While the educational sector is typically viewed as being slow to change, advances in edtech (or educational technology) are starting to make themselves felt.
As educators and universities become more willing to embrace the realities of technology in today’s educational environment, traditional ways of doing things are getting disrupted.
In fact, Common Sense Media reports that 86 percent of teachers and 93 percent of administrators “consider it important or absolutely essential to use educational technologies in the classroom,” citing greater opportunities for engagement, personalization and collaboration. My own digital marketing consultancy, Darkroom, has seen tremendous success working on improving accessibility and the overall student experience via technology, as seen in our recent work with UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.
Embracing tech tools and software has the opportunity to streamline the educational experience, improve accessibility and offer new resources to college students. But far more importantly, students will start getting greater access to the resources they need to become tech fluent — an absolute must for the future—something Gen Z-ers expect from day-to-day living as they grow up accustomed to cutting edge technology and a more frictionless society.
More Blended Learning Opportunities
We’ve seen tech tools revolutionize the workforce with increased remote work opportunities. Colleges are starting to follow suit with more online curriculum options. The Data published by the U.S. Department of Education reveals that from 2016 to 2017, the number of students who took at least some online courses grew by 5.7 percent, even as overall collegiate enrollment dropped.
According to this most recent data, 15.4 percent of university students were exclusively enrolled in online courses, while an additional 17.6 percent participated in a mix of both online and in-classroom courses.
Though still a minority of all university students, these numbers are consistently trending upward, indicating that the demand is there. As more colleges start to make coursework available online with video streaming, webinars and other tools, it creates opportunities for students who might otherwise be unable to attend campus.
Interestingly, studies have found that blended learning can actually help improve grades — something that will undoubtedly help foster future adoption of this resource.
Technology Serving Administrators (Bots and Other Tools)
While we primarily associate chatbots with marketing programs and e-commerce sites, bots are also beginning to play a role in education. In fact, bots have been involved in education for years.
The most well-known educational bot is “Jill Watson,” which was created by Georgia Tech professor Ashok Goel to help handle the 10,000-plus questions he and his teaching assistants received each semester. Introduced in 2016, the artificial intelligence tool was designed to handle more routine questions posed by students, leaving more complex issues to the professor and his human assistants.
As Business Insider noted, “For most of the semester, the students were unaware that the ‘Jill Watson’ responding to their queries was an AI. She even answered questions with a touch of personality…At the end of the semester, Goel revealed Jill's identity. The students, far from being upset, were just as pleased as the instructors.”
It is clear that students are ready and willing to have a bot that can assist with questions in the classroom, but some companies are taking things even farther by helping guide students through the college admissions process.
As reported by ELearning Inside, some edtech companies have introduced automated advising platforms that help match students to potential universities based on interests, affordability and other factors. Other tools make it easier for students to track their progress in working toward a degree or provide warnings when issues with grades or attendance occur. Darkroom’s own tool, Spark, that we created for the University of North Carolina, personalizes the student onboarding experience—making it easier for students to locate helpful information relevant to their character traits, academic interests, and career goals.
These tools are often able to reduce the need for a human advisor, improving affordability for the student while also saving time for all parties. However, this doesn’t mean that the human element is eliminated altogether. The purpose of assistive technologies is to provide a more accessible and on-demand experience for students that need immediate assistance with certain issues. Designed for university staff, these technologies aid administrators in providing information on students and are set up to contact or transfer conversations to a living, breathing person for more complex or urgent concerns.
While cost and time savings are certainly a valuable benefit of such tools, the biggest benefit of edtech and admin bots is that they will allow teachers, administrators and counselors to devote more time and attention to the issues that need it most.
Greater Preparation for Tech-Infused Jobs
As much as edtech can streamline experiences in the classroom and off campus, it won’t truly fulfill its purpose if it doesn’t leave students better prepared for the tech-enabled world they are about to enter.
Data from the American College President Study indicates that only 12 percent of college presidents think they need to make institutional research in information technology a priority. There is clearly a lot of work left to do, particularly in providing opportunities to minorities and ensuring that there is a solid foundation of computer science education in primary schools.
However, movements like Computer Science Education Week are helping to change these attitudes by emphasizing the importance of teaching computer science in both primary and secondary education environments.
After all, it’s hard to argue with stats like the average computer science major earning 40 percent more over their lifetime than the college average graduate, or that computing and mathematics are expected to have the largest annual growth of all STEM jobs. The increase from 39,000 computer science degrees awarded in 2010 to over 64,000 in 2016 is a sign that things are trending in the right direction.
While many universities are lagging behind, more and more are recognizing the value that computer sciences and edtech have for their students’ future career development.
As Will Erstad notes in an article for Rasmussen College, “Even if your job doesn’t require you to have a deep understanding of coding or programming languages, it still helps because you’ll likely need to interact with another person who does. Learning to code, even as a hobby, can give you a common reference point and better understanding of those who tackle some of the more complex programming and coding roles out there.”
From changes in administrative policies to an increased emphasis on using tech in the classroom, it is clear that edtech is poised to bring dramatic changes to the university experience in the years ahead. As these tools continue to disrupt education, more students will be better prepared to deliver real value in the way they use technology in the real world.