A Vision for Digital Education – 13 Things to Do Now

What Will the Future of Digital Education Look Like…

And, the five million dollar question, how do we get there.  First of all, let’s start with a good, solid premise.  In fact, let’s start with two:

  • Education will, in the United States and large parts of the world, become digitally integrated. Digital education will not be a different thing than traditional education, the majority of educational experiences will have digital components and hopefully be digitally interdependent.
  • This will be messy.

To be frank, it’s pretty messy now, so the anticipated messiness of a coming transition shouldn’t scare anyone.

Let’s look at what we can do to help our students learn, and help our faculty teach, by giving them both the tools and resources to do so effectively.  And let’s throw a little bit of design into this – let’s start with a prospective future in mind, and work backwards from there.

Note that this vision is not articulated in assessable language, in other words, it is a vision, not a series of outcomes or objectives.  That will come later.

In a digitally integrated educational environment, students will:

  • Have an increased voice and responsibility in their own learning.
  • Have flexible options about how to interact with people, content, and creation tools.
  • Participate in contextualized learning experiences.
  • Create and house their own content for application in employment through universal ePortfolio tools.
  • Derive greater value and relevance from their learning, all while
  • Learning how to learn better (see data section below).

In a digitally integrated educational environment, faculty will:

  • Have better access to educational materials, activities, and assessments that will be free or low cost and easy to use which are both quality materials and are accessible to students with disabilities.
  • Have access to better, actionable data about student performance
  • Employ technology to use automated differentiated instruction and/or adaptive learning to improve student learning.
  • Collaborate across institutions with research and pedagogy through integrated Virtual Learning Environments (VLE), Communities of Practice (CoP), Virtual Learning Commons (VLC), or (insert your term here).
  • Participate in more student coaching and mentoring.

In a digitally integrated educational environment, administrators and staff will:

  • Have access to better, actionable data at the institutional level, and use it to make systemic changes.
  • Spend money where it makes the most sense for student success.
  • Make bold infrastructure and process changes to make a more human experience for students (read High Tech-High Touch).
  • Ensure accessibility for students with disabilities. This is for all digitally-based learning. It’s not just a good idea a la Universal Design, it’s the law.
  • Reach and respond to students where they are, not where we assume they are.

How will we do this?  Very good question.  Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Modularization and resource sharing.   Make content more edible. There are great resources out there. Free and low cost resources. Publishers do not have a monopoly on content, and certainly not on good content.
  2. In related news, let’s talk micro-credentialing. We know that students need incremental wins to be successful. Let’s build that into our human processes and culture. Let’s build that into our technical infrastructures.
  3. Make this discussion collaborative. And then discuss faster. Higher education is notoriously resistant to change.  When it does change, it’s like attempting to turn the Titantic.
  4. Stop thinking of new educational models as “yes or no.” Instead think of them as “different and”. No one model is going to work for everyone. Combination models could be the most effective, but we need to use that data to determine “for whom” what works.  Not just on an adaptive scale within individual courses, or even on a predictive scale for advising of courses. People who love MOOCs as the future of education and those who hate them are both missing the point equally.
  5. Embrace Competency-Based Education. It’s coming and for many it’s here. Let’s create interoperable systems to share this as well.
  6. In related news, we now have the technology to support things like Prior Learning Assessment at a new level. Let’s do that. Accelerating time to completion is not a bad thing.
  7. Open Educational Resources. Related to #1. Let’s Creative Commons license everything we can. We’re educators. We should share.
  8. Use better tools to improve student engagement and active learning.  In related news, see #11.
  9. Teach students to be better learners. Let’s not assume that even high performing students straight out of high school are accomplished learners.  In fact, developmentally, many times they’re not. Instead, let’s leverage everything we know about brain science, human psychology, and game mechanics to incentivize and support what we know works best. Let’s scaffold our students to become active, lifelong learners.
  10. Ensure quality. We need tools at the institutional level (also dialogue with accreditors about what this means in a world of digitally integrated education). We need tools at the program level. And obviously, we need them at the course level (Quality Matters, etc.).
  11. Let’s ask for the technology development that we need instead of living with the technology development that we get. Far too many new ed tech companies are long on developers and short on educators. This unintentionally results in content creation tools that are easy to use primarily in the opinions of developers. It results in predictive analytics that are robust but hard to articulate, making them less useful or even plausible to purchase for many institutions.
  12. Let go of past grudges. Let’s acknowledge that things are going to change, transform and develop.  In a world of integrated digital education we don’t need less faculty (that would negate the whole concept of High-Tech High-Touch). What we need is clearer and more diverse roles for faculty. We don’t need every faculty member to be a researcher. We need researchers. We also need teaching specialists, and coaching specialists, and yes, we need to address adjunct issues. We need to have honest, collegial, respectful conversations. The boogeyman standing in the room is always less frightening than the one that holds court behind the dark of the closet door. Connected to this, we need more courageous leaders, and we need more tolerant policy makers. Not everything will be popular, but then, not everything is popular now.
  13. Maintain institutional freedom. Let’s not standardize everything. In fact, in this time of change, institutions need to – generally speaking – define their missions even more narrowly, even if that means transforming who they are. We need to specialize our institutions. Institutions that try to be everything for everyone spend unnecessary resources and fail to meet students needs with an array of dizzying options. In other words, we need to Chipotle higher ed.

What’s next?

Next, we define what success looks like.  Together.  We create some common goals, perhaps using Lumina’s Degree Qualifications Profile or American Association of College’s and Universities’ Liberal Education and America’s Promise framework.  This is just the beginning.

In conclusion…

“As it has with industries from music to news, the logic of digital technology will compel institutions to specialize and collaborate, find economies of scale and avoid duplications” (Kamenetz, 2010, loc. 199 of 336).  Anya’s vision has only started to happen.  So let’s saddle up and get this done.

It’s not time.  It’s long overdue.


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