Reshaping Higher Education
Emerging tech can boost academic progress
Natalie Schwartz :
This summer, we're digging into our archives for stories on current trends, challenges and opportunities in higher ed. This is our sixth installment. Read the first, second, third, fourth and fifth posts.
Pressure is growing for colleges to improve student outcomes, but sliding enrollment and tighter budgets threaten their ability to do so. In response, they are deploying technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics that promise to help them do more with less.
Some colleges are using those tools to improve how they recruit and retain students. Others are using them to bring more accessibility into the classroom or to create personalized learning plans. But effective implementation is key, as the wrong move could negatively impact the student experience and even push learners away.
In the five stories below, we examine how colleges are putting such technologies to work and what higher education leaders need to know to implement them effectively.
In 2014, leaders from 11 prominent public research universities teamed up to study how they could use predictive analytics to enroll and graduate more underserved students. At the time, few colleges were collaboratively using their data that way.
"There were a lot of people doing a lot of very interesting work, but those ideas often weren't being shared, and everyone was going through the same trial and error," said Bridget Burns, executive director of the group those colleges formed, the University Innovation Alliance.
Through the alliance, she added, they could "see how we might leapfrog over that process and both share ideas and build projects together."
Some colleges are hoping to bring back their stopped-out students in order to shore up tuition revenue in light of enrollment declines and reduced state support. Enter ReUp Education, a San Francisco-based startup that uses a mix of predictive analytics, machine learning and human support coaches to reenroll students who haven't finished their degrees.
"We really look to the technology to help us reach out to students at a large scale, engage with them on a regular basis and help manage rosters for coaches so (they) are doing things only humans can do," said Anne Kubek, ReUp's chief operating officer.
With predictive analytics, colleges can automatically "nudge" students to make better choices. So far, studies have found these digital interventions have effectively reduced summer melt, increased enrollment and improved retention. But if they're done incorrectly, they can push students to drop out of college.
"We have to make sure that all this work is designed in a way where it's 'do no harm,'" said Mark Milliron, the co-founder of Civitas Learning. "This is really about helping that student make a good choice for them."
AI stands to bring new levels of accessibility to campuses by letting colleges automatically transcribe lectures and videos, make documents easier to read, and craft personalized lessons.
"If there can be systems built within technology to automatically, accurately and consistently make sure that the technology is being delivered in a way that's inherently accessible to all learners, that's really exciting," said Cynthia Curry, director of the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials for Learning.
Emerging technology is also reshaping how colleges teach their students. Virtual and augmented reality, for instance, allow students to take part in experiences that would be impossible otherwise, such as exploring the inside of a cell. And AI can help instructors create class materials faster than they could before.
"This is about [giving] the faculty access to the tools that will allow them to be more creative, more engaging, have more conversations and ultimately be more human," said Jennifer Sparrow, associate vice president for Teaching and Learning with Technology at Penn State University.
(Natalie Schwartz is the associate editor of Industry Dive's Education Dive: Higher Ed publication and is based in Washington, DC).