UK universities ‘must embrace technology or risk falling behind’

Jisc report for Hepi says technology is a ‘key tool’ in responding to challenges laid down by TEF

February 2, 2017
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UK higher education risks falling behind the US and Australia if it does not build on the existing investments in technology-enhanced learning, a new analysis has warned.

A report by the digital services organisation Jisc, published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), says that the UK is a leader in using technology to improve learning and teaching, but it notes that with other countries also investing in this area, the UK must capitalise on its strong position to “increase its competitive advantage”.

The report notes that a meta-analysis of more than 150 US projects on curriculum redesign using technology-enhanced learning found better student learning outcomes in nearly three-quarters of cases, with average delivery cost savings of 31 per cent.

In Australia, the University of New England lowered student dropout rates from 18 per cent to 12 per cent using “learning analytics” – the collection, measurement, analysis and reporting of data on the progress of learners and the contexts in which learning takes place.

Rebooting Learning for the Digital Age: What Next for Technology Enhanced Higher Education? makes seven recommendations for universities, including ensuring that effective use of technology for learning and teaching is built into curriculum design processes.

This should then be supported by an “evidence and knowledge base” showing what works, to help institutions make informed decisions, the report says. It also calls for universities to introduce learning analytics at the “earliest opportunity”, and suggests that large datasets in this area could be used to provide new insights into teaching and learning.

With the teaching excellence framework (TEF) putting an increased focus on UK universities’ teaching quality, institutions should recognise digital technology as a “key tool” in their responses to the assessment exercise. The report advises the UK government, however, to not use the TEF as a “barrier” to universities innovating through technology-enhanced learning.

Paul Feldman, chief executive of Jisc and one of the report’s co-authors, said that results from other countries “prove students become more engaged in their learning where technology is used well”.

“The TEF puts universities under pressure to improve student satisfaction, retention and employability while managing costs,” Dr Feldman said. “Digital developments show this can be done.

“In the UK, there are good examples of transformational technology, but these need to become much more mainstream if we are to compete.”

The paper also recommends that universities’ digital agenda be driven by senior management, and that academic leads for learning and teaching should “embrace” technology-enhanced learning and the digital environment.

Sarah Davies, co-author and head of higher education and student experience at Jisc, said the evidence shows that technology is an “essential component” of an effective higher education experience.

“Universities need to identify the approaches that work in their context and embed them into their teaching approaches, whether this is using learning analytics to identify and support students who may be at risk of underachieving or using online research to prepare for engaging face-to-face workshops.”

john.elmes@tesglobal.com

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