Implications of Emerging and Changing Technology in Higher Education

Higher education is in a state of constant change.  From large public research institutions to for-profit online education that can be completed in the comfort of one’s own home, there are an increasing number of ways that content can be delivered to a changing demographic of college students.  Long ago seem the days of a college education being delivered solely to attentive students sitting at their desks watching the professor scrawling notes on a blackboard.  The world has changed and is changing around us every day; allowing students to expand their bases of knowledge and networks far outside the traditional classroom and methods of learning.

David Weinberger asked whether or not networking of knowledge is making us all smarter or stupider in Too Big to Know.  My perspective on that question is that it all depends on how we respond and adapt to the changing world around us.  As leaders, we must do our best to stay current on changing and emerging technology.  How do we do that though when the change is constant and often beyond the scope of our daily interaction and data collection?  Most importantly, I believe it is critical that we remove the mindset that the leader or executive must be the knower and keeper of all knowledge.  Nancy Dixon believes that knowledge management, in part, requires that we rely on the people who both have the knowledge we need to accommodate and adapt to changes and can communicate it to the larger group.  The pace of change of technology is too rapid for one person to know it all.  Personally I believe the graphic below from the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report provides an excellent outline to discuss some of the changes occurring within the higher education sector.


The short term trends stand out to me as wholly representative of what schools across the country are dealing with today.  There is indeed a growing emphasis on measuring learning in higher education.  The 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act highlighted accountability in higher education and facilitated the creation of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity.  This body has forced independent accrediting agencies to place a greater emphasis than ever before on student learning outcomes and assessment.  Colleges and universities have had to respond to that in a number of ways.

An internal emphasis on assessment is not enough, and institutions are using the help of vendor applications to help them track student outcomes.  The use of products like Tk20 are now frequently used on college campuses to help report on student outcomes.  The use of learning management systems like Blackboard and Canvas allow instructors to capture assessment results and export them for use in reports to accreditors.  Products like Spark by Cisco now make it easier for instructors to generate assessment reports in real time.

The increasing use of blended learning designs is another trend which has widespread implications in higher education.  Mobile collaboration and e-learning appear on the Wikipedia list of emerging technologies in the IT and communications field.  The students of today want choice and flexibility with a desire for “on-demand” education.  Mary Meeker shared with the Internet Trends conference that millennial students today are extremely tech savvy and are used to live connectivity.  Kevin Kelly said that we are in the middle of a new industrial evolution and that we are making everything “smart” to add to our physical technology.  An EDUCAUSE survey highlighted that students are using mobile devices for both formal and informal learning, and that support and targeted training are needed for instructors and students to keep up with the technology in these ways.  Those institutions that do not offer blended or mobile learning and instead rely on more traditional learning methods only will be at a competitive disadvantage.

Another trend which has tremendous implications on higher education is the use of third party applications and platforms.  Beyond delivering education through learning management systems, the use of applications to support college and university operations is expanding rapidly.  In his book The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly discusses Becoming, which describes how we are now using subscriptions to services instead of physical products, and Accessing which describes the shift from owning things to accessing them through the cloud.  These applications and platforms allow institutions to track and store student data for a variety of reasons from recruitment to student health information.  They allow students to access educational materials from anywhere in the world and pay their bills online.

This trend has some serious risks, however.  Chief among them is the privacy and security of data.  The Center for Digital Education listed information security as the top technology issue for higher education in 2016.  They argued that it is crucial for IT leaders in higher education to be acutely aware of how and where data is stored and how it can be protected because breaches will most certainly occur.  In fact, Meeker noted that approximately 4 billion records had been breached globally between 2013 and 2015.  As data continues to be stored in cloud-based services and with third party providers, IT leaders will be forced to be proactive in protecting information from those with malicious intent.

There are things being done to assist colleges and universities in the protection of data.  Institutions and their leaders would be smart to work with independent auditors to help protect student records.  Working with vendors that can demonstrate SOC and/or SSAE compliance can help to ensure that financial records such as credit card or bank account information stored in cloud based services are secure.  Emerging technologies like Blockchain, which Gartner named one of its new technologies to the 2016 Hype Cycle, can help protect not only financial transactions, but also identity management and student health records.

The amazing thing about all of this is that the trends of today might be forgotten tomorrow.  The pace of change in both higher education and technology means that the expanding markets and growing threats of next year are next to impossible to predict.  It requires that the leader be humble about what is unknown, but also be diligent in constantly seeking out challenges to the institution, but also the solutions to stay ahead of an ever-growing number of threats.

-The Ayes Have It


16 thoughts on “Implications of Emerging and Changing Technology in Higher Education

  1. Excellent point at the end, Ayes, that what is emerging today might be gone tomorrow. Over two years, I was on the Board of Examiners that helped develop the K-12 Horizon Report…so I liked the process they used to surface what was emerging. Yet, I have to acknowledge a thoughtful post by Audrey Watters that while they look forward, NMC has done a lousy job acknowledging that they really did not get it right. See

    So, on the one hand, I like the look forward. On the other hand, one needs to be pragmatic enough to let go of themes that do not pan out.


    • Interesting point, Dr. Watwood. I would even take it a step further. As leaders, we must be willing to set aside those things that have worked for us more quickly than in the past. We must be willing to accept that new technology and new solutions can help us achieve our goals faster and better than our existing working solutions. While it is difficult enough to let go of the themes and innovations that do not work out, it is even more difficult to risk stepping away from a good solution to embrace the potential for a great one.


  2. Ayes:
    You brought up some great points about the impact of technology in higher education and have rightfully provided examples of how this technology is being adopted (distance learners, expanded networks of knowledge). While these examples show adoption, why are we still under-preparing students for the jobs that are or will be available?
    Sometimes I feel that my workplace culture and adoption rate is similar to that of education’s. I came from the fast-paced advertising world to a membership-based association. This week we had a meeting with about one dozen people to discuss using SharePoint to track progress on our strategic plan. One of the things I did was outline how to go from objective to strategy and tactics to reach the overall goal. I could tell that not everyone understood the difference between the layers of a strategic plan, but then I was cut off as someone wanted to know “where to upload supporting documents”. This VERY tactical detail was important even though there was no work plan that would require any support. Then, the conversation ended with “well, not every detail needs to be in this SharePoint document.” Really, I thought. We are planning to move all of our collaborative projects to this platform, so, yes, it all should be there.
    This meeting was preceded by an hour-long discussion regarding if they SharePoint interface was user friendly enough for our employees. Part of me wanted to shout, well, they need to figure it out. It is quite intuitive!
    So, not only do leader deal with technology advances, but also technology comfort and adoptability within one’s team. How do we untangle these issues?


    • Krista,

      Good morning. It is my humble opinion colleges, and universities have traditionally worked in a bubble. To best prepare students and the future workforce, colleges and universities need to work with various industries to understand what type of training and knowledge colleges should be giving their students. From my experience working with various companies and organizations, employers are not looking for students that are versed in specific technologies but rather those that are adaptive, life-long learners, with outstanding critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Technology is rapidly evolving too quickly and the tools used today essentially will not be used tomorrow. Employers are looking for people that can learn quickly and maximize new technologies. Colleges and universities need to better prepare students for these needs.


      Liked by 1 person

      • Spot on, Jason! The training and teaching piece is so critical in higher education. I am, like Krista, frequently frustrated by how some working in the field so slowly embrace change and innovation. Higher education is a field that tends to think about problems and solutions in very traditional ways. I have found that some are very resistant to change that they do not fully understand. However, that view is of those working in the college or university setting.

        I tend to agree with Jason’s views on the college students themselves. I know that when I am seeking out a new employee, I rarely focus on the specific skill set that person already possesses. Instead, I am looking for that critical thinker; the problem solver. I frequently think, “I can teach them the particulars. I need someone willing to learn.” Whether it be technology or other skills, I think we are going to see those unwilling to learn be left behind because the world and the technology around them will simply not wait. You may not know the software or the application when you walk in the door to an interview or a meeting, but you darn well be ready to jump in and learn!

        The Ayes Have It


  3. Ayes,

    Great post! What an engaging and informative discussion about how technology is impacting the changing higher education ecosystem. I appreciate the many resources you shared, and have already passed some along to my colleagues.

    I agree with you that the short-term trends noted in the NMC Horizon Report that Assessment are already happening ( With advances in technology, blended learning seems to be straddling the short- and mid-term impact points. Classrooms where students can work “in class” together from anywhere in the world are becoming more common at my university. The long-term impact points are the one I wonder about. The NMC report predicts that “advancing cultures of innovation” and “rethinking how institutions work” will be influential in 4-5 years. I can see why they are grouped together. Much of the modern educational system was designed when the farm and the factory were the major job suppliers, but employment in those sectors has dropped from 60% in 1900 to less than 10% in 2014 ( Conformity and hierarchy used to be important values, but they are not the sparks of innovation. Your comment that “it is critical that we remove the mindset that the leader or executive must be the knower and keeper of all knowledge” seems very applicable to higher education. At the same time educational leaders are looking for trends, they can be listening to the voices of those they serve!



    • Really interesting points, CatontheKB! I purposely decided not to talk about the long-term trend outlook in this point because of my belief that the long-term is so likely to change in any field and profession that it does not make a lot of sense to speculate. However, your last comment got me thinking about that in an entirely new way. As leaders, we must rely on the people around us to help identify and and solve the issues and problems right in front of us today. Why shouldn’t we also rely on thsoe same individuals to help us identify what is coming in the future? Like every other field and profession, we will not always be right, but I guess I would much rather be thinking about how to address a trend that does not come to fruition than be totally unprepared. Perhaps I need to put my eye a bit farther down the horizon!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ayes,

    Good evening. I appreciate your approach to the educational uses of technology and privacy issues that accompany them. The use of third party companies by college and universities seems to be increasing. I learned quickly that Creighton uses a third party for at least the recruitment of the Ed.D. program. In my experience, the third party employees typically identify themselves as an employee of the college or university they represent. I often found that a little misleading especially when some of the third party employees may represent multiple schools. I am just curious to see what your thoughts are regarding this topic. Do you think they should have to identify that they represent “X” school but are employed by “Y” third party or should it not be necessary?



    • Interesting question, Jason. My institution (Utica) also works with partners for the recruitment of students to our online degree programs. As far as I am aware, those employees actually only recruit for Utica even though they work for the third-party company. They most certainly identify themselves as working for Utica College and honestly, could likely tell you more about the details of those academic programs than I could in many cases. Honestly, I do not believe it is necessary to make that kind of identification when working with students or clients or what have you. Our business models are changing and I no longer believe the expectation when you interact with a business is that its entirety is housed in one physical location.

      I do not believe it is necessary for us to identify those parts of our business model are being supported by third-party applications or agents if we have integrated them fully into our own environments. Most application developers or third-party companies pride themselves on the fact that they can develop a portal or train an employee to appear as though they are no different than that our the company being represented. And iif they succeed, why should it matter who pays the bill? If the experience is the same and the quality being delivered is sufficient, then isn’t the student still getting what he or she was promised or needs?

      Consumers now more than ever before grasp the profit-driven nature of business (even education) in ways that I would not have recognized just a few short years ago. Think about how the number of college applications per student has risen in the last ten years. This is not only because things like the Common Application make it easy for students to apply, but it is also because they are looking for the best fit. This includes sharing the financial aid package of one school with a school they desire to attend, hoping that that will influence the deal they can get at school B.

      The Ayes Have It


  5. Ayes,
    Great post this week. I greatly appreciate the higher education lens you focused on as someone who works in healthcare. As technology continues to grow and change, I feel that the tasks for leaders to be aware of what technology is in existence along with being aware of threats is a full-time job in itself. I wonder if there will be jobs (and perhaps they already exist) where there will be individuals hired within organizations to monitor what technology could be implemented?

    I find it fascinating that in a 2016 Pew Research report, most of the respondents believed that his or her job will still be in existence fifty years from now. Fifty years. We have all witnessed how much technology has impacted our lives within 20 years. I remember the green screened Apple computers. Now, my cell phone is a mini hand-held computer.

    In my opinion, I believe nonprofit healthcare jobs will still exist. I think my work may look a bit differently in that technology will allow some of my easier tasks to be automated like generated emails with training information. There are many tasks that I do that are cannot be replaced by technology like relationship building/maintenance. I am interested to know your thoughts.



      • Well, I think we will still educate in similar ways, but it will be supplemented by ways I cannot even begin to fathom. I don’t really know if a lot of the jobs we have today will have disappeared, but I firmly believe many will present themselves that are not on our landscape today.

        In terms of monitoring new technology and innovation, I believe that is a collective responsibility. One thing that I see frequently in my department is the desire for my employees to have us purchase additional monitoring tools. These tools help us identify things such as network downtime and allow us to remotely address problems with wireless access points or classroom projectors. The monitoring tools make us much more efficient.

        Perhaps as we continue to get more and more efficient, some jobs will disappear. Maybe the robots can monitor the tools, but I think we’ll all be busy doing something else productive. I’m not quite sure what that is yet though!


      • Ayes, the study that Keisha mentioned was a Pew Internet Study last year that stated that 2/3rd’s of Americans expect robots and computers will do much of the work done by humans in 50 years…unless they were asked about THEIR job, in which 80% said that their own job would still exist in 50 years. If we go back 50 years (1967…I was one year from graduating from high school), few jobs have remained static. Yet hope springs eternal!


  6. Ayes & Jason:

    I couldn’t reply to our thread, but I couldn’t agree with the two of you more! In the past, I have been known to tell candidates, “at this point, I know you can write in public relations settings, but I want to understand your role in team situations and describe how you handle stress.” These “soft” skills are what make a successful employee in today’s work environment.

    Thanks for the dialogue-Krista


  7. Ayes Have It-

    I completely agree with your assessment of higher education. The changes in higher education seems to happening faster than many institutions can handle. My institution is responding to some of those changes as quickly and carefully as possible. But, all of the change has left some people’s heads spinning. It is my view that being thoughtful in selecting technology and then embracing innovation creates stronger institutions. Also, I believe that some advancements in technology have made learning easy and better for students. Still, change is hard and so is implementing new technologies.



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