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Department of Ed Outlines Vision for Tech in Higher Education

The best use of technology in higher education offers tools to help students explore their interests and evaluate various pathways; gives clear information about the costs; helps them identify where they need help in preparing for college-level work; and delivers course programming in ways that fit around other priorities in their lives. So suggested the U.S. Department of Education in a report issued just before the agency said goodbye to its top leaders.

Publication of "Reimagining the Role of Technology in Higher Education," issued earlier this month, turned out to be one of the last official acts performed by outgoing Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell, who oversaw programs related to postsecondary education for the department under Secretaries Arne Duncan and John King.

The report serves as an enhancement to the department's "National Education Technology Plan," a document that has been updated and published about every five years to articulate how technology can be used to expand education. A lot of the emphasis for the national report tends to be on K-12. That's why the department undertook development of a supplement that would focus more on higher education, according to Joseph South, director in the Office of Education Technology. South and Sharon Leu, senior policy advisor for the department, sought input from higher ed IT people in an Educause session during the IT association's annual conference last October.

The resulting 84-page document lays out a vision for the use of tech in higher ed in the areas of learning, teaching and assessment. The importance of technology in education "as a tool for innovation" is a given, said South. "But it's also an incredible tool for equity." The same kinds of systems in use by colleges and universities that help "students on the fringe," he noted, also help "all of their students."

Much of the content will be familiar to Campus Technology readers — delivering anytime learning, tapping open educational resources, using data to improve instruction. But what stands out are numerous case studies that illustrate the recommendations and turn the report into a veritable blueprint for designing a 21st century institution.

Among the programs profiled:

  • CHEO, a community college consortium working across five highly rural states to increase the numbers of skilled workers in the allied health field using blended and virtual courses;
  • JUICE, an online learning platform created by College for America that offers self-guided modules for project-based learning, that can be used by the student alongside college-level classes as an alternative to non-credit bearing developmental courses; and
  • Classroom Notebook, a software program that helps faculty at LaGuardia Community College in Queens develop and improve their teaching practices.

The goal, said South, is to "stimulate a conversation and inspire people to action."

Mitchell introduced the plan in remarks at Northeastern University last week. During his final speech as undersecretary, he suggested that the report could be used to address the "increasing numbers of diverse learners" who come to school with a myriad of educational goals. "We must 'make room' for new Americans, for vulnerable Americans, first generation students, immigrants and older adults ... for the new normal college student," he said. "We must innovate, and not just in technical ways, to support their pathways to success."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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