Student preference, financial performance pressures at higher education institutions, and the “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) explosion are transforming educational delivery methods at a disruptive pace. Technology innovation is fostering entirely new instruction methods. For example, hybrid/blended learning, flipped classrooms and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) are challenging both traditional and distance learning courses.
In the hundreds of conversations I have had with instructional designers, teaching excellence centers and instructors, I often end up resorting to colloquialisms and imagery to succinctly describe the relentless changes in student engagement and learning. So what’s the big deal? Do we really need all this change? And what will the “new normal” be for how instructors deliver content and teach with the rapid technological transformations that are happening? The reality is that the vast majority of students in today’s digital age have persistent access to the internet through a variety of devices. Therefore, we should leverage these devices as tools for learning.
The single largest driver in the “new normal” of learning is student preference. The Educause Center for Applied Research discovered that 64% of students agree or strongly agree that technology elevates the level of teaching, and approximately 75% of students have taken a class with online components. At Via Response, we have had universities state that large hybrid courses (500-2500 students) often reach maximum attendance levels, while the same course offered inside a traditional classroom struggles to get students. They indicated that 14:1 ratios are not uncommon.
Economic pressure faced by both students and educational institutions has been a catalyst for change. In today’s economy, more students are working while going to school, and thus have a greater need for the schedule flexibility offered by hybrid classes. A survey conducted by the Center for Teaching at Estrella Mountain Community College stated that 74% of surveyed students indicated that “convenience and flexibility” were what they liked best about hybrid classes. Students in these classes can attend in person, watch a live lecture from a remote location, or review the lecture at a later time if they have a schedule conflict, such as work. This revolution in higher education course delivery is all about choice. The trends in hybrid course offerings is expected to see unabated growth because this new course delivery model enables students to experience on-campus life while leveraging technology to balance school, work and other life demands.
Financial performance pressures have also changed how public and private institutions support students. Administrators are grappling with the complex challenge of providing quality education and protecting their institutional brand while competing with for-profit online learning institutions that offer innovative course delivery models. The past two decades saw tremendous growth in updated on-campus amenities and building infrastructure; however, now there is renewed fiscal scrutiny around the most efficient ways to deliver learning. Building new lecture halls and buildings is now secondary to technology innovations that deliver flexible, high quality education. To cover these growing costs while facing budget cutbacks, blended “Bricks and Clicks” learning environments are now the ideal solution.
There are challenges with hybrid course models however. Instructors need to promote live student engagement and in-class assessment for all students, even those not physically present, to make these blended classrooms effective. While learning management systems (LMS) have robust asynchronous assessment capabilities, they are limited in their ability to engage students in live hybrid class configurations since they are passive in nature. In fact, some LMS-based asynchronous courses have students choosing to not watch the lecture at all; instead they focus on the information presented in the textbook to save time.
LMS platforms have limited capabilities on mobile devices, thus requiring students to use a computer to participate. In comparison, next generation BYOD student engagement platforms enable students to participate in class using any device they own, such as smart phones, tablets, eBook devices and laptops. These platforms can be seamlessly integrated with LMS platforms. BYOD-based platforms also provide instructors with blended synchronous/asynchronous tools that increase student engagement and content retention by as much as 37%, according to one University of Central Florida professor. They also help instructors and institutions measure active student participation. For example, these tools can take attendance, even from students attending remotely, enabling institutions to accurately document student participation. This is essential in situations where attendance confirmation is mandatory for students earning scholarship credits.
In addition to adding value in LMS-based courses, the benefits of using a BYOD student engagement platform in hybrid, online and flipped classroom configurations are significant. In particular, remote students can participate in live polls or assessments that occur in a live lecture from any device and location, alongside students present in the classroom. . Real-time access to poll, quiz, and assessment results are immediately available, and can be easily shared with the class as a kick-off for discussions. This capability provides both the instructor and students with insight in to how well the entire class, as a whole, is absorbing and retaining course content.
Top tier schools have recognized the ability to leverage their brand through these new educational delivery methods. As a result, a student can now pick the brand with little or no regard to geographic location. Will this trend stop? I think not. In the end, institutions should ask themselves whether it is better to board the technology innovation train as it departs the station, or after it is heading west at 80MPH. In my opinion, it’s far less painful to get on board now than try to catch this speeding train later.