Education officials issue higher ed update to National Education Technology Plan


Department of Education officials, in a report released Thursday, urged college and university leaders to “reimagine higher education” and the role of technology in an era that demands “a student-centered higher education ecosystem.”

In a newly-issued supplement to its National Education Technology Plan that focuses on higher education, the 60-page report highlighted the changing demographic profile of undergraduate students and the importance technology plays in meeting a more diverse set of academic and student needs.

The report goes on to recommend ways for colleges and universities to use technology to enhance learning, teaching, assessments and student success and provide examples of colleges using technology in innovative ways.

“It is impossible to redesign students to fit into a system, but we can re-design a system for students. This can be the difference between success or failure for our students that need the promise of higher education the most, said Joseph South, director of the department’s Office of Educational Technology which issued the report.

The report, “Reimagining the Role of Technology in Higher Education,” builds on the department’s National Education Technology Plan, released a year ago, that focused technology’s place in K-12 schools in five key areas: learning, teaching, assessment, infrastructure and productivity.

“When we released the NETP, we recognized we needed to do something more focused on higher ed,” South told EdScoop in the waning days of his role at the department. Like many federal officials, South will vacate the Office of Technology as a new administration takes over the federal government Jan. 20.

South said the report was not a “last hurrah” by the department, but likely the first of a series of reports highlighting successful technology applications in higher education.

“There’s so much innovation going on — and work we wanted to learn about. I would anticipate this will be updated over time,” he said.

South said a central force driving the need for rethinking technology’s role in higher education stems from the changing nature and needs of the students institutions serve.

The report noted that three in four undergraduate students now have at least one characteristic not traditionally associated with colleges students of the past, including 62 percent of students who work either full or part time and 28 percent of students who have at least one dependent, according to National Center for Education Statistics.

The need for new skills and additional education in America’s workforce today requires modularized content, more flexile schedules and new forms of credentialing, the report said.

“Unless we become more nimble in our approach and more scalable in our solutions, we will miss out on an opportunity to embrace and serve the majority of students who will need higher education and postsecondary learning,” the report said.

In addition to providing design principles for a postsecondary education ecosystem, the report provides recommendations and innovative examples for higher education leaders in the use technology. Among its key recommendations: Institutions should focus on ways to use technology to enable students to access learning opportunities apart from traditional barriers of time and place.

It cites, for instance, how the Virginia Community College System serves 200,000 students on 23 campuses with its online Wizard platform that helps high school and college students choose course and career options.

In an another example, it highlights how Pueblo Community College, in Colorado, created blended and virtual courses along with the Consortium for Healthcare Education Online platform to meet the growing need for technically skilled workers in the allied health field.

The report details the following design principles for incorporating technology into a student-centered ecosystem:

1. Guide students toward education that enables them to achieve their goals, is suitable to their needs, and aligns with their interests.

2. Helps students make wise financial decisions about postsecondary education, including through transparent information about outcomes and return on investment.

3. Prepare students for postsecondary-level work by redesigning diagnostic tools and providing adaptive, targeted learning solutions.

4. Allow students to adjust the timing and format of education to fit other priorities in their lives.

5. Provide students with affordable access to the high-quality resources they need to be successful and to empower them to become curators of their own learning.

6. Enable advisors to help students progress through times of transition and changing needs, leveraging technology such as data dashboards and texting where appropriate.

7. Collect and use real-time learning data to provide targeted assistance to students.

8. Allow students to build meaningful education pathways incrementally that allow them to move fluidly in-and-out of and between institutions to accommodate their learning and life goals.

9. Allow students to document their learning in ways that can be applied to further education or meaningful work.

10. Create a network of learning that supports students as creators and entrepreneurs, and agents of their own learning.