The Horizon Report notes that higher ed must embrace change as student demographics change, as the digital divide persists, and as AI evolves

EDUCAUSE Horizon Report notes AI’s role in shaping teaching and learning

Higher ed must embrace transformation as student demographics change, as the digital divide persists, and as AI evolves

Key points:

Each year, EDUCAUSE’s Horizon Reports offer insights into key technologies and trends shaping the future of higher education. Chief among the topics in the 2024 EDUCAUSE Horizon Report – Teaching and Learning Edition is the impact AI technologies will have on higher education moving forward.

The report identifies and expands on trends, key technologies, and practices that influence the future of teaching and learning, and outlines a number of scenarios for that future. It is based on the perspectives and expertise of a global panel of leaders from across the higher education landscape.

“Our digital world is evolving more rapidly now than it has at any other point in history, making the Horizon Report an essential resource for institutions working to keep up,” said enay Robert, Senior Researcher at EDUCAUSE. “As an example of the report’s evolution to meet new challenges, for the first time, we’ve created an ‘honorary trends’ category devoted to the impacts AI is having across every aspect of life, learning, and work. Institutions from around the globe will be able to use our strategic foresight research to inform their own plans of action over the coming years. ” 

Panelists identified trends they believe will shape the future of postsecondary teaching and learning, spanning five categories: social, technological, economic, environmental, political. This year, given the widespread impact of current and emerging AI technologies and their impact on learning, panelists also identified an honorary trend: AI.

Social: Public perception of the value of higher education is declining; student demographics are changing, and students are increasingly demanding access to learning anytime, anywhere.

Technological: Concerns about cybersecurity and privacy are increasing; the use of learning analytics continues to rise; and the digital divide persists.

Economic: The demand for and focus on workforce skills is growing; challenges for employee retention are increasing; and student debt is increasingly impacting students’ enrollment decisions.

Environmental: Higher ed institutions are increasing their commitment to sustainability; concerns about the impact of big data tools on the environment are rising; and the demand for green skills in the workforce is increasing.

Political: Political polarization in the United States continues to impact higher education; government policy is increasingly influencing education; and the need is growing for policies that address emerging technologies.

Honorary AI trends: AI is changing the way we communicate; AI tools have growing potential to reshape pedagogy and student experiences; AI is increasingly having an impact on the economy and workforce; AI is increasingly being used to address climate change and sustainability issues; and the potential for the use of AI in politics is growing.

Panelists also identified the key technologies and practices they believe will have a significant impact on the future of postsecondary teaching and learning, with a focus on those that are new or for which there appear to be substantial new developments:

Finding appropriate uses for AI-enabled technology

Faculty and staff can use AI tools to support student learning. However, there is still a lack of widespread agreement among higher education stakeholders about what constitutes appropriate use of AI-enabled technology for teaching and learning. Questions around the ethical use of AI, the role of AI in the generation of new knowledge, and the relationship between human and AI outputs remain largely unanswered. Faculty, staff, and students will need to work together in the coming years to decide how they want to integrate (or not integrate) AI-enabled technology into teaching and learning.

Supporting AI fluency

All higher education stakeholders will benefit from learning how to use AI responsibly. With the appropriate knowledge and skills, faculty can use AI tools to support and improve teaching and learning, and students can focus on engaging in meaningful learning experiences. Thus, institutions are beginning to focus on supporting AI fluency to equip students, faculty, and staff with the knowledge needed to think critically about AI. Stakeholders need to understand what AI is and how it works, and they also need to be able to use it effectively.

Supporting equitable and inclusive learning

Supporting equitable and inclusive learning is vital to higher education’s teaching and learning mission. Looking at this year’s trends, supporting equitable and inclusive learning becomes more important than ever as the higher education community continues to see changes to student demographics and a persisting digital divide. Rich learning environments are built on relationships–between educators and students and between students. Cultivating equity and inclusivity leads to a safer community of educators and learners, improving students’ entire learning experience. Further, fostering diversity across the institution creates an environment in which individuals can share varying opinions and broaden their understanding of the world.

Protecting data privacy and security

Protecting data privacy and security is a crucial responsibility for higher education institutions on multiple fronts. Data breaches have the potential to interrupt the entire institution’s operations, and regulatory and compliance requirements hold institutions accountable for safeguarding personal and institutional data. Perhaps more importantly, institutions have an ethical responsibility to protect students, staff, and faculty from malicious actors. As higher education increasingly uses remote modalities for learning and work, cloud-based software, and AI tools, data privacy and security will be even more consequential. Though protecting data privacy and security is not always included as a teaching and learning topic, the digital teaching and learning environment is amplifying the importance of integrating privacy and security into daily teaching practice.

Navigating misinformation

The proliferation of misinformation is a long-standing social concern. Learning to identify and navigate misinformation is only becoming more challenging due to social media and AI-generated content. Teaching students how to navigate misinformation helps them act as responsible members of the digital society and supports their development of critical thinking skills and information literacy. Further, in an increasingly polarized political environment, students need to be able to navigate misinformation to have productive conversations and make informed decisions. Knowing how to navigate misinformation is also challenging because it requires proficiency in multiple skills: identifying and verifying trusted sources, finding and evaluating varied perspectives, seeking peer reviews, verifying citations, and pausing to reflect on new information rather than jumping to action.

Supporting mental health

All members of the higher education community will benefit from supports for mental health. At a time when the higher education workforce is consistently struggling with burnout, prioritizing workforce mental health allows faculty and staff to be happier and more effective employees. Supporting student mental health enables students to bring their best selves to their learning experiences, ultimately learning more.

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Laura Ascione

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