Technology (Innovations for Education)

Teaching Digital Natives

integrating technology into higher education


When it comes to campus technology, the concept of rapid change has become something of a cliché. But that doesn’t make it any less real. With each new batch of students, it seems, expectations grow when it comes to classroom technology, communications and support services. At the same time, institutions of all types are striving to train and equip faculty and staff with the tools needed to serve students who have grown up in a digital age.

With an eye to both the present and future, here are thoughts from a number of experts on strategies for meeting this ongoing challenge.

“There is a great temptation to jump at the newest technologies. It’s easy to lament the technology arms race, but it’s a real phenomenon. Parents and students want the best possible education that prepares them for the future, and that often equates to the latest and greatest in their minds. Being able to offer the latest technologies is a big selling point for colleges and universities. Our technology-rich classrooms are important stops on campus tours. They communicate important values about the institution and show that this is a place where active learning with technology will happen.

“Discerning whether these technologies actually enhance learning is quite another story. It takes time to study the impact of technology on learning, and those results need to be peer-reviewed, replicated and considered carefully. Technology does not work at the pace of careful peer-reviewed studies. Much of the research that we find on the impact of technology on learning is mixed. Many studies show it makes little to no difference, while others suggest it does.

“Find meaningful and ongoing ways to learn from your faculty regarding their technology needs. Invest in strong support to help faculty integrate (not just use) technology in their courses. Additionally, develop innovative and ongoing ways for faculty to learn about technology and incorporate it into their classrooms. Trainings are good, but technology showcases, individual meetings with faculty, open houses and shorter workshops can help draw faculty into using technology more effectively.”

— Dr. Matt Johnson, associate professor, Department of Educational Leadership, Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, MI

“It is vitally important to understand the tools and resources that you already have at your disposal and to take a functional inventory across the entire institution of which services these tools provide. This inventory should be focused on what the tools DO rather than the product that they are related to. Otherwise, one department may, for example, pursue a specific video collaboration technology without realizing that the department next door is already utilizing a similar product.

“Additionally, the technical expertise and financing for learning technologies should be centralized within the organization to ensure that all staff and students benefit from the institution’s access to the tool. People are incredibly creative at finding their own solutions when they have a clear understanding of how a specific tool or system can work for them.”

— Matthew Cooper, associate provost, Center for Learning and Technology, Thomas Edison State University, Trenton, NJ

“Every institution needs to have a very keen understanding of the needs and expectations of its students, staff and other stakeholders, as well as those in the future (taken into consideration shifts in the education market). Each school can’t be all things to all people so there is a great deal of researching, surveying, and analysis — quantitative and qualitative — that needs to take place to keep investments aligned with institutional goals and strategies.

“College leaders should know that students presume accessibility: lectures online, resources online and that their work and assignments will be accepted online. They must accept that there is a different depository space for ‘things’ and add office hours, appointments, grades online. Many students want to ‘own’ their portfolios in the cloud so they have access to work from any place at anytime. Most students like
chat rooms and engage there. Conversations are compartmentalized and portable. To keep pace, educators must understand these trends and grow with the times.”

— Charlene Aguilar, education practice, Witt/Kieffer executive search firm, Oak Brook, IL

“There are many ways colleges can make best use of technology depending on their needs and resources, but here are a few ideas that have worked at Adelphi and elsewhere in higher education: ask the faculty to lead the way — fostering faculty leaders in each department or unit who can liaise with the instructional design staff and with IT can be very effective, as can forming an educational technology committee within each unit; forming a work group that consists of instructional designers, faculty, staff and students who can set goals and priorities for educational technology at the institution. Another effective approach is to offer sustained professional development programs through the teaching and learning center in the meaningful use of educational technology for teaching. Yet another idea is to offer incentives to faculty and/or programs in the form of teaching grants, stipends or certificates for developing pedagogies that make use of educational technology.”

— Susan Lambert, director of the Faculty Center for Professional Excellence, Adelphi University, Garden City, NY

“Digital learning modalities provide ease of access, affordability and inclusion for an ever-evolving, growing, digital-savvy, higher education population.

“It is imperative that we focus on pedagogical innovation and active learning approaches, and use adaptive learning tools and technologies to reach the students of today, and in the future.”

— Dr. Ulanda Forbess, director of Faculty Professional Development and Distance Education, Wildfire Institute, North Lake College, Irving, TX

“There’s no shame in being a fast follower rather than the first out of the gate. Institutions can afford to wait to see if technology solutions can produce results. And it can also be beneficial to experiment with tools that peer institutions are experimenting with. Professional associations and other networking organizations can help institutions to evaluate solutions together so that their individual risk is mitigated.”

— Dr. Peter J. Stokes, managing director, Huron Education, Chicago

“My best advice to college leaders would be to involve students in the planning and implementation of technology. Since nearly all our students are ‘digital natives,’ we should encourage advice from them on how to effectively implement technology into our courses from their perspective. We often try to pigeonhole new technologies to make them fit with our old methodologies. Students are early adopters of most all new technology and think outside of our box.

“Investing in technology is wonderful, but spending a good deal of time with instructors on how to implement the technology is invaluable. Having colleagues, students and peers share how they use new technologies specifically is very important. Too often training becomes simple presentations on how new technologies ‘could’ be used, and then faculty and staff are left with the enormous, nearly impossible task of figuring out how it ‘should’ work for them.”

— Dr. John McCullough, chair, Education Department, Clarion University of Pennsylvania, Clarion, PA

“It is far too easy to focus on getting the latest technology and lose sight of the purpose of technology in the classroom. Technology is not an end in itself; it is a tool to create high-impact, engaged learning experiences. In our experience, the most learning occurs when faculty have clearly defined learning objectives and consider which mix of tools will best help students achieve those objectives. At times, an engaging video or a game-like simulation may be the best tool to promote learning. But, at other times, learning may occur best when students are confronted with real problems (including ill-defined objectives, limited or imperfect information, time pressure) and asked to apply and integrate what they have learned within those typical real-world constraints.

“In the classroom, as in the workplace, figuring out how to teach students how to get information from a colleague who may be recalcitrant or inarticulate may be as important a learning opportunity for students as figuring out which technical tools to use to analyze the information. Keeping the focus squarely on the student learning experience enables colleges to prioritize and limit investments in technologies to those with the greatest promise to benefit students.”

— Dr. Alison Davis-Blake, professor of Business, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

“Application and use of technology generally lag behind the pace of technological advancement. Experience with developing useful applications with existing technologies drives innovation that may allow universities to leapfrog intermediary states of technology development and advancement. These experiences tell you what else is possible if technology could be advanced even further and to anticipate the availability of that technology.

“There are many possibilities for bringing technology advancements into the classroom without necessarily making a huge investment. The challenge is to bring along a generation of faculty members who may not necessarily be conversant with new technologies — continuous and focused training is important. Some of this will cease to be an issue as a new generation of faculty arrive on campuses around the country, well versed in the new art.”

— Dr. Linda Schadler, vice provost and dean of Undergraduate Education, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

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