The Tools of Change

07 Apr

Technology is fundamentally changing the practice of teaching and learning in higher education

By Rhea Kelly

book cover

This piece will appear in The Digital Revolution in Higher Education: How and Why the Internet of Everything Is Changing Everything, a new book from the Public Technology Institute (find it May 1 on

For years, thought leaders in higher education have warned of disruptive change looming on the horizon. And with the advent of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, many proclaimed that the forces of change had come to a head. Now that students could access high-quality courses on any topic, any time, anywhere — for free — what need would they have for a traditional college education?

Doomsdayers were convinced that professors would be replaced by video lectures. Venerable universities would crumble and shut down. Degrees would become valueless trinkets.

In reality, though, MOOCs have been less of a death sentence and more of a tool for a long-overdue revamp of the practice of teaching and learning in higher education. Innovative faculty have experimented with using MOOC content as a digital textbook, flipping the classroom by asking students to review recorded lectures in advance and reserving class time for more collaborative work. Some have run MOOCs and on-campus courses concurrently, allowing students to interact online with a global community of learners. Others have used the experience of teaching a MOOC to improve their brick-and-mortar courses, armed with new skills, technologies and techniques for engaging students. In many cases, these efforts have had a measurable, positive effect on student learning outcomes.

MOOCs are just one example of technology’s impact on higher education. Students today have access to a dizzying array of tools for learning — and those tools are changing all the time. Take mobile technologies, for example: About 10 years ago, Duke University redefined mobile learning by handing out iPods to its entire freshman class. A few years later, Abilene Christian University did the same with iPhones, and then with iPads. How long until every college student is wearing an Apple watch?

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Posted by on April 7, 2015 in MOOCs in the News, Op-Ed



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