When the pandemic struck, universities turned to technology in a hurry, to provide learning continuity to their students and minimise its immediate impact on their education. How has COVID-19 affected the use of Education Technology (EdTech) in higher education institutions since then?
We hosted a Woobinar (that’s a Wooclap webinar) to find out how universities have moved past the original short-term shift to EdTech, choosing to embed digital technology at the heart of the design and implementation of their curricula.
To tackle the subject, we invited Professor Elizabeth Barnes, Vice Chancellor at Staffordshire University, Professor Nick Petford, Vice Chancellor at Northampton University, and Ireland’s first Chair in Digital Learning, Professor Mark Brown.
What is the role of technology in education?
To all three of our panelists, one thing is clear: EdTech is a means to an end, not an end in itself. It isn’t about the technology, but what the technology can do to improve the student experience, among other things.
Integrating EdTEch at the heart of higher education means it must be central to the mission and vision of universities. The digital strategy must be incorporated at all levels and across all parts of a university, and be owned by its community. In that spirit, as part of their strategy development process, Dublin City University held a 24 hour online event for brainstorming and community consultation, known as DCU Fuse.
Rather than inserting EdTech in their existing models and plans, universities should embrace its disruptive nature to fundamentally reimagine and transform teaching and learning.
What can EdTech do for universities?
Improve the student experience
Whether online or on campus, technology can do many things to enhance a student’s experience. More engaging and immersive courses, increased interaction with tutors and peers, more flexible and personalised curricula… These are but a few of the ways in which EdTech can make learning more enjoyable.
For example, Northampton University leveraged digital tools to come up with the concept of Active Blended Learning, which combines the principles of Active and Blended Learning. You probably could have guessed that last bit.
Today’s students immediately look for everything online - as do most people. That is why Staffordshire University developed an AI bot to answer student questions, illustrating the power of technology in meeting students’ needs.
Enable better decision-making
EdTech isn’t limited to tools for online learning and increased student engagement. It can be used to gather and analyse data, which allows the university to run the estate more smoothly.
By gathering data on student mobility, Northampton University constructed a visual representation of student activity on campus, allowing them to create more efficient timetables, for example.
Create digitally proficient graduates
By making EdTech an integral part of their learning, students get to develop their digital skills along with the trademark skills of the course they’re studying, which makes them more appealing to potential employers.
It is important that universities equip their staff and students with the skills necessary for lifelong learning. Since technology is going to keep playing an increasingly important role in society, higher education institutions must weave digital technology into their curricula, to give students and tutors the opportunity to improve their capabilities.
How has COVID-19 changed the importance of EdTech?
The coronavirus pandemic had an immediate and negative impact on anyone involved in education. However, it seems its long-term effects will be beneficial to students, teachers, and schools. After all, the pandemic has simply accelerated the adoption of new learning technologies.
By 2030, Staffordshire University wanted to be able to give students the choice to study on-campus or virtually. Because COVID-19 forced such quick change, they might reach that goal in a year or two, which raises an interesting question: will students still come to campus if everything is available online?
The short answer is: yes. The long answer involves student mental health issues due to isolation, a need for real human interaction, and individual preferences in learning methods, among other things.
By building on technology to do innovative teaching and learning on campus, universities can offer students real added value compared to fully online learning models.
For a more in-depth discussion, check out the full Woobinar here!