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How Can IT Add Value in the Connected Age?

EDUCAUSE is exploring the concept of “connectedness” as a lens for understanding IT’s strategic role as an integral component of higher education. Technology enables pervasive and continuous access not only to information and ideas but also to people, communities, resources, and tools. Connections can be between learners, faculty, classrooms, campuses, and workplaces, enabling pathways to achieve the core goals of students, institutions, and society as a whole. The word “connected” encourages creative reflection on the role of technology in learning. 

Connecting is at the heart of learning, and technology amplifies the opportunities to connect. Learning is improved when students actively connect to their learning experience, monitoring and controlling their own learning through self-assessment. Learning is enriched when students connect to authentic communities of practice: researchers, experts, and practitioners working on real world problems. Learning is motivated when students connect with information in tactile and visual ways, using tools that reveal previously obscured patterns and intersections in their knowledge—mapping and other data visualization technologies, haptic interfaces, and 3D printers, to name just a few.

Teaching is about connecting. All instruction, from a tutorial conducted in an Oxford don’s sitting room to a MOOC offered to 100,000 students, revolves around the core connection of expert to novice. The notion of connectedness helps bridge distinctions—face-to-face versus online, synchronous versus asynchronous—that are rapidly becoming extinct. Classrooms and modes of instruction exist in a continuum of connectedness. It is no longer a question of e-learning or face-to-face, but both. Even the most traditional face-to-face seminar invariably entails accessing resources online. When students step outside the classroom door, their toolset for learning comprises continuous and instantaneous connections to information, services, and a multiplicity of communities.

The phrase “connected learning” is a useful alternative to “e-learning” or “distance learning.” Both categories capture only a fragment of the ways technology is enriching learning and teaching. E-learning implies a mode of delivery: a course or program delivered via the web. Distance learning carries connotations of the periphery: It is for students at a distance, not at the center of the campus experience. “Connected learning” evokes community, suggesting teamwork and collaboration. Connected learning focuses on the outcome, not where learners are or how we reach them.

The idea of connectedness goes beyond the classroom to describe the future of our institutions. Colleges and universities increasingly act as interconnected nodes in a web of student learning experiences that may eventually lead to a credential. Two-thirds of undergraduate students “swirl” between two or more institutions before receiving a degree. Alternative learning opportunities are proliferating in the cloud, from course resources such as e-texts to full courses such as those offered by the Open Learning Initiative. Emerging third-party services, including Parchment or Chegg, to name two, aim to help students negotiate and manage the experience of higher education by providing direct-to-student services that used to be contained within institutional boundaries. To operate in this web, the “connected institution” and the student it serves both require efficient and effective mechanisms to connect disparate learning experiences into degree pathways.

Earlier this year, EDUCAUSE President and CEO Diana Oblinger kicked off the exploration of higher education in the connected age with a webinar that examined emerging models for connected classrooms and institutions. The association will continue to investigate the theme in its third annual Sprint, July 30–August 1, 2013 (http://www.educause.edu/sprint2013), with an emphasis on how we prepare for IT to serve as the connector. Please join our conversation by registering for the Sprint and participating in our online experience. Get ready for the Sprint by reading an important new report on New Technology-based Models for Postsecondary Learning:Conceptual Frameworks and Research Agendas

We are also looking for exemplars that showcase:

•       Innovative uses of technology to connect students to content, learning experiences, and resources

•       New course and program models that help students connect diverse learning experiences into a seamless degree pathway

•       Central IT organizations that are transforming their service model to emphasize the learner experience

If you have a case to share, let us know by commenting below. EDUCAUSE looks forward to convening opportunities for our community in the months ahead to explore and build on the model of connectedness.

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