In developing your educational technology roadmap and strategy, don’t forget your primary users: students!
Student and faculty expectations of teaching and learning technologies – in physical classrooms, in the digital learning environment, and in the ambiguously defined ecosystem that connects the two – have rapidly increased, particularly (though not only) since the onset of the pandemic. Educational technology (defined here as technology hardware and applications used to facilitate teaching and learning) comprises a key component of any institution’s digital transformation strategy.
Yet, at many institutions, educational technologies and their broader ecosystems have developed in an ad-hoc or organic fashion, with little guiding strategy or long-term planning. Developing a strategy and roadmap for educational technologies is just as essential as it is for any other technologies: it allows you to explore stakeholder needs; align technology, support, and investments with institutional strategy; plan for the teaching and learning technology needs of the future; advance equity, inclusion, and student success; and identify the priorities and tactical steps to advance.
Stakeholder engagement and data collection may be your first stage in developing your strategy and roadmap; at many institutions, this translates to sustained engagement with academic administrators, faculty, and staff who support curricular or co-curricular outcomes. Too often, students are excluded from these conversations, despite the recent focus on student success and student voices.
Learn the Trends in Student Perspectives
Reasons for excluding student voices are myriad: talking with students is time consuming; identifying students who are willing to share their thoughts (including critical perspectives about their experiences with an institution) can be challenging; student perceptions and preferences may not align with institutional priorities; and feedback may contradict assumptions we have made. If we’re truly aiming to deliver a “frictionless student experience” (see Issue #4 in EDUCAUSE’s 2023 Top 10 IT Issues), and if, as others have suggested, “higher education must change to meet students where they are, because many systems, policies, and practices of postsecondary education were built for wealthier White consumers and are not designed to accommodate today’s student population,” (see Jodie Penrod’s Hybrid Learning and Space Reimagination: Optimizing Access and Equity to Promote Student Success) how can we understand student preferences and priorities if we do not engage with and learn directly from them?
Fortunately, recent research has elevated student perceptions and perspectives on their higher education experiences and serves as a reminder to include students in our planning efforts. Trends in student perspectives on educational technology include:
Learning Spaces are Everywhere
- When students prefer on-site modalities, it is frequently for “social interaction and engagement.”
- This is particularly true as many students report challenges in connecting with other students in fully online courses. (EDUCAUSE 2022 Students and Technology Report: Rebalancing the Student Experience)
- On-site students expect a seamless connection to their remote peers.
- The reverse is also true: remote students expect a seamless connection and robust, engaging experience with the on-site learning environment (including the instructor, other students, and activities in the learning environment). (The Planning and Design of Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive Campus Environments 2022)
- Students report being similarly effective whether they are operating remotely or on campus.
- They also have a strong desire for access to hybrid options for a variety of activities, including solo work, collaborating with colleagues, learning, socializing, and presenting. (Exploring the Future of Hybrid Education Through National Research, Society for College and University Planning Annual Conference 2022)
- Students expect most or all of their course materials to be available online.
- This includes homework, class notes, quizzes and exams, and course content. The option to access materials online supports more flexibility, allowing students to engage with content when their academic, personal, and professional schedules allow. (EDUCAUSE 2022 Students and Technology Report: Rebalancing the Student Experience)
Educational Technology Design Matters
- Fixed computers in a classroom create a computer lab, not an active learning space.
- Computers at every seat in a classroom – whether in rows or around round or oval tables – obstruct lines of sight and the ability for students to interact with one another. This creates barriers in the range of use for spaces that might otherwise be utilized for active learning and other teaching modalities. (Data-Informed Planning for Learning Spaces 2021)
- Students expect a variety of technology options in learning spaces, particularly a combination of monitors and whiteboards.
- They also expect learning space technologies to be “plug and play” – seamless and easy to use – regardless of their device type. (The Planning and Design of Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive Campus Environments 2022)
- Students are interfacing with advanced technologies across campus.
- This is particularly common in libraries, but also in faculty labs, centers for teaching and learning, and experimental spaces. Experiences include VR/AR/MR/XR as well as maker spaces, digital media spaces, and esports arenas. These technologies further blur the definitions of physical and digital space, as students may collaborate with peers in both “locations” simultaneously. (The Chronicle of Higher Education: The Library of the Future 2022).
Educational Technology Can Empower or Impede
- “Assistive technology can help all students.”
- In keeping with what we know about inclusive design, practices such as providing captions on videos support all students – including those with and without documented disabilities. Other popular assistive technologies include digital recorder/player, word prediction applications, digital highlighters, and speech-to-text applications. (EDUCAUSE 2022 Students and Technology Report: Rebalancing the Student Experience)
- Open educational resources can be differentiators in student success.
- Textbooks and other learning content can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars per semester, costs that create unnecessary barriers for many low-income students. Resources including infrastructure, training, and support for OER can make a big difference in student access to course materials and reduce student stress (and debt). (The Chronicle of Higher Education: The Library of the Future 2022).
- Students may be skeptical of predictive analytics.
- There are inherent limitations to the validity and meaning of data collected by the LMS and other educational technology platforms. Students are aware of these, and may be particularly dubious about predictive analytics and advising systems recommending course or curriculum decisions to students while using that data in a vacuum, outside of the human conversations and decision-making processes in an advising relationship, for example. (Data Privacy in Higher Education: Yes, Students Care 2021)
Translate Trends into Action
What implications do these perspectives have for teaching and learning technologies, for their selection, deployment, management, and support? How will student expectations impact faculty development and support, curricular and co-curricular activities, and student success initiatives? How do you build consensus across the institution so that you can take action? How do you synthesize these topics into a cohesive roadmap, taking a holistic view of the institution?
Seek Diverse Perspectives and Collaborate on Shared Solutions
If you have a formal IT governance structure, start there. Evaluate membership from across the institution: do you notice any gaps? Could you address any gaps by modifying membership and responsibilities of an existing governance group, or is there an opportunity to develop an ad-hoc group to address the teaching and learning technology ecosystem? Alternatively, might your overall governance structure be missing a significant component, such as educational technology, and might you add a more permanent group to your governance program? If you don’t have any student members, you should evaluate why and consider modifying that approach. Chris Purdy reminds us that “ad-hoc or opportunistic engagement of students may not lead to the degree of ownership needed to truly understand the issues from a student lens” (SmithGroup Why Are You Asking Me?!”: Increasing the Impact of the Student Voice 2023). For equity’s sake, consider paying students for the time they spend in service to the institution – everyone else “around the table” is being paid, why not them? Allan Gyorke provides additional suggestions for gathering data on the student experience from various sources in Teaching and Learning Perspectives on the EDUCAUSE 2023 Top 10 IT Issues.
If you do not have formal IT governance (or if modifying the existing governance structure is not feasible), can you develop communities of interest to support inquiry and collaboration and to collectively influence the direction and decision-making related to educational technologies? Don’t forget to include students here, too.
Finally, do not assume that the student perspectives highlighted here (or in any publication) accurately represent those of students at your institution. Like all groups of individuals, students are not a monolith, their perspectives are nuanced and diverse. Seek input from a diverse range of students, including students from various academic units, at varied places in their academic progression, and with a variety of individual identities.
Use Guiding Questions to Explore Student Perspectives
You can use these questions as a starting point to explore student and other stakeholder perspectives on educational technology:
- Do your learning spaces provide a variety of technology options? Are they reliable and easy to use? Do you have clear definitions across the institution of ownership, maintenance, and upgrades?
- Are your active learning spaces designed for interaction?
- Do your learning spaces adequately connect on-site with remote students?
- Do your academic programs and associated technologies enable student engagement both on campus and remotely for all academic activities?
- Do learning spaces and adjacent areas support social interaction and informal learning? Alternatively, are there easy-to-access spaces for students to continue their learning, conduct group work, or work individually among peers near formal learning spaces?
- Are faculty adequately trained and supported to design and deliver coursework digitally? Are digital materials accessible? Do faculty have access to support to redesign courses for success in flexible, blended, and/or hybrid formats? Do they have access to training on teaching and learning technologies – both within and outside of the classroom?
- What is your institution’s approach to accessibility and accommodations? Do faculty primarily respond reactively to requests? Do you have adequate support to work more proactively, such as providing captioning on all videos and ensuring that the contents of digital documents are accessible to people who use screen readers?
Use this list – and the referenced resources – as a starting point. Edit to suit your unique institutional context and as appropriate for engaging various stakeholders. Talk with students at your institution to explore how national trends are playing out at your institution.
Create Your Roadmap and Vet with Stakeholders
Once you have engaged with stakeholders, review their feedback and input to seek themes across responses. From these themes, identify strategic priorities to address; these strategic priorities will help you define your desired future state. Ensure that your strategic priorities are aligned to the institution’s and organization’s strategy. Then, for each strategic priority:
- Define the tactical steps you’ll take in the next one, two, and three years to help achieve or advance the priority.
- Identify the resources you’ll need to accomplish the steps you’ve defined.
- Specify your metrics. How will you know if you’re “moving the needle?” Remember that these may be quantitative or qualitative, and that measuring progress may be more feasible than measuring an outcome.
- Recruit collaborators to help you make progress; identify these people and organizations in your roadmap.
Seek feedback on your draft. Do the strategic priorities and tactics you’ve defined resonate with stakeholders? Do any of your IT governance or other governance groups provide an opportunity for soliciting feedback? Do students understand the roadmap and how it relates to their experience – and the experiences of students who will follow them?
What you do with your roadmap, and how valuable it becomes to your organization, is up to you. To ensure its relevance and value, refer to it frequently when making both operational and strategic decisions; use it as a didactic device for staff development; reference it in routine meetings and conversations; socialize it with the broader institutional community. Remember, too, that your educational technology roadmap is a “living” document; as your institutional context shifts, so too will the tactical steps (and potentially the strategic priorities) that you have defined.
Educational technology ecosystems have developed organically in many places, having been managed on an as-needed basis, responsively rather than proactively. As stakeholder needs continue to grow, and as the broader educational technology environment continues to become even more dynamic and complex, a thoughtful, proactive plan aligned with stakeholder needs and institutional priorities can bring order and insight. Specifically, an educational technology roadmap is a great way to manage complexity, anticipate future needs, develop a resource plan, and align services and solutions with the institutional mission and strategy.
In a recent article for EDUCAUSE Review, Jodie Penrod provided a pointed reminder:
“The future of higher education is being reimagined not by academic administrators or industry experts but by students and their preferences and choices for their learning objectives. Student voice and choice means more than letting students select from various assignment options; it means allowing students to develop a sense of ownership of the classroom and their own learning. Do university and college leaders today understand what their students want? Do they understand the needs of the students they are recruiting, accepting, teaching, and graduating?”
In developing your educational technology roadmap and strategy, don’t forget your primary users: students! CIOs and their teams, along with campus planners, faculty, and academic administrators, all influence how students interface with teaching and learning technologies. Staying attuned to trends in student perspectives will help ensure that your strategies and roadmaps anticipate students’ needs.
If all of this is too much to tackle on your own, seek out others who can help. Explore and join EDUCAUSE Community Groups, such as Digital Transformation, Instructional Technologies, IT Strategic Planning, and Learning Space Design. You can also bring in a specialized consultant to assist in developing an actionable roadmap that supports your institution’s strategy.
This post was authored by Vantage Senior Strategic Consultant Shannon Dunn, who advises clients on governance, strategy, and educational technology initiatives. Shannon has 15 years of professional experience in higher education and over a decade leading complex projects and program development across public, government, and private sectors. She brings a deep understanding of strategic planning and visioning in higher education technology and connects communication, inclusivity, and collaboration to cultivate diverse stakeholder engagement and community building.