Information Communication Technology: A Required Need
It is rare to hear an educational leader suggest that technology is not an indispensable component of 21st Century higher education. Over several decades we have seen various technologies play an increased role in the administration and operation of colleges and universities. More recently, information communication technologies (ICTs) have become more prominent in the teaching and learning process. It was this topic that I recently addressed at an international higher education conference in Astana, Kazakhstan.
Closer to home, Algonquin College is widely considered a Canadian leader in the integration of ICTs into the learning environment. We have seen significant growth in hybrid (blended) and online programming, the effective application of simulation technologies into the classroom and a commitment to have every program embrace mobile tools by 2013/14. Although I often hear non-academics suggest most colleges are not moving fast enough; I happen to be impressed at the pace at which Algonquin faculty and staff have both embraced and more importantly, applied these tools.
There is good rationale in Algonquin’s ICT agenda. We know that when used effectively, the integration of these technologies into the academic learning milieu can:
- Increase access to post secondary education (reflecting both the historical mission and the current expectation of most colleges);
- Provide college graduates with a broader technological orientation while increasing independent learning, enhancing personal communication (among students as well as with their faculty), refining critical reasoning and providing a medium to increase collaborative capacity;
- Develop lifelong skills related to knowledge navigation including the ability to identify, collect, analyze and present new information and knowledge; and
- Decrease the costs related to delivering course content while providing students with the opportunity to learn*.
Improving Professional Practice
I recently had the opportunity to meet with several individuals who were all committed to the use of ICT in colleges. The interesting part of these insightful conversations was that there was little comment related to the effective preparation of faculty and staff to use these technologies.
The application of ICT makes for exciting conversation. What we sometimes fail to realize is the level of complexity in using these tools. Certainly ICT can increase communication. Certainly ICT can increase collaboration. Yet these are not ends in themselves. We must ensure we remain focused on a key objective of a college education: that is to increase student knowledge and skills so that graduates are effectively prepared for relevant employment. If the technology does not enhance professional practice and increase student learning we need to re-think its application.
Supporting the Next Wave
Over the years, colleges have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in emerging technologies. Unfortunately, many of these same learning organizations have under-invested in those we expect to implement these tools; that is our professors.
The pace of change and the complexity of effective pedagogical practice require colleges to re-think how they support their faculty through this massive change-management process. My sense is that we often under-estimate the overall commitment required to adequately prepare our professors to use these tools most effectively.
Going forward, the investment in our faculty and staff will be as important as our investment in our technological infrastructure. As we increase our expectations of professors to use emerging technologies in their classrooms, we also need to ensure this next wave of professors are fully prepared to know when and how to use the many ICT tools available to them. In this second decade of the new millennium, we must shift our priority from the ITC tool to the application of that tool. To do otherwise only ensures we underutilize the capacity of our ICT investment and more importantly, we undermine our desire to create exemplary learning experiences for our students.
*Note: On this last point, there is no shame in stating colleges must find ways to decrease costs. Resources are scarce, demand for access is increasing, student needs are becoming more complex and there is little hope that significant public revenues are forthcoming to address these challenges.