Recently I asked my friend of mine, a college professor, if she could help me out with childcare.
“Next Monday morning?” she said. “Sorry, I can’t. I have to be up at 6 am to teach Dutch high-school students how to make apps.”
For better or for worse, your teaching life has probably not been as impacted by technology as Marci’s. At least not yet.
How will technology affect post-secondary Education in the future? What will your teaching practice look like in five or ten years?
It’s often hard to tell the gimmicks from the game-changers, the fads from the trends. But if you can get a handle on the deep and lasting changes to come, you’ll have a chance to prepare, and position yourself to thrive.
The game-changers are the trends that will change the terms on which we educate, not just tools we use to do so.
I’ve been around long enough in college administration to collect buzzwords and see alignments forming between my college’s strategic mandate, the president’s priorities, and top-of-mind policy research from think tanks and consortiums.
Here are three trends that I think will be game-changers. See if you agree.
1. The Drive to Virtualize Classrooms
As the higher education market becomes more competitive and receives less and less public funding, schools will need to cater more to student-customers while economizing on their products. Online Learning is pivotally situated to satisfy both of these demands. With an online course you can attract students from anywhere, you are not limited to your local market. The online learning environment is also extremely flexible for administrators—no timetable conflicts, no commuting or parking hassles, very few overhead costs, the same course can be “picked up”, (re)packaged, and distributed across the college network for a relatively low cost.
What does this mean for you as an instructor? Well, not only can the students log on from a great distance, so can the professor.
Ultimately I think the shift to e-learning, supported of course by the economics of education, will significantly impact what it means to have a career as an educator. Even if professors retain some sort of home base at an institution, they may operate more like freelancers or consultants (depending on how you imagine the payscale), nomads of the virtual highway, hired for their expertise at whatever educational outfit in the country or indeed the world connects with the brand they have to offer.
So start building your portfolio, get entrepreneurial, and arm yourself with tech skills and experience (and read my blog article, “How to Get (and Keep) a Gig in Distance Learning“).
2. The Drive for More Work-Integrated Learning
Ontario’s recently released report “Building the Workforce of Tomorrow” presents work-integrated learning as a priority for post-secondary education. In fact, it is so much of a priority that the Wynne government is making co-op workplace experience mandatory for every K-12 student as well as for every post-secondary program.
Work-integrated learning is designed to fill the “skills gap” between what Ontario graduates know and what Ontario businesses want them to know. The language surrounding this drive for skills development concerns the “higher” skills required for a new information-based economy of “high-tech jobs.” After all, Wynne chose to announce her government strategy in the new headquarters of Ellipsis Digital, a London Ontario marketing firm, whose CEO Dave Billson spoke at the same press conference. Huge clues as to the kind of business partnering the newly re-named MAESD (Ministry of Academic Excellence and Skill Development) has in mind.
The drive to more work-integrated learning means we will see increasingly more curriculum coverage, more programming, and more significance attached to the acquisition of high-tech skills, with tighter and more frequent connections to workplace mentors in the form of co-op placements, hybrid on-site/off-site courses, professional development workshopping, bespoke “corporate training”, fieldwork placements, apprenticeships and so on.
At the same time, within workplaces, tech changes and global competition have made employee (re)training crucial for companies. Progressive workplaces are more and more interested in hiring instructors and consultants who can not only help educate their adult staff in new tech, but also to facilitate “traditional” skills such as critical thinking, creative problem-solving, and effective interpersonal communication. Employees know they need to be life-long learners and they are pushing for learning opportunities.
Those who can step into the roles of mentors and trainers will need to have the hands-on skills to, say, code effectively in a particular computer language, and the social skills to relate to and inspire learners. But they need not have, and probably won’t have, a grad school thesis or a scholarly publication record. More likely they will have had a social media campaign go viral. They will be pioneers in the increasingly blurred boundary between school and work.
3. The Drive to Refine Outcomes Measurement
No doubt you’re familiar with the vaunted and vexed status of program and course Learning Outcomes. Vaunted because we recognize that education should be designed in relation to the learning a student needs to accomplish. Vexed because precisely what students come away knowing is extremely difficult to measure and quantify.
Performance-based funding is popular in the United States, and you can see why if you are thinking of education as a business that requires a return on investment. If, and when, the product isn’t doing what the consumer (society, the student, the parents) wants it do, then the product has to be improved. If we’re not getting the outputs, change the inputs. Here in Canada, governments are becoming increasingly concerned about quantifying the return on their dollar investments in students, even at a time when funding for post-secondary education is proportionally the lowest it has ever been. And the more tuition students are asked to pay, the more they too are concerned about what it’s likely to “get them.”
So we see, I think, a durable trend towards measuring, or trying to measure, the outcomes of education. We could measure programming in terms of jobs achieved upon graduation, but that’s very tricky too, and sometimes it yields politically embarrassing results, such as highly-credential graduates working in low-paying and insecure part-time positions. Besides, Learning Outcomes are meant to be directly connected to the subject matter taught in a way that jobs could never be.
The impact of technology here will be in how it can serve in the assessment, analysis and quantification of otherwise esoteric accomplishments such as “make sound judgements” and “demonstrate an ability to apply knowledge.” Measurements may be in data-tracking and data metrics (e.g. how many times did the student show up late at field placement) or perhaps in amalgamating and quantifying the extra and co-curricular aspects of a student’s life and personality. Recently I spoke with an agent from Educational Testing Service, the American company that established the SAT/GRE/TOEFL testing and prep and learned that it has moved into the co-curricular testing business: prospective students can be tested and scored on what they do outside their studies.
As instructors, then, what and how you teach will come under greater scrutiny in terms of designated Learning Outcomes per course and program of study. Your planning, if it doesn’t do so already, will need to make an explicit connection between the material covered, the resources used, the classroom activities, and the specific skills and knowledge students are meant to be acquiring. Get a jumpstart by prepping with Learning Outcomes in mind and documenting the ways in which all aspects of your work support student outcomes. One day teachers may be evaluated less on their own study, research or professional development and more on the basis of how well their students are observed to meet program Learning Outcomes.
There’s So Much More
These three trends are certainly not the only significant things happening in education and technology sectors. What have you come across as an instructor that you think will be one of the game-changers for the future of post-secondary education?
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