I recently attended a forum entitled "Technology and the Future of Higher Education" with Diana Oblinger, CEO of EDUCAUSE. The seminar was part of the Harvard Graduate School of Education's Askwith Forum series. Many of us involved in educational technology have been familiar with Ms. Oblinger's writings -- she was one of the first to articulate the evolving learning styles of Gen X'ers and Milennials and was also an early advocate of games and learning. She was formerly Vice President for Information Resources and the Chief Information Officer for the University of North Carolina system, Executive Director of Higher Education for Microsoft, and IBM Director of the Institute for Academic Technology. She was also on the faculty at the University of Missouri-Columbia and at Michigan State University and an associate dean at the University of Missouri. Her presentation (and this blog entry) was based in part on the recent EDUCAUSE report "The Future of Higher Education: Beyond the Campus".
Ms. Oblinger started out by outlining changes already evident on the higher education landscape: the changing notion of boundaries for both faculty and students; the resource availability empowered by digital assets and online access; the evolution of the university library; the move toward online collaboration spaces and research resources; the changing nature of scholarly journals and the emergence of other avenues for scholarly contribution; the growth of experimentation, simulation, and virtualization as empowered by the unprecedented scale of data; and the aggregration and distribution of education by new players in the system.
DRIVERS OF CHANGE
She first outlined some of the key drivers of change. First: an expanding global market for postsecondary education. Demand for postsecondary education continues to rise and ambitious international goals for education will continue to fuel this expansion. But decreasing financial aid and rising costs of education create an challenging environment for achieving such expansion (As Oblinger stated: "cost up, demand up, funds down – not a sustainable equation"). Efficiency, productivity, and sustainability are growing areas of focus for educational institutions. Alliances between educational institutions, between academic and corporate entities, and between government and academia are growing in numbers. Student engagement is increasingly seen as a necessary component of achievement, and this has direct consequences on the tools and platforms that support education. Educational suppliers are growing in number and diversity. Finally, accountability in education is rising in importance.
ENABLERS of the FUTURE
Patterns are emerging due to the changes propelled by these drivers, and these patterns are made possible and augmented by technology. Three areas of focus emerge as enablers for the future. First, new structures and business models, including open-access publication, open educational resources, and open-source software. Oblinger cited Western Governors University here and the "unbundling" of academic content -- WGU allows their students to take a competency exam that proves they have gained skills through work, military, etc, and then ‘test out’ of taking credits. She also cited Flatworld Knowledge and their innovative open-source textbooks (see earlier blog post on delivery options for eLearning citing FWK). Finally, Straighterline provides online courses that then can transfer into partner schools.
The educational experience is also shifting from instruction to discovery. Search tools are growing in power but also peer networks and other collaboration venues are gaining in power and effectiveness as well. Technology enables this experience via mobile networks and devices, collaboration tools, and ePortfolios -- the internet provides the architecture for participation and collaboration.
Innovation and economic vitality are also enablers. Oblinger stated that "Research and innovation are increasingly interdisciplinary, inter-institutional, and international." Virtual organizations are changing the nature of collaborative research in science and engineering.
Many solutions will be found "above campus" (Gmail as email platform, etc) -- the idea being that the institution no longer has to (nor should) control all the elements of their ecosystem. They need to focus "less on ownership than access". Collaboration will continue to grow as a powerful means to engagement and learning. Oblinger called out the work of Henry Jenkins here -- the idea of collective intelligence, with everyone having something to contribute. She also pointed out other examples of collaboration in academica and research such as caBIG (Cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid) and Connexions, "an environment for collaboratively developing, freely sharing, and rapidly publishing scholarly content on the Web". These themes necessarily force a re-examination of policies, including intellectual property rights. Technology is now part of strategy -- senior academic technologists will join academics and administrators in the strategic leadership of educational institutions.
The report then goes on to list underlying technologies that fortify these changes:
- Cloud computing - "With cloud computing, the operation of services moves 'above the campus,' and an institution saves the upfront costs of building technology systems and instead pays only for the services that are used."
- Open educational resources - "Open educational resources include textbooks, lesson plans, journal articles, audio and video files, exams, digital images, entire courses, and any other content that supports learning and is available to the public for free or has been released under an intellectual property license, such as Creative Commons, that allows use for teaching or research."
- Identity management - "the procedures and tools that establish user identities and enforce rules about access those users have to digital resources in a networked environment. As a means to streamline the availability of digital resources and to protect intellectual property, identity management serves both as a facilitator of access and a primary tool for security, both of digital resources and of user privacy."
- Analytics - "(referred to as “business intelligence” by some) is a tool that higher education can use to respond to calls for increased accountability and improved outcomes...institutions can construct data-driven models that correlate patterns of behavior with student success (e.g., course grades, college graduation) and endeavor to identify students who are at higher risk not to complete a course or degree. Once at-risk students are identified, a wide range of proactive steps can be taken to improve their odds of success."
- Mobile devices - "Even basic cell phones have broad capabilities, and many smartphones have moved beyond e-mail and web browsing to become legitimate surrogates for PCs in many circumstances."
- Collaboration tools - "Higher education must adequately prepare students for real-world jobs, and in those jobs, problems are solved by the collaborative, iterative efforts of multiple people, often geographically separated from one another."
- Download the full report, produced by EDUCAUSE and some international partners: CAUDIT (the Council of Australian University Directors of Information Technology), JISC (the Joint Information Systems Committee, UK), and the SURFfoundation (Netherlands).
- Diana Oblinger publications page at EDUCAUSE (click on "Publications" tab)
- EDUCAUSE Quarterly and EDUCAUSE Review -- both great sources for RSS article updates.