5 Creative Ways Educational Technology Can Meet Challenges Head On

MarciPowell2By Marci Powell President of her own educational consulting company, Marci Powell and Associates and a member of the Edu Alliance Advisory Council..

Even with an upper management level position at a global company, my daughter-in-law only recently paid off her student debt. In her early thirties, she was still dealing with excessive student loan payments that significantly strained their finances. It took using the equity in the home she and my son sold to do it.

She is not alone. Many graduates are in the same predicament. But what can institutions of higher learning do given declining funding and enrollment?

Equally concerning, many businesses complain that universities are not sending them workers who are truly prepared for today’s workplace.

Potential students hear these horror stories and, as a result, are opting for less expensive and more creative ways to get an education.

Competition has never been more intense among institutions of higher learning whether public or private, large or small, as each tries to stand out in a crowded market.

In a survey done several months ago by Times Higher Education World University Rankings, an international group of over 60,000 students stated the top 3 reasons they pick a university is because of highly qualified teaching staff, high graduation employment rates, and up-to-date technology and online learning options.

Over the course of the last few weeks, you’ve been introduced to several challenges facing higher education including financial constraints, declining enrollments, and inadequate outcomes.

In today’s blog we will focus on 5 creative ways you can leverage educational technology (EdTech) to meet challenges head-on. Let’s look at a few good examples of how some institutions Use EdTech to:

  • Attract new students and meet their expectations
  • Prepare students for workplace of the future
  • Engage students by transforming teaching and learning
  • Increase persistence, retention and graduation rates
  • Offer innovative and enticing alternatives

There is no doubt everyone reading this blog already employs educational technology on some level at his or her institution. Of course, it isn’t about the technology but how we apply it to solve challenges and reap great benefits.

A $10 million U.S. Department of Education grant in the 90s led me to supporting Texas institutions in the integration of educational technology. Since then, I’ve spent the last 20 years of my career guiding fellow educators in digital and online learning.

My most recent work with Dr. Susan Aldridge, President of Drexel University Online, has focused on uncovering innovative best practices from around the world. I’ve included a few examples from this recent research.

1. Use EdTech to meet student demands and attract new students

 Progressive use of educational technology attracts students. They expect technology-enhanced education. They want tools that empower them to connect and collaborate in a way that is immediate, efficient, and interactive.

Oral Robert University, a private comprehensive liberal arts university with 4,000 students, has received significant recognition lately for innovative EdTech usage. Streamlining workflows and enhancing learning, they are attracting highly qualified teaching staff, and providing up-to-date technology and online learning options.

From using EdTech to enable faculty to manage their gradebook through a Fitbit wearable device to integrating over 30 disparate systems into one seamless system, ORU lightens workloads.

Image 1 for PowellFurthermore, teachers can develop high tech, augmented or virtual reality lesson plans in a matter of minutes.

Using a mobile device, students abroad, including Africa, can experience lessons built in AR or VR.


2. Use EdTech to prepare students for the workplace of the future

One of the best ways to prepare students for future careers is to provide opportunities for them to put theory into practice.

Image 2 for PowellConsider partnerships like Texas A&M University and Triseum, a company near the campus. Students and faculty conduct extensive research in game development. The ideas become a product, which is either sold or licensed. Revenue is shared among the company, university, and students who work on the project.

Two examples are games used to teach calculus concepts and art history.

This partnership provides world-class digital experiences to prepare students for great careers.

3. Use EdTech to engage students by transforming teaching & learning

Hong Kong Baptist University has created custom-made downloadable applications and new integrated pedagogies, such as augmented reality, to better engage students. These apps teach everything from English for native Chinese speakers to principles of economics to analytical chemistry.

Using proven cognitive techniques, two Johns Hopkins University students built Osmosis, a study tool for today’s medical students. It analyzes the students’ course materials and schedules, then generates recommendations and quizzes to prepare them for clinical practice, board exams and tests. It is now used by over 300 medical schools worldwide.

4. Use EdTech to increase persistence, retention and graduation rates

Sometimes students struggle with simply enrolling. Other times, certain courses delay or prevent them from finishing their degree.

Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) can drive persistence and graduation rates by supporting campus management and providing “smarter” services for everything from the admissions process and financial aid orientation to advising and tutoring.

It can deliver encouragement, reminders, and prompt assistance to help students stay on track. Using machine learning and algorithms, “chatbots” are always available to answer frequently asked questions.

Georgia State University was able to “freeze the summer melt” using Pounce, a custom virtual assistant which guided students through the enrollment process by receiving answers to the most frequently asked questions on a 24/7 basis. Research showed a 21.4% decrease in summer melt and a 3.9% increase in enrollment.

 Deakin University of Australia implemented Watson, by IBM, to create a 24/7/365 online student advisory service to improve the student experience. The result was a 5-10% reduction in enquiries managed by staff, with over 30,000 questions answered in the first trimester freeing staff to handle more complicated matters.

Likewise, Dr. Rosie Ching, Singapore Management University, created a better way to assist struggling students in her statistics courses. CSI Agent on a Mission is a free downloadable game to engage first and second year undergrads.

5.  Use EdTech to offer innovative and enticing alternatives

 Some institutions offer innovative programs to increase enrollments. Others are finding alternative ways to meet the needs and expectations of their students with stackable credentials, competency-based education, and/or moving away from traditional degrees to non-degree certificates or certifications. EdTech can greatly support these new pathways.

The Evolllution, an online newspaper, focused on non-traditional higher education, recently sharing the latest compilation of articles on alternative and next generation credentialing.

In a recent blog by Nancy Hoke, increasing enrollment through online programs to is outlined. Two of the top three largest online programs mentioned, Arizona State University (ASU) and Colorado State University (CSU) Global Campus have quite innovative approaches.

Using EdTech capabilities through Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), ASU created a Global Freshman Academy in which students can take freshman courses risk free. Once a student successfully completes the courses, they can pay for the credit hours and move forward.

CSU-Global Campus, the first wholly online state university in the United States, facilitates adult success in a global marketplace by offering career-relevant education. Tuition is the same for all students regardless of geographic location.

Hopefully, you’re inspired by these creative ways to address challenges within your institution. I’m confident that if you will take a moment to peruse the links included in this blog, you will find even greater inspiration.

Marci Powell owns her own educational consulting company, Marci Powell and Associates Powell is an expert in the field of educational technology with extensive experience in applications related to online teaching and learning. On Virtually Inspired, a website powered by Drexel University Online, Marci showcases innovations in online learning.

She is Chair Emerita and Past President of the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA) and currently oversees global relations. Marci serves on various boards including the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE), EduAlliance, and Lamar University’s Center for Research in Educational Innovation and Digital Learning.

Throughout her career she has served as a classroom teacher and administrator, Global Director for Education at Polycom, and Director of Educational Advocacy for AT&T, among others. For her distinguished contributions to online learning, Marci has been inducted into the USDLA and TxDLA Halls of Fame and been recognized as an EDEN Fellow by the European Distance and Elearning Network (EDEN). She has previously been named Higher Ed Tech Decisions Top 10 Leaders in Higher Education.

cropped-edu-alliance-logo-square1.jpgEdu Alliance is a higher education consultancy firm with offices in the United States and the United Arab Emirates. The founders and its advisory members have assisted higher education institutions on a variety of projects, and many have held senior positions in higher education in the United States and internationally.

Our specific mission is to assist universities, colleges and educational institutions to develop capacity and enhance their effectiveness.


NKHokeBy Nancy K. Hoke, Partner Edu Alliance Group

It is well recognized that online education is now a key player in higher education. According to U.S. News and World Report January 11, 2018 article by Jordan Friedman called Study: More Students are Enrolling in Online Courses 4,700 higher education institutions, more than 6.3 million students in the U.S. took at least one online course in fall 2016.

As higher education struggles to meet their budgets, many consider entering or expanding their online programs to increase students and increase cash flow. As more programs are offered and the battle to attract students escalates, how online programs are created, marketed, and managed becomes a key part of making an online degree program successful.

Online education is a complex and rapidly growing segment of education in the new century. Creating a sophisticated, successful online program takes time and investment.

In reviewing the U.S. News and World Report ranking report for Best Online Programs, top ten ranked schools offering a fully online Bachelors degree are the following

Rank Institution Enrollment 2016-17
1 Ohio State University 266
2 Embry Riddle University 15,267
3 Temple University 247
4 Arizona State University 29,621
5 Utah State University 1,599
6 Oregon State University 5,424
7 Penn State World Campus 8,415
8 University of North Carolina Wilmington 1,139
9 Colorado State University – Global Campus 11,779
10 University of Oklahoma 1,234

The top 10 list has a wide diversity of institutions, and the enrollment figures vary widely from the low 200’s to a high of nearly 30,000. To learn how US News determined the rankings go to Methodology: Best Online Bachelor’s Program Rankings.

Many of the topped ranked institutions have been offering online courses since early in 2000. They have grown as the technology, and the pedagogy for online has developed and progressed. To enter into online as a new stream of funds is very tempting but creating and providing quality accredited online courses is complex, time intensive, and requires a significant investment.

Outsourcing aspects or your entire online program is another option. There are many companies that are identified as Online Program Management (OPMs). These companies offer an institution an online program that is basically “soup to nuts.” They will even provide the initial investment. Companies such as 2U, Pearson/Embanet, Learning House, and Bisk/University Alliance offer complete packages that include marketing, recruitment, course creation, and admissions. An overall view of the OMPs is provided in the article from by Phil Hill of e-Literate titled, Online Program Management: An updated view of the market landscape.

Several writers point out that while working with a OPM may launch your new online program quickly, it may take 5 – 6 years before the university begins to see significant tuition dollars. Most OPMs require that they recover their initial investment before the revenue sharing plan is implemented.

Paxton Riter in his article Five Myths about OPMs in Educause March 13, 2017, states:

Over the years it became evident to me that in the rush to move courses online, the revenue-share model encouraged a cookie-cutter approach to online learning that all too often, misaligned incentives in ways that put scale ahead of quality and revenues before outcomes.”

Careful research and negotiations must be in place to assess the best combination of outsourced elements and those that remain within the University.

If your institution is considering building online programs and courses into your curriculum or contracting with an OPM, please keep in mind these critical points:

  1. Remember your mission – In the article written by W. Kent Barnds on Navigating the Maelstrom: 8 Tips for Enrollment Managers – “Mind your institution’s mission – in difficult times it’s too easy to stray from your institution’s mission by adding academic … programs that don’t fit….” This certainly holds true when considering adding an online program. Where are you unique? What do you do better than other institutions?
  2. Identify key stakeholders and make them a part of the planning process. Make them an active and key player in the decision process for your online program. Online often makes faculty very nervous. How will the integrity of the course work be protected? Will the requirements for the online course meet or exceed the requirements of the face-to-face course? How will assessments be administered?
  3. Invite local employers to participate in the online program plan – Find the industries and the corporations that would be interested and have employees who would make strong candidates for your program
  4. Creating and implementing the marketing campaign – To attract and enroll students who fit the profile and demographics of your institution and community. You must consider that they will meet the entrance requirements and be able to achieve success in their course work. The majority of online programs have found success enrolling students who have had some college courses and are looking to complete their degree. The self-discipline required for online work is often not yet developed in first-year students.
  5. Develop policies and best practices for online courses and programs – Faculty and students need an additional set of policies and best practices for your online courses. These policies will need to focus on security, communication, and academic integrity. The ability to cheat in an online course is one of the major concerns of faculty, and from the very beginning, the policies and assignments must be designed to provide a secure and quality environment. The other concern is finding funding and release time for faculty to design and create the online content.
  6. Provide ongoing professional development for faculty, admissions officers, and student services– As you move into online, it is critical to train your faculty in the skills needed for teaching online. It is an environment that is not for every faculty member (or for every student). Training in the online pedagogy (including building interactive components) and instructional technology should be required before teaching a fully online course.
  7. Create an online orientation – If you are recruiting undergraduate and graduate students, create a separate orientation for each group. Pay special attention to providing training and support for your institution’s policies on integrity and the program’s citation requirements and formatting. Additional sections for orientation should include using the virtual library, grading policies, and procedures for questions and complaints.
  8. Create online courses that provide certification – In working with your community consider adding courses that allow an employee to achieve a certificate in a specific skill. These courses may be closely designed with the work place in mind, and the company may provide additional funds for the course building and management.
  9. Building your own online program and courses – This will take significant investment and time. Long gone are the days where pasting PowerPoint lectures online and adding a few online quizzes meet the requirements of a quality University course. Building a quality online course requires a team. In most cases, a course requires a faculty member (subject matter expert), an instructional designer (may provide skills in technology and instructional design), video/audio production, and an ongoing evaluation process as the course is created. Other issues to consider are copyright for written and video content, assessment strategies, and creating an evaluation process for the courses. An excellent reference for this is Quality Matters.
  10. Student Services must be available 24/7 – Successful student services is a key part of online programs and especially for retention of students and the accreditation process.

In conclusion I will state that too often I have observed that many in higher education believe that “if they build it, they will come”. The online environment is no longer the new frontier, it is well established and to enter the arena and be successful takes time, dollars, and, patient.

Nancy Hoke’s article “Is Online the Answer to Increase Student Enrollment?” is a part of a series called: Things That Keep Higher Education Leaders Awake at Night. Edu Alliance thanks Nancy as well as our Partners, Advisors and Friends for their valuable contributions and insights.

cropped-edu-alliance-logo-square.jpgEdu Alliance is a higher education consultancy firm with offices in the United States and the United Arab Emirates. The founders and its advisory members have assisted higher education institutions on a variety of projects, and many have held senior positions in higher education in the United States and internationally.

Our specific mission is to assist universities, colleges and educational institutions to develop capacity and enhance their effectiveness.


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