Reimagining the Role of Technology in Higher Education

Yesterday I wrote about the US National Education Technology Plan. There is also a higher education supplement to this plan. The Higher Education Supplement to the National Education Technology Plan (NETP) 2017 from the US Department of Education sets out a vision for learning enabled by technology in the context of higher education. The supplement, like the plan,  focuses on the areas of Learning, Teaching, Leadership, Assessment, and Infrastructure.

What is Higher Ed? A Student Prospectus

  • New “normal” students transfer between institutions, may have dependents, work (part or full time), and study part-time
  • Ecosystem: Learning is lifelong (occurring at different times) and lifewide (education at work, home and other settings)
  • Design principles:
    • Education that enables students to achieve their goals, is suitable to their needs, and aligns with their interests
    • Helps students make wise financial decisions about education
    • Prepare students for postsecondary work
    • Allow students to adjust the timing and format of education to fit in other priorities
    • Provide affordable access to high-quality resources
    • Help students progress through times of transition and changing needs
    • Collect and use real-time learning data to assist students
    • Allow students to build meaningful education pathways
    • Allow students to document their learning in portable ways
    • Create a network of learning that supports students as creators and entrepreneurs

Engaging and Empowering Learning Through Technology

The goal is for learners to have engaging and empowering learning experiences in both formal and informal settings, in multiple contexts and various stages of life. Technology supports learners to scaffold their learning, document their competencies, and form meaningful connections with educators and peers.

  • Technology-Enabled Learning in Action
    • Access learning opportunities outside of the traditional barriers of time and space (flexible programmes)
    • Access learning opportunities outside of formal education institutions (receive credit for workplace or community experiences)
    • Access high-quality online learning resources (including OERs)
    • Learning experiences through blended learning models
    • Support student learning based on individual academic and non-academic needs (personalised feedback)
    • Participation of students with disabilities
  • Recommendations
    • Promote excellence in learning (use available formative and summative data to study how students are learning, review course failure and withdrawal rates and support student success, use learning analytics, research into how students learn in technology-rich environments)
    • Use technology to transform learning (increase collaborative and project-based learning, ensure accessibility or born accessible design)
    • Develop collaborative learning scenarios (support flexible pathways to completion, diversity in students, engage stakeholders in enhancing programmes)

Teaching with Technology

The goal is to design learning experiences that better support and enable learning, while improving the instructional approach over time.

  • Technology-Enabled Teaching in Action
    • Use student learning data to provide targeted interventions and tailored feedback
    • Use student learning data to evaluate the efficacy of new practices or technologies
    • Create active learning environments that connect students with content in different ways (inquiry-based learning, collaboration, real-world challenges)
    • Use tools to provide personal and connected experiences (virtual labs, simulations, coaching)
    • Provide high-quality resources at lower costs (not only expensive textbooks)
  • Elevating the Practice of Teaching
    • Foster ongoing professional development for teachers to develop their skills
    • Create career paths for instructors who master technology in teaching
  • Recommendations
    • Promote excellence in teaching (make resources on evidenced-based technology practices available to instructors).
    • Use technology to transform teaching (reimagine courses in ways that more actively engage students in flexible ways)
    • Develop collaborative teaching practice (co-design active learning experiences based on research)

Assessments Enabled by Technology

The goal is develop authentic assessments that enable measurement of learning and competency attainment. To improve student learning through frequent feedback and enabling personalisation.

  • Technology-Enabled Assessments in Action
    • Allow more precise measurement of student learning against clearly mapped competencies (verify and make portable)
    • Assessment through formative learning activities
    • Real-time assessments
  • Recommendations
    • Promote excellence in assessment (collaborate to create authentic assessments)
    • Transform assessment through data (determine whether student learning is accurately measured)
    • Develop collaborative assessment solutions (collaborate to provide support around assessments)

Systems That Support Student Success

The goal is to support educators and students with a robust infrastructure that bridges different learning environments.

  • Integrated Infrastructure that Supports Information-driven Student Success
    • Digital infrastructure to provide students with a mechanism to map learning and skills mastery to stackable and portable credentials
    • Controlled access and protection when using student data
    • Accessibility for all learners
    • Ubiquitous access to connectivity and devices
    • Clear Responsible Use Policies (RUP) to promote responsible use and protect privacy
  • Recommendations
    • Systems to act in tandem with policies
    • Data should be integrated, while ensuring privacy and security of information

Leadership that Enables Innovation and Change

The goal is to empower leaders to implement technology-enabled practices that optimise student success.

  • Leadership in Action
  • Leadership should work together to develop a strategy and action plan for the use of technology to support strategic plans
  • Collaborate across institutions for system-wide change
  • Recommendations
    • Develop a clear vision and strategic plan for the use of technology to enable learning
    • Create strategic networks with leaders at other institutions
    • Develop systems that support lifelong learning and lifewide learning

The Future of Higher Education

  • Focus innovation on affordable and equitable access
  • Leverage technology to deliver learning opportunities to those who need it most (access)
  • Ensure technology-enabled learning is affordable
  • Focus on completion and outcomes (whether students have met learning objectives)
  • Higher education is expanding and needs to grow more (not only traditional institutions)
  • Assembly of learning experiences and resources from various sources to increase quality and access
  • Further research that tests effectiveness and informs practice

Innovative Pedagogy 2016

The Innovative Pedagogy 2016 report explores new forms of teaching and learning in a digital world, and looks at 10 innovations that have not yet influenced post-school education. This is the fifth annual report produced by the Open University in the UK. This year the report was produced in conjunction with the National Institute of Education in Singapore. The 10 innovations are listed in the order of possible widespread adoption.

  1. Learning through social media: People use social media such as Twitter and Facebook for informal learning. A range of learning opportunities is available such as access to expert advice, encounter challenges, defend opinions and amend ideas in the face of criticism. However, learners may also encounter inaccurate information, biased comments and hostile responses.
  2. Productive failure: A method of teaching that gives students complex problems to solve and attempt to form their own solutions before receiving instruction. By struggling and sometimes failing to find a solution, students gain a deeper understanding of the structure of the problem and its elements.
  3. Teachback: One person (a teacher, an expert, or another student) explains their knowledge of a topic to a learner. Then that learner attempts to explain, or teach back, what they have understood. This helps learners to understand a topic or problem by reframing it in their own terms and explain what they have learned in a way that is understandable.
  4. Design thinking: Solving problems using the methods and thinking processes used by designers e.g. experimenting, creating and prototyping models, soliciting feedback, and redesigning.
  5. Learning from the crowd: Amateurs and experts exchange ideas, generate and discuss content, solve problems, vote for the best solutions, and raise funds. A classic example is Wikipedia.  Possible applications of crowdsourcing in education include collecting and curating teaching resources, letting students share and discuss their work online, and providing opinions and data for use in projects and research studies.
  6. Learning through video games: The focus can be on games designed for education, the use of game elements in workplace training, simulations such as flight trainers, or on social benefit. However, it is difficult to balance learning with fun.
  7. Formative analytics:  Support learners to reflect on what they have learned, what can be improved, which goals can be achieved, and how they should move forward. Focusing on analytics for learning, rather than analytics of learning, can empower each learner through timely, personalised, and automated feedback.
  8. Learning for the future: Learners need to be educated not just for today but for the future. They should acquire skills and dispositions that will enable them to cope with an uncertain life and a complex work environment. Learning for the future builds human capacity to learn.
  9. Translanguaging: In a globalised world, many learners study in and speak a language that is not their mother tongue. Translanguaging refers to moving flexibly and fluidly between languages. Pedagogical strategies engage the language abilities of bilingual students in teaching and learning, for example by using bilingual partners, organising international collaboration, searching the internet in multiple languages and accessing a wide range of online communities and resources.
  10. Blockchain for learning: A blockchain stores digital events securely on every user’s computer rather than in a central database (the technology behind digital currencies like Bitcoin).  Blockchain learning explores how this approach could be applied to education in which achievements are recorded by a wider range of participants. A blockchain could be used as a permanent shared record of intellectual achievement.

An interesting list of possible innovations in education. Surprisingly, there does not seem to be any overlap with the list of innovations in the 2015 report. The report provides a mix of approaches that are not new, but not widely implemented in formal education (video games, social media, design thinking), together with non-education innovations with potential for learning (blockchain) and some creative pedagogical approaches (teachback, productive failure).


Sharples, M., de Roock , R., Ferguson, R., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Koh, E., Kukulska-Hulme, A., Looi, C-K, McAndrew, P., Rienties, B., Weller, M., Wong, L. H. (2016). Innovating Pedagogy 2016: Open University Innovation Report 5. Milton Keynes: The Open University.



ECAR 2015 Study of Students and Information Technology

Since 2004, EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) has conducted an annual investigation of the technologies that matter most to undergraduate students (exploring students’ technology experiences and expectations). In 2015, the ECAR technology survey was sent to 161 institutions, yielding 50,274 responses across 11 countries and 43 U.S. states. These are the key findings from the report:

  • Technology Experiences – Technology is embedded into students’ lives, and students generally have positive inclinations toward technology. Technology has a moderate influence on students’ active involvement in classes; a smaller percentage of today’s undergraduates say they get more actively involved in courses that use technology than students from the 2012 study. Most students were prepared to use technology when they entered college. Today’s undergraduates feel no more (or less) prepared to use technology in higher education than their counterparts from a few years ago.
  • Technology Ownership and the Campus Environment – More students own Internet-capable devices now than ever. A projected increase in connected devices could soon challenge even the best-provisioned networks.
  • Mobile Devices and Student Learning – Students and faculty have similarly high levels of interest in using mobile devices to enhance learning, but the actual use of these devices in academics remains low, despite their increased prevalence.
  • Technology Resources and Tools – Although students use technology extensively, we have evidence that technologies are not achieving their full potential for academic use. Meaningful and intuitive use of technology for academics cannot be assumed, even when a technology is widely available or used by students in other contexts.
  • Analytics and Data Privacy – Most students support institutional use of their data to advise them on academic progress in courses and programs. Much of the analytics functionality students seek already exists in digital learning environments.
  • New Models for Education – New models for education, such as MOOCs and competency-based credentials, haven’t yet translated to behavioral or attitudinal changes for undergraduates. The majority of students say they learn best with a blend of online and face-to-face work.

Note: In 2015, there is also a related study of Faculty and Information Technology Report.


Eden Dahlstrom, with D. Christopher Brooks, Susan Grajek, and Jamie Reeves. ECAR Study of Students and Information Technology, 2015. Research report. Louisville, CO: ECAR, December 2015.

Innovating Pedagogy Report 2015

From the Open University and SRI International, the Innovating Pedagogy 2015 Report was released. This is the fourth one in the series. The report “explores new forms of teaching, learning and assessment for an interactive world, to guide teachers and policy makers in productive innovation.” It provides an overview of 10 innovative pedagogies that will have an effect in education:

  1. Crossover learning – linking learning in schools and colleges to learning in informal settings (e.g. museums, after-school clubs).
  2. Learning through argumentation – Students learn to argue in ways similar to mathematicians and scientists (open-ended questions, contrast ideas, develop and use models). It enables learners to take turns, listen actively and respond constructively.
  3. Incidental learning – any unplanned or unintentional learning that triggers self-reflection.
  4. Context-based learning – Context enables students to learn from experience. Learners come to understand relevance and meaning by interpreting new information in the context of where and when it occurs and relating it to what they already know.
  5. Computational thinking – involves breaking large problems down into smaller ones, recognising how these relate to problems that have been solved in the past, setting aside unimportant details, identifying and developing the steps that will be necessary to reach a solution and refining these steps. The aim is to teach children to structure problems so they can be solved.
  6. Learning by doing science with remote labs – Engaging with authentic scientific tools and practices such as controlling remote laboratory experiments or telescopes can build science inquiry skills and improve conceptual understanding.
  7. Embodied learning – self-awareness of the body interacting with a real or simulated world to support the learning process.
  8. Adaptive teaching – uses data about a learner’s previous and current learning to create a personalised path through educational content. Adaptive teaching systems recommend the best places to start new content and when to review old content. They also provide various tools for monitoring one’s progress.
  9. Analytics of emotions – Automated methods of eye tracking and facial recognition can analyse how students learn, then respond differently to their emotional and cognitive states.
  10. Stealth assessment – automatic data collection that goes on in the background when students work with rich digital environments can be applied to unobtrusive, ‘stealth’, assessment of their learning processes.

What is interesting in the report is the identification of 6 themes that cover the different pedagogies fromthe past 4 reports:

  • Scale – delivering education at massive scale e.g. MOOCs, social learning.
  • Connectivity – connectivity between learners, locations and technologies e.g. BYOD, seamless learning.
  • Reflection – Learning is continual engagement and reflection e.g. learning to learn and assessment for learning, learning analytics.
  • Extension – extending the scope of current teaching methods e.g. learning through storytelling and computational thinking.
  • Embodiment – exploring through doing e.g. embodied learning, maker culture.
  • Personalisation – personalise learning through adaptive systems.

Reflecting on some of the year-end blog posts I have read lately, it does appear that when it comes to innovation and pedagogy, there is very little that is completely new, rather a reuse or reimaging of older ideas. For example, crossover learning could be seen as seamless learning, incidental learning could be seen as informal learning. Context-based learning could be seen as experiential learning, computational thinking could be seen as problem solving and logical thinking, while adaptive teaching could be seen as personalised learning. The challenge I take away from this report is how to advance the ideas, theories and practices into making day-to-day teaching and learning better.


Sharples, M., Adams, A., Alozie, N., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Gaved, M., McAndrew, P., Means, B., Remold, J.,Rienties, B., Roschelle, J., Vogt, K., Whitelock, D. & Yarnall, L. (2015). Innovating Pedagogy 2015: Open UniversityInnovation Report 4. Milton Keynes: The Open University.

NMC Horizon Report 2015: Higher Education

The latest Horizon Report for Higher Education has just been released. As usual I like to peruse the key trends and challenges which are usually more interesting than the actual predictions of developments in educational technology. Key trends highlighted this year (from short term to long term trends):

  • Redesigning Learning Spaces e.g. encouraging collaboration, project-based learning, incorporating technologies.
  • Increasing Use of Blended Learning
  • Proliferation of Open Educational Resources (OER): resources not just free in economic terms, but also in terms of ownership and usage rights.
  • Growing Focus on Measuring Learning – learning analytics is starting to provide crucial insights into student progress and interaction
  • Increasing Cross-Institution Collaboration – universities to unite across international borders and work toward common goals concerning technology, research, or shared values.
  • Advancing Cultures of Change and Innovation – In order to breed innovation and adapt to economic needs, higher education institutions must be structured in ways that allow for flexibility, and spur creativity and entrepreneurial thinking.

Key challenges highlighted this year (from short term to long term challenges):

  • Blending Formal and Informal Learning –  lack of ways to acknowledge and qualify learning that happens beyond the classroom.
  • Improving Digital Literacy – Supporting digital literacy requires policies that both address digital fluency training in pre- and in-service teachers, along with the students they teach.
  • Personalizing Learning – approaches, and support strategies intended to address the specific learning needs, interests and aspirations of individuals.
  • Teaching Complex Thinking – prepare learners to take advantage of the latest tools and techniques to help them tackle complex problems and influence systemic change
  • Competing Models of Education – provide a high quality of service and more learning opportunities at lower costs.
  • Rewarding Teaching – teaching is often rated lower than research in academia.

6 Educational Technologies to watch for Higher Education:

  • Time-to-Adoption Horizon: One Year or Less
    • Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)
    • Flipped Classroom
  • Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Two to Three Years
    • Makerspaces – engaging learners in creative, higher order problem solving through hands-on design, construction, and iteration.
    • Wearable Technology
  • Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Four to Five Years
    • Adaptive Learning Technologies
    • The Internet of Things

Interestingly only one item (Flipped Classrooms) was on the list of the report last year. The others seem to be new to the list (although Wearable technology and the Internet of Things have been on the long term horizon in previous years).

To read the full report: Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., and Freeman, A. (2015). NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.