The survival of Higher Education (4): 5 key objectives

This is a continuation of my short series on the future of higher education, and builds on yesterday's blog post on why Social Web tools are useful to support student learning. We start with the question... will technology help to shape the future of Higher Education? 

It is increasingly apparent that learning technology and digital communication will play a key role in the shaping of future higher education. For digital technologies to become as successful in education as ‘paper and pencil’, I believe that five key objectives will need to be achieved:

1. Technology will need to become more ‘transparent’ (Wheeler, 2005). That is, technology will need to become so embedded into the day to day experiences of teachers and students that it becomes common place, and even mundane. The novelty value and opacity of technologies often prevent users from ‘seeing through them’, beyond the shiny toy with the buttons and lights, to a tool that is useful because it does something previous tools could not do (John and Wheeler, 2008).

2. Universities must offer better and more sustainable support to academics. Often teachers are pushed into situations where they need to cope with new ideas and new technologies without clear guidance. In such situations, teachers will often struggle and fail with technology, or they will resist to the point of rejection. Very few will actually succeed without help. Appropriate professional development, support services and dialogue with experts will invariably overcome many of these issues (John and Wheeler, 2008).

3. Teachers need to see the relevance and application of new technologies. For teachers to adopt new technologies, they must first see the applications and understand the benefits (as well as the limitations) of the tool. If a tool adds nothing new to the teaching and learning equation it will be perceived as irrelevant and will be rejected (cf. Norman, 1990).

4. Many teachers will need to gain greater confidence in the use of new and emerging technologies. This will mean that they will need to be continually adaptive and responsive to change as it happens. This relates back to training, which brings familiarity, but teachers also need to see beyond the technology, using it as an extension and enhancement of their own cognitive capabilities, or ‘mind technology’. They will also need to see that technology can be contextualised into real and authentic teaching situations. And they will need to be willing to change their own practice occasionally.

5. More research is needed into what can be done and what cannot be done with new and emerging technologies. How else will we know whether or not something works, who it works best with, and under what conditions it becomes less successful? We can find out through trial and error, or more preferably, we can discover through thorough and systematic research in which new technologies are tested out in authentic situations. 


John, P. D. and Wheeler, S. (2008). The Digital Classroom: Harnessing the Power of Technology for Learning and Teaching. London: Routledge. 
Norman, D. (1990). The Design of Everyday Things. London: The MIT Press. 
Wheeler, S. (2005). Transforming Primary ICT. Exeter: Learning Matters.

Photo by Felix Burton on Wikimedia Commons

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The survival of Higher Education (4): 5 key objectives by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


David Hopkins said…
As always I can go back to my age old answer that the inclusion and use of any technology, not just for education or learning, needs to be 'appropriate' and 'considered', that there needs to be a reason for it's use and that it needs to add something to the requirement for learning. The reason for implementing something new or something innovative can be as simple as saving time, increasing efficiency, improving effectiveness, streamlining workflow, etc. but the improvement should be as a result of the technology, not because of it.
Steve Wheeler said…
Strongly agree there David - my constant battle is with organisations who buy in the latest shiny new technology without really thinking through what they wish to achieve with it. Identify the problem first, and then find the solution - technological or otherwise.
Keith Brennan said…
Thanks for the post Steve. I think it's a clear and useful roadmap to tech integration and utilisation.

A lack of support seems regularly cited as a reason for lack of implementation, and the themes of a lack of understanding of how things can be useful, as well as the increased demand on limited resources in deploying without support are often cited. I;d add in that some educators also express fears that they are less versed, or fluent in the tech basics than their students and express or experience fears related to this. Anbother reason for support.

You posted recently (or reposted) about motivation, and that seems a key trend you pick out. If we want students and educators to implement tech, we need to show and demonstrate clearly the utility. We are more motivated of we can see a course of action allows us to fulfill our aims and goals, and gives us greater control over achieveing them. Being explicit and clear here, and understanding ourselves as advocates for eLearning, can help immensely.

I think you tie those themes up well here.

Re ponint fiove, I agree. I wonder though, if this is the most difficult part. It;s hard to find evidence based research that makes a solid case. The academic work on education is dominated, it often feels, by casae studies, theory papers, and preference based analyses, and there can be either a hostility to, or lack of hard, evidence based research on what works, what doesn;t and why.

It;s easy to find work that cites people;s stated preferences - people feeling they leanred more, or stating they felt more engaged, or less engaged, or that they prefer one mode or medium of learning to another - and these are an essential part of useful research. It;s easy to find theoretical justifications and contextualisations. But the literature seems to lack a hard edge when it comes to data, measuring actual outcomes, controlling for variables, comparing meaningful data sets, and cross referencing opnions with outcomes.

I think we need better research tools than we currently have to achieve this...

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