In response to the pandemic, most institutions had to quickly pivot to online and hybrid instruction. While many have since resumed in-person operations, campus leaders are eager to carry forward the lessons learned during COVID-19. As a result, many are now turning their attention to developing longer-term, tech-enhanced teaching and learning strategies that will meet evolving learner preferences and promote student success.
To help institutions prepare, EAB convened 17 chief information officers (CIOs) to discuss the teaching and learning opportunities and challenges they see coming out of the pandemic. Below are four key takeaways from the conversation, based on advice shared by participants and EAB experts.
1. Prioritize addressing the backlog of IT "deferred maintenance" and proactively budget for ongoing classroom technology upgrades
This occurs when institutions postpone maintenance activities and repairs on campus buildings, often due to budget constraints. As a result, many campuses face a growing backlog of outdated facilities, which can negatively impact stakeholder experiences and lead to increased institutional costs in the long run.
IT infrastructure suffers from the same deferred maintenance challenge as physical campus buildings. Many institutions accrue high technical debt by putting off technology enhancements and hardware updates due to high costs and competing priorities. Unfortunately, this results in outdated IT infrastructure and equipment across campus, which can increase maintenance challenges and costs in the long run.
During the pandemic, federal stimulus funding enabled some institutions to address deferred maintenance in their classrooms and outfit them with new or upgraded hardware to support online or hybrid instruction. However, CIOs remain anxious about the long-term sustainability of these IT investments given the ongoing maintenance and refresh requirements.
One CIO from a small private university expressed concern about his campus investing one-time stimulus funds in widespread classroom upgrades without making any plans or resource allocations for regular upkeep. To avoid fueling technical debt and the deferred maintenance backlog—and ensure classrooms are adequately equipped for future teaching and learning innovations—campus leadership teams need to begin discussing and budgeting for consistent IT maintenance and upgrades today.
2. Create a diverse portfolio of tech-enabled instructional spaces rather than retrofitting all classrooms with the most advanced technology
Since technologies and student preferences evolve so rapidly, institutions that make sweeping changes to all their IT infrastructure and classroom hardware at once run the risk of their entire portfolio quickly becoming outdated.
Moreover, all their classrooms will be on the same IT maintenance and upgrade schedule, which can be disruptive and expensive. Many CIOs therefore recommend phasing investments in classroom technology upgrades and maintaining a variety of learning spaces across the spectrum of technological sophistication and integration.
While some faculty or programs will require highly advanced, tech-enabled instructional spaces, others will still want or need more traditional lecture halls and classrooms with basic tech setups. Ultimately, creating a variety of classroom types can help institutions accommodate diverse and constantly evolving teaching and learning preferences while also avoiding unnecessary investments in IT infrastructure and hardware.
3. Leverage learning analytics to improve teaching effectiveness and student success
The collection, analysis, and reporting of data about students and their interactions with digital learning environments to better understand learning, anticipate student needs and behaviors, and optimize instructional environments.
Remote operations during the pandemic spurred faculty members to begin or increase their use of learning management systems and student success platforms. With this uptick in technology utilization, institutions gained access to more data on student learning than ever before. CIOs were quick to point out that analyzing this data could yield evidence-based and real-time insights into students’ classroom experiences and instructional effectiveness.
In turn, leaders could use this intel to better target teaching and learning support and investments. Additionally, learning analytics could enhance institutional efforts to meet accreditors’ growing demand for quantifiable evidence of student learning outcomes and continuous improvement.
However, to reap the benefits of learning analytics, institutions will have to invest time and resources in building their analytical capacity, including potentially hiring dedicated data analysts. They must also develop methods to transparently share data and analyses with campus stakeholders while remaining mindful of privacy laws and ethical use of student data.
Moreover, leaders will need to incentivize unit leaders and faculty to adjust their instructional approaches accordingly. Despite these hurdles, CIOs urge campus leadership teams to prioritize future investments in learning analytics since it has unmatched potential to enhance teaching and learning approaches and outcomes.
4. Involve tech experts in strategic decisions about teaching and learning
Amid the pandemic crisis, campus leaders often had to make rapid decisions about teaching and learning, sometimes foregoing collaboration or normal decision-making processes. Now—as institutions begin developing long-term plans for instructional modes, learning technologies, and classroom infrastructure—it is critical that campus leadership teams come together to discuss future changes.
While not every campus leader has deep pedagogical expertise or experience in the classroom, each brings a valued perspective to the table. CIOs, in particular, possess critical expertise in learning technologies and infrastructure, which will only grow in importance as institutions experiment with more online and/or hybrid offerings.
By proactively involving CIOs in conversations about teaching and learning strategy, institutions can better pinpoint and capitalize on opportunities to enhance students’ learning experiences through technology. CIO participation can also help campus leadership teams avoid unnecessary investments in costly or redundant technologies and minimize security risks.
Beyond university IT leadership, institutions should also identify opportunities to include distributed IT support teams in strategic teaching and learning conversations, especially given their relationships with and deep understanding of the specific tech needs of the academic units they serve.
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