Technology Trends and its Impact on Higher Education

Sam Segran, CIO, Texas Tech University

Sam Segran, CIO, Texas Tech University

Instead of just one or two prominent technology trends, higher education has been transformed by the blending of the best of a number of technology trends. After more than 900 years of a traditional learning environment in which the teacher imparted knowledge to the student via face-to-face teacher-led discourse or lecture, the face of higher education has now been significantly altered in the last dozen years. Social media, mobile, and cloud have already impacted higher education in many significant ways and continue to change the landscape.

Teaching modalities have already been changed and educators are continuing to push the limits of integrating newer technology in their respective fields, morphing traditional methods to newer flipped classes, adaptive learning, online learning, blended learning, and on-demand learning, including MOOCs. The emergence of Learning Management Platforms that leverage managed content and other educational resources, cloud, social media, and mobile technology has helped to accelerate the changes in the higher education landscape.

Big data is expected to have a significant impact in the higher education research environment in the next few years. While commercial vendors such as Amazon and Walmart have been successfully using big data for their daily operations for many years, the use of big data in higher education is still in its infancy. Higher education institutions replete with faculty and staff skilled in high performance computing, data sciences, computer sciences, and advanced analytics, are well-positioned to leverage these talents to help lead researchers to discoveries in areas such as the sciences, medicine, business, and engineering fields.

  ​Teaching modalities have already been changed and educators are continuing to push the limits of integrating newer technology in their respective fields   

Additionally, while not quite big data by its strictest definition, advanced data analytics are being increasingly used by higher education institutions to assess the effectiveness of the emerging teaching and learning methods on the success of students in terms of classroom performance and graduation. As Learning Management Platforms mature, these new data points from the advanced data analysis can be integrated back into the system, thus allowing a more effective learning environment for students. Advanced data analytics also helps faculty, staff, and the institutions become more efficient and effective in the use of resources.

Depending on the technology, certain disciplines are more impacted than others. For instance, 3D printing allows students and teachers from fields such as architecture, engineering, and design to create innovative new solutions with this new 3D modelling capability, and these technologies can then be incorporated into their instructional curriculum. Not surprisingly, some of the touted “new” technologies have fallen by the wayside. While a few of them have turned out to be much less than promised for higher education (e.g. Second Life), others such as netbooks, podcasts and flip cams, have since been superseded by newer technology trends.

On the other hand, emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) haven’t even scratched the surface in higher education. Higher education institutions have their fair share of the early IoT devices such as Internet connected cameras, sensors, HVAC controls, electronic locks, etc. From researchers with sensor devices in the field to students with gaming consoles in residence halls, the proliferation of IoT devices in higher education has barely begun. According to Gartner, “IoT, which excludes PCs, tablets and smartphones, will grow to 26 billion units installed in 2020 representing an almost 30-fold increase from 0.9 billion in 2009.” Cisco estimates that we will have about 50 billion IoT devices by 2020. The change in network addressing from IPv4 to IPv6, and an increasingly connected world have set the stage for an explosion of IoT devices.

As technologies have matured, IT professionals in higher education institutions, and their vendor and consultant partners, have learned to integrate these newer technologies with existing infrastructures, and to secure them as well as possible. With this growth in staff experience and skills, adoption of BYOD is becoming the accepted norm in higher education. Newer mobile devices such as smartphones (especially iPhones) and tablets such as iPads, Chromebooks and Surface Pros, are becoming easier to integrate. However, IT staff still have to continue to plan and enhance their infrastructures, including the expansion of external connectivity speeds, backbone speeds, building distribution speeds, WIFI, and Digital Antenna Systems (DAS). With the expected flood of IoT devices, higher education IT professionals need to constantly enhance their security skills and security infrastructures as well since the average user is often more focused on the functionality and convenience aspects of the IoT devices rather than the secure use of them.

Recently, I had the privilege of listening to an excellent presentation on IoT devices by a Director of Research from the Institute for the Future, titled “From an Internet of Things to Systems of Networked Matter: Exploring the future of IoT.” She recommended that IoT designers adopt Five Design Principles for IoT devices:

1. Design beyond Efficiency
2. Design for Collective Benefit
3. Design for Human and Machine Systems
4. Design for Equity
5. Design for Failures

I asked the Research Director if the Institute would consider adopting a 6th Principle—“Design for Security.” In response to my question, she explained that the 5th Principle could include Security. While it made sense, I would have been more comforted with an explicit, separate 6th Principle—“Design for Security and Privacy.”

In a higher education institution, IT security professionals are constantly kept busy with protecting data that ranges from Personally Identifiable Information (PII), FERPA data, PCI data, PHI data, research data, and other sensitive data. Each of the new technology trends has introduced its own unique challenges for a higher education institution and its community in protecting data, both to meet compliance mandates and for protecting the institutional community’s privacy and security. The emerging IoT devices will continue to bring with them a whole new range of functionalities and challenges!

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