Accelerating toward the future of higher education at Educause 2019
There are always multiple themes at the annual Educause conference. Digital transformation (Dx) was an explicit theme this year but emerging and implicit hot topics included:
The session, Make Way for Gen Z, vividly illustrated why digital transformation is so important in higher education. Students today are realistic (they’ve experienced an economic recession and a drop in their parent’s net worth), driven (no participation awards for them), Phigital (blurring the physical and digital worlds), and demand hyper-customization. To meet their needs, schools must go well beyond simple digitization, and further than digitalization; all the way to digital transformation, defined as: a series of deep and coordinated culture, workforce, and technology shifts that enable new educational and operating models and transform an institution’s operations, strategic directions, and value proposition.
Gen Z-ers may hate group projects, but keynote speaker and author Steven Johnson has many examples demonstrating the value and importance of collaboration. He traces a surge in scientific thinking and innovation to the liquid network of the coffee houses that emerged in the mid-17th century. The Lloyds of London insurance market, for example, germinated at Lloyd’s Coffee House. Fun fact- in a nod to the rhymes of history, that site is now occupied by a Starbucks coffee shop. Collaboration as a teachable skill is one of the areas that will give our students the edge over robots and AI in the competition for future jobs. The vaunted international measure of a country’s education system, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), now includes measures of general or cross-curricular competencies, such as collaborative problem solving. Johnson makes a strong case that both diversity and cross-functional collaboration are key ingredients for innovation. “Chance favors the connected mind” is his catchphrase.
An example of the downside of working alone is the case of Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, a Frenchman who invented an early phonograph in 1857, twenty years before Edison! The issue with Scott’s invention was that it had no playback mechanism. Sounds were recorded visually on smoke-blackened paper or glass. Had he not been working alone, a collaborator likely would have pointed out the drawbacks to write-only memory, as well as the tremendous benefits of providing sound output. In fact, recently scientists have been able to play Scott’s recordings by optically scanning them.
About 50% of Gen Z students believe an online degree is just as valuable as a traditional one. These students are what most would call practical. 79% of Gen Z favor integrating education programs with real world experience. They don’t want to pay for Greek history and the theory of art. You can argue this point, but it’s what many of Gen Z believe. They need to see a strong connection between what they study and their desired career. The growing acceptance of micro-credentials, which may one day replace the college degree fits here. Two Educause sessions on that topic were Blockchain in Action! Microcredentialing/Digital Badging the Bitcoin Way and Maximizing Microcredentials: Leveling the Playing Field for Underserved Learners.
Escalating the urgency of digital transformation at Educause 2019
To determine the top 10 IT issues in higher education, Educause committee members started by speaking with leaders within the member institutes, specifically asking about their strategic priorities. The top themes that emerged this year were: Student Success, Financial Health, Reputation and Relevance, and External Competition. The drive to digital transformation ran through all the themes and top issues.
Here are the EDUCAUSE 2020 Top 10 Issues
Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, drove home the theme of increasing diversity in technical fields and the role higher education must take in that endeavor. Unfortunately, we’ve been going in the wrong direction. In 1984, 37 percent of computer science majors were women, but by 2014 that number had dropped to 18 percent. We’ve found the same thing working with schools on esports. It’s been difficult to recruit girls onto their teams. The notable example is at SUNY Canton, which has an all-women’s varsity esports team. Keeping in mind that today’s female students are part of Gen Z, good advice to attract them into technical fields is to keep it relevant. Show how technical knowledge helps solve real world problems.