Globally Engaged Higher Education Institutions Must Innovate and Embrace Technology

05/01/2017 07:51 am ET Updated May 01, 2017

What is the role of emerging technologies and innovation in helping higher education institutions to fulfill their educational mission in areas of learning, collaboration, inclusion, and administration? This was the focus of The Lewy Global Education Technology Forum at the School of International Training (SIT) in Brattleboro, Vermont.

The Forum convened faculty, students and administrators to discuss challenges and opportunities to improve the use of technology to teach, to collaborate, and to include a diversity of students, faculty, and staff in achieving the mission of education the next generation of global leaders.

“The Lewy Tech forum is designed to inspire and challenge all of us, take us out of our comfort zones, and lay the groundwork for new partnerships to achieve this goal,” said Donald Steinberg, World Learning, a nonprofit organization and a provider of experiential and participatory learning programs.

World Learning is the parent organization of SIT which offers undergraduate study abroad programs around the world and master's degrees and certificates through online and on-campus formats in Vermont and Washington, DC.

The Forum was sponsored by Cheryl and Glen Lewy. Cheryl Lewy, a trustee of World Learning, said in her remarks that “A key reason we sponsored this Forum was to stimulate our thinking to look at new ways to educate, teach and train the global leaders of the future for the United States and the world. Let’s look forward towards the future and dare to experiment.”

Sora H. Friedman, program committee chair of The Forum and a Professor of International Education at SIT noted, “As we think about how to make our programs more accessible to a wider variety of people, we realized that we needed to continue our learning about technology as it would allow for increased access and inclusion, as well as higher quality and more engaging programs. Through this Forum, participants took way ideas for new approaches at the macro level, as well as for new techniques to use in their teaching at a more micro level.”

Enabling efficiency and experimentation

I delivered the opening keynote session entitled “Accelerating Campus Internationalization with Technology: Emerging Trends and Strategies.” The focus of the presentation was to encourage higher education institutions to leverage technology in expanding access and providing global learning experiences to their students.

As technology-enabled solutions become increasingly sophisticated, students are not only embracing this change; they are also expecting more from institutions. For example, MOOCs (massive open online courses) have gone from being revolutionary to redundant to now resurgent again with a varying degree of acceptance by academia. In contrast, the student enrollments in MOOCs continue to grow at a rapid pace.

In an environment of declining resources for institutions, there is an increasing need to leverage technology to enhance operational efficiency. One way to approach sustainability is through shared services models and consortia. Shared services can help in improving operational efficiencies, reducing duplication and sharing fixed costs. Consider the example of any of the MOOCs platforms like edX or Coursera which are bringing together several institutions in the U.S. and abroad to achieve common goals of access and global engagement.

On the student side technology allows institutions to experiment with new models of outreach. ‘Glocals’ are an expanding segment of students seeking international education experience/credential while staying in the country or region. Consider the case of Georgia Tech’s Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMS CS) costs under $7,000 over five terms. Non-resident tuition fee for on-campus master’s is eight times as much that of the online master’s. Almost one out of every five students in this online program are prototypical ‘glocal’ students who are based overseas.

These two megatrends on the institutional and student side show that technology can offer new opportunities of accelerating campus internationalization. At the same time, technology is not a panacea. At its core, teaching and learning is a human interaction process, but it can reach more students in a more efficient manner through enabling technology solutions.

While arguing for study abroad experiences through technology, John O’Brien, President and CEO of EDUCAUSE noted “There’s no question that nothing is quite the same as actually studying abroad....For some, it is a way to plant a seed for the future.”

In sum, as the political context and financial models of American higher education institutions evolve, globally engaged higher education institutions must innovate and embrace technology for reaching more students in an efficient manner.

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