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In today’s higher education environment, information technology (IT) plays a prominent role in teaching and learning success by enabling faculty to plan, create, and deliver academic content. IT facilitates faculty-led innovation, transformation of teaching and learning, and empowers modalities for student interaction that lead to greater engagement.
There are three main areas of focus for IT that will enable transformation:
■ The use of analytics to drive teaching and learning
■ The continued evolution of physical and virtual learning environments, and
■ The importance of Instructional design, including educational technology and pedagogy
"Knowing the educational technology issues your institution needs to address is essential, but even more attention must be paid to implementation and adoption"
Analytics in the teaching and learning space is developing into a mature discipline. Business intelligence and academic analytics are commonly used at different levels of the organization, such as administration and student advising. However, learning analytics, or analytics at the interface where students learn, is a relatively new field. The fundamental tenant of learning analytics is to use data, such as student behavior in the course management system, demographics, and other factors, to: (1) improve student learning outcomes and retention, 2) improve the quality of faculty teaching from a pedagogical perspective, and 3) improve the learning environment and quality of learning assets. A current focus of learning analytics is to describe, predict, and prescribe student behaviors that lead to student success. The IT organization needs to work closely with faculty leaders to identify where learning analytics will yield the most value for the student, test and validate models, and promote acceptance and adoption.
Learning spaces, both physical and virtual, are transforming the teaching and learning environments in higher education. Physical spaces must be changed from single purpose classrooms into flexible, collaborative learning environments embracing pedagogical changes such as the flipped classroom and active learning. Strategies to achieve these transformations must include teaching faculty and IT to attain the expected benefits. Virtual learning environments (or managed learning environments) are an even larger challenge with commensurately greater rewards. In this mode, a virtual space is any location where people can work or meet using networked digital devices and where a robust, collaborative social network is required. While a course management system is required for all higher education institutions, a variety of tools, add-ons, plug-ins and third party software must be vetted and integrated for a complete solution. Adoption, customization, and implementation of these items requires technical processes and a strong governance model for efficient use of resources.
Services in virtual learning spaces play an important role. In particular, services that can be accessed anywhere, anytime and on any device. For example, at the University of Florida an online app service called UFApps provides faculty and students access to more than 70 commercial software applications commonly used in teaching and learning. Tools like UFApps and online collaboration tools are critical to today’s student experience. Effort and resources must be directed to learning spaces that integrate physical and virtual requirements and are flexible to adapt to different uses and pedagogies.
Instructional design as a formal process improves learning outcomes through adherence to pedagogy, increased student engagement and fostering new tools and techniques. It can also simultaneously reduce costs by standardizing processes and familiarizing faculty with methods for efficient creation of course materials—particularly for online content. Quality online courses can also help with student retention and success rates due to flexibility in scheduling and location. Also, institutions with physical space constraints can still grow and expand through the need for less classroom space, thereby reaching students regardless of location with effective instructional design for online courses. Investing in instructional design allows for faculty efficiencies while providing them with the needed assistance in the design, development, and implementation of courses.
Knowing the educational technology issues your institution needs to address is essential, but even more attention must be paid to implementation and adoption. Transformative change must be guided by clear principles to enable success: (1) A vision that is communicated simply, unambiguously, and consistently, (2) A plan that is realistic and attainable, 3) A strategy for early engagement of stakeholders to ensure needs are addressed and expectations are managed, and 4) An understanding that transformative change requires patience and persistence on part of leadership. Stakeholders that share the vision, help articulate the issues, and are part of the solution become responsible and accountable change agents. This leads to relationships built on trust that benefit the students and faculty, both crucial in moving the institution’s agenda forward.
Since its early applications in higher education, IT has demonstrated its value by increasing efficiencies, assist in improving the quality of teaching and learning and implementing standards that resulted in coherent shared services. IT can advance the academic outcomes of an institution through innovation, increasing its understanding of how people learn, and an unlimited desire to seek new ways to support a university’s mission.