Chapter 1: Introduction
The value equation institutions of higher education have relied upon to attract and retain students—one many students have equated with the idea of a quality education—is being tested like never before. The traditional draws of brand cachet built over decades, modern residences, wellness centers and state of the art lecture facilities have mattered little at a time when most learning has happened remotely. Absent the trappings of campus life, for many students the learning experience itself has not been worth the price of admission.
Chapter 2: ACCESS
Eliminate the Barriers to Learning
Making higher education accessible and inviting to more students has become a critical priority for institutional leaders. The good news is that the pandemic has increased exposure to digital teaching tools and practices and with it, a renewed openness to change. Institutions must capitalize on this momentum and work with faculty to lower the barriers of affordability, time and geography to make it easier for more students to reap the benefits of a college education.
Providing a broader range of options, including blended, hyflex and online learning is an important step in improving access for a generation that is increasingly challenged with balancing family duties and employment on top of their education. A greater emphasis on asynchronous learning supported by collaboration tools will also give students the flexibility to take control of their education, on their terms. So too will ending the costly reign of printed textbooks in favor of interactive digital content that makes learning more affordable, flexible and interactive outside the traditional classroom. Digital learning tools also offer the advantage of customization, allowing educators to update materials to ensure students of all walks see themselves reflected in the content, paving the way for a greater sense of inclusivity and belonging.
Chapter 3: BELONGING
Building a Strong Community
Institutions need to embrace a greater role in helping students find the sense of belonging that is vital to helping them persist through the rigors of academic life. Students need the tools and confidence to move past their comfort zones and expand their sense of community. This is especially important in a world of increasing student diversity and where learning will happen virtually as often as it does in a physical classroom.
What better place to bring people together than in the unfolding of a college course! After all, aren’t the most meaningful connections the product of shared experience, collaboration and challenge? Creating environments where students are comfortable speaking up, showing vulnerability and learning from mistakes is the backbone for substantive learning. But to support this, institutions need to equip students and faculty with purpose-built tools to nurture human connections, wherever learning takes place. Institutions must also leverage technology to help faculty better understand the diverse backgrounds, needs and interests of their students to ensure their lived experience is reflected throughout the curriculum.
Chapter 4: ENGAGEMENT
Pursue an Engagement-First Approach
When students interact with educators who make learning active and engaging, and who foster the sense of community that encourages exploration and risk-taking, they are more motivated to learn. That motivation drives better outcomes, not just in terms of grades and graduation rates, but in enabling students to apply learning in ways that are valuable to them as individuals. Active learning isn’t a frill. It is a must-have that will differentiate the leaders in higher ed from those that remain content with the status quo.
Designing learning experiences with the power to transform lives and perspectives requires deep collaboration between faculty, institutions and centers for teaching and learning. It also requires us to broaden the definition of active learning and extend it beyond the confines of the physical classroom. This includes creating opportunities for students to explore, to do and to think about what they are learning through interactive content, community-building activities and assessments that aren’t dependent on time or place for learning to occur.
To do this consistently, including in the largest introductory courses, educators need the tools and know-how to design courses that get students to apply learning and develop the creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking skills that are so important in our age of automation. By taking advantage of the opportunities that lie at the intersection of pedagogy, technology and the power of the educator’s own experience, we can make learning much more active and engaging for a generation that values learning by doing.
Chapter 5: VALUE
Harness the Power of Small Data
While the promise of big data enchants many at an institutional level, we cannot overlook the power of ‘small data’ to improve academic outcomes and help students gain perspective on the value of what they are learning, in the moment and over time.
Educators need actionable insights to create feedback loops that help them understand progress at an individual and course level, so they can adjust their approach accordingly. When enacted, these feedback loops are a powerful motivator for students who feel not only listened to but understood and supported. Real-time insights into performance and engagement can also identify early signs of struggle and more easily scale mentorship and support for individuals, allowing faculty and institutions to begin addressing student well-being within the ‘classroom’ itself.
Of course, keeping students from falling through the cracks won’t necessarily make the learning experience more valuable. But combining small data with mentorship can create more moments of insight that help students understand their progress, the value of what they are learning and more clearly see the ‘forest for the trees.’ Continuing to rely on summative assessments to do this isn’t enough. We must embrace the notion of ‘always on’ assessments. This includes formative and authentic assessments that create the time and space for students to reflect on learning and allow them to connect the dots between theory and coursework and their application in contexts that are valuable to the individual.
Chapter 6: Adding It All Up
Adding It All Up
To meet the needs of today’s students, the old ways of ‘sink or swim,’ of stale textbooks and didactic lectures are no longer enough to enable their future success. Not at a time when the lifespan of the average S&P 500 company has shrunk from 60 years to less than 20. Not when the average person will have roughly 12 jobs in their lifetime. And certainly not when even the once safe harbors of white collar work are being disrupted by automation on a scale not seen since the Industrial Revolution.
Given the challenges facing current generations, nothing could be more important than for higher education to reinvigorate its claim as the surest path to success and well-being in life. But to do so, institutions must embrace a new value equation aimed squarely at elevating the learning experience, with faculty serving the vital role as agents of change. This will require harnessing the power of technology, data and the educator’s experience to engage the whole student and make learning more accessible, more inclusive and more valuable. The need to get this right couldn’t be more urgent—not just for the future of higher education, but to enable students to lead meaningful and, ultimately, fulfilling lives.
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