Monday, April 9, 2012

Trends in College Teaching and Learning 2012

This has been interesting year in the instructional technology world. Blackboard is still buying much of the competition. The latest being MoodleRooms. You can still use Moodle as your learning management system, but you have to either maintain it yourself or find another partner. Sakai is still going strong as one of the few remaining alternatives to Blackboard. Putting this aside, there are some major trends to watch with multiple vendors in each space. Regardless of the discipline, I think all areas of higher education should be looking at the following to extend their teaching and extending learning is THE major trend. Extending learing beyond the traditional classroom.

First, let me state that I am not talking about making major changes in the content of courses or suggesting that ALL faculty should be pressured into adopting any of the followign trends or technologies. These are personal choices that individual faculty have to make. Here is what I am seeing:

Communication/Collaboration - Collaboration outside the classroom is the biggest change I have seen in over 30 years in higher education. A few years back we have been amazed at the idea of answering student questions in virtual office hours; having students in traditonal classes collaborate online without regard to to time or distance; working with students or colleagues from other universities in real time or asychronous research or class projects; bringing virtual quest speakers into the classroom using Skype or some other free tool; continuing relationships made during study abroad experiences well after returning home with teleconferencing; creating a class or campus research publication with a tool like Digital Commons or a class wiki; having creative writing students share their work with a personal blog; and creating short instructional videos with a cell phone or Flip camera. This list could go on. Notice that I did not mention Blackboard or other learning managment system (LMS) in this paragraph. The LMS has become a baseline toolset for teaching, but any of the tools noted above can be used without the LMS.

Mobile Apps - This is a really new space and largely undeveloped in my view. It has great potential, but the jury is still out. At the very least though colleges should have a campus level mobile strategy that includes a smart phone hehicle web site and access to the LMS. I have said before, ALL of your student prospects from this point on will likely get their first impression of your campus on their phones. The view had better be good and easy to navigate. I have to say that the Blackboard Mobile Learn product is easy to deploy and gets the job done in a flash. Your students can access their class pages and see grades, assignments, and even turn in an assignment all from their phone. Now that 70% of current undergraduates have smart phones, this is the bare minimum that a college can get by with. The next step is access to your student administrative systems. Within a year some basic access to grades, financial aid status, admissions application information, and perhaps bill payment will be expected. I would look for apps that can help student researchers to collect data, take photos, record audio interviews, and other data collecting activities. Speciality apps that can do all sorts of things will be available in short order. After all there are over 600,000 Apple apps already out there.

Big Data - This is the latest buzz phrase in IT referring to lots of data, as the name implies. Applied to higher education, I think big data refers to data warehousing and/or analytics used for decison making and of courses research. Here campuses have options. For analytics are their a host of analytics tools and dashboard type applications. The key question here is "what do you really need?". Most vendors are selling very slick user interfaces with green, yellow, and red lights and other cool do-dads. Frankly, I have not seen a campus use these to date. Most could do just as well with timely automated reports. I have not found a President whop really wants to look at an Admissions dashboard. Collecting lots of data and creating useable data models for decison IS adviseable, but it can be done in may ways. My advice, is to generate questions first and then find the data to answer the questions. I would also take a look at constituent relationship software like Sales Force for Higher Education (CRM) or Blackboard Analytics. Of course there are other products out there as well. Again, I suggest thinking about what you need and how you want to see it before buying. This will help you leverage your big data about potential and current students to make decisions, communicate, inform, and intervene at just the right moment. On the research side, things are even better. You can create virtual computing environments in a flash for on campus applications and you can rent space and computing cycles in the cloud for a very low price. Just for an example, chack out Amazon and for smaller storage needs drop box. More on research tools later.

Communication, mobile, and big data are the hot items right now for higher education technology, in my view.

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