Technology will solve the 'triple threat' to higher ed, expert says

Educator argues traditional classrooms are too expensive to sustain

Technology is the key to handling higher education's toughest challenges—but leaders must embrace it, argues educator Richard DeMillo. 

In the keynote speech kicking off Campus Technology 2016, a four-day conference, DeMillo pinpointed technology as the solution to the "triple threat" of access, achievement, and affordability.

DeMillo serves as the executive director of Georgia Institute of Technology's (Georgia Tech) Center for 21st Century Universities and as the Charlotte B. and Roger C. Warren Professor of Computing.

"One way to think about revolution is people in the streets saying, 'I want a revolution. I want to overthrow the old order.' I don’t think that's what’s going on here," DeMillo said. "What I do see is a paradigm shift, a new way of thinking about what's going on in our institutions."

Also see: How can a smartphone help improve student success?

Small classrooms revolving around lecture-based learning have dominated the education model—until now, DeMillo said. Today, that system is too expensive to sustain.

Technology, he says, makes it possible to provide an equally effective education at a much lower cost.

"When I talk about revolution, what I'm really talking about is a shift I've seen in the last five years toward serious institutions with serious leaders addressing these problems," DeMillo said. "It should come as no surprise to you that technology is going to play a critical role in this story."

While small classes are great, they're also "prohibitively expensive," DeMillo says, so students are jammed into large lectures.

At Georgia Tech, an online master's program in computer science turned out to both attract a broad cohort of students as well as be extremely cost-effective.

"This is a fight between methods of teaching that are thousands of years old and have come to us essentially unchanged, the long-form lecture … and something very different: education that's informed by science, education that's informed by research," DeMillo says.

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Technology also enables students to proceed at their own pace through material in competency-based education programs.

"One of the things technology is extremely successful at is mass customization, mass personalization—giving people the idea that the education system is being responsive to their needs," DeMillo said (Burroughs, Ed Tech Magazine, 8/2). 

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