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