A New Report: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Higher Education

The U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology recently released Reimagining the Role of Technology in Higher Education, a supplement to the 2016 National Education Technology Plan (NETP). The NETP calls for technology-supported, transformational learning in higher education. This vision emphasizes everywhere, all-the-time learning, improved access to learning opportunities, and a level playing field for students with diverse backgrounds. Below is a high-level summary of the report.

The first step to achieving this vision is to recognize that higher education is comprised of students of all ages, races, socioeconomic backgrounds and learning abilities. More than 18-year-old high school graduates, new students include returning veterans and single moms. Forty-three percent of students attend part-time and 62 percent work either full-time or part-time. Two-thirds transfer before completing their degree. The student body, and the needs and goals of the student body, have never been so diverse, and higher education has never been more important to those who seek it. Supporting diverse needs and goals requires a student-centered higher education ecosystem that is flexible, integrated and efficient.

The NETP believes this new ecosystem must support transformative learning through technology, teaching with technology and assessments enabled by technology. Educators, institutions and educational technology developers should collaborate across institutions to determine the best way to use technology to improve learning outcomes and create new learning experiences and delivery systems. Use data to study how students learn and identify the causes of success and failure. Develop new, standardized tools that enable real-time data analysis. Use digital learning materials to improve access to collaborative and project-based learning, and adopt learning resource design standards for evaluating learning resources.

In addition to enhancing student learning experiences, technology and data should be used to improve instructional approaches, develop and implement new, research-based teaching models, and provide academic and non-academic support. Such initiatives must be promoted at the institutional level and include the sharing of information and best practices for various applications. Institutions must also provide training, technical support and professional development opportunities for educators.

Assessments enabled by technology should allow for personalization and provide frequent feedback to improve student performance. This will also help faculty better understand and measure student progress. Technology-enabled assessment systems should be open, transparent and auditable, making them less susceptible to fraud and waste. They should create assessment activities that replicate real-world experiences to better prepare students for their careers.

Implementing new learning and instructional models and modern assessments requires a robust IT infrastructure. However, this infrastructure must integrate formal, informal, workplace and mobile learning environments to support success for a diverse student body. Student learning and outcome data should be integrated across the higher education ecosystem while meeting security and privacy requirements. Investment decisions should be the result of collaboration between senior administrators, academic leadership and IT. Student feedback should be considered as well.

Of course, technological change in higher education requires strong leadership and a culture that promotes collaboration and innovation. A strategic plan should welcome input from educators, students, technology providers, other institutions, and community and economic development organizations. An expanded strategic network can only improve system operability, transparency, innovation and student outcomes.

Read the NETP supplement in its entirety here.

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