Rapid Change in Technology Sparks New Environment for Higher Education

Globalization of Higher Education Conference—March 24, 2014

Recap Day 1

Technology has been as revolutionary to higher education as Guttenberg’s printed press. This was one of the common themes among speakers during the first day of the Globalization of Higher Education Conference held in Dallas, Texas. Former Governors Jeb Bush (FL) and Jim Hunt (NC) co-hosted this first-of-its-kind event at which former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged attendees to continue to invest in higher education and share it globally.

The rapid transformation of technology has created a sense of urgency—and opportunity—among leaders in academia, according to Dr. Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School professor.

It has only been since 2007 that the world has come to know Skype, Google, Twitter, cloud computing, and a social media landscape that has transformed the way people interact and organizations operate, noted numerous speakers, including New York Times columnist and bestselling author Thomas Friedman. For higher education, as with the rest of the world, this has resulted in rapid change.

“Today, we are faced with the most radical change in distance learning, technology, and logistics since the invention of the printed book,” said Lord Eatwell, President of Queens’ College, University of Cambridge, which co-sponsored the conference with Academic Partnerships. “For the potential globalization of knowledge, only the invention of printing has been more important.”

Change Demands Collaboration

It is this important shift in information delivery that is opening the doors for universities to bridge the gap in affordability and accessibility by exporting higher education from the Western world to emerging economies.

This means finding creative solutions and forming collaborative partnerships, explained Naledi Pandor, Minister of Home Affairs of the Republic of South Africa. In South Africa, she explained, this transformation began in 1995 when the late Nelson Mandela established the first higher education commission. Today, South Africa has seen marked increases in the numbers of students accessing higher education, with approximately one out of eight students coming from outside of South Africa.

“When one looks at our statistics there is much to celebrate, but South Africa still lags behind other regions,” Pandor said. “Our progress has been overshadowed by the rapid progression of the developing world. There is a massive gap and there is massive opportunity.”

Quality Even More Important

With this expansion of online opportunities also comes increased responsibility to ensure the quality of learning matches that of traditional classroom environments. The consensus among speakers was that the traditional campus environment would not be replaced by online learning, but rather enhanced by it.

Yet, the speakers encouraged the more than 250 conference attendees, primarily higher education leaders from the U.S. and abroad, to focus on providing a high-quality experience. And for today’s younger learners this means creating an integrated experience that meets them where they are: in the digital space.

“What should our goal be as we open ourselves up in digital spaces?” asked Martin Bean, Vice Chancellor of The Open University, which has been providing distance learning for more than 40 years. “Quite simply, it’s as it always should be—it has to be about great teaching. Those students have never known a world without digital being part of their lives. And shame on us if we think we can sit still, put our head in the sands, and deliver a teaching experience that not only doesn’t map to the world they live in—but  it also doesn’t map to the jobs and prosperity that we wish for them and their families for generations ahead.”

While each institution must determine how to best extend online learning to meet the needs of students, whether at home or abroad, the consensus is that making higher education more accessible and affordable benefits everyone—and will require leaders to think as critically and be as curious as the students they serve.

“We need to continue to experiment with new programs and models,” said John Wilton, Vice Chancellor of the University of California at Berkley. “It’s important to take risks, try things, and be willing to fail. This is largely foreign to the traditional academic approach, but these issues we are dealing with are very different. They lend themselves to experimentation, and the pace of change is so rapid, that I think it is foolish to think any of us know where this revolution will end.”

 Check back tomorrow, Tuesday, March 25, for a recap of the final day of the conference.