Apr 05 2021

Expert Q&A: Which Higher Education Trends Will Outlast the Pandemic?

The makers of Canvas discuss the trends they are watching.

As vaccines offer the promise of a gradual return to normal, colleges and universities are preparing for a post-pandemic future. COVID-19 has radically altered higher education. Some changes are temporary, while others — such as hybrid learning models — may find a permanent place.

Thousands of universities and colleges rely on the Canvas learning management system for both remote and in-person learning. EdTech spoke with Ryan Lufkin, senior director of education product marketing at Instructure, the maker of Canvas, to gauge which 2021 trends are likely to stick around.

EDTECH: What tech trends are you currently seeing on the ground?

LUFKIN: The pandemic accelerated a lot of changes already taking place in higher education. Almost overnight, the level of technology-enhanced learning went through the roof on campuses around the world. In many ways, this forced colleges and universities to catch up with student expectations around technology in the classroom. That means more consistent delivery of blended and online courses, better leveraging of mobile apps to access class information, and an expansion of courses being offered online — leading to greater flexibility for students.

In addition, it’s spurred a greater appreciation for the value of using data in the classroom to support students. Without face-to-face interactions, educators are more reliant on student data to identify which students are struggling. They can use the feedback and communication tools built into the LMS to support them.

RELATED: Here are 8 higher education IT trends to watch in 2021.

We must always put student privacy and security first. However, used with effective policies, data can help higher education institutions give a more personalized student experience overall.

While there are so many aspects of the on-campus experience that just can’t be replaced, it will be important for the technology adoption aspect of the pandemic to remain, to help schools be prepared for future disruptions.

EDTECH: Which tech trends are likely to find a permanent place in higher education?

LUFKIN: I believe blended learning, supported by a technology framework that helps organize course content, communication and common workflows, will become the new standard across all courses in higher education. The true power of blended learning is achieved when it is applied consistently, at scale, across an entire college or university. It will ensure higher education institutions are prepared for any potential future disruption.

It will also deliver the flexibility that today’s traditional and nontraditional students have both come to expect. In addition, I think large, in-person courses with more than 100 students in an auditorium will be a thing of the past. Students are far more engaged in a well-designed, smaller online course than in an impersonal and large in-person one.

MORE ON EDTECH: Discover 3 technology tips for engaging online learners.

EDTECH: What are the best tools for improving student engagement on Canvas?

LUFKIN: Canvas has easy-to-navigate feedback channels, consistent assignment workflows and to-do lists that help students stay focused on what’s next.

There’s also video quizzing, and synchronous and asynchronous video elements that help educators engage students in both blended and fully online courses. However, some of the most consistent feedback we receive is not around tools but rather how educators use the platform itself.

We often hear students say things like, “Make my professors use Canvas more. Make them use it better.” Many educators want to do this, but they need support as well. This requires planning, instructional design support, leveraging blueprint courses and offering templates. Above all, more training is needed for educators with less tech experience.

EDTECH: There are many external technologies and software solutions that can help improve student engagement. Which of these integrate best with Canvas?

LUFKIN: Our customers are able to build powerful digital classrooms leveraging our ecosystem of more than 500 partners. This type of platform infrastructure gives them access to all kinds of users that they would otherwise have to find access to themselves. That includes LTI apps, applications built to a standard that can easily be deployed inside of Canvas, and strategic partners like Microsoft and Google who’ve come to us and said, “Can we build tools that will work inside of Canvas?”

EDTECH: Do you have any tech tips not commonly known by most Canvas users?

LUFKIN: There are a lot of automated features that just “automagically” perform tasks that would be manual in other LMS solutions. For instance, a column is automatically created in the Gradebook when an instructor creates and publishes assignments. Here are a few lesser-known features:

  • When using Chrome, instructors can use the speech-to-text option in SpeedGrader to leave comments on students’ assignments. The Canvas Teacher app also includes SpeedGrader, which works great on iOS or Android devices.
  • When an instructor reviews student analytics, they can simply click, “Message students who [fill in the blank]” and send an announcement directly to students who meet the desired criteria — for instance, students who haven’t turned in an assignment.
  • Educators can create question banks. This allows them to create quizzes that pull questions from a bank at random. This way, each student will be taking a different quiz.
  • Teachers can easily create a rubric to grade student participation in discussions.

DIVE DEEPER: Here’s what higher ed leaders can do to support engaging online education.

EDTECH: Canvas has received some criticism for capturing students’ clickstreams, which are records of the webpages a user visits and the time spent on each page. How can educators use this feature in a way that doesn’t jeopardize student data privacy?

LUFKIN: You must be referencing a recent student opinion article in USA Today, which incorrectly stated that Canvas captures students’ clickstreams outside of Canvas. That was a misprint, and the editors of the publication were able to quickly correct the statement. We do not capture students’ clickstreams. We only capture this information from sites they visited within the Canvas application, and that information is only available for their institution to use for improving student outcomes. Student privacy is paramount, and Instructure has strict policies to protect it.

Instructure does not sell student information to other companies. We do not use student information to advertise to students. We do not share student information with companies or people who do not have explicit and known permission to see or access a student’s information. A student’s information is only accessible to his or her higher education institution, instructor and administrators, which is in compliance with FERPA and other regional guidelines. Instructure has been very explicit regarding our ongoing commitment to student data privacy. Our privacy officer, Daisy Bennett, did a webinar earlier this year on the subject as well.

These are great questions to ask because, as online and blended learning courses increase throughout higher education, it will be more and more important to leverage data collected through the use of in-classroom technology to measure student engagement and success. However, as an industry, we must never lose sight of the fact that protecting the data of students is just as important as serving the educators and institutions that support them.

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