New educational technologies are creating mounting pressures on university educators according to the recent NMC Horizon Report: 2018 Higher Education Edition.

The report – developed with input from 71 experts from around the world – identifies six trends, six challenges, and six developments that may influence the uptake of education technologies in universities and their subsequent impact on teaching and learning.

The authors note that university lecturers have always been expected to structure information into a curriculum and make it interesting for students.

However, they add: “Never has the role demanded a heightened level of technological expertise and a sense of mounting pressure to attract, teach, and retain students who are bombarded by countless digital distractions via mobile devices.”

The report identifies “Fostering Authentic Learning” as an emerging trend and challenge.

This includes project-based learning, challenge-based learning, and competency-based learning – pedagogical trends “in service to creating hands-on, real-world experiences for students”.

And as institutions prioritise “active learning” over rote learning, students are becoming “partners in learning, invention, and knowledge creation” and are now active contributors to “the knowledge ecosystem”.


‘A complex problem to define and solve’

Students today learn “by experiencing, doing, and creating, demonstrating newly acquired skills in more concrete and creative ways”.

However, the report says, institutions “continue to be challenged to generate these opportunities in spaces and with paradigms that lean on traditional practices”.

Rethinking the roles of educators is “a complex problem to define and solve”.

“As educational technology is rapidly advancing and evolving, it is difficult to discern how to overcome these challenges to advance and scale technology adoption to increase student success, at least in the discernible future.”

In addition to changing how classes are taught, technology has added a more complex dynamic to the faculty-student relationship, the report says.

“Today, text messages, websites, email, instant messaging, and social media have led to a new landscape in which faculty are always accessible and visible to their students.

“While this appears to be a plus for students and parents looking to ensure faculty attention and accessibility, it places further demands on educators to seemingly always be on call.”


Impact on every facet of campus life

The emphasis on hands-on, technology-enhanced learning, the report says, has impacted on every facet of campus life.

And with students “inventing, iterating, and collaborating regularly” their lecturers have been transplanted from their position as “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side.”

“There is a need for mentoring and coaching as students work through complex problems to explore new frontiers and gain concrete skills.

“As student-led class discussions delve deeper into the material, faculty must balance the student-centred approach with subtle but effective facilitation.”

However, it adds, institutions “are often set up in ways that indicate a value on research over teaching”.

As such, “educators are not always sufficiently motivated to improve their teaching craft or rewarded when they do”.


Recognise and scale positive teaching practices

Programs that recognise and scale positive teaching practices are a necessity and, just as there is a need to advance digital literacy among students, “faculty must also engage in ongoing professional development, with support from institutions”.

The report notes the contemporary workforce calls for “digitally savvy employees who can seamlessly work with different media and new technologies as they emerge”.

A major element of fostering this fluency is recognising that simply understanding how to use a device or certain software is not enough, it says.

“Faculty, staff, and students must be able to make connections between the tools and the intended outcomes, leveraging technology in creative ways that allow them to more intuitively adapt from one context to another.

“Ownership of this movement must be shared and supported among institutional divisions as digital fluency is an important thread that runs through practically every facet of teaching and learning.”

Further reading

Educause2018 NMC Horizon Report

Campus Technology2018 Higher Ed Horizon Report Highlights Measuring Learning and Redesigning Spaces

Education DiveEducause study: 6 trends and a “wicked challenge” in higher ed tech


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