Several months ago we reported on the newer trend of gamification in higher education, and while the idea of using game design elements to learn in a university setting seemed unlikely on the outset to take root, it has been gaining steady ground. Now, more than ever, innovators are taking one of the most popular ways of spending free time and incorporating it into active learning that benefits the teacher and the student.
Excitement, creativity, and pride are just a few of the many positive effects gamers experience, and studies have shown that game-based learning makes sense. The most popular online game right now, League of Legends, has 12 million active players every day—far more than the number of daily visitors on Instagram or Pinterest. 85% of those players are between the ages of 16 and 30, making higher education a natural target market for education-furthering games. The interest in gaming is obviously present, so now it’s up to game designers, higher ed professionals, and innovators to change how we teach and how students learn. Jane McGonigal, a game designer, author, and researcher, believes that lack of engagement is a major cause of low productivity in the workplace and school. Gaming, she says, can change that. She believes educational gaming will become a new environment where you can learn anytime and anyplace in a world that is full of play and collaboration.
Already, games and game-based challenges have started solving real-world problems while helping engage students at the same time. Foldit is a computer game that instructs, rewards, and helps solve real-world health issues simply by taking advantage of humans’ intuitions, ideas, and competitiveness. Find the Future teaches students of all ages based on historical achievements and clues. Whatever the game, the ability to access fellow competitors or teammates at any time via a mobile device or computer means learning—and fun—are never more than a click away.
Gamification is on its way to being even bigger than just a learning tool for higher ed. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and MacArthur Foundation are investing in school assessments based on and embedded in games, while social software companies are using gaming mechanics to create rewards and incentives in the workplace. All ages can benefit from game-based learning, but perhaps no group is in a better position to study, develop, and put educational gaming into action than university staff. Higher education is poised to become an incredible jumping off point for game-based learning—and, perhaps, for finding solutions to problems around the world.
When it comes to faculty development, how prepared are you? With new, technologically advanced products, programs, and systems for higher education debuting at an astounding rate, it’s no wonder many instructors feel overwhelmed. One feasible solution: Holding regular faculty tech training sessions so that administrators, faculty, and students are aware of how the learning field is shaping and evolving.
Holding technology training sessions for faculty in higher education isn’t a brand-new concept, but the need for such programs has dramatically increased. In such an internet-driven age, many institutions assume that instructors who are interested in a particular subject will simply get online and research it themselves. The sheer number of news sites, tech reviews, and product releases can be impossible to keep up with, however, and for time-strapped faculty, time spent researching tech is unlikely. But organizations like nonprofit Educause are working to use information technology and help transform higher education. They’re on a mission to explain effective practices, outline trends, and teach how technology can be of help in the classroom as well as behind the scenes. In fact, they’re leading their annual Educause conference right now in California—and you can learn online in live seminars.
What’s important for administrators, IT officials, and faculty to realize is that faculty development is not a one-time event; it’s an ongoing journey that needs constant upkeep. As executive director Michael Chen of St. Mary’s Center for Instructional Technology in Texas says, “Technology is not just a tool [for faculty] to do their old jobs better. There are new tasks, and they have to realize that. You have to keep changing with the times.” He and school director Jeff Schomburg said that IT officers need to convince their administrations that just as hardware needs to constantly be upgraded and replaced, so do investments in faculty development.
Several campuses have in-depth technology-focused learning opportunities within their faculty offerings. San Jose State University’s Center for Faculty Development has a communication technology department, and though they have an open-door policy, they also make it a point to provide weekly and even daily workshops, seminars, and talks. Being proactive is key: It’s important to train every instructor before anyone feels left behind in the ever-growing world of education technology. From small lunch workshops to faculty-wide training sessions a few times a year, being an educated and knowledgeable faculty member is key—and will help everyone in the long run.
This past summer, the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) released an in-depth report on their most recent faculty study, titled Faculty Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education (Available for online purchase). BISG surveyed college and university instructors in Spring 2013 for this report, and compiled the findings to complement their similar series on student attitudes. Since BISG’s previous reports in 2012, how much has changed? Is digital content going to shut down print content? And how comfortable are professors with online education? Though the survey sets out to answer all these questions and more, we’ll go over just a few of the report highlights and help shed some light on faculty attitudes around the country.
- One of the main findings of the survey was that e-textbooks are still experiencing slow growth. Perhaps students like having something tangible, or maybe professors like to know their students are not surfing the internet in class. There was just a 3% increase to bring the number to 31% of students who have tried a digital textbook (page 5) in the past two years.
- A fairly equal number of instructors surveyed had never taught a course online (40.2%) as opposed to those who had (38.3%). Interestingly, instructors were quite split over how online teaching affected traditional classroom lecturing (pages 7 & 8); some enjoyed teaching online and preferred it while others strongly preferred the familiarity and face-to-face methods of the lecture hall.
- If the outcome is the deciding factor in teaching online courses, the results of this study may not help at all: Over 50% of instructors across the board thought class results were similar whether teaching a course online or in person (page 9).
- What does the future hold? Those who teach in higher education do want to incorporate more digital material into their daily teaching plans. 54% of the 527 instructors surveyed plan to make more use of online/digital material in their courses this semester. This includes integrating more web content in the classroom (nearly 75%), using more publisher-provided digital materials (over 50%), and perhaps adopting digital textbooks (around 35%).
Though the print versus digital debate has no clear winner, there is definite agreement concerning several main learning points: Whether print or digital, instructors absolutely agree that in order for their students to succeed, textbooks—specifically, a core textbook—is a necessity. It helps students engage more, leads to better grades, and helps the instructor teach most effectively (pages 9 & 10). Despite an ever-digitized world, it appears that print textbooks and face-to-face learning isn’t disappearing anytime in the near future.
Many of us work in college towns and operate in our own on-campus world, so it’s easy to forget what is happening right around us. But with this week’s federal shutdown headlining, it’s nearly impossible to ignore the effects it is having in the higher education arena. What is being disrupted right now? What could happen in the near future? Here is what you need to know.
Most people won’t be severely affected by the shutdown as long as it ends shortly—within the next week, at least. But for some, even a few days without government departments and funding means widespread monetary and education loss. Many schools use various research functions or funds to do work, study, and teach, but five undergraduate schools in the U.S. are actually federally funded—meaning they’re almost completely shut down. At the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, for example, the whole school has closed for normal operations (subscription only), and because the school operates year-round, classes and time cannot be made up.
But for the average public or private university, changes are occurring on a smaller level. Smithsonian research resources (and museums) are closed, meaning scholars are unable to access data or records. The Education Department has furloughed most of its employees, and related institutions have closed down. This means that while most funding and grants are still accessible, campus-based programs such as federal work-study programs could find themselves with students who have nowhere to turn.
If the government shutdown lasts much longer, problems could arise for millions of faculty and students alike. Programs would shut down, funding would slow down, and communication with project leaders would likely be cut off. 14 million college students in the country receive some type of financial aid, in fact, and an extended shutdown means it would take months or even years to catch up on disbursements or new grant approval. Just about 10 percent of the U.S. Department of Education is working this week, and with the last government shutdown (1995-1996) lasting three weeks, everyone in academia hopes that the government will quickly regain footing.
Many faculty members are coping with the shutdown by opening the classroom to discuss and debate the shutdown. What do your students think? How will it affect their education, the way other countries view America, and budgets throughout higher ed institutions? A solution may not be in our hands, but talking through the situation can lead to even more important and interesting conversations about education.
When it comes to technology assistance, progressive teaching, or just being aware of new tools that can help both students and instructors succeed, your best tool can often be helpful administrators. But what can be done when overwhelmed staff in administration positions aren’t aware of the most modern technologies—or don’t have time to devote to your cause? Dealing with administrators who don’t understand your view can feel like an impossible barrier, but an interesting new higher education trend could help turn your frustrations into positive action.
New positions for administrators with backgrounds in technology, innovation, and learning advancement may soon be coming to a school near you. Several institutions have already started hiring for these positions under such names as “Interim Associate Provost of Education Innovation and Technology” (University of Houston) or “Vice Provost of Advances in Learning” (Harvard University). A few schools are even doing a relative overhaul of academic affairs in an effort to restructure academic affairs and prioritize digital learning and innovation. So what are these positions meant to do, exactly?
Most of these 21st century openings are experimental permanent or interim positions, but all of them are meant to further the world of higher education by encouraging and concentrating on technology in digital advancement. Instead of constantly playing tech catch-up or making guesses about buying the latest course management software, schools are hiring tech and innovation specialists who can devote themselves full time to improving scholarly environments. From small colleges to the most recognized institutions in the world, many schools are realizing they must transform their methods of teaching and learning by being proactive: They are researching and establishing teaching technologies and innovative learning systems now, not later.
Many administrators in these new positions will be developing schools’ roles in online education and remote learning. Harvard University Provost Alan Garber, who announced one of the institution’s new positions, explained that with the launch of edX and HarvardX, “…it has become clear that the University’s work in these areas have reached a level that warrants dedicated academic leadership.” It’s true; as more companies realize the potential for higher ed technologies and innovative advancement, the more necessary it becomes to have specialists who can research, seek out, and put into action the tools that will truly enhance learning for future generations.