Virtual Roundtable

7 Ed Tech Trends to Watch in 2018

What education technologies and trends will have the most impact in the coming year? We asked four higher ed IT leaders for their take.

Whenever we analyze the landscape of higher education technology, we find a range of trends in various stages of development. There are topics with real staying power, such as learning space design (which has factored into our trends list for several years). Others have evolved over time: Virtual reality made our list in 2016, then expanded to include augmented and mixed reality in 2017, and this year makes up part of a broader concept of immersive learning. And while some topics, like video, have been around for ages, new developments are putting them into a different light.

To help make sense of it all, we asked a panel of four IT leaders from institutions across the country for their thoughts. Here's what they told us.     

Our Panelists

Brian Fodrey
Assistant Dean for Facilities & Information Technology and Chief Information Officer, School of Government, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

David Goodrum
Director of Academic Technology, Information Services, Oregon State University

Thomas Hoover
Chief Information Officer and Dean of the Library, University of Louisiana Monroe

Anu Vedantham
Director of Learning and Teaching Services for FAS Libraries, Harvard Library, Harvard University

1) Data-Driven Institutions

Brian Fodrey: In the age of big data, with leaders focused on making data-driven decisions, having a data and information management strategy in place in IT is no longer just a luxury, but quickly becoming a necessity.

A unified data standardization effort can make all systems and processes better and can be directly managed by assessing how data is collected, cleansed and ultimately stored. Employing a data in-information out mindset forces us to be strategic in why data is being requested, how it is solicited and the manner in which it will inform future offerings, services and/or systems enterprise-wide. Additionally, having reliable data sets also lessens the need for redundant collection points to exist at various application levels, and instead creates a more uniform and positive user experience.

Beyond the capturing and management of data, understanding and recognizing the diversity in where and how all constituents at an institution are consuming various data sets can also lead to learning more about those who value our information, utilize our services and influence how we collect data in the future.

Thomas Hoover: Data and big data have been buzzwords — rightfully so — for the last several years. Universities are making great progress when it comes to using data to help with retention and student success. However, there is still much room for improvement to take advantage of data-driven decision-making across the entire campus.

For instance, data can be used to determine if classrooms are being utilized optimally before new construction projects are kicked off. It can and should be used to determine if aging computer labs should be renewed or transformed into something that is more useful to the university. Efforts like these can not only streamline campus operations, but also ensure that we are making most of the resources we have in the service of teaching and learning.

Another area where data can be used more is GIS data. Historically, GIS data has primarily been used in the hard sciences — but that same data could be analyzed in practically any class on a college campus. Think history, political science, criminal justice, urban planning — there is so much data out there, and we can all do a better job of using it.

David Goodrum: The future of any innovation in teaching and learning is almost always a combination of all — or at least most — of the following: academic discipline, pedagogy, learning environment, data and educational technology. And data-informed research and formative evaluation are the key to avoiding just chasing shiny new objects on the one hand and just staying with what we've always done on the other. The foundational blocks for making any headway in analytics, particularly learning analytics, are: a) institutional (rather than vendor) ownership of data generated by teaching and learning activity; b) transparency of data models created through our data (rather than being proprietary); and c) data and integration standards (such as those shepherded by the IMS Global Learning Consortium).

2) Immersive Learning

Anu Vedantham: Last January, I indulged my curiosity about virtual reality and gamification with a workshop at Harvard organized by Alex Zahlten and presented by Johanna Pirker. It was a joy to spend two days learning the basics of programs such as Unity and PhotoScan. Touching the software hands-on was essential for me to understand why this technology is powerful and how it can be used for more than just first-person-shooter games. Later in the year, for HUBweek, our Cabot Science Library hosted presentations on the Giza Project and the Archaeology of Harvard Yard. My appreciation for the educational potential for VR technologies was deepened after exploring the work of Nicole Mills, who is using VR to capture the feel of different Parisian neighborhoods.

One challenge of this technology is how fast it is moving. Another is that it crosses conceptual boundaries. Is it like watching a movie? Is it like playing a game? Is it like wandering an online landscape without constraint or direction? It has all of these components, which makes it harder to integrate into an educational experience. I'm also interested in how we are exploring other senses — touch, smell and taste — in the context of virtual reality.

3) Digital Course Materials and Assignments

Vedantham: YouTube began in February 2005, and 12 years later, Wikipedia reports 1 billion hours of content watched on the platform each day. The sheer volume of educational video creates challenges for faculty in creating new content, as well as finding and reusing content. During the busy academic semesters, faculty do not have time to watch, curate and clip videos! The cognitive overload of video use can be significant, leading us to look for specialized collections such as Ted Talks and Khan Academy. Harvard's DART initiative is one recent effort to try to help faculty and instructional designers make full use of open access assets created for edX MOOCs.

As we increase dependence on instructional videos, we also need to focus on issues of accessibility for people with a range of needs. I have benefited from the annual Disability Symposium at the University of Pennsylvania for its ability to bring campus together to discuss such issues.

I can skim text material fast to decide if it is worth including in my course. I need a similar tool to assess video content quickly and reliably. Video has emotional and cultural connotations that can be hard for me to predict or control without taking time to watch and digest the content and identify what to include and what to edit out. We need to develop new metaphors for how to work with video content in education in ways similar to the established practices of quotes, paraphrases and adaptations of text content. Our ability to abstract out of specific tools (What do YellowDig, Canvas and Piazza have in common?) and to develop pathways from simple to more complex tools will be needed to maintain momentum.

Goodrum: Digital education is generating new learning opportunities as students engage in online, digital environments and as faculty change educational practices through the use of hybrid courses, personalized instruction, new collaboration models and a wide array of innovative, engaging learning strategies. Furthermore, a 21st century view of learner success requires students to not only be thoughtful consumers of digital content, but effective and collaborative creators of digital media, demonstrating competencies and communicating ideas through dynamic storytelling, data visualization and content curation. As instructors create assignments and develop rubrics for assessing new forms of student work across academic disciplines, faculty and students would benefit from access to new collaborative spaces with the technology and consulting expertise to successfully complete media-rich assignments and projects. One example at Oregon State is in general biology courses, where Senior Instructors Lesley Blair and Mark Lavery infuse their own lectures with media-rich components and have their students include their own media elements in assignments and social media postings. You can follow their journey in changing biology education at and @VividScience on Twitter.

4) Enterprise-wide Video

Goodrum: Being relatively new to Oregon State, I'm lucky to work with Raul Burriel (the streaming media coordinator for Information Services), who was interviewed this past May by Campus Technology about lecture capture, but also mentioned online video platforms that provide enterprise capabilities for recording, managing and delivering videos. In short, at the technological level, institutions are increasingly looking at video holistically. It shouldn't matter where your video was made, what equipment or device was used to make it, or where you're going to use it, because everything should be connected. At the same time, we mustn't conflate everything being connected with needing to buy into one single product. What we should look for is modularity, compatibility, adherence to standards (for formats and integrations as well as data), accessibility and ease of use. We exist in a world today where video equipment and tools are becoming modular and compatible, and the capabilities of consumer smartphones, action cameras and even drones have attracted amateurs and professionals alike. The demand for support for digital fluency is growing; everyone has video tools in their pocket; and communicating via DIY media is increasingly commonplace. An enterprise-wide video strategy can help people throughout the institution convey their work, research and creative activity.

Vedantham: I agree with David on the value of a single video platform that is enterprise-wide. It's a hard goal to achieve, but without it, it's very difficult to streamline and coordinate across departments. Most universities agree that a common e-mail and document-sharing platform makes sense, and I see a common video platform as the next step as we continue to integrate video into our teaching practice.

5) Mobile Tech and the Internet of Things

Fodrey: The work being done across higher education institutions is becoming increasingly mobile, virtualized and geographically dispersed, which affords us to be more collaborative, effective and readily available. Mobile technology provides instant gratification both for efforts inside the classroom and out, but it also increases demands on resources and the expectations of many. Oftentimes, it is managing those expectations that can be the greatest challenge.

The infusion of mobile technologies affords a multitude of opportunities, expanding use cases for how and where people learn and consume information, and allowing institutions to learn more about user behavior in more ways than can be imagined. Mobile technology on a college campus serves a variety of purposes, often with varied levels of success and effectiveness. IT divisions must continue to think about how their systems and infrastructure can scale into platforms and devices that go beyond the traditional and instead into a more competitive, mobile-friendly marketplace.

We must capitalize on the strengths of portability and the BYOD nature of mobile tech, and accept that as a result our faculty, staff and students are going to command new and different support from our IT divisions.

Goodrum: The modern person on the street or in their home may not have the time or attention to understand much about the Internet of Things (unless they ask Siri or Alexa about it), because they are too distracted by their smart-phone, -watch, -exercise tracker, -bulb, -thermostat, -doorlock, -refrigerator with a webcam, etc.

At Oregon State, the College of Agricultural Sciences is developing a precision agriculture curriculum, which is all about generating and using data that will allow farmers to make the best decisions possible. Faculty members in the Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering expect IoT to play a significant role in the generation of data that, when matched with the power of the cloud and scientifically validated algorithms, will allow producers to make smart decisions. Assistant Professor Chet Udell, a faculty member in the department, is developing a multi-term curriculum (funded in part by an Information Systems Learning Innovation Grant) which aims to teach students how to build and develop sensor packages and interact with the cloud, thus putting theory into action. In addition, Professor John Selker runs the Open-Sensing Lab, which focuses on developing environmental sensing projects and research using solid-state sensors of water, atmosphere and soil status. Through the Internet of Agriculture (IoA), the technology for sensors and communication could potentially play a critical role to ensure our ability to feed the human population in 2050.

6) Role of IT

Hoover: IT can and should play a huge role in today's higher education institution. It goes without saying that IT first needs to focus on helping the institution fulfill the university mission and strategic plan. That should be the core responsibility for IT.

IT has the distinct ability to enhance and offer assistance to every department on campus. In this time of decreased public funding for higher education, IT can position itself to be a great resource for the university. On the academic side, IT can streamline the recruitment and enrollment process, as well as assist with retention and helping students to graduate. Those are extremely important areas in states that are moving or have moved to performance-based funding models. On the administrative side, IT can help improve workflow and automate administrative tasks in various departments. As one of my esteemed CIO colleagues says, "IT is the circulatory system of the university."

Another area that IT can play a role is in recruitment. As universities begin to battle for the reduced number of traditional students, a solid information technology infrastructure on a campus could make the difference in which universities students choose. Students are more apt to select a university that invests in technology and uses its information technology innovatively across campus. This is especially true when it comes to technology in the classrooms and collaboration spaces. The bottom line is that students are more apt to choose a university that invests in information technology than a university that just minimally funds technology enhancements across campus.

Fodrey: Due to ever-increasing complexities throughout higher education, IT divisions find themselves juggling a growing service portfolio, addressing seemingly endless challenging fiscal climates and acting as leaders throughout an organization as both service providers and chief innovators.

Put more simply, every project in an organization is in some fashion a technology project — and when IT has a seat at the table, that allows you to ask, what is the organization trying to accomplish? And how can technology support that effort? IT does more than provide the technology, it powers the mission of an institution.

The role IT is to assist in managing organizational change and transform our respective institutions for the future. IT divisions must be able to better predict and deliver what our faculty, staff and students want at the precise moment they want it! This lean-in approach will allow our divisions to help steer the conversation toward a technology footprint that can evolve and that we can best support, as well as divert elsewhere in situations where a technology infusion may take away from the goal or problem being addressed.

Goodrum: Certainly, a key to IT's strategic impact in higher education is to focus on the value proposition, rather than the feature list of the latest technology peaking on the Gartner curve. Can we find a match between needs, delivering value and managing expectations and timelines? There's often a lot of pain when there is a mismatch! Perhaps one analogy would be to consider two appliances that apply detergent and water with the purpose of cleaning: You wouldn't want to put your clothes in the dishwasher and your dishes in the washing machine. Also, as with many of our personal purchases, we too often seek tools with long lists of features, then either avoid using them because they are too complex or only use them for one or two tasks. In our daily lives, we often buy (or receive) things because of convincing marketing, but then leave them in the drawer because the purpose is not a priority or we can't afford the time to learn to use them. Or we buy the tool to satisfy a particular person, when in fact the work will be done by others. The end result of a mismatched technology will be a distraction, or worse, a disruption, keeping everyone from the purpose at hand: teaching and learning, research, service and/or the running of the university.

7) Learning Space Design

Vedantham: Changes in student behavior are informing the design of learning spaces on university and college campuses, often creating pressure on campuses with older building infrastructure. For example, new library spaces now emphasize casual interaction, movable furniture, writable surfaces, transparency and multimedia creation. Our Cabot Science Library with its media studios opened in April 2017 to rave reviews. The 2017 Designing Libraries conference featured us and several other new spaces.

Changes in physical space also require changes in policies (ease of entry, longer hours, friendliness to food, noise and sleep) and an acceptance of the student as a whole person. Connecting library capabilities to classrooms and residential housing multiplies the impact of space investment, enabling course assignments that can be more creative and ambitious. To get there, we need to look at our campuses as an ecosystem of interconnected spaces and ask: How do students experience our buildings over the course of the day? How can we better understand their behaviors and space needs? How can planning conversations be inclusive and flexible to increase the ROI for learning spaces?

As our understanding of neuroscience deepens, we begin to appreciate the emotional aspects of learning space design, and the importance of spaces that build confidence, feel welcoming and create a sense of inspiration and wonder.

Looking Back

Read last year's take on the biggest trends in education technology: "11 Ed Tech Trends to Watch in 2017."

Goodrum: The range of active learning approaches that can be used to foster in-class interaction include: practice and feedback; knowledge application; students making judgements, comparisons, synthesis and analysis; individual and group problem solving; and even student-to-student instruction. There's also substantial research supporting increased use of active learning methods in general. A large-scale comparison of science teaching methods led by University of Washington researcher Scott Freeman showed that courses that include active learning activities in the classroom led to increased student exam scores and decreased failure rates. Various approaches to active learning classrooms have had considerable success at schools such as MIT, North Carolina State, University of Minnesota, University of Iowa, Indiana University and others. At Oregon State, faculty have also looked to address the potential for increasing engagement in even the large lecture hall as they worked to design a new general classroom building, the Learning Innovation Center (LInC). In the LInC, round lecture halls keep students in the last row within 45 feet of the instructor and facing the majority of their fellow students, with researchers studying the impact in an effort called The Geometry of Learning.

Hoover: At the University of Louisiana Monroe, we have completed a deselection of the library's stacks collection. We are in the process now of redesigning those newly created open spaces in the library and forming an information commons for our students. In all of our research and fact gathering there have been some very interesting, and sometimes surprising, findings. Among them: students crave collaboration space; they desire multiple types of seating, which also includes varied seating heights; they want individual study room space and group study room space; students find whiteboard easels very useful in group and individual study work; and they need access to technology that allows for content to be easily shared among a group of students.

We are working closely with our students, faculty and staff to help develop these spaces that will truly meet the needs of our students not only now but for the next five years.

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