RENCI white paper surveys 10 emerging technologies for higher education

The U.S. higher education system faces many challenges, none more daunting than this: How to equip students with the skills they will need to survive in a competitive, globally connected world while keeping costs—especially tuition—from skyrocketing.

Proponents of educational reform argue that students are disengaged from the learning process and that traditional lecture-based courses do not encourage student immersion, interaction, or critical thinking (Atkinson 2010). Teachers too are disengaged, they argue, with much of their time spent on paperwork and few incentives provided for developing classes that emphasize collaboration and critical thinking.

Many new technologies could be tools used to create more vibrant and interactive learning experience for students, and others could streamline tasks for educators, allowing them more time to engage with their students.

In a white paper titled Ten Emerging Technologies for Higher Education, Stan Ahalt, PhD, director of the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Scientific and Medical Writer Karamarie Fecho, PhD, discuss some of the most promising technologies that could help higher education institutions meet the challenges of the 21st century. The technologies discussed are: computerized grading; electronic textbooks (e-textbooks); simulation technology; gamification; flipped classrooms; active learning classrooms; massive open online courses (MOOCs); collaborative distance learning environments; the Active Learning ForumTM platform; and learning management systems (LMSs).

While these technologies hold great promise as tools to reform and revitalize higher education, most must be fully evaluated in “real-world” settings, a process that will likely lead to refinements and uncover new challenges. Also, the white paper authors point out, technology is only one part of what must be a broad approach to educational transformation that also includes adopting new business models, reforming the tenure system, providing greater incentives for teaching, and more.

To read the RENCI white paper, visit