Technology has revolutionized higher education, with the internet and mobile devices making it possible to gain qualifications outside of the classroom. Some tools, like learning analytics and citation management software, have already started to make an impact on students and professors. There are even more innovations on the horizon, such as virtual reality and 3D printing.
Students and professors alike can benefit from learning analytics, which monitors performance in assignments and tests to give clear progress reports.
During Purdue University’s Signals project, using learning analytics helped identify students at risk of leaving, communicate with students who needed support and even develop success algorithms customized to specific courses.
When developing Signals, Purdue adopted a business mindset that saw the university begin to gather data in real-time through weekly assessments. By week two of a term, the university was already aware of the students who were struggling. Professors could then provide the necessary support to help them improve.
Many universities now use learning analytics, but there is further room for growth if the innovation is to become a pillar of higher education. Statistics should be reviewed throughout the course to ensure that students are helped as early as possible.
Citation software has made managing and inputting sources for assignments much easier, and many institutions recommend it to help students cope with the hundreds of journals they’ll encounter during their academic lives.
Citation management tools, such as EndNote and Zotero, can be used to connect with leading educational databases like PureMed and Web of Science. Students can import information from those databases and use citation tools to seamlessly create bibliographies, in-text citations, footnotes and more.
Virtual Reality Learning
At present, virtual reality (VR) is still in its infancy, but there is scope for the technology to grow in the coming years. By 2020, tech consultancy firm Digi-Capital forecasts the global market will be worth approximately $120bn. If this comes to fruition, many people across the world will have access to VR headsets that could be used for remote learning.
VR is by no means a new concept, but its usability has only improved in recent years, with Sony’s PlayStation VR, Facebook’s Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive being the market’s leading, prospective headsets.
Remote learning has already given students new ways in which to further their education, but VR can offer an even better level of immersion and interaction. For starters, online students could use their headsets to attend digital lectures and gain a social element that is not currently present in digital learning. Crucially, students would be able to ask their professors more complex questions that their fellow students would also benefit from.
3D printing is similar to VR in that the market is gradually becoming more accessible, while the uptake of devices is still low. Going back to 2013, research firms were forecasting the global 3D printing market to be worth $1.2bn at its lowest, with $3.1bn being one of the higher estimates.
Back then, consumers had to spend upwards of several thousand dollars for a 3D printer, but the cost has become much more affordable, with some devices now available for a few hundred dollars. Given the improved accessibility, leading research firms like Canalys, Gartner and Wohler believe the market will be worth at least $12.8bn by 2018.
3D printers have tremendous potential in higher education because they can create intricate models and components that could be used for learning. For example, precision engineering students could create parts for fighter jets, while their counterparts in medical courses can make models of organs or even prosthetic limbs for amputees.
By staying at home for higher education, it would be possible for students to invest in a 3D printer and still participate in practical assessments. However, we’ll need to wait a while for this one – the market needs to grow and institutions need to see its full potential first.