6 obstacles that make it difficult for colleges to embrace new technology

Students don't have established codes of etiquette, for one

The New Media Consortium (NMC) recently released the higher education edition of its 2017 Horizon report, in which researchers cite six key challenges standing in the way of higher ed's use of technology. 

NMC's six challenges were selected by expert panelists, who agreed that each of the following challenges is "very likely to impede the adoption of one or more new technologies if unresolved."

1: Digital literacy gaps

When you think of digital literacy, you may think of the skills it takes for students and faculty to actually use technology. Research shows that nearly 60% of so-called "digital natives" actually lack basic digital skills—but NMC researchers say we need to go even a step farther than that.

The researchers argue that digital literacy also includes:

  • Students' responsible and appropriate use of technology;
  • Proper online communication etiquette; and
  • Students' rights in online learning settings.

To address this challenge, the NMC writes that some schools are developing frameworks to "assess current staff capabilities, identify growth areas, and develop strategies to implement digital literary practices." Some are also establishing more concrete policies on technology usage.

2: Can you put a formal label on informal learning?

Technology enables informal learning—the challenge is that schools don't yet have formal ways to document and assess it.

According to the report, one solution is for schools to form partnerships with online learning providers and industry leaders to recognize "a broad array of competencies."

The National Coalition of Certification Centers, for instance, connects community colleges and industries to "develop and implement technical certifications that are portable, stackable, and endorsed by institutions and industry alike."

3: The achievement gap is hard to address online

Online degree programs are accessible for students unable to enroll in a traditional postsecondary program, which is a great thing. However, the NMC notes that schools still struggle to "cater to all learners' needs" in their online curricula.

"The one-size-fits-all approach of traditional higher education paradigms... is in stark contrast with an increasingly diverse global student population," the report notes.

Data-driven student support systems can help address this challenge, the report says, since they allow schools to personally cater online learning. 

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4: Not everyone can access the internet.

The report cites the fact that in the United States, 30 million Americans don't have high-speed internet access.

"Efforts to improve these figures are necessary to promote full participation," the report reads—which would mean that underrepresented students could access online learning.

To address this challenge, some colleges are partnering with industry leaders to provide financial grants for eligible students to purchase computers and internet access at a discount.

5: Technology is far from constant

Before making large investments, the report says, institutions "must grapple with the longevity of technologies and devise back-up plans."

Because technology is developing so rapidly, "processes must be established for both technology and pedagogy discovery." Schools must think carefully before spending on professional development that could be obsolete before it's complete. Some schools allow for "freeform experimentation" instead, encouraging faculty to learn as they go.

6: Where does the professor fit in?

With online programs, traditional professors often must shift roles to "guide" or "facilitator," says the report, which is why "many institutions across the world are rethinking the primary responsibilities of educators."

Institutions are developing programs to shift their instructors' teaching styles, requiring them to "think more like project managers" (NMC Horizon report, accessed 3/7).

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