Colleges and universities are always actively seeking ways to boost their retention and persistence rates. With student engagement fledgling, some colleges are turning to edtech tools to drive student interest and academic success.
Students at Arizona State University enrolled in an introductory biology course were nearly twice as likely to earn an “A” lab grade using Dreamscape Learn, a VR technology that combines explorative education pedagogy with cinematic story techniques, compared with their peers in traditional “wet labs.” Rowan University (N.J.) is joining the first cohort of colleges to license the new technology and curriculum.
Moreover, AI will make a splash in the teaching space as well. Edtech company Prof Jim has developed an AI teaching assistant that has shown promising results in a test run among K12 students.
But for Mike Mathews, vice president of innovation and technology at Oral Roberts University (Okla.), the key to successfully leveraging edtech tools to drive student engagement is less about the service and more about its implementation.
“Technology is now a science and a commodity you can buy and service anywhere. But integrating it and making it instantly available is an art, not a science,” says Mathews. “The art of student engagement is flawless, seamless technology.”
Mathews follows a set of principles when reviewing a potential new technology to adopt to ensure its use is an actual gain rather than a headache.
“Technology is wonderful. I’ve worked in it all my life. But the truth is, more technology is worse than better,” he says. “Every minute I can save a student or faculty time from stumbling over technology is one more minute of student engagement with the professor.”
ORU is ranked fourth in the nation in student engagement by The Wall Street Journal.
Virtual reality has long been the darling of education, but Mathews believes there are more straightforward ways to look at it to raise student buy-in.
“Eight years ago, we became the world leaders in immersive learning through VR, but I knew back then there was no way a young lady or most young men were gonna get out of their dorm room after they just did their hair and put a pair of goggles around their head,” he says.
Instead of purchasing $4,000 VR glasses in bulk, students can also be interested in using a $10 pair that clips on a smartphone, such as those offered by Homido.
Let students own the technology environment
With the students of today and increasingly those of tomorrow desiring highly personalized information and commodities, Mathews understands that Gen Z is eager to adopt edtech tools that feel like their own – and not that of the institution.
“When students know they own it, they use it,” he says. “It’s no different than when most CIOs will tell you that students don’t read their campus email, but they’ll read their personal email.”
For example, students using the ORU mobile app can contact IT directly through the device and receive assistance without correctly contacting ORU’s IT department.
Allowing students to feel that they “owned” the app encouraged a 96% platform adoption rate, according to READY Education, the software company behind ORU’s app.
“Because they have their community there, they really feel like it’s theirs,” Mathews says.
Limit student’s point of contact
But READY Education eases students’ use of education technology in a web of different ways.
READY Education provides students with a one-stop-shop (or mobile app in this case) by melding an institution’s student information systems and learning management systems with aspects of social media, such as hosting event management planning and a forum for students to talk with each other. It’s even integrated with the university’s laundry system.
The trick behind this approach is that while new technologies emerge with substantiated promises to help students, the burden of being overwhelmed with options counteracts the commodity.
“Everyone of these companies will try to sell me their mobile app,” says Mathew. “But if I pay them $50,000 for every platform, I’m still gonna have students going into 50 different platforms.”
Consequently, ORU has integrated popular edtech services like D2L and Eleutian right into its own mobile app.
As students prepare for life after college, ORU uses Menti to help students understand the world of credit cards, internships, taxes, stocks and paying for college.
Student engagement far outside the classroom
Most professionals may only associate edtech with helping students purely in academia. However, the tool’s real power is its ability to simplify students’ lives in all aspects. After all, students who are less preoccupied with financial concerns can focus better, according to Mathews.
“The real challenge of education is what happens outside [the classroom]. How did they get there? How do they know they can afford to come here?” he says. “That smart consumer experience is so much more outside the classroom as well as inside the classroom.”