Technology is constantly changing and improving our lives—everywhere we go and in almost everything we do, we interact with some type of technology these days. It’s incredible how much technology has shaped over the years, and every day, these technical aspects of our lives get more and more advanced.
Most notably, the ways in which we interact, learn, and communicate have greatly been influenced by new technology. From personal laptop computers, to smartphone devices and social media interactions, there are so many ways for us to connect, find information, and share with one another. In the academic world specifically, technology has shaped education because institutions have adapted to new tools for teaching to better understand how their students absorb information and the impacts it has on their relationship.
In this guide, we will specifically look at how technology has shaped the relationship between professors, advisors, and leaders and the students they serve. It will cover the topics of curriculum development, student success/advising, and strategic planning by exploring the “what,” “how,” and “why” of our relationship to technology in higher education. The guide will be broken into six sections, three of which will fall under the “what” category, two that will fall under the “how” category, and one delving into the “why.”
The “what” sections will address the types of technology used in higher education, the latest tech developments in the education sector, and the challenges associated with using technology in higher education.
The “how” sections will look at how institutions can overcome technical challenges, and how technology affects the classroom.
The “why” section will address why adapting to new technology is necessary and look at what the future has in store for tech within higher education.
Section 1: What are the types of technology?
According to research conducted by the Community College Research Center, institutions divide their use of technology into three categories based on function: instructional, course management, and student support.
Instructional technology refers to technology that provides any type of informational content to students with an instructional element. For example, online video lectures, online quizzes or assessments, open educational sources, and any other electronic course materials.
Course management is a type of technology that organizes, stores, and presents course materials by allowing them to be electronically available to students. This would be a type of learning management system (LMS) that stores electronic copies of course materials (or replaces physical copies altogether), and functions as an online portal where students and teachers can access the information, communicate with one another online, and easily find related materials or tools for the class.
Student support technology is technology that helps aid students who many be struggling with their academics, or provides extracurricular assistance and activities. The best example of this use is for online tutoring or for tracking student success to provide data about potential course failures.
Section 2: What are the latest technological developments?
Today, technology is integral to higher education and the learning process, both for students and professionals. Adapting to new technology is now a factor for success for institutions, which can be difficult to navigate when the landscape is constantly and quickly changing. From online courses and digital classrooms to interactive tools and new fields of study, technology is completely shifting how and what we teach students, how they process information, and what skills are necessary in today’s world.
Here is a look at some of the ways higher institutions currently (or should) engage with technology today. While there are many other ways in which institutions use technology, these are some of the top uses and are some of the most important ways we can apply technology to current education models.
Gone are the days of wheeling out an old projector or VCR and television to show information to students. The ability to easily project materials from a computer or mobile device onto a screen through a Wi-Fi connection is one of the best and most obvious ways we use technology to better engage students in the classroom. Wi-Fi connection has vastly impacted how we stay connect across multiple campuses and classrooms.
Between students, professors, and faculty there are many people on campus using campus Internet. In addition to keeping it running and the connection strong, institutions have to employ increasingly sophisticated secure networks. From global compliance regulations, to the ever-changing technology of the Internet of Things, institutions have to be prepared for security risks and threats,
The research firm MarketsandMarkets predicts that by 2020 the predictive analytics industry will be worth $12.41 billion due to companies from almost every industry driving the market. In higher education, predictive analytic tools can be used both by students and teachers. Predictive analytics create value in higher education because they can provide insight to students about the demand for certain classes and the likelihood of it filling up, or that someone will drop it. Similarly, it provides insight to teachers on the popularity of a class, or the likelihood of students failing or dropping it.
Think about how much the application process to college has changed over the years. Digitizing credentials is important technology for higher education because having digital credentials helps avoid fraudulent applications or identity theft. This technology can be crucial for higher education institutions during the admissions and recruitment processes.
Institutions use technology to manage courses offered to students—this system is often referred to as the “learning management system,” or LMS. Through technology, schools can organize course structure and material such as syllabi, lecture presentations, or required reading materials. Moreover, technology can be used for online quiz taking, as well as for students to check grades, view course calendars, engage in online discussion boards, or to send e-mails for communicating with their classmates.
Instructional and online courses
When developed properly, online learning can match the in-person classroom experience. From instructional videos for specific topics, to full courses and degree programs, higher education has seen the impact that online learning has on students, particularly those who are working while in school. Many online courses and programs are less expensive and more flexible with scheduling, which is a great way to engage student demographics. It’s important that we listen to what students want, especially related to classes or courses they think would be more beneficial to attend online.
From Twitter and Facebook to Instagram and LinkedIn, everyone is social—including higher education institutions. The rise of technology and our digitally connected world has led to all of us seeking to connect online in a social way, which means schools must maintain some type of social media presence in order to keep up with the latest news, trends, technology, and their students.
Section 3: What are the challenges associated with technology in higher education
As we evolve with technology, challenges are going to occur, but it is how we meet those roadblocks that determine whether or not we are able to overcome them. In regards to technology, it can be tricky, especially when the challenges present themselves to both students and teachers.
One major issue institutions face with technology is that not everyone possesses the skills and knowledge to use it. This issue arises for both students and teachers who may lack skills for computer or laptop use, such as keyboard typing, mouse control, navigating, and locating items on a screen. Moreover, when technical issues occur, whether it’s Internet or Wi-Fi related, both teachers and students might struggle to problem-solve technical issues. We see this issue occur both for students and faculty who may be of an older generation that did not grow up with or engage with technology in their classrooms as prevalent as younger generations now do.
Advice: Consider training programs, electives, or classes for both students and faculty who might need help understanding how new technology works, or need help with the basics, such as typing and using a touch screen system.
Reduction of in-person interactions
Some students and teachers might prefer more in-person classrooms as opposed to online classes, which can cause issues for those who have trouble with using the online systems. Similar to the issues stated above, with less face-to-face interactions, those who might normally excel could struggle if they are in a technology-heavy course. Some faculty might find that technology and online instructions are too involved and take away from in-person lectures and discussion. In addition, while technology might help build some skills, it could lead to other, more personal skills being underdeveloped or forgotten—for example, handwriting or public speaking skills.
Advice: When listing courses, make a note of how much of the course will be taught through instructional videos or online lectures versus in-person lectures. If you expect students to come in with basic, intermediate, or advanced level knowledge of technology, make sure students are aware of your expectations. Moreover, when developing your curriculum, consider ways in which you could help both students who struggle with technology, and those who prefer it.
Adding technology to institutions comes with a price tag—and not every school has the same budget or resources available. From the costs associated to implementing new technology, training users on new equipment and tools, to affording higher-end, better-quality tech, it is an expensive process to bring new and updated technology into your institution. Depending on your budget, you might have to sacrifice technology you need in order to afford others—this has impacted the financial resources of schools greatly because it’s essentially created an entirely new budget that requires a large sum.
Advice: Make the case for adding more resources to your technology budget and do your best to have more funding allocated. Consider getting student feedback about your current or lack there-of updated and quality tech to help make your point. Consider pulling away from older models and technology to pave a way for newer ones.
Another challenge is the reality that not all technology is available to everyone. Lower-income students may not be able to afford personal computers or other devices that allow them to participate in tech-related parts of a course. Or, a more rural or lower-income school might have even bigger issues with their lack of resources for integrating technology, which then puts the institution and its students behind.
Advice: Consider offering aide to students who are not able to afford personal devices, or make sure they are aware of any on-campus computer labs.
Lastly, we have to address the issue that the abundance and availability of technology has created among students, for both in-person and online classrooms. The ability to stay connect to social media platforms—whether that’s on a smartphone, tablet, or personal computer—has led to more student distraction when it comes to focusing in class and staying on top of their studies.
Advice: Set boundaries and rules with your students from the beginning—do not tolerate any cellphone use and pay attention to student behavior to determine if outside technology is distracting someone during lectures.
Social media on and off campus
From a social perspective, this can also create challenges for teachers and advisors who might find it difficult to maintain boundaries with students. Whether their students are attempting to follow their social accounts, or if schools see something students post online related to their courses and academies, social media has created a new challenge for institutions. Not only do institutions need to maintain presences online, but they also have to be aware that all of their students (and more) watch and respond to whatever they share on social platforms. Students and teachers now hold one another accountable for their social media usage—and institutions have had to adapt by addressing what their roles are when social media becomes an issue on and off campus.
Advice: Institutions should set a policy for interacting with students through social media to create a guideline for teachers and faculty to adhere to.
In the next section of the guide, we will look at how institutions can overcome these challenges by staying up to date with the latest technology and adapting.
Section 4: How institutions can overcome technical challenges
How do we adapt to all these new pieces of technology when not everyone has the same skills, accessibility, or knowledge to understand all of this? Here are a few key ideas to keep in mind to help you overcome some of the biggest challenges related to technology in schools.
Focus on student success
- When making decisions about new technology, consider how it will impact student success. Will it make things more or less difficult for the majority of students? How necessary is it to implement this technology and will students see a direct result from it?
- Create a student-centered institution by making sure you understand the biggest needs of students and faculty tech-wise. Are students and teachers involved in important discussions about new technology? Send a survey or invite students to weigh in on what technology they are most interested in for shaping the on-campus experience.
Data-driven decision making
- Improve your decision making with data. Utilizing analytics can help you better resolve issues and set yourself up to answer the bigger, more pressing questions. The more gather you data and analyze, the better chance you have at making a more informed decision that actually solves the issue.
- If you want to avoid hitting too many roadblocks with new technology, you have to make sure you are adequately staffed. Yes, it can be difficult to navigate this if you have insufficient resources. But, new technology has created many new jobs and your institution needs to have people on board that understand new systems.
Develop a risk-based security strategy
- According to EDUCASE, IT issues are the biggest technical challenges that institutions face, because many schools do not have a risk-based security strategy developed to keep on top of security threats and other risks.
Section 5: How technology affects the classroom
Integrating technology into the classroom is the largest shift we will likely ever see in the education sector. As a result of new technology, our relationships with students have changed because we have to adapt to new ways of teaching. There are a lot of pros and cons to technology in the classroom:
- We are more connected as a student body and specifically in the classroom. It’s much easier to collaborate on group projects, study sessions, and homework assignments online.
- Teachers can explore new methods of teaching and better engage students. From apps and e-books, to online instructional videos and podcasts, there are so many creative ways to keep students engaged and transform the classroom.
- The future of virtual reality (VR) development could have huge impacts on the education industry alone. For example, we could likely see an entirely new way of immersing students into history or to explore different cultures and regions.
- LMS allows students to engage in online discussion boards and receive tutoring, which can greatly improve the overall engagement and connection among students in a given class.
- Students have access to more information beyond the teacher’s knowledge through Internet access and digital libraries.
- Those who have had access to technology early on have strong typing and research skills, which will allow them to exceed with computer or technology tools. Students and teachers with these skills are able to learn faster.
- We can offer flexible class options to working students to open more opportunities for wider demographics.
- People can attend classes or programs from outside locations—meaning, they can tele-commute for their education.
- Faculty can receive instant feedback from students through polls, surveys, and ratings on class schedules, content, etc.
- Using technology can automate busy work, such as taking attendance, tracking performance, sending mass e-mails, and sending out grades.
- Technology is a life skill that is highly valued in the working world—so the more we do to help students learn and stay up to date on technology, the better we can prepare them for a job post-graduation.
- Technology can take away from face-to-face interactions, which for some people can make a huge difference with how they absorb information. It can also be distracting to have an overload of technology around and can lead to students learning and focusing less during lectures.
- With more technology in classes and online courses, we might see a decline in oral and group projects that teach students social and public speaking skills. Giving oral presentations are beneficial in preparing students for postgraduate success.
- Not every student can afford a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, which can put some students behind others if they lack these resources.
- The anonymous feeling of being behind a screen or not in person can create a sense of distance. This means students might feel more inclined to be rude or dismissive in online discussions or other communications.
- Online assignments leave more room for fraud and cheating—students could be using their laptops, notes, or phones while taking online tests without your knowledge. They could even be working in a group setting and taking quizzes or doing homework assignments in order to easily share answers.
- Depending on the software program your institution uses, technology could make managing lesson plans and coursework more difficult if you do not understand the system or if it is a complicated interface.
- Technology and the expansive world of the Internet make it easy for students to plagiarize content and/or pay for essays or homework assignments to be completed.
- People are social animals—which means most students will constantly be tweeting, instagramming, snapchatting and posting to Facebook about their classes. This can become an issue for faculty and institutions if students are posting about assignments, poking fun at teachers, or giving feedback through their social channels.
Section 6: Why adapting to new technology is necessary
This technological growth in institutions will continue—so what does that mean for the future of higher education? We have to adapt, but maintain a balance. The key to technology’s presence in the classrooms is the student-teacher relationship. Ultimately, our teachers educate students, and technology is not meant to replace teachers, but rather meant to enhance the learning process for both parties.
If you understand the what, how, and why of technology, your institution will have success in adapting and deeming what technology is necessary for both your teachers and students.
Yes, there are cons to technology and it can be a frustrating process to adapt to new ideas. But the goal is to set students up for success. If technology is going to help and students are asking for more efficient and tech-based ways to learn, a good teacher and an invested institution will adapt. As well, if you want to foster a noble learning environment that can be a breeding ground for innovation, you have to be innovative yourselves and stay up-to-date with the latest technology!
Regardless of how you feel about tech, it exists, it’s useful, and it’s expanding. To set students up for success, technology has to be applied. If students do not learn these skills now, they will not be able to adapt to the tools used in the current and future working world. If most companies are adapting to technology and looking for applicants with this knowledge, institutions cannot remain in an outdated past. It would be a failure to students to not prepare them for a tech-based world.
The future of education is online and technology-based—that’s where our education sector is headed. Though we can likely never remove the teacher-student relationship from the equation (nor should we), by adapting to necessary technology advances, we can use all of the amazing tools and information at our disposal to educate the next generation of workers and innovators.
About the author:
Isabel Thottam is a freelance writer based in Seattle, WA. A graduate from Emerson College, Isabel has self-published two books, “The Labradoodle Who Lost His Doodle,” and “Joy Comes In The Morning.” She writes on the topics of career, technology, sustainable food, mental health and has been published in Fast Company, Glassdoor, Monster.com, Fortune, Edible Seattle, Paste Magazine, and more. In addition to writing, Isabel works for a small, family orchard in Washington State selling fruit!
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Himmelsbach, Vawn. “6 Pros and Cons of Technology in Classrooms.” Top Hat, 2 January 2019.
Natow, Rebecca and Reddy, Vikash. “How and Why Higher Education Institutions Use Technology in Developmental Education Programming.” CCRC, September 2017.