We kicked off December with yet another debate about the value of technology in the classroom. Professors, educators and administrators chimed in from all sides of the aisle. While some view technology as a hindrance to learning, there’s no refuting its presence and potential to fundamentally shift how we teach and learn. As we’ve already witnessed in industries spanning hospitality to transportation, when incorporated appropriately, technology doesn’t just move the needle–it unleashes both immediate results and lasting change. The education community has a massive opportunity to transform outdated systems and make a difference for students—but as we see again and again, it’s held back by naysayers.

For as much as we debate the impact of technology in the classroom, there’s no denying that higher education is moving to digital and online. This digital revolution will simultaneously boost student engagement and the in-class experience, and reduce costs for students. I’m not just saying that as a plug for EdTech companies everywhere. Big publishers are also taking note. In fact, in 2016, McGraw-Hill announced that in 2015 unit sales of digital platforms and programs exceeded those of print in its U.S higher education group for the first time. Cengage also recently announced a new unlimited, subscription service. According to reports, more than half of students bring at least two internet-connected devices with them to campus and another 22% bring three to four devices. It’s about time higher education started catering to students.

And it’s not just EdTech startups and publishers who have woken up to the potential of technology in the classroom. Federal and state governments are now looking at how technology will reduce the cost of course materials for students through the development of open educational resources (OER) content––low cost or freely available digital content created by educators. The U.S. government recently introduced H.R.3840 – The Affordable College Textbook Act (H.R.3840 — 115th Congress), and earlier this year NY State announced an $8 million commitment to OER. While it remains to be seen how quickly these large, and notoriously slow, institutions can lend a helping hand, it’s evidence we’re moving in the right direction.

Take OpenStax. The nonprofit EdTech initiative estimates its resources are already used at 27% of colleges and universities across the country. Adopting OpenStax content and moving away from traditional publishers has already saved students approximately $77 million in textbook costs in the most recent school year alone. Federal investments in OER could significantly lower college textbook costs and reduce financial barriers to higher education, while making efficient use of taxpayer funds.

However, inroads in EdTech are about a lot more than price and saving students money. Educators should use this opportunity to get creative and push their usage of new technology beyond the status quo. For example, look at how real-time data and social media play a key role in Professor Chris Bone and Professor Amy Lobben’s classes at the University of Oregon. Both professors have developed interactive materials that use everyday resources like social media that students are comfortable with to make learning relatable and immersive. As datasets and social media are updated in real-time in the materials, students develop and rely on core skills to tackle new challenges on the fly. Not only does this use tools students are super familiar with, it’s also just plain fun and a great way to experience the course content in action. The real world isn’t two dimensional and neither should the way we learn be.

Rather than feeling overwhelmed by technology and the booming EdTech industry, educators should embrace the opportunity to reduce costly barriers and improve the in-class experience for students. Doing so, in tandem with support from universities and federal and state programs, will bring the mainstream adoption needed to shore up real results. By incorporating technology strategically, educators can enhance the learning experience and increase student engagement and curiosity. The future of learning lies in striking the most effective balance between digital and in-person educational experiences. We can only get there by exploring new innovations that rethink and challenge the status quo.

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Mike Silagadze is the CEO and Founder of Top Hat. Follow them on Twitter: @Tophat


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