Higher Ed Faculty Need Tech that Supports Active Learning

Four active learning trends being driven by the needs of professors.

GUEST COLUMN | by Mike Silagadze

Faculty members in higher education find themselves caught between two competing realities. On the one hand, colleges and universities have shifted focus and importance away from academic rigor and faculty research in favor of student success and effective teaching. On the other, research and grants continue to carry the most weight in the tenure and promotion process. It is essential for edtech entrepreneurs to understand the interplay and conflict between these two forces as they consider what kinds of technology faculty members truly need.

While the disconnect between these two competing realities is evident everywhere in the higher education landscape, it sometimes feels like it’s hiding in plain sight. We constantly read headlines about low graduation rates and the dismal ROI of a college degree; and it is rare to attend a conference or hear about an internal university initiative that doesn’t mention “student success.” At the same time, there is growing focus and attention on the changing portrait of the modern professor. Currently, seven out of ten faculty members are not on the tenure track. Among these instructors, 73% are underemployed by their institutions and about half report working another full-time job. Stringing together all of those data points can give those of us in edtech a glimpse into the realities of teaching professionals in higher education.

As higher education as a whole invests in raising retention, persistence, and graduation rates, faculty members have felt the impact of the shift. For many, the change is a good one and allows them to tap into their passion for teaching. According to one study, 70% of faculty cite student success as one of the most important factors when evaluating employment opportunities at universities. But the transition also gives them one more plate to spin, in addition to taking on more administrative duties and continuing with their research goals.

Edtech entrepreneurs can read these signals as a definitive need for technology that supports effective teaching practice and helps give faculty more time in their days. Faculty members have started to crack the code already and are investing their time in active learning practices. And since we know that in the student success formula, technology doesn’t hold a candle to the impact of an educator actively engaging with students, it’s a small leap to see that this is where edtech should also invest. To get started here are four active learning trends that are being driven by the needs of professors.

Trend #1: Engaging students before, during, and after class

Advances in pedagogical research and technology have widened our understanding of where learning happens. Helping faculty create rich and dynamic ways to engage students inside and outside of class supports learning success. By continuing to push the boundaries of what’s possible with strategies such as discussion prompts and soliciting responses via student engagement platforms, nudging and intervention systems, and formats like the flipped classroom, edtech can support faculty members to improve student success.

Trend #2: Creating the curricula they want, not the one they were given

Too often faculty members are locked into the curricula they are handed, or it takes many hours to ensure their section is updated and covering the most important aspects of a topic. Some have started to turn to Open Educational Resources (OER) as an option but quality of content, discoverability, cumbersome adoption, customization, and curriculum integration are still often challenges. Helping to solve these deficits of OER has the potential to improve student success and save faculty members time.

Trend #3: Support the Socratic Method

More faculty members aren’t just taking a small step away from the “sage on stage” approach, but rather a giant leap. Faculty reinvestment in the Socratic Method encourages debate, discussion, and critical thinking in the classroom. Technology that facilitates two-way communication and agile learning will help faculty members push further away from lecture-only formats and create the type of active learning environments that have been proven to increase long-term understanding and retention.

Trend #4: Making assessment cyclical

Assessments have traditionally been treated as the period at the end of the sentence. But as faculty members invest in effective teaching practices, providing them with ways to use assessment data to adjust pedagogy can help shine a spotlight on areas of the classroom that were previously dark. Finding ways to make it easy for faculty to collect assessment data — and use it in real-time — is essential for edtech entrepreneurs.

As colleges and universities continue to search for new approaches that better serve students and help prepare them for a world that is constantly evolving, the emphasis on effective teaching will continue to grow. Edtech entrepreneurs can do their part by creating technology that supports teacher effectiveness, helping to automate the parts of the job that are repetitive and leaving room for faculty members to invest further in better teaching practices.

Mike Silagadze is co-founder and CEO of Top Hat.   


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