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6 Big Challenges Impeding Technology Adoption in Higher Ed

The latest Educause Horizon report names six major barriers to the innovation, adoption or scale of technology in higher education.

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Improving digital fluency, the evolving roles of faculty and advancing digital equity are among the most significant challenges slowing technology adoption in higher education. That's according to the latest Educause Horizon Report, an analysis of the trends and technology developments that are likely to impact higher ed in the short-, mid- and long-term future. After releasing a preview in February, the higher education IT association announced the full version of the report today.

The report defined "significant challenges" as "those that are expected to impede innovation, adoption, or scale." The challenges were organized by difficulty: solvable challenges, or "those that we both understand and know how to solve (though we seemingly lack the will)"; difficult challenges, those that are "generally well understood but for which solutions remain elusive"; and wicked challenges, which are "the most difficult, are complex even to define and thus require additional data and insights before solutions will even be possible."

First, the solvable challenges: improving digital fluency and increasing demand for digital learning experience and instructional design expertise.

Improving digital fluency, or the ability to use digital tools and platforms to "communicate critically, design creatively, make informed decisions, and solve wicked problems while anticipating new ones," is an evolution of digital literacy, a topic that has appeared on a number of previous Horizon Reports. "More nuanced skills of cocreation, in combination with the ability to leverage continuously evolving technologies, constitute competencies beyond what we once considered as literacy," the report explained, adding that "merely maintaining the basic literacies by which students and instructors access and evaluate information is no longer sufficient to support the complex needs of a digitally mediated society." The call for action for institutions is to "support the uses of digital tools and resources by all members of the organization," as well as to "leverage their strategic technologies in ways that support critical thinking and complex problem solving."

The increasing demand for digital learning experience and instructional design expertise is a new topic for the Horizon Report this year, arising out of changing learning models and the growing focus on measuring learning. "The shift to active learning and the measurement of course quality through rubrics like Quality Matters have resulted in a major shift in focus away from training faculty in the use of technology and toward a new emphasis on course development with teams of specialized learning designers," noted the report. In particular, demand is increasing for expertise in the "development and implementation of adaptive learning platforms, competency-based learning pathways, the gamification of learning experiences, the integration of virtual or augmented reality, and other digital learning innovations." Institutions that invest in learning designers and instructional designers "will be better positioned to create rigorous, high-quality programming that serves the needs of all learners."

Next, the difficult challenges: the evolving roles of faculty with ed tech strategies and the achievement gap.

As key stakeholders in the adoption and scaling of digital solutions, faculty need to be included in the evaluation, planning and implementation of any teaching and learning initiative, the report asserted. But a range of challenges often make that easier said than done. The key, according to the report: "identifying learning outcomes and engagement strategies before identifying educational technology solutions," which can help establish "faculty buy-in at the earliest stages of a strategic initiative." Training and professional development for faculty is also essential.

"The growing focus on student success across institutional types indicates the importance of addressing the achievement gap in higher education," the report said, yet, "the ability to define and measure student success remains elusive." While many institutions have turned to solutions such as open educational resources, adaptive courseware, personalized learning pathways and digital tutoring tools, "degree completion in higher education is stymied by factors that go beyond these efforts, and closing the achievement gap continues to be a difficult challenge."

Finally, the wicked challenges: advancing digital equity and rethinking the practice of teaching.

Digital equity, or "comparable access to technology, particularly to broadband connectivity sufficient to access unbiased, uncensored content and to enable full participation on the World Wide Web," conjures up issues such as "income, education, gender, age, ability status, and native language, as well as national, regional, and cultural dimensions," the report indicated. "Access to information and means of expression, as well as the ability to participate in governance, business, and commerce, are essential to the advancement of digital equity," but it's not clear how to achieve that in concrete terms.

"Teaching practices in higher education are evolving, as student-centered approaches to instruction play a growing role in course design," the report said. Particularly, the nature of the instructor is shifting "from transmitter of knowledge to facilitator and curator." That, in turn, requires "strategically planned faculty support and a reevaluation of the role of teaching and instruction." Perhaps there is an element of faculty resistance to change (not explicitly mentioned in the report), but even tech-savvy instructors can find it challenging to create new digital learning experiences on their own. Ultimately, the report called for sustained faculty support, collaboration with instructional design teams, faculty rewards and perhaps even recognition of new pedagogies in the tenure and promotion process.

The Horizon Report is based on insights from a global panel of 98 experts across the higher education landscape who have experience piloting or implementing emerging ed tech, have presented or published in the field, or who have held advisory roles on a campus or in their sector. A comprehensive look at the panel methodology and discussion is available here. The full report is openly available on the Educause site.

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