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Campus Technology Insider Podcast May 2021

Listen: 2021 Teaching and Learning Trends: What the Horizon Report Means for IT

Rhea Kelly: Hello, and welcome to the Campus Technology Insider podcast. I'm Rhea Kelly, executive editor for Campus Technology, and your host.

For many years, the Horizon Report has been tracking trends, technologies and key practices in teaching and learning. But this year, there's one striking difference: the impact of a global pandemic on practically every aspect of higher education. In some ways, colleges and universities may never be the same. But in other ways, trends that were important before COVID-19 have persisted, even as we view them through a new lens. To make sense of it all, I spoke with Kathe Pelletier, director of Educause's Teaching and Learning Program and co-author of the report, about key technology trends, their impact on IT departments, new education models, and more. Here's our chat.

Hi Kathe, welcome to the podcast.

Kathe Pelletier: Thanks so much. It's great to be here.

Kelly: So I want to talk about the new Teaching and Learning Edition of the Horizon Report. But first, I thought we could reflect over the past year a bit, because it's just stunning to me to think that last year's report, you know, it came out in early March, I can remember. And we were basically on the brink of a global pandemic and largely unaware of the challenges that were ahead. Was that something that went into the thinking in this year's report?

Pelletier: Yeah, it's really crazy to look back and think about how much has changed since then. In the early stages, the project, we really spent a lot of time thinking about how much we wanted to, I'll put in quotes, allow the pandemic to impact the discussions of the panel. And it's really funny to think about how naive we were back then. And, you know, of course, the pandemic has affected so many areas of all of our lives globally. But we really naively wanted to rise above it or something like that. And which just goes to show how it's impossible to predict the future. But, but we really quickly realized that it was impossible to extricate the pandemic and the panel discussions and really kind of leaned into it. And one thing that came out that I thought was really interesting is that, as you probably have noticed, if you've read the report, that several of the trends did persist from 2020. And those were mental health, the digital divide, and funding for higher education, for example. But even those trends have kind of a pandemic flavor. So, you know, for example, we know that 80 percent of students reported, early on in the pandemic even, that their mental health was worse off, compared with before. And in the Los Angeles school system, a striking one in four households lacked essential network access. So in terms of digital divide, that's a really stark example. And then, in terms of the funding for higher education, we learned in an Educause quick poll that two-thirds of respondents reported budget cuts to their IT units in the 2021, or 2020 to 2021, academic year. So even though the trends seem to carry over from last year, COVID really flavored what they looked like in this year. And I'm happy to talk about the new trends, too, which is really interesting and of course, flavored by the pandemic as well. And so I'm going to talk a little bit about methodology. And I don't want to geek out too much, but I think it's really interesting. So we use what's called the modified Delphi method that we've adapted from the Institute for the Future. And our first step is to scan for different types of macro trends. So we look for social, technological, environmental, economic, and political trends. And we have the lovely acronym of STEEP that helps you to remember those. And this year, the entire set of trends in the technological category are completely brand new, which is not surprising when you think about higher ed's really abrupt leap to delivering remote learning. And so, you know, for example, we've got widespread adoption of hybrid learning models, increased use of learning technologies, and online faculty development. So you know, if you look back to early 2020, I don't think anyone would have guessed that these would have come out as Horizon Report trends. And there's, you know, a ton of examples in the kind of signals or the evidence for these trends, that the pandemic obviously shaped the way that we were using and even finding new technologies to use in the classroom.

Kelly: I know in the, I think it's in the technology category, the report noted that there's the increased use of learning technologies is a big trend, or will be this year. And I'm just curious how you think that impacts IT, you know, if there's going to be wider adoption, ongoing innovation and the use of new tools for learning, like, how are institutions going to manage that from an IT standpoint?

Pelletier: Yeah, that's really huge. And not, you know, not just from the work of the Horizon Report panel, but from every nook and cranny from IT and teaching and learning professionals that I've talked to over the last year. The proliferation and increased use of learning technologies has really impacted IT. And in some ways, it's kind of a be careful what you wish for kind of moment, because I know for a long time, a lot of IT and academic technology folks were hoping that more faculty would be interested to use instructional technology tools. But now faculty have come to rely on tools like videoconferencing, or team-based platforms or virtual classrooms as really essential to their learning. And you know, it's not just faculty, of course, advisers, mental health counselors, tutors, all sorts of other offices that also had to go remote, are leveraging either new technologies or technologies and new ways to continue to serve students. And it's not just the kind of increased use of technologies for those on campus, but new providers are popping up all over the place as well. We've got tech startups like Engageli that has, like, within a year, they launched a brand new videoconferencing platform, and they now have more than 30 campuses that they're hosting. So there's just so much happening, that has got to be a real load on IT. And so I've actually been thinking about this a little bit from the frame of the hype cycle. It's not exactly a match, because we're not talking about a specific technology. But, so, hear me out. Hopefully, this will make sense. So if you think about emergency remote teaching is kind of the technology trigger that can lead to that peak of inflated expectations where everybody's like, oh my gosh, this is the thing, we need this thing, or in this case, really the peak use of instructional technology. And we're still kind of probably hovering right around the top of that curve, where people are still, although exhausted, really excited about the way that we've been able to leverage technologies to serve and to teach students. But we're probably maybe on the downslope perhaps, possibly because IT now needs to manage what have might become a really bloated tech stack or portfolio of various technologies. And too, because there are some that probably, of course, do really want to return to the classroom and kind of back to normal, so to speak. So if you think about the hype cycle, you've got what comes next is the trough of disillusionment, and then you kind of dip back up again, into the slope of enlightenment and the plateau of productivity. Those are all very fancy sounding words, but when you think about, you know, IT departments on campus managing all of these technologies, campuses that have really strong service management practices, that very intentionally kind of think about the catalog of technologies that they support and help faculty and staff use on their campuses, when you have a strong service management practice, they'll probably have a leg up to start figuring out what technologies that they want to still formally support, or the technologies that they might say, you know what, it's okay for faculty to use this on their own in their classroom, we don't need to support it formally, it's just you know, it's just kind of an individual use kind of thing, and then others that they have to extinguish. And so I think, eventually, we'll see that the instructional technology portfolios will maybe become a little leaner than they are, but probably, and hopefully more strategic and more expansive than a year ago. But then when you think about things like the macro trends I talked about earlier in terms of shrinking higher education funding, and IT budgets, you know, there's this tension where campuses might be seeing the value and investing in instructional technology, but they're faced with difficult budgetary decisions. So then, you know, we add in the other trends, like the widespread adoption of hybrid learning and online faculty development, there's still this energy for continued growth in learning technology. So I think, you know, the short answer your question is, of course, IT is feeling the load of this increased use and interest in instructional technology, but hopefully we'll find this kind of middle way to a kind of strategic approach to managing that service catalog.

Kelly: Do you think that some institutions or IT departments will be pushing to standardize? Or are they just kind of going to accept this growth, you know, as the new normal?

Pelletier: I think it depends. I mean, that's kind of an easy answer to give. But, I do think it depends on how big the campuses and what their previous practices might have been, you know, a small campus might be able to tolerate a little bit more differentiation in the way that they're supporting different technologies, but then again, they might have a smaller IT staff to be able to support the, you know, handful of technologies that the individuals are using. So I think, you know, the funding, the resourcing of the IT staff and the capabilities of the IT staff, as well as the kind of the overall culture in terms of standardization, whether it's centralized or decentralized or open to innovation, open to kind of experimentation at the local level, I think that will that will make a lot of difference and how that comes out.

Kelly: Yeah lots of variation across institutions. And also, I'm wondering, do you think this will result in more data on you know, what kinds of learning tools really work? What maybe needs improvement or is not worth using, is not engaging students or whatever?

Pelletier: Gosh, I really hope so. I know some of the folks on the ELI advisory board who are working on campuses have been kind of begging and pleading to their colleagues to measure what they're doing, you know, document what you're doing so that you can measure it later, and have a baseline for what's working and what's not working both in terms of, you know, technologies, of course, but also practices as well. And I, you know, worry is probably too strong of a word, but I suspect that many folks on campuses were just, you know, kind of full throttle, figuring out how the heck to do, you know, to continue serving students, that they may not have stopped to, you know, set up a hypothesis and capture baseline data and then, you know, come back and circle back to that later. But, you know, I do think over time, we will see emerging data about what's working both, again, in terms of technologies as well as practices. And, you know, one interesting thing too, is that you'll see in the report, when we talk about the blended and hybrid models, that there are so many different hybrid models that we almost didn't know what the heck to call this section, because there's so much variation in terms of, you know, is it in the classroom? Or is it online? So the place makes a difference. Is it synchronous or is it asynchronous? And is there a choice on the part of the student, and, you know, there are some campuses that have more than one hybrid offering, you know, five to 10, to 12, hybrid offerings for each faculty to have the option to use and so the proliferation of the models, too, I think will make it challenging to evaluate effectiveness. But I sure hope that we are, and that, you know, that's something that within Educause that we can commit to with a view of the field to make sense of what we've been testing and see what works to be able to sustain what works and to not do what doesn't work.

Kelly: Yeah, there's a lot of throwing around of the word HyFlex. And, you know, kind of not always clear what that means. So speaking of hybrid and blended course models, that brings up the next section of the report, which is all about the key technologies and practices, as opposed to the trends, that are impacting the future of teaching and learning. And I noticed that blended and hybrid rated the highest in terms of its deemed, the post-pandemic importance. So could you talk a little more about how you see those models playing out post-pandemic?

Pelletier: Yes. And if you would indulge me in another brief methodological detour. You referred to the rating of the post-pandemic importance, I'll just share for our listeners that, in round three of the panel discussion related to key technologies and practices, we had the panelists assess the challenges and benefits of going forward with each of the top six of, I think it was a total of like 144 original techs and practices that eventually got whittled down to that top six. And so, in addition to asking panelists to evaluate how important each one would be in the future post-pandemic, particularly for institutions seeking to establish more flexible approaches to teaching and learning, we also asked them to rate how useful it might be in addressing issues of equity and inclusion, the potential to have a significant and positive impact on learning outcomes. We also asked about the risk of failure, the cost and how receptive faculty might be. So there's, and then we also asked if new types of literacies might be required on the part of learners and, or an instructor. So we kind of got the sense of the kind of possible future of each of these key technologies and practices based on those ratings. So for sure, when you think about flexibility, post-pandemic, blended and hybrid models is certain to rise to the top. And I believe that was rated like 3.6 out of 4 or something like that, which was the highest rating out of all of the top six. And, yeah, so I think there are so many of these different models that it's almost mind boggling how to begin to describe them here in brief. And I'll just share, you know, again, kind of a detour from the Horizon Report. But to share something that's relevant here is, Educause invited Brian Beatty, who was the originator of the HyFlex terminology, to deliver a learning lab for us, which is like a mini course. And I think that launched in February. And it was like the best concert that came to pass, where it was sold out in an instant. And we had a waiting list. And people were knocking on our door saying, we really want to take this course. So we invited Beatty and his colleagues back for the next month, that one sold out really quickly. And we ended up I think the next one is like June or July. And I haven't looked at the registration recently but it's either close to full or full already. And so first that demonstrates the interest in HyFlex in particular. But I'll share a couple of conversations that we had during that lab and where folks were kind of probing Beatty to say like, what makes it HyFlex, what's the difference between hybrid and HyFlex, and I'm doing this on my campus does that count as HyFlex and, and eventually, the group really decided number one Beatty would say that it's the student choice that makes something HyFlex, that the student is able to select into participating, either virtually in each class session or come to campus in each class session. But they ultimately, the group said it didn't really matter what you called it, but the fact that we were kind of taking this student-centered mindset to setting up opportunities for students to learn was really important. And the ability for that particular campus to host it was really the important aspect, because there's, of course, lots of, you know, technology involved and faculty training involved, and student culture and what they want and how they might participate. So I, it's, it feels like there's just so much energy that it must be here to stay. But, you know, similar to the proliferation of technologies, I suspect that we may settle down and kind of find ourselves with fewer variations. But again, hopefully for evaluating what's working, we'll be able to have these evidence-based practices that are really delivering on that student-centered mission.

Kelly: It does seem like once students get a taste of that choice, you know, that the sort of their expectations of what the college experience is going to be is forever changed.

Pelletier: Yeah.

Kelly: So I thought it was interesting in that category of blended and hybrid course models, I mean, usually when you talk about blended and hybrid, you're mostly talking about course design. But the report also touched on the need to redesign physical classrooms, which of course, I mean, that's a vital part of hybrid. So I'm just curious how you think the idea of what the classroom of the future is, has changed with the advent of hybrid?

Pelletier: Yeah, it's kind of fascinating and somewhat ironic that, you know, a pandemic that forced everybody into emergency remote teaching and out of the classroom has led actually to a lot of investment back into the classroom. And, you know, we have several examples in the Horizon Report of campuses that have invested, you know, in the millions of dollars in installing technology upgrades in hundreds of their classrooms. So it really is incredible how much, again, how much energy this has and how much campuses are investing in this. And, you know, there's also a number of universities, I think University of Massachusetts at Amherst is an example that offers a hybrid learning tech package that both equips faculty with different technology options they can deploy in the classroom, and the training to use these tools, but also the flexibility for faculty to use their own devices and plug them in and kind of, you know, get hooked into the mainframe, so to speak, and use that to deliver their class and then in the hybrid version of that particular faculty's preference. I really do think that when we think about classroom of the future, it's, you know, we've been talking about this student-centeredness, and what students have come to expect. And I'm really, I'll be interested to see if the student expectations as well as the kind of vision of the student-centered orientation of hybrid models will live up to that ideal in the future. I think that, you know, we think about the place, the classroom as a place, you know, that's not only gone from, you know, lecture halls with lots of rows of students sitting super crammed in there, to an AV-equipped room, but also, lots of campuses are delivering their classes outside now. And so it's almost like the informal which is, you know, perhaps less hybrid, certainly, you know, you can bring the laptop outside and Zoom in people from there, but I think the classroom of the future has, you know, we've knocked down the walls, so to speak, of what the classroom of the future is. And, again, there's just so many great examples in the Horizon Report of what campuses are doing that, you know, I want to just give a commercial here, read the report, everybody, because there's so many cool examples. Like one of the examples in the exemplars from the hybrid and blended learning was actually doing a theater production hybrid, where they patched in the folks on video with the actors that were on the stage. And, you know, that's, you know, certainly an outlier, not everybody's gonna do a theatre production. But there's just so much, really, that's interesting about how people are thinking about the classroom and what that looks like, and how we can use technology as well as really innovative teaching practices to bring that to life.

Kelly: Mm hmm. Yeah, you know, I'm curious, I know that Educause has the Learning Space Rating System. And I wonder how much that needs to change to sort of, you know, start evaluating these new sort of models of classroom design?

Pelletier: Yeah, that you know, that is, that was an interesting conversation with the advisory group. We really wrestled with, we actually finished version three, right, I want to say it was June. So there were a few months, we were a few months into the pandemic, but we knew it was here to stay. But we'd already done all the work on going from version two to version three. And we had added one section about inclusive spaces, and that has several components to it, both physical inclusion, cognitive inclusion, as well as cultural inclusion. And we'd also adjusted the numerical rating, like the point system, to really push for active learning, as well as interestingly, as well as more space, so to speak. So more space, but for each student to occupy in their own little bubble. And more flexibility in how the equipment in the room and the space is used. And we also have a section on the technological capabilities. And so the group really kind of took a pandemic lens to the Learning Space Rating System before we officially launched it to make sure that it was in fact relevant. And we decided, yeah, actually, we were kind of prescient in how we were thinking about the updates to the Learning Space Rating System, and released it as we had done it. But I'm sure that we'll learn even more as we go, that will lead to even more updates. You know, the outside space is one that it's like, well, how do you rate that? What does that look like? So I'm sure we'll continue to keep that updated.

Kelly: That's really interesting work. Another topic that in the report that I thought was pretty interesting was the micro credentialing as one of the key technologies and practices, mainly because it's one of those areas, I think that really could threaten, you know, the traditional model of higher education. You've got providers like Coursera, or even Google offering credentials that are directly tied to job skills, you know, and this is all sort of calling into question the value of a traditional degree and all of that. So what do you see that are the big issues in this area that higher ed institutions need to consider?

Pelletier: Yeah, that's, you know, micro credentialing is so interesting, because it's another one it's been kind of around for a while, you know, I mean, like, it's not like a new fancy practice. And even some, you know, there are emerging aspects to the technology related to micro credentialing, which I'll talk about in just a minute. But on its face, you might just wonder like, well, why is micro credentialing in the Horizon Report? But I do think it's worth looking at more deeply. You know, you mentioned Coursera, which has been around for a while, Google is a newer player in the non-academic player game of micro credentials. But, you know, just like we talked about the shifts and lenses, we understood some of the other trends that carried over from last year, I think, you know, that's a way to look at micro credentialing as well. But I also want to acknowledge that even though we've got Coursera and Google and other of those non-academic providers offering micro credentials, there is really a groundswell of campuses who are and have been actually. And I think it's, not to be too pollyanna on it, but I do think that colleges can and should really seriously think about a micro credentialing strategy. And really, a micro credential is just a mini version of a program of study that ultimately packages and verifies skills and competencies. And so, you know, theoretically, a larger degree program would be doing the same thing. So a micro credential is really just a focused, more focused than that. But I feel like, you know, it's the age-old question of, well, should a higher ed program be job focused? Or should it be teaching, you know, people how to be human and be a citizen, or how to, you know, a coming of age experience. And certainly, you know, the coming of age experience for college students in the last year and a half has been quite different than those that would have gone to a traditional campus, but I think we will continue to see the need to upskill and reskill. And, in fact, one of the trends in the Horizon Report is that the workforce is changing in expectation, you know, there's this kind of ongoing need for that upskilling reskilling that might even be increasing in velocity, so to speak. And so as those both within higher ed and outside of it will continue to need to adapt to the changing demands of their jobs, I think it would behoove campuses and higher ed to invest in the architecture, the infrastructure and the workflow that they would need to develop and implement various forms of credentialing. So that could look something like the academic work of tightening up the curriculum pathways or, and creating maybe a stacked credential. So you've got little mini degrees, that students can collect them along the way to the larger degree, or, and maybe within that, or outside of that develop more explicit competencies that map to either the technical skills that we're talking, you know, that people think about when they think about job skills, or the cross-cutting skills, that are things like critical thinking, cross-cultural competence, playing well with others, that kind of thing. That really, you know, higher ed, I think, has cornered the market on and those kinds of transferable skills. So I think that there's that kind of laying the groundwork and architecture and strategy in terms of curriculum and thinking about degree programs slightly differently in smaller chunks. But then on the other side of things on the technical side, IMS Global also just released a Comprehensive Learner Record or CLR specification. And that's a little bit techie. But basically, that means that the Comprehensive Learner Record specification is something that will allow different bits of information about learning to kind of talk to each other. And so, you know, Comprehensive Learner Records ultimately are like extended transcripts that include lots of data about learning and employment, all sorts of things, academic and workplace recognition, etc. And not just happening within the classroom. So that technical arts architecture of Comprehensive Learner Records and the advancement by having this specification is really a huge step forward for higher education. And in fact, in some ways, a way for higher education and industry to work together because, you know, as I mentioned, the Comprehensive Learner Record includes both academic achievements but also workplace achievements as well.

So, yeah, it's, I'm a curriculum nerd. So the idea of more people thinking more intentionally about their curriculum and making it more agile and relevant and current — it just seems like, that, there's just so much vast, amazing potential there.

Kelly: Yeah. Well, what I'm hearing is that it's not really about changing the model of higher education, but more about documenting, you know, the things that are already happening in those smaller chunks.

Pelletier: Yeah, yeah, that's a great way to say it.

Kelly: Do you think that higher ed institutions need to consider, you know, something like Google a competitor? Or is there, more like there's room for every kind of job training out there?

Pelletier: Yeah, I, you know, I don't know, it's hard to say, because I, you know, Google certainly has stood up a vast library of learning opportunities, you know, what seems like overnight, but I, you know, looking back to the MOOCs, where, I think for a while higher ed was feeling like the MOOCs would be a big kind of direct competitor, and that's kind of settled into a more parallel structure. And then, you know, you've got your boot camps, which, similarly, I think there was a lot of hubbub about, like, all the boot camps are going to take all the computer science students, but it just seems like it meets such a different need. But that being said, as the workforce changes, and as we're living and working and learning differently, you know, there may be something that we haven't seen before in terms of a more direct competitor, but I feel like there's, higher ed can and should and maybe will reinvent itself. And it's not for me to say what that will look like. But I do think that being aware of these possible competitors, as something that, to kind of create a scenario about so to speak, is something for leaders in higher ed to consider, not necessarily like it's a done deal or expected. But you know, for a planning opportunity to make sure that we are doing all that we can for our students, and that we're living up to the value proposition and that the value proposition that we are providing and articulating for students is something that actually does bring value to them.

Kelly: So one last question, and I hope it's not an impossible question. But if there is a single concept or lesson that you think higher ed institutions should take away from this year's horizon report, what would that be?

Pelletier: Oh, yes, that. So I'm going to dodge the question of actually picking one thing, but I do think that, but I have one thing that I really want to kind of leave our listeners with. And so again, commercial for the Horizon Report, there's so much meaty stuff in there, I think I would really encourage folks to read it, it feels long, but it really reads really easily, I think. But I'm going to go back to the methodology and actually, to build on something I just mentioned. So when Educause started using the modified Delphi method I described that we adapted from the Institute for the Future, we really got out of the prediction business. I think prior to that, the Horizon Report really was kind of positioned as like we're gonna see into the future of five years, this is going to be the thing, or in 10 years, this is gonna be a thing. And the Horizon Report really isn't intended to be a prediction tool. It's intended to be a planning tool. And so I mentioned scenario planning earlier and thinking about, like, what's the potential dynamic with the non-academic providers in competition with higher education. And you'll see at the end of the report that we do have four scenarios, and we have one related to growth, we have one related to constraint, and we have one related to collapse. Don't read that one when you're feeling sad already, because it's really depressing. And one related to transformation. And these, these are true scenarios. So we made them up kind of with the data that we were hearing from the panel. So we didn't just you know, make them up out of thin air, but they are made up, as scenarios are intended to be. And they're really supposed to be used as what ifs, so leaders can use these scenarios to think about how their institution might fare in that possible future. So they can determine the best course of action, whether it's, you know, we need to fill these gaps or we need to invest over here, we need to think more about that possible future and be really strategic about those investments. And certainly campuses and leaders can make up their own scenarios too. We don't have the, we haven't cornered the market on scenario writing. So I feel like that is what I would like to leave our listeners with. That we're, the Horizon Report is intended to be that kind of planning tool and I think a rich one at that. And, you know, when I think about, like holy cow, I'm so incredibly proud and in awe of all my colleagues on campuses who made the amazing effort to continue serving students in new and innovative and compassionate ways during the pandemic. I think we can say that higher ed may not have been super prepared for this big pivot. So using a tool like the Horizon Report and the scenarios can set us up to be much more nimble and flexible when the future brings us the unexpected again.

Kelly: Yeah, so considering possible futures, not predicting, and that helps us prepare for the future better. I like it. Thanks so much for coming on. It was great talking to you.

Pelletier: Yeah. My pleasure. Thank you.

Kelly: Thank you for joining us. I'm Rhea Kelly, and this was the Campus Technology Insider podcast. You can find us on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify and Stitcher, or visit us online at Let us know what you think of this episode and what you'd like to hear in the future. Until next time.

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