The 4 Technologies Changing the Higher Ed Experience

By Frank HealyMarch 2, 2016

Some higher ed tech trends, like BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), were really driven first by students, and colleges and universities followed suit to meet changing needs. There are also some trends driven by innovation and the ability to change the world of education as we know it — technology that’s placing new opportunities within reach for students and faculty.

Here are four technology trends turning higher education into a more virtual experience.

1. Virtual Reality
Virtual reality (VR) is a clear trend moving the classroom into a virtual space. Utilizing specialized headsets, VR creates a more immersive and engaging educational experience than ever before. VR is projected to reach $408 million by 2018, and it already has a strong foothold in the higher education market.

Duke is one school paving the way, and recently held events to help train students and faculty in VR tools like Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR. VR can currently also be seen teaching future healthcare providers. For instance, combining VR and the Internet of Things (IoT), George Washington University has developed a simulation lab where med students operate on dummy patients with lifelike features and responses. The technology can also be used to help athletes gain an advantage in college sports. The Stanford football team recently used VR in training and improved its quarterback’s pass completion rate by 12 percent.

The possibilities with VR are endless. Other VR applications include:

  • Developing VR-based courses
  • Integrating with wearable tech
  • Allowing students to “travel” to new locations
  • Offering campus tours to prospective students
  • Engaging users based on their location
  • Simulating surgery for med students
  • Aiding in actual physical rehabilitation
  • Providing in-person experiences for online students

2. Social Media
The truth is most of us already live in a seemingly virtual world; we just know it as social media. It is ingrained just as much in our culture as it is in the business world, so it’s no surprise that social media has become an important part of the college classroom. In fact, 91 percent of professors utilize social media in programs, and more than 66 percent use it as a learning tool during class.

3. Self-Directed Online Learning
Self-directed online learning can mean a lot of things. It is often referred to as self-paced learning, or the ability to complete a program as quickly or as slowly as needed for the individual student. Currently, customized education is really only possible for online learners. This is due to location and scheduling constructs that typically surround in-person instruction. It is certainly more difficult to introduce autonomy into the traditional classroom, as it exists today.

As with other technology trends, we might see self-directed online learning grow into a hybrid offering. Students would study customizable material on their own terms, but have the option to work with in-person faculty when needed. Further, as self-directed e-learning systems become smarter and more responsive, this trend has the potential to segue into robot-instructed learning.

4. Robots
The industry may be years away from this trend, but experts say it’s possible that robots could eventually take over many of the tactical duties of the traditional professor: lecturing, grading, test creation, and more. Some argue that “robo-teachers” could be much more effective at teaching material and delivering content through online videos, allowing professors more time to mentor students in the classroom. Mentoring will still be important, as artificial intelligence will likely never have the human element or the ability to truly inspire and engage deeply with students. So it seems there will always be a role for faculty; that role just might change.

In addition to benefitting students, creating hybrid programs taught by humans and intelligent machines has the potential to save colleges and universities up to 57 percent.

The flip side to robots in the classroom? Well, there are a few arguments. However, one that stands out: If robots are taking over the role of teaching students, how do we know we’re not preparing students for jobs that soon, too, will be taken over by machines?

It’s certainly a different world we live in today, and the world of tomorrow might be here sooner than expected. What the industry is currently seeing is a move toward a hybrid approach in higher education — incorporating technology, but not fully relying on it…yet. 

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