviously. But I believe we'll see a major upswing in their acceptance. Gamification has had serious impacts on many academic ventures, whether simple classroom games or MOOCs with retention rates five times better than normal or real-world exercises that might help find a cure for AIDS. Research like the work done through our Research & Innovation Network has tied games to outcomes, better assessment options, safe places to fail, and beyond. Scholarly thought and strategy are creeping into academic conversations, curriculum, and content. Karl Kapp and others have described meaningful ways to take games in the classroom well beyond faculty bias and misinformed assumptions—we're not talking about playing Monopoly with your students to teach finance. These real-world, authentically assessable, deep-learning experiences are getting more and more traction with educators.
Touch interfaces: More and more research is being done around the hundreds of thousands of devices sitting in classrooms today. From smart boards to touch-screen TVs to personal tablets, more work will be done in and on those devices, with "best practices" being given to help teachers make good use of the tools, interfaces, and design elements. As touch interfaces get smarter, faster, and easier to manipulate (we can now have multiple touch points on a four-inch phone screen, after all), the possibilities for simulation, collaborative work, and more-nuanced (also known as real-life) work will emerge. As it becomes easier to share content across interfaces, apps provide more power and intuitive experiences, and as more devices per student are available, we will see larger adoptions of both hardware and software.
Corrections (1/6/2014, 1:39 p.m.): The photograph in this article of David Lassner originally carried an incorrect credit line. The photo was provided by Mr. Lassner's office, but it was taken by Anthony Consillio. The article has also been revised to include Jeff Borden's other title at Pearson, which was initially omitted—vice president for instruction and academic strategy.