Digital transformation isn't only about technology--it’s forcing us to think differently about processes, people, and how to engage students

Mind the gap: Higher ed’s continuing digital transformation

Digital transformation isn't only about technology--it’s forcing us to think differently about processes, people, and how to engage students

In direct contrast, many faculty members do not possess the same digital acumen; simply put, they grew up during a different time with a different set of experiences. It’s not merely a generational digital divide, the chasm has been created because the student knows more than the teacher. Most faculty members had a drastically accelerated learning curve when forced to teach online during the pandemic. The gap between students and faculty was even starker, to the extent that semester start dates needed to be postponed ensuring faculty readiness.

That’s not to say that students do not have considerable hurdles to overcome in the race to digital transformation. Some students do not have internet service at home, so they’re relying on their mobile phones to access learning materials and online classes. The argument for e-textbooks becomes even stronger under these circumstances since there’s an affordability factor that cannot be disputed.

Educate the Educators

It’s also difficult to contest the real center of transformation: the faculty. Getting faculty to buy into and participate in the digital transformation of higher education is imperative. And some faculty aren’t interested in modes of digital delivery; instead, they maintain their focus should be on teaching the way they’ve always taught. However, once they’re on board, they will encourage their colleagues to join in, making the case for offering incentives for embracing change even more compelling. In fact, identifying those faculty members who are innovative and inviting them to participate first will create excitement and adoption.

When I was at CUNY, we had regional conferences that included technology days. Faculty taught other faculty; their colleagues showed them how to use digital tools and technologies. It was a smart use of what’s inherent in higher ed: the collegial dynamic. There’s no doubt the core group was able to generate buy-in and garner further participation.

Another example of influencing the faculty is through team teaching. If one faculty member is using technology or e-textbooks, we knew it would take more planning for them to team-teach with a faculty member who was not using technology. So, we would give them additional remuneration or reassign commitments so they would have the time to do this right. It creates a peer-to-peer model whereby their colleagues are encouraged to partake. It’s all about breaking down barriers and removing hurdles.

The Practical Reality

If the faculty is at the center of transformation, it’s the students who are at the center of participation. With more businesses relying on technology to automate complex workflows and gain competitive advantages, students need to be prepared to enter what’s already a digital workplace. A student who has been exposed to different platforms, programs and content will be more flexible in the workforce. When I look across student success stories, community colleges have done this much better than anywhere else because they prepare students for hands-on careers.

Using our e-textbook example, speed-to-productivity, portability, and the obvious financial cost savings are among the direct digital benefits to students. Faculty support is crucial to reduce digital inequalities, and no university can afford to be left behind. Those colleges and universities that have done it better than others are well-positioned in higher ed’s race to digital transformation.

eSchool Media Contributors