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The education technology imperative facing higher education

The education technology imperative facing higher education

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Here is an article from David O’Leary from his roles as chair national council of IT Deans, CEO, CIO, VP, educator, writer IDG-IT World Canada…

When I started teaching Mathematics and Communications to Electricians and Auto Mechanics in 1976, there were no computers available for public usage and the internet was an evolving concept under discussion among a very visionary few. Thirty eight years later I do not have to tell you that this has changed markedly. Technology is now prevalent in our world and much of what has evolved in the world has found its way into our classrooms.

These days, most discussions of educational technology start with the internet. What was relatively new in the early 1990s is now firmly established and more and more individuals worldwide are gaining reliable access to it. A multitude of disciplines regularly use some form of educational technology to fully deliver or complement the delivery of teaching. To get a sense of how this technological change is manifesting itself on the ground, let’s look briefly at an example of current education technology and how it is being used in higher education in Canada related to medical training.

Canada is experiencing a critical shortage of skilled workers in a number of areas including the medical field. As patients in our country’s medical system, we always hope that our medical practitioner is up to date on current developments in the field. Given the amount of medical research and the new knowledge it is creating, maintenance of currency is a daunting task. This is particularly challenging in rural and isolated communities where the best medical care available is often a general practitioner and more often a nurse or nurse practitioner. The Faculty of Medicine at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, building on the pioneering work of Dr. Max House, has utilized video and web education technology to address this.

Newfoundland and Labrador is a rugged and rocky province with many communities accessible only by boat or floatplane. Memorial enables medical personnel to stay current by distributing medical seminars such as “Grand Rounds” over the internet. In certain isolated communities a distance diagnostic service, utilizing specialized videoconferencing equipment is also offered.

This use of technology for teaching and learning is not limited to the medical profession. Other areas such as Trades training and IT training make significant use of education technology to integrate learning with the workplace and minimize the disruption of “time out” learning.

To get a sense of where educational technology may go in the future, it makes sense to study the characteristics of the people of the day that tend to drive technology demand. To get a sense of this let’s look at the young learners – those currently poised to enter the post-secondary higher education institutions – to get a sense of where education technology will need to be to meet their needs and expectations.

These students come to higher education institutions with expectations that are directly related to their characteristics. They have different values than their elders and are experiencing technology and mass and social media differently than anyone before them. They do not wait for their favourite TV show to come on – they see it on their time. They may do this on their home TV via PVR or on their Windows phone as my oldest son does or on a tablet or similar device. If they cannot make it to their class on a particular day they download the lecture podcast and “go to class” when they choose to, if that choice is available. If they don’t like what is on television they make their own show and distribute it on social media cloud services such as You Tube. They are used to being in control of their entertainment and communication environments. It is safe to say they expect or will soon expect the same from higher education – to be in complete control of their learning environment as well.

If higher education institutions do not provide this environment the emerging group of learners will undertake to do it themselves with their friends online utilizing whatever resources they can find. So where does all of this take education technology? What will higher education need to provide to ensure that it engages and retains students?

In Canada we know that the next group of students expects to access their learning to fit their own schedule and to have it delivered in a number of technologically different ways that are flexible to their preferences. In the next five to ten years higher education will have to move away from traditional teacher up front delivery and fully embrace a whole new and exciting world of interaction. A good many are moving in this direction now and as I mentioned in my last post, those who collaborate with business are making the fastest and most effective progress. In the Information Technology training space, for example, the adoption of Microsoft IT Academy curriculum by post-secondary institutions is enabling professors to provide state of the art current skills and knowledge without having to put in hundreds of hours of research and preparation.

If higher education is to continue to deliver effectively on its social contract, the very nature of our institutions must change; everything from timetables to working conditions for instructors. In a future post I will talk about what that might look like. For now we know that millions of student users are proof of the need and future of educational technology as a means of accessing learning. This demand will continue to grow and shape the future of education in Canada and around the world.

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