5 technology trends poised to rock higher education

From the hottest tech degree to a tool for everyone, these trends are changing higher-ed in 2014-15

trends-higher-educationTrends like “devices,” “MOOCs,” and “Twitter,” are making the rounds in higher education, but what do these trends means for admin and students, and how are they affecting classroom practice and IT capabilities?

In this 2014 higher education trends report, we’ve talked with some of the country’s most tech-savvy professors to discuss the finer points of these broad issues.

For example, if devices are popular among students, which ones are most popular, and why does this matter? And if MOOCs were all the rage in 2013, what’s the new non-traditional mode of learning this year, and is it different?

From information about the hottest degree offered in 2014 to the development of WiFi support, you’ll learn more about the subtle nuances of some of this year’s—and 2015’s—trends poised to rock higher education.

Are there trends you think we missed, or perhaps trends you see developing at your institution? Be sure to leave your insight in the comment section below.

(Next page: Devices and IT)

[In no particular order]

Trend: Smartphones/tablets as a common platform

Although laptops fall under the umbrella of mobile devices, Jason Farman, an American Studies professor at the University of Maryland who studies tech use in everyday life, believes the use of smartphones and tablets in the classroom is a trend universities will have to embrace.

Ronald Yaros, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Maryland, specializes in mobile technology in higher-ed. In his journalism courses, he provides students with controlled iPads that have slides, polls, quizzes and websites to engage them.

“The trend is trying to transform the [conventional lecture]…to use technology to be a conduit to the information,” Yaros said.

To test if using mobile technology is too distracting for students, like some ed-tech experts argue, Yaros conducted a university-approved experiment in the fall 2013 semester. For two weeks, he taught students in two different courses the same content and gave identical quizzes — one course used iPads, the other did not.

He found that students who used iPads did not do worse than those without the devices, showing that iPads, if used correctly, are not distracting in the higher education setting.

“I think having a common platform has always been a challenge to bringing technology into the classroom,” Farman said. “Now everybody has a phone and you can figure new ways to solve problems in the classroom. Since 2007 I’ve only had two students who have not had a cell phone; that, to me, is really remarkable.”

Trend: More WiFi support

University officials are constantly dealing with increased stress on their school’s network infrastructure, and in 2014 there is no sign of that stopping as students bring more internet-capable devices to school.

“In two years we have seen a doubling of WiFi use,” said Alison Robinson, assistant vice president and deputy CIO of Support and Infrastructure, for the University of Maryland’s Division of Information Technology. She also cited the NMC Horizon higher education report, which estimates students are bringing three WiFi enabled devices to campus.

To keep up with the growing demand for access to wireless connections at universities, campus IT departments will have to plan to invest money in new network infrastructure equipment and repairs to existing equipment.

At Oral Roberts University, campus IT staff increased the network’s bandwidth 10-fold to accommodate the increasing number of devices brought to campus. The increase in bandwidth will accommodate classroom and dorm technology such as Chromecast and Smart Boards, according to a report released by the university.

“We have a five-year rotation of wireless and wired connections,” for replacing old network components, which will be key to making sure the wireless infrastructure, is always available to students and faculty, Robinson said. The cost of the five-year equipment rotation is $61 million.

(For more information on campus IT services and trends, read “Are campuses really mobile ready? And what does that mean?”)

(Next page: Degrees and flipping)

Trend: Degrees in Big Data analytics

Universities are hoping to capitalize on new technology that makes processing huge amounts of data possible.

Big data centers continue to spring up at research universities, and more graduate degrees focusing on big data analytics are being offered at schools including Rutgers, University of Maryland and Stanford.

The key to big data analysis is not having the technology to gather it, according to Robinson, but, rather, having the right tools to make the data meaningful.

Last February, Ohio State University announced it would be offering the first undergraduate degree in data analytics starting in the fall 2014 semester. Ohio State invested $30 million in one-time equipment and infrastructure and $55 million to renovate existing buildings for data analytics to start the program.

Ohio State’s approach to big data is not the only way schools have sought to tackle the challenges the new field brings. At the University of Maryland the focus has shifted from data analysis to “enabling the hardware storage and processing of research,” according to Robinson.

“It’s dependent on the institution, some of the barriers have been just the technology and the diversity of the systems that we use, and some of it is being able to put processes in place so we can continue to put together useful data,” Robinson said.

Trend: Moving beyond MOOCs

MOOCs are not the only tool available to educators who are seeking to teach students through non-traditional means. Flipped classrooms allow students to view lectures and other course content at home, which frees up time in class for professors to help students understand the concepts they learned outside of the classroom.

At the University of Maryland, professors are taking advantage of the university’s platform for posting video content online, according to Robinson. She said flipped classrooms are using more media content than traditional classrooms, and are driving much of the video demand at the university.

“The larger issue with MOOCs is that the university class room thrives because it is a social environment,” said Farman, who advocates flipped classrooms, and uses video and social media content as learning tools for his courses. “MOOCs have the potential to remove that.”

(Next page: This trend is for everyone)

Trend: Social networking for everyone

In the past year, higher education technology experts have debated whether social media and social networking are beneficial to college curricula and education. Though incorporating social media in students’ work may pose challenges, many instructors throughout the nation have found the online tools to be increasingly helpful.

George Washington University Associate Professor Natalie Milman depends on social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Google Docs for teaching her graduate students about instructional design and creating online portfolios.

“For educational institutions, social media enables two-way dialogues between students, prospective students, educators, and the institution that are less formal than with other media,” according to the Horizon Report.

Institutions like Vanderbilt University use YouTube to inform the public about progressing work on campus, while institutions like Texas State University use Facebook and Twitter to encourage discussion about various campus events, the Horizon Report published.

Yaros relies on a text messaging system that reminds students of assignment deadlines. Twitter and blogs are also integral to outside work for his students who then look at their classmates’ tweets and blogs in class. Yaros believes blending social media into his curriculum stimulates discussion and produces more interactivity.

“The tools that have become available for collaborative work have been extremely successful,” said Milman. “They are excellent opportunities for students to learn how to work in groups. She believes these tools “foster the ability to contribute [to work] wherever you are.”

Peter Sclafani and Mike Siegel are editorial interns at eCampus News

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