Higher education evolution: Faculty’s role in 2023

eCampus News, Jake New, November 13, 2013


Like today’s faculty, many instructors in 2023 will still repeat a lecture multiple times –  if they need the extra practice before stepping in front of a camera.

Online learning won’t be the only option in 10 years, but it will be a prevalent one, experts said, and that means more and more instructors will find themselves recording their lectures to be viewed and reviewed over the internet.

Forty percent of credits that college students earn are already earned online, said Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor for online learning at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

“I think that will only increase,” Schroeder said.

Class time will be more centered on discussions, as the students will have already watched the lecture on a course webpage before meeting with the instructor.

This is already happening on many college campuses, and the system is referred to as “flipped learning.” But a more controversial possibility that could arise from such a method is an “outsourcing” of lectures.

For example, a student taking a physics course at Indiana University (IU) could attend class once a week to discuss what he learned during the most recent lecture. While she is meeting in-person with his professor at IU, the video lecture she watched was actually presented by a professor at Stanford University who is teaching a similar massive open online course (MOOC).

At the Association of Community College Trustees Leadership Congress in October, Bill Gates, the education philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft, said he envisions online video lectures as taking a path similar to recorded music.

“Recorded music meant that there were aspects — not all aspects of music — but aspects like the lecture where the very, very best gets used thousands and thousands of times instead of just getting used once,” Gates said. “We’re definitely coming to that type of change.”

Concerts did not simply disappear because people could now listen to songs at their own leisure, he argued. Recorded music and live performances found a way to complement and enhance each other.

Also helping faculty enhance learning experiences in 2023 will be the massive amounts of data and data management tools at their fingertips.

“Learning algorithms currently identify who is at risk,” said Dave Kil, the chief data scientist at Civitas Learning. “In the near future, the same algorithms must learn how to engage and nudge students to help them succeed. Furthermore, they need to learn utilities of these interventions in real time.”

Software and artificially intelligent adaptive learning will take tasks like grading, giving simple quizzes, and tracking a student’s progress out of the faculty’s hands.

But if pre-recorded lectures are the doing the lecturing, learning analytics are doing the analyzing, and grading software is doing the grading – what duties are left for the instructor?

There’s plenty left to do, Kil said, adding that handing over the more administrative aspects of the job will allow faculty to focus on a more “human” side of teaching.

He offered this scenario: if a good student suddenly begins to do poorly in a class, a professor has to hope she notices the decline quickly enough to intervene.

The professor, in the more data-driven year of 2023, would instead be alerted of the decline, and software would analyze the pattern of poor performance.

What behaviors did the student exhibit when she was doing well? What behaviors did she exhibit when she was doing poorly?

The anlyatics reveals that this particular student has more success with peer tutoring than one-on-one time with a professor. The software then pairs the student with a peer who has a measurably better grasp of the subject matter.

“Leveraging concepts in human motivation, behavioral economics, and machine learning, analytics can humanize and optimize student experiences,” Kil said. “In other words, analytics becomes far more than just a predictive tool.”

Mark Milliron, the former chancellor of Western Governors University-Texas, said data tools in the future will give faculty a better sense of when is the best time to connect with a student.

“Understanding when a student would be particularly receptive to personal outreach, or when the need for personal outreach is crucial, is incredibly useful,” Milliron said. “It’s not just about understanding patterns of performance, but also understanding the best ‘human’ moments to intervene.”

Some of these changes in the faculty job description will be – and are already being – met with understandable skepticism and concern from professors and instructors. MOOCs and other online experiments, like Southern New Hampshire University’s teacher-less College for America, have professors worried that the job isn’t just changing.

It’s being phased out completely.

Driven by changing technology, public pressure, and ballooning costs, there’s a war of pedagogical ideas brewing between faculty and administrators.

By 2023, will there be a clear winner?