No generation is more at ease with online, collaborative technologies than today’s young people— “digital natives”, who have grown up in an immersive computing environment. Where a notebook and pen may have formed the tool kit of prior generations, today’s students come to class armed with smart phones, laptops and iPods.
This era of pervasive technology has significant implications for higher education. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of survey respondents from the public and private sectors say that technological innovation will have a major impact on teaching methodologies over the next five years. “Technology allows students to become much more engaged in constructing their own knowledge, and cognitive studies show that ability is key to learning success,” says New York City-based Queens College vice-president of institutional advancement, Susan Henderson.
Online degree programmes and distance learning have gained a firm foothold in universities around the world. What was once considered a niche channel for the delivery of educational content has rapidly become mainstream, creating wider access to education, new markets for content and expanded revenue opportunities for academic institutions. Sixty percent of those polled say that the technological change occurring in our midst will alter the perception of the college campus from a one- dimensional (physical) concept to a multi-dimensional (physical and online) one. “Law school students enrolled in hybrid programmes that integrate distance and in-class education outperform those who study exclusively in one environment,” says Tom Delaney, associate dean and CIO of the New York University (NYU) School of Law, of the results of a recent limited trial at his school.
New technologies are also affecting other areas of campus administration. Social-networking tools are helping to build connections with alumni and support career service activities. E-marketing campaigns expand the reach and success of recruiting and fundraising efforts, and drive down the cost of direct-mail campaigns. And automated, self-service programmes reduce administrative requirements, streamline course registration and enhance academic life.
Although university participants view these changes as having a largely positive impact, many institutions struggle with the twin challenges of rising information technology (IT) costs and the need to avoid technological obsolescence. In addition, insufficient resources, a lack of adequate instructional design staff and other technological support issues can also impede the adoption of new technologies. Despite these challenges, most believe that technology will become ever more interwoven into the fabric of academic life.