Technologies in Higher Education: The Predicted, the Predicaments and the Possibilities
By Nachamma Sockalingam, Assistant Director, Singapore University of Technology and Design
Rapid advancements in technology have transformed many spheres of work- be it Business, Finance, or Arts. Higher education is no exception. Experts predict that technology will bring about massive changes to teaching and learning. However, the ground reality is a far cry. Emerging data suggest that technologization in higher education is moving at a much slower pace.
For instance, the NMC Horizon identified Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) as a Near Term Adoption- that is, technologies that are expected to achieve widespread adoption in less than one year or less. Interestingly, the reports from 2015 and 2016 also identified BYOD to be a Near Term Adoption. This example illustrates the slow pace of technology adoption in teaching and learning.
This raises questions on the slow pace of technology adoption in higher education. To address this, I propose taking a historical perspective of teaching and learning– so that we may understand the possible challenges and solutions for adopting technology in higher education.
Teaching and Learning in Higher Education
Traditionally, universities and even K-12 schools across the globe have practiced teacher-centered teaching methods– where teaching is considered to be transfer of knowledge to students. Although students will learn in this method, numerous research studies indicate that learning is deeper through active, experiential, inquiry-based, and collaborative learning. The latter is often modelled in student-centered teaching methods such as problem/project-based learning.
While educational institutions recognize the value of moving towards student-centered teaching methods, I feel that universities face more inertia than K-12 schools in institutionalizing student-centered pedagogies. This is because student-centered pedagogies require smaller student groups to a teacher. Unfortunately, this requirement does not align well with the existing infrastructure and support system of traditional universities that are lecture-based.
Technology in Teaching and Learning
Along with this evolution of pedagogies, we notice a sudden influx of technologies in higher education.While both teacher-centered and student-centered teaching models could utilize technology to increase productivity and efficiency, the student-centered teaching models tend to go one step further. Characterized by active, engaged, experiential, inquiry-based and collaborative learning, they tend to integrate technology for transformed learning, rather than just enhanced learning.
If we take stock of the present day technologies in education, most seem to be tailored towards teacher-centered teaching.
Broadly, teaching and learning can be classified into 5 activities. They are (1) Course management, (2) Content delivery, (3) Participation with content and instructor, (4) Collaboration and (5) Assessment and feedback. I call this the “Teaching and Learning Activity Framework”.
Commonly used existing technologies in universities (e.g., as Learning Management System) tend to be strong in course management, content delivery and in promoting participation through self-directed, independent learning – activities that are more aligned with teacher-centered teaching. However, tools for collaboration and assessment that contributes to peer learning and online assessment are comparatively less developed. The latter activities tend to be more prominent in student-centered pedagogies.
Integration of Technology in Teaching and Learning
While educational scholars propose that pedagogy should underpin the use of technology, lecturers, in practice, tend to start with the technology first,often on a trial and error basis.
In some ways, this trial and error approach helps to champion the use of technology in education. However, it may fall short in many ways. For instance, lecturers may develop game applications that are relevant to their teaching but may fail to integrate the use of these applications into the curriculum. So it ends up as learning without intended learning objectives.
Overall, we observe that:
- There has been an evolution and shift from teacher-centered to student-centered pedagogies.
- Most universities, however, may have limitations in adopting student-centered pedagogies.
- Existing technology tend to be catered towards teacher-centered teaching rather than student-centered teaching.
- Educators tend to integrate technology in their teaching on a trial and error basis, rather than being pedagogy driven and evidence-based.
These observations suggest that both educators and technology industry partners have a role to play in technology enhanced teaching and learning in higher education.
What Higher Educational Institutions Could Do?
Higher educational institutions need to strategize and realign their vision and missions to embrace technology in teaching and learning. For instance, if the institution adopts problem-based learning but sticks to traditional standardized annual exams, the institutionalizing student-centered pedagogies. These universities may instead choose to adopt a Flipped classroom approach which allows for online lecturing and increased class time for active and student-centered learning.
Such blended approaches, in terms of teaching methods as well as blending face-to-face with online teaching is likely to allow for wider and more effective use of technology in teaching and learning.
What Technology Companies Could Do?
Often, technologies used in education lack the human touch. For instance, a common complaint is that online discussion forums in Learning Management Systems are “boring” and not like Facebook.So it will be useful for technology companies to understand the needs of the education sector, and realize the importance of developing personalized tools for teaching and learning.
Many educational institutions use a Learning Management System (LMS) as their IT backbone for teaching and learning. In some instances, the LMS systems are not that well-designed for certain functions such as collaborative activities. This means that educators are “forced” to use other tools. While there is a wide array of complementary technology tools available, it can be mind boggling. Many of these tools also tend to be stand-alone making integration with LMS and other tools. Hence, technology companies need to also consider the interoperability of their products, across tools and hardware devices.
In sum, in order to speed up the adoption of technology in teaching and learning in higher education,
- Universities need to consider their pedagogies at university level and strategize ways to integrate technology in teaching and learning to suit their context.
- Technology partners have to build systems and services that are tailored to the needs of universities, allowing for personalized learning and interoperability of systems and technology tools.
Higher educational institutions and technology industries need to also work in partnership rather than in silo, to promote better adoption of technology in higher education.