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Digital: the key to excellence in higher education


August 1, 2018


Posted on behalf of Renee Patton, US Public Sector Director of Education at Cisco. 

How new technologies can drive more inclusive and effective teaching and learning 

As I mentioned last time, I was fortunate enough to participate in the first Times Higher Education Teaching Excellence Summit at the University of Glasgow from July 10th-12th.

I always love visiting the UK, and what helped make this visit particularly special was taking part in such an exceptional event and having the opportunity to meet with so many people from around the globe, all dedicated to continually transforming education and improving life chances.

Digitisation in education

With its focus on teaching quality, one of the Summit’s many fascinating themes was the impact of digitisation on teaching and learning. A range of broad-based discussions included debates on getting the balance right between research and teaching, and developing the appropriate models for best practices in these two very diverse sectors. These thought-provoking sessions forced academic leaders to think deeply about the shifting role of faculty members in organisations that have traditionally been focused on research rather than teaching.

The topics covered included:

  • future learning spaces
  • teaching and assessment
  • positive disruption
  • the future of STEM education and active learning.

Closing the gap in digital provision

I was also really pleased to represent Cisco at a panel entitled, “Does EdTech break or bridge the Digital Divide?”, alongside representatives from the MIT Sloan School of Management, the IE Business School in Madrid and University College Dublin. The session was moderated by the secretary-general of the Guild of European Research Intensive Universities, and resulted in some fascinating insights.

During the session, we redefined the “Digital Divide” as the gap between what students experience before and during university, with what they encounter when they leave higher education to enter the world of work. In many traditional universities, the digital technologies students must be familiar with in order to survive and thrive after graduation, simply aren’t available to them. This can put many at a disadvantage.

Given that businesses and organisations across the globe are becoming increasingly digitised – even sectors not generally associated with being technology-focused – we do students a disservice and actually widen the digital divide by not using these technologies in their academic surroundings.

We also talked about how technology can be used to drive active learning and thus, deeper student engagement, which can in turn improve results. Examples debated during the session included:

  • Providing students with the ability to work in virtual teams before, during, and after class
  • Allowing them to interact with their faculty members – and with outside experts – using these virtual platforms
  • incorporating “bots” within these collaboration platforms to answer rote, repetitive questions, reserving class time for students to engage in interactive discussions with faculty members and other students

And it was great to hear examples of the Cisco Digital Education Platform and our technologies such as Webex, cited as being able to facilitate this type of active learning.

The discussion went further than merely focusing on teaching however. Other talking points included Vision and Leadership, Culture, and Teaching Methodology, with the panel keen to explore how technology can be used to enable and enhance all these vital aspects of academic life.

Download our education white paper

If that wasn’t enough, I was especially pleased to be able to launch our new education white paper during what was a stimulating and topical event.

The Digital Transformation of Education and a Framework of Change” is intended to help colleges and universities lead and manage change effectively and fearlessly. The paper explores the past evolution and the beneficial adoption of digital technologies within the sector, and how this has revolutionised student achievements. We also explain how this can inform future success. We also point out that whatever technology is being deployed, it must be implemented thoughtfully by IT leaders who understand both students and the university’s needs and goals.

Most importantly of all, they also need to communicate, cooperate with and be guided by education experts.

For further information, or to discuss the white paper, why not contact me directly via Twitter: @Renee_Patton

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