Digital disruption: reinventing the classroom

It’s ‘do or die’ for universities in this new technological age, says Linda Price

By Linda Price, Head of Technology Enhanced Learning and Professor of Educational Technology at Kingston University

The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life – Muhammad Ali

Commercial industry been radically changed by the application of digital technologies, and digital disruption means that companies can no longer be complacent. They can either seize the opportunity – like game-changers Netflix or Instagram – or see their business disappear – like Kodak or Blockbuster.

But while many industries have embraced this crucial opportunity to re-invent themselves, the structure and processes of higher education institutions have remained largely unaltered. At Kingston, we think it’s time the sector caught up. Universities find themselves in a ‘do or die’ scenario – we need to seize the opportunity to dramatically enhance teaching and learning, and deliver better value to digitally savvy students.

At Kingston, we’re embracing learning technologies that cater for a diverse and changing student base, and we’re committed to radically changing the classroom experience. For us, the concept of digital disruption provides an opportunity to evaluate our strategy anew and re-assessing at the type of learning we want to deliver. 

No longer will students be tied to the lecture theatre – instead they will be able to engage in learning whenever and wherever they happen to be

Investment in our new virtual learning environment Canvas is allowing us to make course delivery significantly more engaging, compelling and interactive. No longer will students be tied to the lecture theatre – instead they will be able to engage in learning whenever and wherever they happen to be. The lecturer will no longer be expected to impart knowledge in a linear fashion, at the front of a class. Instead, digital technologies will empower our students to learn in their own way – investigating and solving real-world problems, rather than ingesting and regurgitating material. 

So, if digital technologies have the potential to fundamentally disrupt the HE sector, why have institutions been slow to catch up with their counterparts in commercial industries? And how can they now respond to this pressing need to become 21st century educators?

For us it’s key that technology is fully integrated with pedagogy. Students, teachers and managers all have a hand in choosing, evaluating and using the technologies at Kingston. Digital technologies are not chosen in response to fads or trends, but are chosen to fundamentally enhance the learning experience. Just as our colleagues in commercial businesses think about ‘customer experience’, we similarly prioritise ‘learner experience’. It is only when technology is built to fulfil a concrete need, and with needs of the learner at front and centre, that it will be successfully adopted.

While technology adoption can be daunting, the benefits of the investment far outweigh any apprehensions

It’s also important to realise that while technology adoption can be daunting, representing a big change for an institution, the benefits of the investment far outweigh any apprehensions. Pedagogically sound uses of technology enable us to transcend outdated models of education that are bound by time and place. Instead they offer liberating educational experiences that can enable learners from all walks of life to engage in learning, whatever the time of day or wherever they are located. It enables a better seamless interaction between physical and virtual learning spaces. The premise of this ‘shared economy’ is a valuable one – and the use of technology can open up access to learning for all. It can make quality education widely available, and tailor teaching specifically to students changing priorities and needs.

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