Higher Education is Getting Digital
There has been “digital” in higher education for a very long time. From the earliest computers to the beginnings of the internet, higher education has always found ways to use technology to capitalize on the power, scale, and efficiency of digital.
When I was an undergraduate student at university, email was an emerging digital technology. It was an exciting time to be a student. Staff were able to scale their interactions with students and students were able to build digital connections with their campus communities. Email was an exciting technology that fundamentally changed how people communicated around the globe.
Fast forward to the present and we’re still talking about digital in higher education. Numerous technologies have given universities new ways to enhance teaching, learning, and the student experience.
Technologies like big data, OER, learning analytics, augmented/virtual reality, social media, machine learning, bots/messaging, next generation learning environments, blockchain and the cloud are all part of today’s higher education technology mix.
What are the emerging opportunities that run in parallel with all of these new technologies?
First and foremost is the ability for universities to scale the student experience to a larger, more distributed group of learners. Enhanced mobile connectivity and social media allow academics and administrators to connect with campus communities anytime anywhere in educationally relevant ways.
Additionally, as more and more learner data is collected, learner analytics can be used to create individualized pathways for student success. Knowing more about each individual student’s academic journey leads universities to create a more bespoke learner experience.
New technologies can also make a higher education credential more secure. For example, MIT’s new digital diploma uses blockchain technology to ensure the legitimacy of a degree. This brings new benefit to the institution, the student, and to any potential future employer.
With great power comes great responsibility. In our ever-connected world, the importance of data security is paramount. Universities are gathering vast amounts of data in order to make processes more efficient, scale online learning, and engage in hyper-focused recruitment. All of this data requires a lot of security and institutional commitment to data protection and utilization schemes.
The more digitally connected we become, the more vulnerable we are to manipulation. The recent use of social networks to influence political outcomes has taught us that social media are powerful tools for connectivity and learning. The university experience is no longer just about a brick-and-mortar-based learner journey. Learning how to critically navigate and analyze digital content and networks has become an absolute necessity.
Everything that a university does with digital is eventually about student success. Any and all digital university processes will eventually benefit students. While some, like learning analytics, are more direct, there are many ways that universities can use digital to benefit students.
Benefitting All Learners
My favorite aspect of how higher education is getting digital is the fact that technology creates more overall access for learners. Online learning environments allow distributed learners the opportunity to access the best that higher education has to offer regardless of locale.
In addition, the accessibility of virtual learning environments, student information systems, library content repositories, and app-driven content is a game-changer for students with disabilities. Driven by universal design principles, universities are creating courses content that is readily accessible for all students.
Our digital capabilities matter. Digital represents core aspects of institutional efficiency and access, enhanced critical thinking and career development. Higher education continues to get digital on a daily basis.