Digitally Enhancing Learning Capability

Timothy M. Renick, VP for Enrollment and Student Success, and University Vice Provost, Georgia State University
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Timothy M. Renick, VP for Enrollment and Student Success, and University Vice Provost, Georgia State University

It’s been nearly 20 years since the introduction of the smartphone, meaning the vast majority of our incoming students have never lived in an era without one. Computers and cell phones have been ubiquitous since their birth. Teachers couldn’t caution them to pay attention in math class because “they wouldn’t always have a calculator handy.” The digital revolution has put the power of the Internet in almost everyone’s pocket and the incredible build out of wireless and wifi infrastructure make it accessible almost everywhere.

Perhaps no place on the planet is the influence of digital communications and tools more evident than on college and university campuses. They are central to students’ lives, and for our purposes they are driving remarkable advances in teaching, research and student services.

Georgia State is at the forefront of some of the most dynamic changes being made in higher education, and our innovative approaches are earning national accolades. U.S. News and World Report recently named us the 4th most innovative institution in the country behind only Arizona State, MIT and Stanford,and we ranked 14th among national universities cited for “an unusually strong commitment to undergraduate teaching.”

  We are fostering a culture of innovation, creativity and imagination in and outside the classroom in pursuit of our primary goal, the success of our students 

What does this look like from a student perspective? Our nationally recognized system of academic advising delivers predictive analytics-based alerts to students directly to their smart phones and tablets, helping to keep them on track to graduation. This summer, we piloted a new Web-based portal, which allows students to explore live information about job demand, starting salaries and career opportunities online. The information, personalized based on a student’s choice of major and courses, is available to student round the clock on smart devices.

In the classroom, we are using adaptive learning software to track how students are doing in real time. As a student completes assignments, takes quizzes and tackles new concepts in class, software automatically recommends activities or assignments based on the student’s mastery of the material. Professors also are getting updates on student progress in real time so they can adjust how or what they are teaching to ensure the class stays on track.

Having already integrated such technologies into introductory math classes, Georgia State this summer received a half-million-dollar grant from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities to adopt, implement and scale the use of adaptive courseware in high-enrollment courses in disciplines such as economics, psychology and political science, all with the aim of fostering student success. The three-year project is in conjunction with seven other large public universities and will benefit thousands of students annually at Georgia State alone.

We are also reshaping our classrooms. We know students today benefit from learning collaboratively and we’re building learning and lab spaces that reflect this. Classrooms and labs are increasingly being configured to encourage students to work in groups or teams and build out their ideas.

In a pilot program with our 250 Honors College freshmen, we are teaching digital literacy in new ways to expand our students’ technology use. While our students are deeply experienced in using social media, they often need help in thinking about how technology can help shape their learning.

Our Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning provides faculty with state-of-the-art resources to explore effective teaching techniques and tools. For example, gaming elements are being used in courses to provide new and different ways for learning and working with new concepts. Faculty members frequently gather for workshops to share best practices and keep up on the latest technology.

We‘re working everyday to harness modern technology and provide our students with new tools and skills that will enhance their learning capability and better prepare them for their careers. We are fostering a culture of innovation, creativity and imagination in and outside the classroom in pursuit of our primary goal, the success of our students.

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