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Technology Use in Higher Education and Teacher Preparation

Author: Nicholas Jay Hoekstra

Reimagining the Role of Technology in Higher Education is a supplement to the 2016 National Education Technology Plan (NETP). The NETP reflects the United States’ national policy and approach to education technology through five priority areas: learning, teaching, leadership, assessment, and infrastructure. This supplement examines the NETP in the context of higher education. It discusses how technology can enable system-wide, collaborative solutions to several challenges facing the field of higher education in the United States. What follows is a brief summary of the document, with a focus on recommendations in the areas that includes (1) transforming ecosystems through learning, teaching, assessments, (2) systems that support student success, and (3) leadership that enables innovation and change. While these recommendations are generalizable to teacher preparation programs, the document also provides four general principles that guide better use of technology for pre-service teachers.

What is Higher Ed? A Student Prospectus

In recent years, the profile of students seeking higher education has shifted. Many students may already be working or have their own families. At the same time, the rising cost of traditional postsecondary education has created barriers, especially for first-generation students, students from low-income backgrounds and students with disabilities. If the system for higher education does not create opportunities for these “new normal” students to learn, while recognizing alternative educational pathways and rewarding expertise developed in nontraditional institutions, it will miss out on the opportunity to serve a majority of students seeking postsecondary education.

The Reimagining the Role of Technology in Higher Education supplement argues for the important role that technology can play in accommodating the needs of a broader range of students. The document offers a number of policy recommendations, including:

  • Institutions should consider how to offer programming at various times and modes of delivery to fit the other priorities in their lives.
  • Institutions should ensure that all students have access to affordable, up-to-date materials that are accessible.
  • Institutions should offer transferable credits to accommodate students who may move through different systems of education or in and out of schooling.

Transforming Our Ecosystem: Learning, Teaching, and Assessment

Engaging and Empowering Learning through Technology

Technology provides an opportunity to make learning more relevant to students' short- and long-term goals while allowing students and instructors alike to benefit from resources and expertise from anywhere in the world. Technology, combined with on-the-job experiences, can also provide opportunities for students to demonstrate what they have learned at work and receive credits that can help them advance academically or professionally. Blended learning models and data-driven feedback can further support progress for all learners. A few recommendations include:

  • Instructors can use technology to create more personalized learning experiences by creating opportunities for collaborative learning and by collecting real-time feedback to adjust their instruction to meet their students’ needs.
  • Policy makers should consider flexible learning pathways that recognize learning that takes place outside of traditional institutions, such as through workplace partners, community centers, and other nontraditional providers.

Teaching with Technology

In order to support student success, institutions should work with educators to develop research-based teaching practices and use of student support systems. This includes exploring the new pedagogical strategies enabled by technology while gathering student outcome data to evaluate their efficacy. Technology also provides the means by which instructors can create active learning environments and offer high-quality resources at a lower cost. Some recommendations include:

  • Institutions should promote excellence in teaching with technology by promoting professional development and creating stable career pathways and advancement opportunities.
  • Policymakers and educational stakeholders should collaborate with nontraditional or informal education providers to share resources to provide flexible and relevant learning experiences for their students.

Assessments Enabled by Technology

Technology-based assessments can provide a more complete picture of student needs and interests than ever before. Technology can also facilitate consistency across instructors in an institution. Some recommendations include:

  • Institutions with their faculties should use technology to support the development of authentic assessments that more closely simulate real world experiences.
  • Institutions should invest in systems that will gather high quality data around student learning that can be used to more accurately measure student outcomes against defined objectives and determine if these assessments are effective for diverse student populations.

Systems That Support Student Success

With the “new normal” student, learning is no longer a short-term endeavor, but instead exists across a lifetime. A coherent infrastructure that integrates data across systems while respecting student confidentiality is required. A well designed digital learning environment can not only allow students to track their credentials and skills, but also allow instructors to deliver high quality instruction. Emphasis must also be placed on making systems accessible to everyone. This includes ensuring that all students have affordable and reliable access to the Internet and that learning systems incorporate born accessible, universally designed supports for students with disabilities. Some additional recommendations include:

  • Decisions about technology platforms and tools should be made in collaboration with academic leadership and work in tandem with academic policies to provide an integrated experience for students.
  • Decisions about technology platforms and tools should incorporate student feedback, be interoperable across systems, and protect student data.

Leadership that Enables Innovation and Change

Leaders play a vital role in taking advantage of technology to transform learning. They are responsible for creating a shared vision, a plan for achieving it, and the ability to build a foundation upon which innovation can take place. One aspect of this work involves building collaborative relationships within an institution to support student outcomes. Because technology is an essential part of enabling student success, leadership teams within an institution should include those individuals who handle technology infrastructure and budget.

Another aspect of the work of leaders in higher education involves building partnerships across institutions to share information and ease student transitions. A benefit of wide ranging partnerships is the ability to draw upon stakeholders in business and the workforce to build career pathways and training programs in line with current industry needs. Recommendations for leadership include:

  • Decision-makers within an institution should work together to set a clear vision that views technology as an opportunity to augment learning, evaluate and enhance current systems and processes, and establish funding models for sustainable technology acquisition.

The Future of Higher Education

A few considerations should guide our work as we move into the future:

  • Equity: Technology offers an opportunity to improve student outcomes and lower costs for those students who stand to gain the most from higher education. This will require a concerted effort on the part of leadership, policymakers, and researchers toward addressing the needs of these students.
  • Access: Technology provides a method by which to deliver high-quality educational content at an affordable cost to students around the world. Nevertheless, more research is required to understand how technology-enabled learning can more effectively close opportunity gaps.
  • Affordability: Although technology has the potential to make education more affordable, savings are not always passed along to the students. Institutions must continue to explore how to leverage technology to reduce costs for the institution and for students alike.
  • Ecosystem: Today, learning has expanded to include workforce training, apprenticeships, bootcamps, as well as informal learning spaces such as libraries and community centers. Students must be empowered to take advantage of every opportunity to learn and have these opportunities recognized.
  • Research: Ongoing innovation must be supported by research. Current research is limited on the strategies that facilitate learning for the broad range of “new normal” students. More information is needed on how to improve learning outcomes for working students, veterans, and traditionally underserved populations.

Implications for Technology in Teacher Preparation

Regarding use of technology in pre-service teacher preparation programs, the document offers four general principles based on insights from teacher preparation innovators.

  • Promoting active use of technology that facilitates creation, production, and problem-solving in learning and teaching;
  • Establishing sustainable, program-wide systems of professional learning for improving instructors’ capacity to use technology to transform learning and teaching;
  • Provide pre-service teachers access to experiences with technology that are program-deep and program-wide;
  • Ensure alignment of pre-service teachers’ experiences with research-based standards, frameworks, and credentials that are recognized in the field.

The Advancing Educational Technology in Teacher Preparation Policy Brief further details the principles as well as provides examples and resources regarding various ways of supporting use of technology across teacher preparation programs. We will provide a brief summary of the document and implications for special education teacher preparation in another article. As a national center, CIDDL has launched a professional learning community of higher education faculty members focused on sharing tips and tricks, research-based practices, and strategies for innovative use of educational technology in educator or leadership preparation programs. Join our community to share your ideas, experiences, and resources on technology use! This is a place for you to connect with other faculty in preparation programs to contribute to a national conversation around technology and preparation.

Suggested Readings

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. (2017). Reimagining the role of technology in higher education: A supplement to the national education technology.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. (2016). Education technology and teacher preparation brief.