1.3 No Dress Rehearsal

Although I’m confident about the potential of instructional technology, I’m far less confident about higher education’s capacity to realize this potential. The institution of higher education is unusually ill-suited to leveraging the opportunities that technology affords. And the effects of these limitations are already showing. Most troubling still, the capacity of the institution to make the changes necessary to reverse this situation appear to be severely limited.

Higher education has taken only tentative steps to leverage the possibilities of technology; our colleges and universities continue to operate more or less as before. Although virtually every institution across the OECD has invested in digital learning to some extent, and university presidents now routinely pepper their speeches with the appropriate keywords to signal their commitment to digital education, efforts to realise the potential of advances in technology are regularly limited to a single course, rejected out of hand by other instructors, or are so badly devised that they offer little value. Great ideas run face-first into vested interests and a fear that the innovation will run counter to what has traditionally been understood as the markers of a “great university” - regardless of its value to students.

Despite the frequent use of hyperbolic terms to describe the impact of technology on higher education, such as "transformation,” "revolution,” and everyone’s favourite, "disruption,” initiatives with the potential to improve learning or reduce costs remain rare. Tuition for online students has not dropped; indeed, online programs in the US more often than not have higher fees than on-campus versions.

Students in online courses are regularly presented with digital course materials that are little more than badly repurposed classroom materials, reflecting the fact that the bulk of the responsibility for the design and development of course content still falls largely on the shoulders of individual academics without the incentives, time, or skills required to do more ambitious work. The dominant technology in online education - the learning management system - is used primarily as an expensive and overly complicated filing cabinet for repurposed classroom materials with a 90s-era user interface.

Instalments

1.0 “Losing My Religion: The Promise of Digital Higher Education

1.1 “I’m a Believer, I Couldn’t Leave Her . . .

1.2 “Future Looks Bright

1.3 “No Dress Rehearsal