Educational Technology Research in Higher Education: New Considerations and Evolving Goals

Challenges and Concerns about Technology’s Role in Education

Substantial and unbiased evidence regarding the effects of educational technology is scarce. The rapid evolution of technology often means it outpaces the ability of researchers and educators to thoroughly evaluate its impact on education. As a result, robust evidence regarding the added value of digital technology in educational settings is in short supply. A recently released UNESCO report on technology's use in education highlights the fact that educational technology products change every three years, on average. The lack of research is further evident in the report, which found that in the United Kingdom, only 7% of educational technology companies had conducted randomized controlled trials, and a survey of teachers and administrators in 17 U.S. states showed that only 11% requested peer-reviewed evidence prior to the adoption of technologies.

A recent meta-analysis of educational technology indicates that the research we have on educational technology is not the research we need and that "perhaps we can better transform education by fostering incremental changes through collaborative research and development with practitioners." In a story produced by The Hechinger Report, Kathryn Stack, who spent 27 years at the White House Office of Management and Budget and helped design grant programs that award money based on evidence of effectiveness, said, "[W]e're still in a place where there isn't a ton of great evidence about what works in educational technology." This lack of comprehensive research makes it challenging for faculty and leadership to make informed decisions about integrating educational technology into classrooms. Without substantial evidence on the impact of these tools, it becomes harder to determine their true value in enhancing teaching and learning experiences.

Efforts are being made by researchers and organizations to bridge this gap by conducting more rigorous studies and sharing findings through academic journals and conferences. However, the ongoing challenge will remain keeping up with the pace at which technology evolves while simultaneously providing reliable evidence of its effectiveness in educational settings.

Online content is produced by dominant groups, affecting access to it. According to the recent UNESCO report on technology in higher education, nearly 90% of content in higher education repositories with open education resource collections was created in Europe and North America; 92% of the content in the OER Commons global library is in English.

Additionally, the report suggests that massive open online courses (MOOCs) mainly benefit educated learners and those from richer countries. Still, a lot of learners enroll in those MOOCs. In 2021, the number of students enrolled in MOOCs worldwide continued to grow to over 220 million. Although this access to education is commendable, it also raises concerns regarding the regulation and quality control of online content. The lack of diversity in online content can limit perspectives and hinder inclusive learning experiences. It is crucial to ensure that digital platforms promote diverse voices and offer a wide range of educational resources that cater to different backgrounds, cultures, and learning styles.

Access to technology and to stable internet continues to be a big concern. The Tyton Partners report Time for Class 2023 found that 40% of students have experienced stress due to unstable internet connectivity and 22% have experienced stress due to not having access to a computer or laptop. Not only that, but students of color were six percentage points more likely to have experienced stress due to lack of access to devices and the internet.

The rapid growth of online content since the pandemic has brought about significant challenges in terms of equitable access, and as the data from the 2023 EDUCAUSE student and faculty technology reports show, the desire and need for online content isn't going away. Institutions will need to consider how they can best bridge the gap of access.