The month’s highlights on higher education from across the web
The New Media Consortium has become synonymous with its yearly Horizon report. As the name suggests, in looking towards the horizon it is focused on covering the key trends, challenges, and developments of technologies that will impact higher education now and in the future. A mix of trend analysis, speculation and (at times) futurism, Horizon’s sectorial scope and focus on new technologies has led it to become a staple for those in interested in edtech, leadership, and how these are changing the shape of the university. This year, an international panel of experts has identified six megatrends that are driving technology adoption, including interdisciplinary studies, the sharing of educational resources, and the need to build institutional cultures of innovation. Standing in the way of progress are identified challenges such as digital equity, digital literacy, and also ‘wicked challenges’ such as the role of teachers in higher education. The key technologies underpinning innovation in the near future seem to comprise two broad spheres: analytics, adaptive learning, and artificial intelligence, as well as mixed reality, robotics, and makerspaces. The NMC Horizon Report is a well-considered staple worth mulling over, and includes links to practical exemplars in the field.
We’re often unsure of how to reach out to our students and what to say that might help them. This article from The Chronicle of Higher Education recounts how a physiology instructor used personalised emails to get in contact with struggling students and nudge them to take more responsibility for their grades. Initially afraid of student backlash, the instructor was pleasantly surprised about students’ positive responses to her non-judgemental email that prompted students to reflect on their performance and use of existing resources. You may want to check out how instructors at Sydney are already doing similar things here.
This month’s long read in The Chronicle explores the question of how artificial intelligence (AI) is being used in teaching. Firmly focused on the present, this question is not a speculative one. The singularity, our robot overlords, and a Westworld university are never once mentioned – to the great disappointment of this sci-fi fan. Instead, Beth McMurtie shows the everyday ways that AI is already finding application within higher education, from virtual teaching assistants and conversational agents through to tools that sequence content based on machine learning of student behaviour. In this more mundane setting, the question remains: ‘when you’ve got artificial intelligence handling work that is normally done by a human, how does that change the role of the professor? And what is the right balance of technology and teacher?’. With views from tech converts, skeptics, and those in the middle, this is a well balanced and comprehensive read that is worth the slightly longer reading time. Behind a paywall but available for free through the University of Sydney library.
Heralded to be “bigger than the internet”, blockchain technology has been poorly understood and subject to rampant speculation. Synonymous with cryptocurrencies and already used to sway stock value, blockchain’s fast image seems far removed from the slower machinations of higher education. This article from Inside Higher Ed draws attention to how higher education is responding to this while providing a simple explanation of what exactly the technology is and how it might be used. Though, for now, the impact of blockchain technology is appearing more obviously in the form of new taught courses and research programs, wider applications of its use in supply-chain management, record keeping, and the issuing of digital degrees suggest that this technology may have wider application than just the financial markets. Given its scope and potential, the development and application of blockchain technology is something that universities need to be part of.
Whether you are a new or highly experienced teacher, this article from the archives of Pedagogy Unbound is a reassuring (and quick) read. Drawing on research into group dynamics, David Gooblar gives us a chance to pause and reflect on the perennial experience of having an class or activity work with one group and fail with another. Whether we promote discussion, give students adequate time to respond, or interrupt students, these efforts may have little impact on student participation if student-to-student relationships are off kilter. Instead of focusing solely on ourselves as teachers and what we do, we are encouraged to be alive to the social dynamics of a class and students’ relationships with each other. While collaborative activities can be one approach, as nearly all experience of enforced group activity tells us (be it conferences, networking events, corporate team bonding or speed dating) human relationships are not always under the control of the facilitator. As the article concludes: “Relax — you’re not so important, after all”.