While some may regard the recent buzz around education technology as hype, it’s important to realize it is based on an element of hopefulness.
The hope is that technology can offer personalized and adaptive delivery of curricula, improve outcomes, and better prepare students for tech-driven workplaces. At a time of significant national concern with the price of higher education, there is also hope that innovative technology could reduce these costs.
Too often, focus is placed on technology as a panacea or replacement for human interaction. This, perhaps, explains why higher education has been slower to adopt technology than other professions. However, weighing the benefits of technology against the value of human interaction is not an either/or scenario—the solution to our higher education challenges lies in both: technology in concert with people and process.
Technology can enable education professionals and students to amplify the impact they make. Our goal should be for all sides to enjoy the advantages of greater visibility, transparency, accountability, individualization, effectiveness, and scale that only technology can provide.
Measuring the Value of Technology in Education
The value of education technology should be measured by the extent to which it enhances the productivity of people and organizations in the field—students, professors, and administrators who can accomplish more (better, faster, and cheaper).
Ultimately, as we strive to replenish and improve the overall supply of human capital more effectively, we must ask: Are we increasing the number of people who are equipped to lead productive, rewarding lives?
Furthermore, are students’ educational outcomes empowering them to access tomorrow’s professional options and make choices based on talent and drive, rather than necessity or, worse, a sense of desperation?
To meet these desired outcomes, technology can facilitate predictive and prescriptive analysis to determine when and how to provide what types of support for individual students.
Take, for example, a software program that flags students who regularly miss class. To respond appropriately to such alerts, advisers must discover the cause of the absences and devise a rational solution tailored to the individual situation. Flagging a student only helps if the adviser is prepared and willing to respond accordingly. Lacking a well-defined response protocol, such a system could actually generate more work instead of positive results.
This example illustrates how the benefits depend on how we apply technology. That software could be adapted to not only generate flags, but also to remind advisers to perform specific tasks for which they’ve received training.
If the software is altered further to allow advisers to use professional judgment and ignore suggested actions, we can capture the recommended and actual actions, as well as the final result. By tracking this data, we can evaluate advisers’ assessments in various scenarios and use the analysis to develop training materials for advisers. This evidence-based approach helps to cultivate principles of metric accountability.
Encouraging Student Engagement
Another way to implement technology is the use of multichannel communications, which allow institutions to communicate with students when, where, and how they want using platforms like SMS, mobile apps, and text messaging.
The success-coaching program at Ivy Tech leverages InsideTrack’s uCoach Engagement Platform to get new students engaged with support. The platform sends incoming students introductory emails and texts directing them to web and mobile apps, where they can learn about how coaches can help them, and schedule a meeting with one.
Data shows that integrating alternative communication channels improves student engagement significantly. After examining the experiences of 6,683 students, we discovered that incorporating SMS into the coaching process (rather than conducting outreach solely by phone and email) made students nearly 30 percent more likely to participate in four or more meetings with coaches—a metric that correlates to student success based on our analysis.
These figures prove that effective, impactful use of technology can only be achieved if we adapt it to the behaviors of those it’s meant to benefit. In this case, the technology works because, increasingly, students of all ages and demographics consume information via mobile devices.
Another example of technology being thoughtfully integrated into higher education is Pennsylvania State’s EdTech Network, which helps innovative tech companies collaborate with faculty, students, and staff. I view this as a strong example of moving past the “hype” of education technology, as the network’s value can be measured by what degree it enhances the productivity of the people and organizations involved in the learning process and beyond—into the professional realm.
This should be our ultimate goal: to employ technology in innovative ways that actually enable professionals and students to magnify the impact higher education has within their lives, on campus and into their careers.