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Technology as a Catalyst in Shaping the Educational Experience

By Eric Kunnen, Associate Director of eLearning and Emerging Technologies, Grand Valley State University

Eric Kunnen, Associate Director of eLearning and Emerging Technologies, Grand Valley State University

Self-driving cars, groceries delivered by drones, high-powered computers in the palm of your hand, and a home that is Internet connected and automated is quickly becoming the norm. Our lives are being changed daily by a vast array of technologies that have appeared in our homes, offices, cars, and pockets. While technology continues to shape our individual lives, our culture and our businesses, so too is it impacting students and faculty at universities and colleges around the world. Seen by some as a threat, and others as an opportunity, it is with no doubt that technology will continue to transform the educational experience.

Education brings opportunities, shapes our societies, and prepares us to engage as productive citizens. In an era of great change, technology can serve as a catalyst in helping to advance and improve the educational experience, while giving us better insights as we continue to re-think the role of teachers, students, and institutions themselves.

"Technology plays an increasingly important role in education - it’s up to us to take advantage of the opportunities, insights, and possibilities to help shape the future."

Pursuing Pedagogical Possibilities

The question asked by many faculty has changed from: “Should I use technology or not in my teaching?” to “How can I best use technology in my teaching?” This pivot underscores the prevalence of technology as impacting our students’ lives, while also highlighting expectations.

The goal in using technology should always be focused on achievement, student success, and retention. In other words, in what ways and in what areas can technology be leveraged to bring about new pedagogical possibilities. That is, how can we better reach students and make learning more active, engaging, personal, effective, and efficient.

Trends come and go and technologies too as novelty wears off. What sticks are those movements, ideas, or solutions that truly make a difference. In scanning the current state of educational technology, there are a variety of initiatives and focus areas that bubble to the top, including:

• Learning Management Systems (LMS) - The LMS is a valuable and key technology serving as the electronic foundation for a students’ educational experience. Through a single seamless login, students can access all of their courses in one place, review content, interact with their instructor and classmates, submit assignments, and receive valuable grading feedback from their instructors.

• Open Educational Resources (OER) - This initiative has been a trend that many have monitored for some time, however, it is greatly picking up momentum and has become increasingly important. Rich content repositories and freely open textbooks are improving access while saving students money.

• Audio and Video - Increasingly, faculty are beginning to take advantage of technology solutions that make creating, editing, and sharing video content easy. No longer is text the only option.

• Videoconferencing - Used in business heavily to save time and resources for travel, faculty are using live tools for interacting, collaborating, bringing in guest lectures, and communicating more effectively with students.

• Gamification and Badging - The use of gameful learning principles in designing instruction helps to capture students and increases motivation. Further, documenting learning through a series of achievements or badges captures learning in new ways, serving to better recognize the credentials of students.

• Emerging Technologies - The spirit of innovation, entrepreneurship and the startup culture is often highlighted by makerspaces. In these spaces, students, faculty, and technology collide to bring about a wealth of new ideas. Often, these spaces integrate new ideas or new technologies that have tremendous possibility and potential in education, namely: 3D scanning/printing, augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, automation, wearable computing, robotics, and more!

Data-Informed Practices

With all of this technology infusing into our lives both on and off campus, how can we best check the pulse of learning? While privacy, security, and identity protection is of highest importance, technology can also help us and inform our educational practices.

Institutions are seeing advantages through learning analytics and using data that is captured in many of our institutions’ enterprise systems. Tapping into this tucked away data can inform and improve services and support to students. One example is the large data set available in learning management systems. By leveraging these data, students that may be falling behind can be nudged, or notified through an early alert system. This can also prompt and engage support from the campus through counselors, advisors, or student success coaches that can improve retention.

Insights are also important as a measure of how we are doing as educational institutions in achieving our mission. Technologies often provide dashboards to help consolidate large amounts of data. These reports assist in monitoring communication workflows with students such as a “customer relationship management software” that is commonly used in business. Tracking touchpoints with students is key as it helps educational institutions ensure a personal connection while actively using data for more effective decision making. Further, educational institutions are benefiting by applications that provide insights as to the level of accessibility of their course content to help ensure that educational practices are inclusive.

Technology plays an increasingly important role in education - it’s up to us to take advantage of the opportunities, insights, and possibilities to help shape the future.

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