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The 2017 New Media Consortium Higher Education Report is only the latest effort to identify the trends and technologies that will define the future of higher education. Undergirding this report is the sense that every facet of the academic experience needs to be rethought as higher education becomes more personalized, experiential, outcomes-focused, technology-rich, and data-driven, with pedagogies rooted in the learning sciences and geared toward 100 percent proficiency. Instead of regarding students as consumers of knowledge, the emerging goal is to treat students as creators of knowledge and as producers and partners.
Driving innovation is the widespread impression that higher education costs too much and student debt is too high, that too few students graduate and those that do take too long, that student engagement is too low and proficiencies at graduation are too uncertain. Here is a succinct list of the innovative ideas, practices, and technologies that are reshaping the academic experience.
New Curricular Models
If higher education is to bring more students to academic and professional success, it needs to create learning pathways that support experiential learning, employment during college, re-entry after breaks, and lifelong learning. Innovative curricular models include stackable credentials, structured pathways, learn and earn models (including practicums and coop models), competency-based (which include prior learning assessment), modularized courses, and military crosswalk programs and degree verticals (that seamlessly connect high school, community college, military training, and four-year institutions).
New Delivery Modalities
Supplementing traditional classroom-based delivery, we now see hybrid approaches, fully online courses (synchronous and asynchronous), low residency programs, Emporium models, accelerated courses, and intersession classes.
Growing numbers of students at four-year institutions increasingly acquire novel credentials that don’t require two- or four-years to vest. These include professional certificates, badges, MicroMasters, and nanodegrees that students use to upgrade their skills, enter a new field, or bolster their competitiveness in the job market at a fraction of the cost of a traditional degree.
To promote an educational experience that is more immersive, experiential, real-world, and hands-on, instructors are embracing pedagogies that are experiential, challenge-based, project-based, inquiry-driven, activity-focused, team-based, case-based, gamified, adaptive, and personalized. Teaching increasingly involves differentiated instruction, solver communities, and integration of the curricular and co-curricular, the classroom and learning outside the classroom.
New Conceptions of the Faculty Role
In addition to a faculty member’s traditional roles as content deliverer, subject-matter expert, feedback provider, researcher, and mentor, a professor is increasingly expected to be a learning architect, guide and facilitator, and assessment specialist.
Promising New Educational Technologies
Technology-enhanced education isn’t confined to PowerPoint presentations, clickers, and chat rooms. The goals are to make the learning experience more accessible through anywhere, anytime, any device access; better supported, through e-Tutors, e-Advisors, and online course and degree planners; more interactive and immersive, including virtual labs, adaptive courseware, and advanced simulations; and more social and collaborative.
New Assessment Strategies
Rigorous assessment is central to education. In a bid to make assessment more meaningful and helpful, grading is increasingly being used to diagnose learning problems and assess mastery. As a result, there is an increasing emphasis on formative assessment, performance- and project-based assessment, authentic assessment, and multi-tiered assessments. Student evaluation is increasingly based upon rubrics, portfolios, and assessments tightly aligned with courses’ learning objectives.
New Approaches to Grading
Because traditional grading can be arbitrary, de-motivating, and overly focused on lower-order skills (such as memorization and recall), instructors are adopting innovative approaches that are game-based (utilizing points, levels, badges), mastery- or proficiency-based (in which students must meet clearly defined learning objectives), and specifications-based (which require students to meet certain defined assignment specifications).
New Student Support Models
To bring more students to success, institutions are implementing proactive advising that draws upon sophisticated learning analytics. Institutions support students with early alerts and behavioral nudges, a community of care approach that includes academic and non-academic coaching, tiered support involving supplemental instruction, peer mentoring, and peer-led study groups, more coherent synergistic and developmental curricula, and faculty and instructional facilitators dedicated to student mentoring, feedback, and scaffolding.
New Learning Spaces
These are flexible learning spaces that support team-based learning, role-playing activities, and collaboration (such as maker spaces).
Data is increasingly used to inform administrative decisionmaking (including course availability, scheduling, curricular bottlenecks, and financial aid allocations), curricular-level decisionmaking (identifying roadblock courses and optimizing course sequencing), and the learner’s experience (utilizing click-level data on engagement, persistence, pace, and performance).
Institutions are experimenting with transcripts that provide a more comprehensive record of a student’s accomplishments and proficiencies to better demonstrate the value of a higher education to parents, business, and government. Novel approaches include a developmental record that recognizes participation in community service and enrichment activities; a 21st century literacy record, recognizing acquisition of such novel proficiencies as cross-cultural competence and contextual thinking; a co-curricular transcript identifying activities that a student participated in; a competency-based transcript that specifies the abilities, aptitudes, and skills that a student has demonstrated; and a universal transcript that consolidates all of a student’s learning, academic and non-academic.
Steven Mintz is Executive Director of the University of Texas System's Institute for Transformational Learning and Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin.