Earlier this year, the Office of Educational Technology released a sweeping report examining how technology can be used to foster student-centered learning in institutions of higher education in the United States. The report is a supplement to the National Educational Technology Plan released by the office in 2016 that offered a similar vision of educational technology in K12 schools. Titled Reimagining the Role of Technology in Higher Education, this report clearly focuses on the challenges and opportunities that colleges and universities face. For instance, the document starts with an overview of the “new normal” students currently enrolled in higher education. Drawing on data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the report identifies that 74% of undergraduate students have at least on “nontraditional characteristic.” Maybe they have transfer from another institution (66%). Or maybe they work a part-time or full time job (62%). They may also have a dependent (26%) or be a first-generation college student (63%). Factor in those students who are attending part time (43%) and those who are enrolled in two-year colleges (35%) and you can see that the “nontraditional” umbrella is really inclusive. Recognizing this student population, the report asserts that:
“technology must serve the needs of a diverse group of students seeking access to high-quality postsecondary learning experiences, especially those students from diverse socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, students with disabilities, first-generation students, and working learners at varying life stages— all with differing educational goals, but who all share the desire to obtain a postsecondary credential.” (p. 4)
To meet this end, the report offers several ways that technology can be used to “improve and enhance learning.” These include:
- Technology enables students to access learning opportunities apart from the traditional barriers of time and place.
- Technology lets students access learning opportunities outside of formal higher
education institutions, such as at their workplace or in community settings.
- Technology allows students to access high-quality learning resources, regardless of
their institution’s geographical location or funding.
- Technology enables enhanced learning experiences through blended learning models.
- Technology supports students in their learning based on individual academic and
non-academic needs through personalization.
- Technology can ensure that students with disabilities participate in and benefit from educational programs and activities.
In addition to this outline of technological benefits, the report provides case studies to show how these aspects are playing out at different institutions across the country. Despite these examples, I was left with the feeling that these were largely aspirations of a possible future for technology at colleges and universities rather than an actual representation of the larger landscape. Not to sound overly gloomy or negative, but I don’t see widespread, consistent use of technology to support students with disabilities. I also don’t see many institutions offering “personalized” learning experiences for students. While there are some schools that are adopting high quality OERs to meet the needs of students, I don’t see this broadly across schools.
But that’s the point of the report. Rather than capture the world as it is, the document is designed to show the possibilities and offer a vision of an educational future where technology is used to engender these aspects. It doesn’t represent the world as it is, but as what it could be. It’s a “reimagined” future, where the “new normal” students have greater access to educational opportunities through the use of technology. While I appreciate this focus, I also wish that the report would have given readers a clear guide for how to get to this “reimagined” future.
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, Reimagining the Role of
Technology in Higher Education: A Supplement to the National Education Technology Plan, Washington, D.C., 2017.