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Emerging HE policies highlight new political landscape

Interventionism is suddenly all the rage with the Westminster Conservative government, and higher education is feeling the impact as new policies and legislation are brought to bear on the sector, writes Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of Push and of the Engineering Professors’ Council.

Rethinking universities from the outside in

Mike Boxall, an independent researcher and consultant on higher education policies and strategies, and a senior adviser to PA Consulting, considers the emerging post-COVID world and its implications for the future of universities. His blog is based on a paper published recently by PA Consulting, and co-authored with its HE lead, Ian Matthias.

Is the government missing the real 'levelling up' value of HE?

The Westminster government should wake up to the full potential of higher education to help it meet its ‘levelling up’ goals, argues Professor Martin Jones, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Staffordshire University.

After a week of 'people power' it is time to listen to students

Jonathan Baldwin, managing director of higher education at Jisc, reflects on a week that’s felt the force of people power – and says it’s time for university leaders to respond to students’ calls for change.

HEi-think: Don't bolt on new technology and expect it to improve learning

As a new report from the Higher Education Policy Institute calls for HE institutions to embrace new technology, Ed Foster, Student Engagement Manager in the Centre for Academic Development & Quality at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) , and Jane McNeil, Director of Academic Development at NTU, warn that technology alone cannot improve learning.

 

“It’s like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.” Is your educational technology really transformational, or just a distraction?

The educational technology sector promises much to the higher education manager. Technology promises to cut costs, engage students and, with the growth of big data, give game-changing new insights about students.

However, everyone who commissions, implements or uses educational technology needs to remind themselves periodically of the Gartner hype cycle. For every successful innovation that benefits student learning, such as virtual learning environments, there are others that fail to live up to our expectations, like MOOCs (at least not yet). Universities risk spending vast amounts of money on products that look great, but don’t fundamentally improve learning. So how do institutions make good decisions about technology?

A new report from the Higher Education Policy Institute Rebooting learning for the digital age: What next for technology-enhanced higher education? offers a useful view across the educational technology landscape, and makes seven recommendations for how the sector’s use of technology might change in the next few years. The report explores the potential for technology to enhance the curriculum, the possibilities for learning analytics, and the relevance of technology to the Teaching Excellence Framework. It also comments on the organisational requirements needed to realise the opportunities presented.

“Rebooting learning” offers sensible recommendations for using technology to transform the educational landscape. Our own institution, Nottingham Trent University, has adopted many of these practices. We use active learning widely, for example the flipped learning approach SCALE-UP is used by around a hundred academics, right across the institution. The University first implemented learning analytics in partnership with the technology company, Solutionpath, in 2013. In 2015-16, 91 per cent of all NTU students used the NTU Student Dashboard. These are two highly successful, technology-supported endeavours, both cited in “Rebooting learning”.

One of the things we have learned is that there are limitations of looking at technological change through a technology lens. For example, active learning and use of technology are not synonymous. That’s an important distinction; it is the tutors and the students who make it work.

Technology can create affordances, but the real work lies in developing the curriculum and pedagogy. There are many documented cases of shiny new rooms fitted out with technology, which have no impact at all on teaching practices and, presumably, learning. Technology is an enabler and has been cited as the attraction for many of the lecturers who participated in our early SCALE-UP pilots. However, these same colleagues report that it is the increased interaction between peers and tutor in class, as well as greater student engagement with materials before class, which has led to improved learning outcomes.

Similarly, as we discussed in our previous Media FHE blog, the information provided by learning analytics does not automatically lead to sustained changes in student behaviour. Our current research is showing that some students are using the resource to manage their own engagement with learning. However, for other students, a skilled, informed intervention by a personal tutor or other professional is still essential. Learning analytics can provide timely insights, but the institution still needs to invest in the staff and resources to act on those insights.

Everyone knows that technology-led approaches are rarely helpful. Everyone forgets this in the hype over the next new technology. “Rebooting learning” reminds us that technology helps most when it is ‘designed-in’ to an institution’s overall approach.  So, if we may return to the wisdom of Bruce Lee:

“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add specifically what is your own.”

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