Blog Post

The Future of Higher Education – How Will Assessment Technology Play a Role?

by | October 23rd, 2017

Leveraging Assessment Technology to Improve Student Learning

The future of higher education paired with technological advancements is a hot topic and has been theorized for many years, even highlighted in pop culture. You may be old enough to remember the 1986 movie, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. In the film, there is a scene where an adult Spock is taking his final exam- a multimedia test from a Vulcan “teaching machine.”

This is just one example of a vision of an advanced educational process involving a computer as the personalized teacher and assessor. The critical moment of the scene is when Spock, gets hit with a zinger question out of left field; the computer asks him, “How do you feel?” He is stunned, unable comprehend the query and he’s stumped. The “teaching machine” knows, that when educating humans with emotions, there is a deeper level that needs to be addressed in student learning.

Assessment technology can be leveraged to improve student learning by customizing highly individualized programs. Each student is led by the assessment technology and explores customized, adaptive learning journeys crafted to address both the curriculum outcomes and the way each student learns best. This is real, not science fiction.

Game Changer: The Hanlon Lab for Financial Analysis and Data Visualization Technology

Aside from the unconscionable expense scaling this, the methods are not designed for real humans. The “new future” model for higher education may be no less expensive but is and will be different in practice from the one imagined for Spock. The Hanlon Lab for Financial Analytics and Data Visualization Technology at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, is such an example of the future of education and assessment technology.

Described in BizEd Magazine’s article Learning Beyond Four Walls, teaching and learning in the Hanlon Lab involves students in groups using their laptops, lab stations and other data manipulation technologies to call up massive amounts of relevant data to solve problems. Engaged, they bring visual renderings of the data from multiple channels around big screens to bring together what they need. One imagines a student rushing breathlessly into such a room with a fresh discovery and blurting out, “Check this out!” and scrambling to push the news to the big screen for the group to consider.

The model honors The Rigor Relevance Framework® pioneered by Dr. R. Willard Daggett in the mid-1990s and since codified and advocated by his organization, The International Center for Leadership Education (ICLE). While it may seem like a penetrating insight into the obvious, such important insights can be a significant challenge to implement.

Experiential Learning that Bridges Multiple Disciplines, With or Without Technology

assessment technology student learning future of higher educationThe idea of demanding higher levels of cognitive output from students (Bloom’s Taxonomy) is nothing new. The innovative and hard part is the planning and presentation of real-world challenges in which to experiment with new learning and solve problems. The Hanlon Lab works to address this using slick technology as an incentive to engage faculty and students.

I would speculate that one does not need that technology at all. The fundamental change is rooting the application and assessment of new learning in increasingly real-world, unpredictable applications. Do this, and the “new future” for higher education is here and now. Do this in classrooms and break down the artificial silos created by disciplines. Everything is connected – the world is, by nature, transdisciplinary.

Authenticity is how students come to see that there are hard-to fix-issues in the world that they have the power to solve. They discover that their education matters. To achieve this, students must get out of the classroom and into the messy world that often prevents right solutions from being enacted. In this real-world lab, students can experience the myriad of factors that humans struggle with when trying to implement solutions including the motives of other people, inequitable access to resources, and their own (and others’) ethics.

The concepts that will drive a new future for higher education teaching will center on experiential learning that crosses disciplinary bodies. The new future is ultimately creative and collaborative and very much in tune with the Gen Z and millennial generation’s Internet of Things (IOT), where technology and daily life have blurred boundaries and where questions demand and receive more in-depth exploration. Learners will be encouraged to iterate their work based on feedback from external experts. Employers in a new future may come to see higher education as the intellectual and skills “boot camp” in which they ought to invest heavily. At last!

The Assessment Technology of the Future Exists Now, But Will Higher Education Leaders Champion It?

The yardsticks for the institutional effectiveness that accreditation agencies are seeking must also change. The shift must be to valid and reliable progress-over-time reporting of skill development across courses and programs rather being course-centric grades. When what a person can actually do becomes the litmus test to educational status, then prior learning assessment and credit for experience become a real currency. Adult and non-traditional learners may finally come to find higher education a place they can flourish in unlocked curriculums. Micro-credentials and badging would compete with degree transcripts and become the basis for trusted Learning Recognition Networks (LRNs).

The technology and the pedagogical concepts for “the new future of higher education” already exist. They have for a long time. Current assessment technology can leverage data about results while at the same time rationalizing, aligning and delivering robust feedback to struggling students. For the most part, we know how students learn and that they can be motivated to learn by reflecting on feedback and more frequent, tangible rewards to mark the milestones of student learning outcomes attainment which can be accomplished via micro-credentials and badging.

Technology will only get better, smaller, and more mobile. Universal access to information is available for those who care to look for it. The workflows for collaborative assignments and assessments are in place in many software packages on campuses. Few schools have the technological advancements seen in Hanlon Labs, but technology is becoming more powerful and more economical, at a rapid pace.

It remains to be seen if higher education can let go of the Carnegie Credit and Student Hour mentality to permit students to work in teams on a curriculum structured around master authentic performances. Will legions of professors adjust their curriculum to reach out to other disciplines and the world at large for instructional and assessment inspiration? It may be an uphill battle.

The Hanlon Lab and the ideas that fuel it may just well end up a wondrous aberration. The underlying barriers to broad engagement of students may prove immovable simply because it is not the interest of those who control governments, business, and education bureaucracies to remove them. After all, the old system which they endured made them wealthy and powerful. Why fix what ain’t broke? As Spock would acerbically observe, “Illogical.”

However, times have changed and the world is on the precipice of a new future of higher education, with technological advancements that can support a whole new and different generation of students. Isn’t it time to boldly go where no one has gone before? Welcoming the technology-driven future of higher education means that students will live long and prosper.


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