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Technology and Higher Education

Published On: August 30, 2013

Post-Secondary institutions are constantly looking for ways to increase student engagement. One of the main ways they are attempting to do that is by increasingly using technological innovations to try to improve higher education. Technology in higher education takes many forms (and will take many more forms going forward, as much technological innovation in higher education is still in its infancy). The following is a list of some of the innovations that I find most intriguing, but is in no way an exhaustive list.

Cloud-Based Education

Cloud-based learning continues to grow. By putting resources on the cloud, students and especially teachers can access and share ideas in much larger groups than was previously plausible. Below are three examples of successful cloud-based education models.[1]

  • Brazilian Electronic Learning Organizer assists language teachers in creating and sharing digital learning activities.
  • California State University Northridge created the Computer Supported Collaborative Science Initiative which assists science teachers in high-need Los Angeles schools engage students in research experiences through the use of cloud-based tools.
  • The Global Curriculum Project allows students to participate in a virtual exchange program with schools from around the world.

Interactive Whiteboards

An interactive whiteboard is a large touch screen that connects to a computer. A projector projects the computer's desktop onto the board's surface where users can control the computer with a pen, finger, or stylus.

Distance Education

Distance education can take the form of completely online programs and courses, as well as blended programs and courses. The former is self-explanatory; the latter is when institutions “integrate online with traditional face-to-face class activities in a planned, pedagogically valuable manner… hybrid education uses online technology to not just supplement, but transform and improve the learning process.”[2] Many people increasingly blended courses as a good happy medium between entirely online classes and entirely in-the-classroom classes (though, the amount of these remaining is indeed slim, almost all classes are at least web facilitated).

Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs)

MOOCs are the reimagining of distance education. You can refer to an earlier article on the topic.

Electronic Textbooks

What happens when writers start writing books specifically for the digital format? How much more valuable would an e-textbook be if it had hyperlinks to relevant videos or articles implanted into each passage? And that is only scratching the surface of what writers are sure to come up with.

This new article by the New York Times illustrates the kind of ways we can reimagine text in the digital format. The article combines video and text in an inventive way, and I can very much imagine electronic textbooks taking a similar format in the future.

Big Data

For some, the intrigue of online courses is not so much in the courses themselves, but in the data that we can collect from such courses. Currently, student record keeping systems keep information such as grades, attendance, etc., on students in each course. Researchers use this information to study patterns of student performance. Big data simply refers to the immense increase in the amount of information that we can collect from each student in an online course. Every student action in “a course assessment, discussion board entry, blog entry, or wiki activity could be recorded, generating thousands of transactions per student per course.” [3]

A Broad View of Technology

Too often our view of technology or its potential uses is too narrow. The following excerpt, from “Technology and Higher Education,” by Nils Y. Wessel, in The American Journal of Sociology and Economics, was written in 1972, but the sentiment presented by the author still resonates today.

“We must be careful not to permit ourselves, or to encourage others, to be guided by too strict a definition of “technology.” The word is too readily taken to signify the computer and the television installation. We extend it to include the entire technology of the printed word, the whole range of classroom tools, and even the concepts of the learning module, self-paced instruction and the reordering of the presentation of learning materials, whether or not these are associated (as indeed often they are) with such more clearly technological devices as video cassettes and computer-assisted instruction… Programs in educational technology can be designed around the hardware, the institution, or the discipline. In the first instance, one asks, “How can I use e.g. the computer in the educational process?” In the second instance, one asks, “How should I reorganize my institution to take advantage of educational technology?” In the third, one asks, “What technological instruments can be used to render more efficient the communication to students of a specific discipline?” [4]


[1] Saga Briggs, “10 Emerging Educational Technologies & How They Are Being Used Across the Globe,” Innovation Excellence, 29 July 2013.

[2] Aimee Hosler, “Hybrid Learning: How Simple Technology Could Change Education,” Online Schools, 17 January 2013.

[3] Anthony G. Picciano, “The Evolution of Big Data and Learning Analytics in American Higher Education,” Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 1 June 2012.

[4] Nils Y. Wessel, “Technology and Higher Education,” The American Journal of Sociology and Economics, July 1972.


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