Emerging technologies are not limiting teacher's roles – they are expanding their tool kits, improving their availability, and empowering them in many exciting new ways.
Imagine a class of 50 students preparing for a biology exam on a digital learning platform. Patterns emerge from the students’ annotations in the cloud: perhaps more students are highlighting and discussing sections in the book related to Mendel's Model of Inheritance than any other topic. From course analytics, the instructor can see which discussions are more likely to lead to an improvement on the exam, and which ones are correlated with discussions and exam outcomes in other subject matter. The result: the instructor can tailor his or her course curricula, and student understanding of Mendelian inheritance improves.
With more colleges using predictive analytics, this scenario has powerful consequences for the efficacy, affordability and relevance of a new model for the American university. There is always skepticism that disruptive technologies will harm the core of a profession, from music videos’ disruption of pop music to the online world’s perceived threat to quality journalism. In the case of higher ed, digital learning and the insights from these technologies can only be successful by improving the human element of education and enhancing the role of the professor, not diminishing it.
In Arizona, Rio Salado College has been able to predict via online activity – with 70 percent accuracy by the eighth day of class – whether a student will score a C or better in a course, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. In one Harvard course, software algorithms match up students in groups based on their performance. Recently, eCampus News highlighted the role of analytics technologies in campus decision-making as one of the top educational stories of 2011. Many predictive analytics systems in education are currently focused on student actions in a vacuum, such as how often they view online material compared with their assignment completion rates.
As technology evolves, predictive analytics can be used to increasingly improve our understanding of student communication (whether to other students or professors) and the impacts on comprehension and subject retention. That will in turn give educators more knowledge on how to structure course curricula, develop assignments, and incentivize student engagement. This is particularly important as higher education faces a crisis of relevance to the increasingly advanced, globally competitive job market new college graduates are entering.
As Inside Higher Ed wrote: “A growing body of research has all but obliterated the notion that distance education is inherently less effective than classroom education.” Indeed, a well-publicized review by the Department of Education – updated last year – of more than 1,000 empirical studies of online learning found that students performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.
When more courses incorporate digital materials, there is less and less distinction between in-person learning and digital learning. Far from replacing the human aspect of education, this improved understanding of communications patterns and comprehension can lead to greater empathy and a more productive classroom. Consider two important factors:
- Technology can make instructors more accessible, not less. The rapid evolution of technology is helping instructors develop curricula more effectively and run courses more efficiently. Be it through the predictive analytics mentioned earlier or more powerful mobile devices capable of running sophisticated interactive educational software, technology continues to improve the efficiency and accountability of curriculum design and student assessment – in addition to simplifying the administrative demands of running a class – allowing professors more time to devote their attention to students on an individual level.
- Technology is removing the barriers to entry of communication. “Frictionless sharing” is a big concept in social networking. It also has applications for the classroom. Simply put: as new features like annotations or rating systems make it easier for students and educators to quickly give and receive feedback on material, classroom participants’ information sharing rises on a massive scale. When fostered in the right learning environment, that information sharing leads to productive discussions that result in better comprehension, plus new insights for teachers.
The conversations around education technology are probably not forward-thinking enough. Last month, IBM predicted the end of the digital divide in five years, as well as the availability of new smartphones linked directly to your brain. Think of the likelihood of mind-reading iPhones and Internet availability to seven billion people, and it may help to put our current frame of mind around ed tech into context. It can also put into context every generation’s concerns about disruptive technologies.
Looking back, video didn’t kill the radio star; it created a new vehicle for artists to reach and connect with their fans. For higher education, rapid advances in technology suggest that far from being replaced, the human element of learning will become more understood, more crucial and more effective. This monumental shift is a win for students and a win for their future employers.
Guest post by Andrew Clark, CEO of Bridgepoint Education. Clark was a recently featured speaker on technology’s effects on the landscape of higher education, at the HigherEdTECH Summit of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
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