New Report Sheds Light on Higher Ed’s Innovation Challenges

Digital Learning

New Report Sheds Light on Higher Ed’s Innovation Challenges

By Tina Nazerian     Apr 18, 2018

New Report Sheds Light on Higher Ed’s Innovation Challenges

A new report surveying academic administrators released Wednesday by the Online Learning Consortium and Learning House sheds some insight on innovation challenges at higher education institutions.

Among the report’s findings are that 91 percent of the administrators responding to the survey said that innovation “is stated as a priority in either their strategic or academic plans, or both documents.” By contrast, just 40 percent of survey respondents said they have a “dedicated budget for innovation.”

Jill Buban, OLC’s senior director of research and innovation, views that finding as one of the most shocking from the report. She thinks that the disconnect exists because in the past, there were ways to “slowly move an institution forward, or a curriculum, a program, a course.” Now, she says, the use of technology in learning has created more of a need to put money behind innovation.

Interviews with ten academic administrators were also included in the report. Evangeline J. Tsibris Cummings, the assistant provost and director for University of Florida Online, was quoted as saying most public institutions are “inherently destined to resist change and resist innovation, unless you do it right.”

Cummings tells EdSurge that public organizations, including large public universities, are by design risk averse. “You cultivate a culture of folks that are really hesitant to fail, and to some extent failure is therefore a scary thing.” A culture where risk isn’t necessarily rewarded, and failure is viewed negatively, makes it more challenging for the organization to try new things to adapt to “changing times,” she adds.

For some schools, changing times means putting a greater emphasis on online learning. Per the report, 21 percent of institutions ranked “non-traditional programs, such as those offered online” as the number one area for innovation.

OLC’s Buban says that the online environment is “ripe for innovation” because there are many opportunities to be “inclusive of education technology,” such as digital courseware and OER. Though that’s not to say that digital learning can’t be used well in a traditional classroom, she adds.

Thomas B. Cavanagh, the Vice Provost for Digital Learning at the University of Central Florida, was also quoted in the report. He tells EdSurge that he doesn’t think innovation takes place only within online learning at his institution, but online learning has enabled his institution to do things “at a high quality at scale” that it couldn’t do otherwise. He says online learning creates opportunities to try out new models such as adaptive learning and competency-based learning.

“Online learning, I think, is in some ways uniquely positioned as an incubator of innovation in a lot of schools, just because of the kind of work that it facilitates,” he says.

Buban thinks that college leaders will take away from this report that they’re “not alone.”

“A lot of leaders are thinking about innovation and thinking about what that means on their campus—but then it’s [a question of] how do we get there.”

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