Information, Tools, and Access at All Levels
With the continual transformation and adoption of technology in higher education, technology touches students, faculty, and administrators across an institution in innumerable ways. In these ways, institutions are increasingly becoming vast storehouses of data that can be used for predictive and evaluative analyses.
Learning management systems and data analytics offer tools and access for both students and faculty. These systems represent a powerful capability to gather, process, and derive meaningful insights from a wealth of student-related information:
- Data Collection: Educational technology platforms, online assessments, and digital learning resources generate vast amounts of data. These data encompass various aspects of students' learning journeys, including their interactions with course materials, time spent on tasks, assessment results, and even their digital footprints.
- Performance Tracking: With data analytics, educators can closely monitor individual and group performance trends. This includes tracking students' progress, identifying strengths and weaknesses in specific subjects or skills, and recognizing patterns of achievement or struggle.
- Engagement Analysis: Beyond academic performance, educational technology also captures data on student engagement. It reveals how actively students participate in discussions, collaborate with peers, and interact with the course content. These data can highlight areas where students might need an intervention or support.
- Behavioral Insights: Data analytics delves into behavioral aspects of learning. It can uncover how students navigate through digital resources, the frequency of logins, the sequence of activities, and even the time of day when they are most active. These insights can provide clues about preferred learning styles and effective study routines.
- Flexible Learning: The ability to offer course materials through an LMS, along with the synchronous or asynchronous delivery of lectures, allows faculty and students to teach and learn in the way they most prefer.
With access to this quantity of data available to most institutions, administrators and researchers are in a position to examine the potential effects of many educational technologies year-to-year or even within courses. Of course, with this quantity of data collection and storage come concerns of student privacy and data security. This is an issue every institutional leader needs to consider while trying their best to support students, and any research will need to pass the institution's IRB standards to be conducted.
Open educational resources (OER) represent a pivotal shift in education toward openness, access, and affordability. This approach to educational materials has profound implications for access for students from various backgrounds:
- Openly Available Learning Materials: OER encompasses a broad range of free or low-cost educational resources, including textbooks, videos, interactive simulations, and entire course modules. By making these resources openly available, this approach eliminates financial barriers that hinder some students' access to high-quality learning materials. This availability ensures that students from diverse backgrounds can access the resources they need to succeed and allocate resources to other critical aspects of their education.
- Customization and Adaptation: OER materials are typically published under open licenses that allow for modification and customization. Faculty can tailor these resources to align with their curriculum, ensuring that the content is relevant, up-to-date, and closely aligned with their learning objectives. This collaborative approach fosters the sense of community that exists among educators, where they can collectively contribute to the improvement and expansion of OER repositories.
- Global Reach: OER transcends geographical boundaries. These resources are accessible to educators and learners worldwide, democratizing education and promoting global knowledge sharing. This can lead to exposure to more diverse perspectives and ideas, enriching students' learning experience.
Accessible technology and universal design have improved satisfaction for some learners with disabilities, while others still lag behind. Advancements in technology have opened up opportunities for individuals who may have previously faced barriers to education, although they still aren't equal to the experiences of students without disabilities (see figure 5). From the student technology report:
Asked to rate their overall satisfaction with the technology supports and services at their institution, 67% of all students indicated that they were either satisfied or very satisfied. Among students reporting a disability or impairment, satisfaction drops only slightly to 62% for students with a learning disability and 63% for students with a mental health disorder, but it plummets to a mere 35% for students with a mobility impairment and 39% for students with a sensory impairment.
Smartphones and tablets specifically have been helping sensory-impaired learners, with 87% of visually impaired adult learners reporting that they are using these devices to replace traditional assistive tools.1 However, institutions offer numerous other technologies and digital tools to improve student access and success in their courses (see the sidebar "What Technologies Are Institutions Using to Improve Learning and Teaching?"). This increased accessibility and required digital interaction has brought about small- to medium-sized positive effects in some types of learning. However, it is important to note that the focus should always be on student outcomes and empowering faculty with additional tools and information rather than simply bringing in technology for its own sake.
What Technologies Are Institutions Using to Improve Learning and Teaching?
- Adaptive Software: Educational technology allows for the customization of learning experiences to cater to individual student needs and learning styles. Adaptive learning platforms use data analytics to identify strengths and weaknesses, offering tailored content and assessments that challenge students at their level. However, these programs have limited applications across an institution, often only introductory courses such as algebra and chemistry. But in those classes, adaptive programs such as McGraw Hill's ALEKS have been shown to improve students' performance.2
- Flipped Classroom: Technology enables the "flipped classroom" model in which traditional lecture content is delivered online as videos or interactive modules. This frees up classroom time for discussions, problem-solving, and hands-on activities, promoting active engagement with faculty and other students. A meta-analysis of 114 studies found a small positive effect from flipped classrooms.3
- Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI): Generative AI tools (such as ChatGPT) create content including text, image, video, audio, and computer code that mimics human-created content. Faculty and students are just beginning to experiment with and discover ways to integrate this technology into their classrooms and classwork.
- Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR): Immersive technologies such as VR and AR can create experiential learning opportunities, allowing students to explore complex concepts in a simulated environment. Medical students, for example, can train for a high-stress cardiac arrest situation before they have to face one in real life.
- Collaborative Tools: Online collaboration tools, such as video conferencing, instant messaging, and cloud-based document sharing, enable students and instructors to work together across geographical boundaries. This promotes more ways for students to engage in teamwork and peer-to-peer learning.
- Interactive Assessments: Technology offers a variety of assessment methods beyond traditional exams, such as quizzes with immediate feedback, simulations, and multimedia projects. These assessments can provide a more comprehensive evaluation of students' skills and understanding as a tool for faculty to improve their pedagogy.
The integration of educational technology has allowed for personalized and adaptive learning experiences. Students can access a wide range of educational materials, engage in interactive activities, and receive immediate feedback. This level of customization can enhance understanding and retention, particularly in subjects that require visual or interactive components.
While digital technology has dramatically increased access to teaching and learning resources and has shown positive effects in some types of learning contexts, its implementation should always prioritize meaningful learning outcomes rather than solely trusting in the innate capabilities of digital tools. It is essential to strike a balance between leveraging the benefits offered by educational technology while also recognizing its limitations in certain areas.
Natalina Martiniello, Werner Eisenbarth, Christine Lehane, Aaron Johnson, and Walter Wittich, "Exploring the Use of Smartphones and Tablets among People with Visual Impairments: Are Mainstream Devices Replacing the Use of Traditional Visual Aids?" Assistive Technology 34, vol. 1 (Jan. 2, 2022): 34–45.↩︎
Michelle Richards-Babb, Reagan Curtis, Betsy Ratcliff, Abhik Roy, and Taylor Mikalik, "General Chemistry Student Attitudes and Success with Use of Online Homework: Traditional-Responsive versus Adaptive-Responsive," Journal of Chemical Education 95, no. 5 (April 9, 2018): 691–699.↩︎
David C.D. van Alten, Chris Phielix, Jeroen Janssen, and Liesbeth Kester, "Effects of Flipping the Classroom on Learning Outcomes and Satisfaction: A Meta-Analysis," Educational Research Review 28 (2019).↩︎