Information technology is transforming higher education by making it more convenient, personal, and affordable. Those and other conclusions are found in  Game Changers: Education and Information Technologies, a free ebook released this week by Educause, an association of higher ed IT leaders. Director Diana G. Oblinger edited the volume and contributed a chapter.

Oblinger suggests that innovators in higher ed employ “unique combinations of IT, openness, analytics, and student engagement” to achieve their goals.   The book includes chapters and case studies that highlight six themes.

1. Changing the learning experience: time, convenience, and integration of information can change the educational experience.   In Oblinger’s contributed chapter she drills down on six specific ways that IT is transforming the learning experience:

  • Augmented reality “which uses mobiles and context-aware technologies to allow participants to interact …in a physical setting)
  • Assessment that incorporates “detailed observations of performance.”
  • Apprenticeship models that blend online and onsite experiences with professionals (see NanoHUB.org)
  • Hard fun including games, simulations and immersive experiences.
  • Feed-forward: “Along with providing feedback, the learning experience should draw learners into new experiences, engaging them in “wanting to know” and connecting them with how to learn more. Recommendation systems can sup- port ‘feed-forward’ mechanisms, e.g., suggesting the next course or experience.”
  • Structured autonomy with a pathway with prompts that help learners past obstacles.

2. Guiding & personalization: IT allows students to make better decisions, such as about course selections, transfer options, and degree programs.

To boost degree completion rates, “Choosing the best course, sequence of courses, and program of study is a game changer for students and institutions.” Oblinger includes examples of examples of course advisory systems such as Austin Peay State University’s course recommendation system, Degree Compass.

3. Learner-centered designs put students at the heart of program design. Driven by big data analytics learning models and support services can be customized.

Increasingly students are unbundling and rebundling with an “ability to mix-and-match in new ways makes it possible for institutions to change traditional models.”  Oblinger cited WGU, P2PU as examples.

4. Research on students and on what works drives innovation and adoption.

More broadly, IT is boosting collaboration by providing “an infrastructure that allows individuals to contribute what they know to a collective work that becomes better through sharing and use.”  Oblinger points to the potential of crowdsourced innovation.

5. Open solutions are inherently scalable because they can be reused, remixed, and repurposed.  “The Open-CourseWare Consortium, the Saylor Foundation’s open college course- ware, and the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges’ Open Course Library are examples.”

6. Scaling moves beyond non-invented-here to quality at scale.

Vernon Smith, CAO at MyCollege Foundation, said, “To increase the number of graduates produced, the nation will need high-quality solutions that leverage technology to achieve impact at scale.“  In addition to better analytics on student progress, Smith pointed to competency-based program design as an area of opportunity , “Competency-based assessment in all or part of a course would change the way progress toward college completion is documented, with far-reaching implications.”

One of the far-reaching implications of competency-based learning is the explosion of informal and non-traditional post secondary learning options.  This volume considered a few.  But when students can learn anything anywhere and then earn credit by showing what they know it will increase the pressure on folks selling an expensive time-bound product.  Smith acknowledged that “Acceleration of completion through a competency-based model is challenging” for traditional institutions and policy makers.

The volume is worth a look particularly for folks in traditional institutions of higher learning.

Also see College 2.0: An Entrepreneurial Approach to Reforming Higher Education, a Kauffman report published this week.

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