Higher Education

In 2009 a JISC-supported Demos report, ‘The Edgeless University’ argued that technology should play a critical role in a ‘rebirth’ of universities in enabling more flexible provision and opening more equal routes to higher education and learning. It highlighted a need for strategic leadership from within the sector and new connections with a growing world of informal learning and a commitment to openness and collaboration.

Technology trends

Each year technology trends in HE are tracked and analysed in the New Media Consortium (NMC)/Educause ‘Horizon Report’. General technology trends such as the cloud, mobile technology and ‘big data’/analytics have naturally featured over the last few year but with a particular Higher Education perspective.  In 2011 ebooks featured as one of the key near-term technologies to watch. In 2012 the report noted a key need for: ‘Updating IT professionals’ skills and roles to accommodate emerging technologies and changing IT management and service delivery models’ and ‘Supporting the research mission through high-performance computing, large data, and analytics’

For 2013 they highlight the following key specific technologies:

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: One Year or Less

  • Flipped Classroom
  • Massively Open Online Courses
  • Mobile Apps
  • Tablet Computing

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Two to Three Years

  • Augmented Reality
  • Game-Based Learning
  • The Internet of Things
  • Learning Analytics

The impact of online learning and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are a key areas of discussion in Higher Education. The UK based ‘FutureLearn’ MOOC was launched by the Open University in December 2012 in partnership with the universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Anglia, Exeter, King’s College London, Lancaster, Leeds, Southampton, St Andrews and Warwick. In the US a report of a 2012 survey (published in January 2013) of US HE noted that while HE adoption of MOOCs remains low and most institutions are ‘still on the sidelines’ there are  indicators of growth:

  • Thirty-two percent of higher education students now take at least one course online.
  • 9.4 percent (of HE Institutions) report MOOCs are in the planning stages.
  • The proportion of chief academic leaders who say online learning is critical to their long-term strategy is at a new high of 69.1 percent

In addition to MOOCs and online learning,  the 2013 the Horizon Report provides the following analysis in terms of overall trends:

  • ‘The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators’. It goes on to say: ‘Universities have always been seen as the gold standard for educational credentialing, but emerging certification programs from other sources are eroding the value of that mission daily.’
  • ‘Both formal and informal learning experiences are becoming increasingly important as college graduates continue to face a highly competitive workforce’. They may lead to ‘allowing for more open-ended, unstructured time where they are encouraged to experiment, play, and explore topics based on their own motivations. This type of learning will become increasingly important in learning environments of all kinds’.
  • ‘Open is a key trend in future education and publication, specifically in terms of open content, open educational resources, massively open online courses, and open access’.
  • ‘Social media is changing the way people interact, present ideas and information, and judge the quality of content and contributions.’  The report goes on to say that: It is clear that social media has found significant traction in almost every education sector’
  • ‘There is an increasing interest in using data for personalizing the learning experience and for performance measures.’ As this field matures, the hope is that this information will be used to continually improve learning outcomes

Gartner provides an analysis of technology trends for education as a whole, including HE. For example, the ‘Hype Cycle for Education, 2012’ identifies several emerging technologies. They consider the following ‘transformational’ in the next 2 to 5 years:-

  • Media Tablets
  • Self-Publishing
  • Service-Oriented Architecture
  • Cloud
  • MOOC (Massive Open Online Course)

Media tablets and self-publishing are rated transformational because of the way they empower the end user. Cloud is rated transformational because of its capability to be a resource equaliser among institutions. MOOC, adaptive learning and big data are all rated transformational for their ability to bring education in a new form to new learners and collecting vast amounts of data that can help improve the education ecosystem.

New entries such as adaptive learning, big data and MOOC are joining previous technologies such as affective learning, gamification and virtual environments/virtual worlds as signs that there is indeed a new breed of digitalised capabilities emerging. One technology, global library digitisation projects, has now been taken off the Hype Cycle because the original vision of a global digitised library has been replaced with a federated approach to library collaboration. However, the still-growing repository of digitised books lives on, if somewhat hampered by legal constraints.

In January 2012, Campus Education summarised the top trends cited by the US Gilfus Education Group. Gilfus suggested that higher education institutions will look to improve the learning experience through analytics and personalised learning environments, while reducing costs with digital resources and cloud technologies. The Gilfus Education Group annual list of the top five trends in education innovation for 2012 included three focused on higher education technologies:-

  • Prestigious institutions will launch online experiences designed to be as unique as those available to students on campus
  • ‘Dynamic and flexible learning experience engines’ will emerge to replace learning management systems (LMS)
  • Tablets will surge as a means of delivering courses and e-learning media.

Gilfus Education Group noted other trends to watch:-

  • Access: An expansion of a variety of ways of getting access to the materials that students need for learning.  Some of these trends are not new to colleges and universities, but they are becoming much more visible and embedded in the higher education experience.
  • E-Textbooks: 2012 will be a banner year for digital textbooks on college and university campuses. Retailers are also getting into the e-textbook game. The trend is towards not so much e-books, as ‘digital learning environments’.
  • Open Educational Resources: Higher education is further along in thinking about open education resources and the kinds of things that can be licensed for use and reuse. The California Senate is currently considering a bill that would nudge colleges toward using open education resources in the form of free online textbooks for the state’s 3 million college students instead of print books as a means of saving them money. The resources will fall under a Creative Commons license, which means they’ll be open for reuse and customisation.
  • The Online Classroom: Textbooks won’t be the only educational resource that will see increased online delivery in 2012. The classroom itself will also exist online more than ever before. At any large university, there are often certain core courses that are broken up into 10, or even 20, sections during any semester. While there will still be live classes, many students will experience the class via live or recorded video delivered online. While this may not sound like anything new the way it will be done is; the difference will be in the new technology available and the higher production values of both the live broadcasts and the recorded videos.
  • Mobile Devices: Mobile computing will continue to grow on higher education campuses as more and more students access online lectures and other learning resources with their smartphones or tablets. Handheld devices coupled with social media will create greater collaboration and learning opportunity in the coming year.
  • Campuses Move to the Cloud: With so many resources and learning opportunities moving online, and pressed by the need to reduce IT infrastructure costs, more and more campuses will take advantage of the benefits provided by cloud technologies. A lot of schools want to get out of the hardware and technology stack business, focus on content, and put as much in the cloud as possible.

The extent and pace of change in the US will differ to that in the UK where, for example the provision of textbooks to students follows different model and online learning is generally less pervasive.  From a UK Higher Education perspective, Sarah Porter, Head of Innovation at JISC gave her ‘Seven predictions for our technology enabled universities’:-

  1. The concept of ‘digital’ will fade – Digital devices and content are already becoming a pervasive part of our lives.
  2. There will be even more personalisation of technology – Users will increasingly have integrated devices that they use for many different social and leisure pursuits as well as for their education and their paid work.
  3. The boundaries between formal research and scholarship, formal education and training will become increasingly blurred – As the ‘network effect’ (i.e. the connections of people with all kinds of content at a global level) continues to expand, how content is created and shared will continue to grow. Content and learning opportunities will be contributed by ‘anyone’.
  4. The ‘added value’ of face to face educational experiences will start to break down – As the quality of online content improves, and social technologies become ever more sophisticated online learning will become a mainstream option
  5. The digital environment will provide more opportunities for institutions to provide an enhanced and customised student experience – Intelligent, data-driven systems will work with the student to support them, to analyse their learning behaviour, to propose resources that may help with areas of weakness or further develop areas of interest.
  6. More organisations will accredit chunks of learning – As the formal boundaries around knowledge break down, and the ability to provide a good educational experience without needing to invest in real estate becomes achievable, modular accreditation will grow. There will be more partnerships between commercial and non-commercial organisations; courses will be made available in more flexible formats and online course materials will be supported by distributed networks of high quality support organisations
  7. Organisations will think about services, not systems – The organisational processes will only survive if they make the provider more competitive, able to offer higher quality experiences, more focused on the changing needs of the end beneficiary.


A key OECD report from 2009 ‘Harnessing Openness to Improve Research, Teaching and Learning in Higher Education’ examined higher education through the lens of openness. The goal was to understand the potential impact of greater openness on colleges and universities. It had a particular focus on Open Educational Resources (OER). HE as a sector is taking increasing advantage of ‘open’ whether that is open source software, open science, open access, OER open courseware or open data. For some there is now no turning back. William G Bowen, President Emeritus, Andrew W Mellon Foundation and Princeton University wrote in 2010: “Now that increasing numbers of universities, including some of the most prestigious, are using technology to let the world into their precincts, it will never again be possible to lock the gates” (in the forword of: The Master switch. The Rise and Fall of Information Empires by Tim Wu. Knopf, 2010, ISBN 978-0307269935.)

As noted earlier the Horizon Report for 2013 sees ‘open’ as ‘ a key trend in future education and publication, specifically in terms of open content, open educational resources, massively open online courses, and open access’.

Open Access (OA)

In broad terms ‘Open Access’ refers to published research mostly in the from of journal articles.  (Access to (primary) research data in discussed below). Peter Suber, writing in the SPARC Open Access Newsletter speaks of ‘tectonic movements toward OA in the UK and Europe’ and said in July 2012 ‘three announcements transformed open access (OA) policy in the UK.’:-

Open data

The UK government has been pursuing an open data agenda with some vigour. Writing in the first issue of Google’s Think Quarterly online magazine, Nigel Shadbolt of the University of Southampton declares that one of the key responses to the 21st century demand for information is open data. The data.gov.uk website and the influence of Shadbolt alongside Sir Tim Berners-Lee has positioned UK government as one of the leaders in open data.

For universities and research organisations a key driver has been ‘Open Science’ debate. For the UK the issues and ways forward have been usefully summarised in the recent (June 2012)  ‘Science as an open enterprise’ report by the Royal Society. It characterises the context is the following way: ‘Rapid and pervasive technological change has created new ways of acquiring, storing, manipulating and transmitting vast data volumes, as well as stimulating new habits of communication and collaboration amongst scientists. These changes challenge many existing norms of scientific behaviour’. Six key action areas are highlighted in the report:

  1. Scientists need to be more open among themselves and with the public and media
  2. Greater recognition needs to be given to the value of data gathering, analysis and communication
  3. Common standards for sharing information are required to make it widely usable
  4. Publishing data in a reusable form to support findings must be mandatory
  5. More experts in managing and supporting the use of digital data are required
  6. New software tools need to be developed to analyse the growing amount of data being gathered

This sets some of the context for libraries to be increasingly involved in the management of research data.

Linked data and the semantic web

While the terms open and linked data are not synonymous they are frequent bedfellows, especially in a HE (and library) context. Linked data is a manifestation of the ‘semantic web’ or ‘the web of data’. The concept is closely associated with Tim Berners-Lee and, in a paper in 2009, Berners-Lee and fellow authors describe how the growing adoption of linked data best practices “has lead to the extension of the Web with a global data space connecting data from diverse domains such as people, companies, books, scientific publications, films, music, television and radio programmes, genes, proteins, drugs and clinical trials, online communities, statistical and scientific data, and reviews”. However, the value of linked data remains uncertain and, in a recent report commissioned by JISC, the authors claimed that: “JISC’s work in this area to date has produced a group of technically-minded linked-data literate people, but the individual projects have shown little evidence of benefits or the financial implications of linked data systems.”

Business intelligence big data, and analytics

Recognising the trend towards realising the value of data in institutions and the sector overall, use of data JISC is developing an ‘InfoKit’ on ‘business intelligence’. It suggests a better use of data across the institution could deliver the following benefits:-

  • Improved decision-making (anecdotal)
  • Better strategic planning (anecdotal)
  • Better risk management (anecdotal)
  • Competitive advantage (quantitative)
  • Income generation (quantitative)
  • Efficiency gains (quantitative)
  • Performance benchmarking (anecdotal and quantitative)
  • Student satisfaction (quantitative)
  • Student retention (quantitative)
  • League table ranking (quantitative)

There is still debate around the term of ‘Big Data and to what extent it has value or even exist in a HE context but a March 2012  EDUCAUSE reported that ‘the era of big data has arrived in higher education’ It defined ‘Big data’ as ‘the fine-grained information about customer experiences, organizational processes, and emergent trends generated as customers conduct normal business’. It suggested that ‘the organization of this data serves as a rich source of business analysis to improve performance and even point to new opportunities’.


‘The Edgeless University: why higher education must embrace technology’. By Peter Bradwell. Demos. 2009. ISBN 978-1-906693-16-9 http://www.jisc.ac.uk/edge09

‘NMC Horizon Project Preview 2013 Higher Education Edition. New Media Consortium 2012 http://www.nmc.org/pdf/2013-horizon-higher-ed-preview.pdf

‘The Technology Outlook for UK Tertiary Education 2011-2016’. The New Media Consortium and the JISC Innovation Support Centres CETIS and UKOLN 2011 ISBN 978-0-615-38209-8 http://www.nmc.org/publications/technology-outlook-uk-tertiary-education

‘Top-ten IT Issues 2012’. By Susan Grajek and Judith A. Pirani. EDUCAUSE review online 11 June 2012 http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/top-ten-it-issues-2012

‘Hype Cycle for Education, 2012’. By Jan-Martin Lowendahl. Gartner. 26 July 2012

‘5 Higher Ed Tech Trends for 2012’. By D.A. Barber Campus Technology. 9 January 2012 http://campustechnology.com/Articles/2012/01/09/5-Higher-Ed-Tech-Trends-for-2012.aspx?p=1

‘Seven predictions for our technology enabled universities’. By Sarah Porter. JISC Inform Issue 33 [Future technologies]. 2012 http://www.jisc.ac.uk/inform/inform33/FutureTechnologies.html

‘Harnessing Openness to Improve Research, Teaching and Learning in Higher Education’. OECD. The Committee for Economic Development Digital Connections Council. 22 September

SPARC Open Access Newsletter. by Peter Suber. Issue 165 2 September 2012 http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/newsletter/09-02-12.htm

‘Linked Data – The Story So Far’. By Christian Bizer, Tom Heath & Tim Berners-Lee, 2009 (‘preprint of a paper to appear in: Heath, T., Hepp, M., and Bizer, C. (eds.). Special Issue on Linked Data, International Journal on Semantic Web and Information Systems’) http://tomheath.com/papers/bizer-heath-berners-lee-ijswis-linked-data.pdf

‘Open For Business’. By Nigel Shadbolt. Think Quarterly [Google]. March 2011 http://www.thinkwithgoogle.co.uk/quarterly/data/nigel-shadbolt-open-data.html

‘Science as an open enterprise.’ The Royal Society Science Policy Centre report 02/12. The Royal Society June 2102

‘Review of the evidence for the value of the ‘linked data’ approach’. Final report to the JISC. By Dr Rob Hawtin, Dr Max Hammond, Dr Paul Miller, Dr Brian Matthews.  curtis+cartwright [for the] JISC. September 2011 http://ie-repository.jisc.ac.uk/559/1/JISC_Linked_Data_Review_Oct2011.pdf

JISC InfoNet Business Intelligence InfoKit (under development -2012) http://www.jiscinfonet.ac.uk/infokits/business-intelligence/