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6 Key Technologies Moving Teaching and Learning Forward in 2021

technology abstract

Educause's latest Horizon Report outlines the biggest trends shaping teaching and learning this year. In particular, the report identified six technologies and practices that are key to higher education institutions' future planning, whether those topics are newly emerging or evolving from previous years. They are topics that can come, go and return to Horizon Reports from year to year "more organically, reflecting the most current issues," the report explained. In this year's list of key technologies, the categories of artificial intelligence, open educational resources, and learning analytics have made a repeat appearance in the report. They are joined by three new categories: blended and hybrid course models, quality online learning, and microcredentialing. Here are the top six technologies and practices to watch for 2021.

Artificial intelligence. AI is appearing throughout higher education teaching and learning, the report said, touching areas such as learning management systems, proctoring, assessment, student information systems, office productivity, library services, admissions, disability support, mobile apps and more. In most cases, it is used to "address standing or current challenges in teaching, learning, and learner success." Problems of bias in AI technology and the ethics of data capture persist, however, making it essential for higher education not only to be a careful and ethical user of AI, but also to reimagine the teaching mission to better serve students "in a world in which AI is well on its way to becoming commonplace."

Open educational resources. "The global pandemic threw in to stark relief the growing importance of open educational resources," the report asserted. As courses rapidly shifted online, faculty and students turned to digital materials that are free or low-cost and accessible from anywhere, on any device. Still, "it remains to be seen if the pandemic will have any lasting impact on awareness and adoption once students begin returning to face-to-face instruction."

Learning analytics. The report pointed out that learning analytics can be used by many different areas and roles within higher ed institutions. "In addition to instructors, it's common for academic advisors, department chairs, offices of access or disability services, and other areas of academic support to use learning analytics to better understand and interpret the needs and challenges of learner populations." At the same time, with the broad availability and use of data comes ethical issues, including "transparency, data ownership and control, accessibility of data, validity and reliability of data, institutional responsibility and obligation to act, communications, cultural values, inclusion, consent, and student agency and responsibility."

Blended and hybrid course models. The pandemic accelerated the evolution of online and blended learning models, "forcing higher education to become inventive and create an array of new course models to cope with a truly unique situation," the report said. Both students and faculty have had to adapt their practices, and even classroom spaces themselves have needed retrofitting to accommodate new hybrid models. The questions is, post-pandemic will institutions retain these new models, return to more traditional in-person education or pursue some kind of middle ground? The opportunity, the report said, is for higher education to "find the right balance point to best serve its teaching and learning mission."

Quality online learning. Institutions have employed a variety of strategies to help faculty design quality courses and teach effectively online: templates, self-directed courses, consultation, resource hubs of curated materials and more. "Many faculty discovered that teaching online meant more than simply replicating the face-to-face experience through Zoom," the report said, noting that adhering to quality standards is key to improving the online learning experience. After going through the initial move to emergency online instruction, institutions have needed to renew their focus on quality and begin a "more deliberate transformational process that ensures the instructional content is student centered, aligned with programmatic learning outcomes, accessible to all learners, and effectively designed and delivered."

Microcredentialing. Quickly becoming a "mainstay of the higher education landscape, microcredentials are defined as programs of study that "verify, validate, and attest that specific skills and/or competencies have been achieved," the report explained. They are "generally offered in shorter or more flexible timespans and tend to be more narrowly focused" than traditional degrees or certificates. In particular, microcredentials will play a key role in workforce training, as "workforce needs continue to evolve due to changes in technology infrastructure and the resulting upskilling and re-skilling of the workforce." Institutions will need to "rethink their curriculum development processes, the relationships between their credit and noncredit programs, and the ways in which they are serving an increasingly diverse audience of learners," as they "map the trajectory of their response to workforce needs."

The full report and additional materials can be accessed on the 2021 Horizon Project research hub.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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