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Outlook on Technology: Learning shifts, infrastructure lifts

Increased automation allows differentiated instruction at a level never before possible
University Business, January 2016
Most campus leaders surveyed by UB expect tech spending to increase or stay the same.
Most campus leaders surveyed by UB expect tech spending to increase or stay the same.

Today’s rapidly evolving technology has higher education on the move, literally and figuratively. Mobile devices are powering a shift to more learning on the go, driving increased video consumption and requiring IT to fund ongoing bandwidth and infrastructure expansion.

Tech is enabling big changes in how colleges deliver academic programs and grant credentials. Increased automation allows differentiated instruction at a level never before possible. With professors and students taking advantage of these opportunities, technology budgets in support of academic initiatives should grow in 2016.

The mobile explosion

Over the last few years we’ve seen mobile computing enter an exponential growth curve that will surely accelerate throughout 2016 and beyond. The smartphone has become ubiquitous. The rapid growth of mobile computing has paved the way for increased use of mobile learning tools and techniques.

But many institutions have a long road ahead related to faculty adoption and keeping up with infrastructure demands.

“Accommodating the smartphone as the student’s ‘first screen’ in the classroom and across campus will require faculty, CIOs and campus leadership to examine their strategy around mobile-first and BYOD,” says Stephen diFilipo, CIO of Milwaukee School of Engineering.


What’s trending

  • Investments in academic technology
  • Increased mobile learning
  • Growing use of educational apps
  • Instructional use of short-form video
  • Competency-based education programs
  • Augmented reality applications in the classroom
  • Adaptive learning software
  • Cloud storage for the enterprise and for the student body
  • Social media use for recruitment
  • Texting as a means of communicating with students
  • 3D printing in school libraries, makerspaces, classrooms

What’s fading

  • Fixed-location desktop computing (for students, staff and faculty)
  • Local data storage
  • Courses with no digital components
  • Traditional-age student enrollment numbers

They must ensure “sufficient, robust, and persistent Wi-Fi to support the increasing demand for access,” adds diFilipo, who was recognized as a Top Social CIO by the Huffington Post and is known as an outspoken proponent of digital, mobile and social learning.

The academic use of apps is central to putting mobile devices to effective use.

“Whether you’re teaching a biology course or a survey of literature, or researching kinesiology, there are mobile device apps designed specifically for those subject areas,” says Todd Cherner, an assistant professor of education at Coastal Carolina University and the CEO of App Ed Review—which publishes ratings and instructional ideas for using mobile apps that are designed for education.

For presentations, instructors and students can use apps to break away from PowerPoint. Apps can also provide instructors and their students quicker access to information than is offered by websites. For example, the “Article Search” iOS app allows users to look for research published in both the Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic Article databases simultaneously.

Video is king

Hand in hand with the growth of mobile content consumption, we see a continued surge in video, especially short-form video running from 7 seconds to a few minutes (think Vine, or Kahn Academy).

Traditional-aged students watch video anywhere and anytime, a trend evidenced by the rise of YouTube stars. Ask any 18 year-old, “Who’s your favorite ‘You Tuber?’ and you’re likely to get a thoughtful response. (Ask anyone over 30, and you’re likely to get a confused stare.)

Tech investments and partnerships

For the second year in a row, academic tools and internet/Wi-Fi infrastructure top a tech spending list that will rise again in 2016.

More than 42 percent of the nearly 70 CIO and technology director respondents to a UB survey expect tech spending to grow at their institution in the new year. That’s just a little lower than the 50 percent who anticipated an increase in last year's survey.

More than 4 in 10 respondents plan significant new investments in academic technology such as lecture capture or AV. And nearly 4 in 10 anticipate spending big on internet/Wi-Fi infrastructure. About one-third noted plans to invest a lot in enterprise-level software and cloud computing/storage for 2016.

Tech administrators were also asked about collaborations with other higher ed institutions, as technology is a bit of an untapped area in shared services. Nearly 3 in 10 tech administrators, for example, expect to collaborate with other schools on enterprise software in 2016.

Colleges and universities will also continue to expand their reach with online and distance learning programs. Two-thirds of the respondents expect higher online enrollment in 2016, while more than half plan to expand their offerings.

However, CIOs may need to be selling their online initiatives more to campus officials. In a separate UB survey, presidents, provosts and chancellors didn’t place online learning as one of the highest priorities for 2016.

In a list of 10 items, it was only seventh most popular, with 22 percent naming it one of four highest priorities.

Video has become an integral messaging tool for millennials’ daily digital habits, which include learning, diFilipo says. Instructors and students increasingly substitute or supplement papers and other course assignments with video. In addition, video is finding its way into student peer-review assignments; faculty may respond via video, as well.

At my institution, The College of Westchester in White Plains, New York, Assistant Professor Terence Keyes uses video regularly in all his courses. It is particularly effective in his hybrid-format adult term courses, in which students must complete about two hours of weekly learning content review outside of class.

Keyes assigns videos related to each course topic, such as “Bold Presentation Skills” in the course Oral Communication, “Journal Writing” in English Composition, and “Enhancing Brain Plasticity” in Adult Development and Aging.

Students of all ages watch video daily, and it provides an engaging alternative to lectures and readings, Keyes says.

Adds diFilipo, “The projected meteoric rise in the use of video will strain pedagogy and campus Wi-Fi and cellular infrastructure, not to mention whatever solution is used for media storage.”

Adaptive learning, artificial intelligence

Adaptive learning has been around for decades, but we are only now starting to see consistent growth in the availability of good adaptive learning tools and platforms. Software programs can use adaptive questioning to determine what a student does or doesn’t know regarding specific course topics.

These applications then focus on providing instruction for the topics the student is best prepared to learn, and periodically reassessing the student to ensure that learned topics are retained.

As students demonstrate mastery of a topic, they can move on to a new assignment. These types of applications are being used with success across the spectrum of subjects and course levels, from entry-level college mathematics to chemistry or psych-stats courses.

Artificial intelligence and automated teaching and learning tools are just starting to play a role in education, says Bryan Alexander, a senior researcher for The New Media Consortium and author of the newsletter Future Trends in Technology and Education.

Important considerations as IT leaders plan for 2016 and beyond include determining how to handle good artificial intelligence software-based assistants for learning and how institutions and instructors can respond to the idea of “Tutor me, Siri.”

Competency-based ed comes of age

Last year saw tremendous strides in the development of competency-based education programs. There are believed to be as many as 600 institutions designing or implementing these programs today, according to HomeRoom, the U.S. Department of Education blog.

These programs use progress and outcomes as measures of learning—rather than the traditional credit hour—allowing students to complete degrees in less time and at lower cost.

Pioneering adopters of the approach, such as Western Governors University, have leveraged a wide variety of technologies to deliver degree programs to nontraditional-age students since the late 1990s.

Western Governors’ adaptive “Courses of Study” software, online learning communities and extensive online library are only a few of the technology-enabled platforms that have driven the success of their programs.

Maturing online programs

As the traditional-age demographic continues to shrink, distance learning offers one growing revenue opportunity, says Alexander.

In 2012 and 2013, massive open online courses garnered a great deal of attention. The buzz has died down, but the MOOC lives on. There are thousands of offerings available, many from highly respected institutions.

Yet there’s the ongoing issue of credit for completion. The idea of allowing “microcredentials” to be formally recognized and accepted for degree-program credit has seen growing interest. In late 2014, the Lumina Foundation published a framework addressing this, titled Connecting Credentials.

Arizona State University and Georgia Tech now offer credit for MOOCs, for a fee. Coursera provides one model for granting MOOC-completion certificates. Coursera participants can pay to go through an identity verification process in which facial scanning and keystroke dynamics technologies confirm that students are who they say they are when submitting assessments.

And more workplaces recognize MOOCs as meaningful indicators of skills and knowledge. For instance, Pennsylvania intends to use a $6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s innovation fund to develop a micro-credentialing program for the state’s workforce development system.

In 2016, some institutions will continue to devote resources to offering and supporting MOOCs. Others may start to further consider how to award credit for successful completion. So, contrary to what some might believe, the MOOC is not going away.

Kelly Walsh, CIO of The College of Westchester in New York, is a UBTech conference speaker. He writes the “Emerging Ed Tech” blog,

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