The U.S. Department of Education recently released a Higher Ed technology plan that aims to educate colleges and universities about how to introduce technology into traditional lectures without completely upending the teaching habits faculty have grown used to.
Tradition stands behind most of the systems of higher education in the U.S. While providing millions of students with high-quality education, it also ensured that fundamental structures of college experience remained relatively consistent throughout centuries.
For example, the courses are created and delivered by a faculty member, who measures the success of students using grades and credits. This tradition has been around forever and new approaches to higher education have not provided substantial changes.
Modern times are pretty special because higher education undergoes continuous improvement. Undoubtedly, the biggest improvement of the recent years is the increased use of technology. E-portfolios, CAD, computers, learning management systems, lesson design tools, smartboards – these technologies have been already adopted by hundreds of schools around the country.
In fact, they have been so impactful that people began questioning whether the pressure of technology is sufficient to shift learning experience. How could it reshape higher education as we know it? The answer to this question is given in the Department of Education’s Higher Ed technology plan.
The role of technology in reshaping the current higher education system is described in the supplement called “Reimagining the Role of Technology in Higher Education.” It was built on the previous report and its purpose is to provide high education leaders with ways to use technology to “ensure greater equity and accessibility to learning opportunities.” The main transformations of the system are enabled and delivered by an extensive use of technology.
Here is the reason why technology is critical.
The student body has undergone a lot of changes since the last century but the system lacks a real understanding of how diverse and demanding it has become. Simply saying, a usual learning is delivered to unusual students, and this should be changed to improve their outcomes. To emphasize the diversity and contemporary changes in the student body, the report describes the latter as the ‘new normal.’
The higher education system we have now is not designed to meet their diverse needs. We need a new one. The Department of Education offers the solution.
Higher Education Ecosystem, Centered on Students
Higher education students need an ecosystem that is efficient, affordable, able to meet their learning style, and flexible. Only technology can ensure the success because it allows online learning, variety of lesson designs, and empowerment to become curators of their own learning.
To achieve the vision of a student-centered ecosystem that supports learning throughout the lifetime, the report provides ten design recommendations and proposes a view on the role of technology in each one. I found Learning, Support for Student Success and Leadership for Innovation the most intriguing ones.
Learning – already, students’ needs in learning extend well beyond the college years. The ecosystem should provide lifetime-access to learning resources.
Support for Student Success – a student-centered ecosystem enables them to collaborate with academics and technologies to enhance individual learning and support their success.
Leadership for Innovation – in my opinion, this is one of the most challenging changed proposed in the report. It recommends high education leaders to provide sufficient support to innovation-driven and student-centered culture.
Online Learning and Collaboration Opens New Possibilities
According to the report, online learning is the best way to close opportunity gaps and provide education to all types of students. Given that around 73 percent of higher education pursuers have characteristics that make completing their courses difficult, the system needs to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities to receive a diploma.
Online student-centered learning allows to accomplish that by enabling the students to change the format and timing of the education. As the result, they can access the courses and write college papers from anywhere at any time, so the process continues without disruptions. Moreover, the students can enjoy more opportunities to get a part-time job and conduct research.
Collaboration tools also bring amazing benefits, such as an opportunity to attend classes without a physical presence. As described in this article on eLearning Industry, there are many digital tools that allow to engage in online learning by using digital classroom methods. Thanks to them, students who cannot visit classes won’t have to worry about missing them.
Focus on Measuring the Outcomes
The Department of Education also made it clear that the system needs to change focus on measuring outcomes through data. According to the report, “technology gives us the opportunity to more accurately measure whether students have met learning objectives or mastered particular competencies or skills.” Obviously, innovative tools and instruments will need to be developed to provide an effective measurement of student success.
Not only technology provides a great option for measuring performance but also makes the data available through the digital infrastructure. As the result, it becomes easier for educators to gather outcome-based points and evaluate the performance. Moreover, this approach ensures transparency and accountability in both traditional higher education establishments and non-traditional providers.
Apparently, the Department of Education pushes for a broader use of technology in the system because it can deliver individualized learning and ensure consistent progress. Given that our educational system has been overly focused on traditional ways of providing education that cannot meet needs of the diverse population of students, the entire approach needs to be changed.
Reimagining the Role of Technology in Higher Education is the first major document that advocates for this reform, which already gathered thousands of supporters throughout the country. Technology is here to stay, so students should take advantage of the great opportunities it provides.
Diana Clark is a high-school educator with 5 years successful working experience in digital and blended learning, modeling effective professional learning and enhancing teacher leadership. She is covering different topics concerning higher education, educational technology, and career development. Follow Diana on Twitter.