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.

‘All of us can be harmed’ Update on Axact and Diploma Mills

Over the past few years I have written a great deal about groups such as Must University, California Paramount and the Axact scandal. Since the raid on Axact headquarters there has been an attempt to prosecute Shoaib Ahmed Shaikh the CEO of Axact. He was arrested on May 27, 2015 after the May 17th edition of The New York Times published an in-depth report exposing the fake degree business. However since then, he has been out on bail and never gone to trial.

There has been some progress in convicting others. Umair Hamid, a senior Axact official was arrested in the United States. According to the Pakistan paper Dawn  and numerous other papers in North America he pled guilty, sentenced him to 21 months in prison, and levied a fine of $5,303,020 for his role in an international diploma mill scheme.

The Axact operations sold phony degrees worldwide and generated a 1/2 billion dollars in sales or more. In a recent article by Canada’s CBC titled All of us can be harmed’: Investigation reveals hundreds of Canadians have phoney degrees,  it revealed more than 800 Canadians could have purchased a fake degree.  In the Middle East, ten’s of thousands were sold as legitimate degrees and the overall worldwide estimate is Axact sold over 200,000 of these documents.

The question is why Axact has not been convicted in Pakistan? The former special public prosecutor of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Zahid Jamil said that the case against Axact was very strong but it was not presented in court. Many of the people who worked on the case and multiple prosecutors from resigned from the case and left the FIA. There has been some articles published that indicated many prosecutors, investigators and families were threaten and rather endanger themselves, they resigned.

Unfortunately diploma Mills are still operating and selling degrees in the Middle East and elsewhere.  I would suggest If you are contacted by phone or email by a group offering you an opportunity to finish your degree be it Bachelor’s, Master or Ph.D be cautious and before accepting ANY offer.  Find out a great deal more about the school. For example, if you are in the Middle East go to the higher education publication Al Fanar and check their site Monitoring Quality in Arab Higher Education.  This will show you about accredited schools by country. In other countries Google search the school and check very closely who is giving accreditation. Even some agencies could be bogus so Google them as well.

A simple rule of thumb in checking if a school is legitimate or a diploma mill:

  • Consider the cost of the degree
  • What is required to obtain the degree.

If it’s cheap and you do little work to obtain the degree then question if it’s a bogus school.  Do not lie to yourself. The danger you risk is if you choose to get such a degree that is likely from a diploma mill and you present it to an employer who discovers it is bogus, you may well be fired and if an expat could be in some cases, sent home or arrested. Additionally many of these schools once you have signed up and received payment will want more money. If you don’t do it they have been known to threaten to expose you to the government or your employer. Is it really worth taking a chance?

For further information on questionable or bogus schools that are promoting such degrees go to my article Fake degrees: Nixon U and Paramount California U are back. I receive a number of comments on schools you may wish to avoid.