Enhancing E-Interactivity In Higher Education
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E-Interactivity: Considerations And Challenges

This article advises on a possible working standard for e-interactivity that is contextualized within a broader strategy for digital transformation in higher education (HE). Moreover, this article could also serve as a reference for those higher education institutions wishing to develop a statement of intent regarding enhancing e-interactivity in online education for quality assurance agency (QAA) accreditation purposes.

By way of background, QAAs that have shown substantial compliance with the European Standards and Guidelines (ESG)—the ESG are the agreed common framework for quality assurance systems in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA)—are listed on the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR) webpage [1].

It is recommended that institutions address any potentially stringent QAA expectations concerning the need to develop or purchase higher-quality—but often cost-prohibitive at scalee-interactive learning objects in two ways: firstly, acute awareness of the generic impending trends of digital transformation should be emphasized effectively; secondly, a broad statement of intent regarding the continuous and challenging process of enhancing e-interactivity should be provided.

Clearly, the unavoidable challenges that educational institutions will face with regard to digitally transforming their organizations should not be underestimated or belittled; for instance, in-house development of interactive student-to-content presentations require supreme institutional non-siloed organization, rock-solid stakeholder support, a logical and practicable technology-enhanced learning framework, an extremely motivated and dedicated team of developers, and realistically structured faculty training.

Emphasizing The Impending Trends Of Digital Transformation

As it is undeniable that higher education worldwide will undergo profound, dramatic and irreversible changes over the upcoming years as a result of precipitate and pervasive digital transformation, institutions of higher education should aspire to drive educational change and learner success effectually through the innovative and unencumbered use of appropriate empowering technologies.

Furthermore, it is necessary to recognize that a concomitant of such an approach, however, is the openness to "rethink," "reimagine," and "rebalance" "old and new" continuously within a construct that accounts, in a critical, well-informed and principled way, for "human" learner idiosyncrasies and learner epistemologies [7].

Additionally, it is held that harnessing technological transformation in higher education should not necessitate the eventual usurpation of the "human" teacher from a valuable, well-established and successful historical role; rather, it is thought to be essential for Learning/Instructional Design to develop ways to fuse the uniqueness of the teacher with the affordances of the technology for the benefit of the student.

Also, it is maintained that it is critical to align change strategies to those of the wider community of thought agents, for instance:

  • With regard to some of the emergent technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, Mixed Reality, blockchain technologies, or Quantum Computing, the Microsoft Transformation Framework for higher education may be useful in providing practical advice on how to develop a holistic digital transformation strategy based on four components: student success, teaching and learning, academic research and having a secure and connected campus.
  • The Higher Education Hub [2] (i.e., Action 4 of the European Digital Education Action Plan) places particular focus on providing support to higher education institutions (HEIs) using digital technologies; it should, therefore, help to:
    • Improve the quality and relevance of learning and teaching
    • Facilitate internationalization
    • Support greater cooperation between HEIs across Europe
  • The findings of the 2018 ENQA report entitled Considerations for Quality Assurance of eLearning Provision are also very insightful as they are applicable to all forms of eLearning.

Here are some examples of challenges to digital transformation in higher education; cost of development however, is believed to be the most prohibitive challenge:

  • One example pertains to the high development, updating and staff training costs of high-quality, future-proofed, interactive, eLearning-authored content. Moreover, this also requires unceasing deep stakeholder engagement and senior leadership support.
  • A second example appertains to the extremely high costs of certain relatively cutting-edge digital technologies, which are currently mainly prohibitive for most universities; the impressive examples cited below, theoretically, to some degree, improve interactivity between students and teachers (or student and teacher-supporting AI chatbot) in a synchronous DL or face-to-face environment:
    • Harvard Business School Online HBX Live Virtual Classroom [3]
    • Harvard University’s get-a-live VR front-seat in a CS50x lecture [4]
    • The world's first holographic university lecture at Imperial College Business School[5]
    • A new robo-tutor, an AI chatbot, to support distance-learners on Imperial College’s MBA programs [6]
  • A third example of a significant challenge to implementing digital transformation refers to the need to research, test and roll-out new and suitably engaging educational technology software solutions.
  • A final example relates to the enormous challenge associated with attempting to design a more cohesive digital learning environment (DLE). The University of Wisconsin’s DLE, for instance, comprises 5 critically important areas:
    1. Implementing fundamental universal design principles
    2. Creating a data-first culture of analytics support
    3. Enhancing user-interactive collaboration
    4. Following standards-based interoperability
    5. Enabling student-centered personalization

A Broad Statement Of Intent Regarding The Continuous And Challenging Process Of Enhancing E-Interactivity

It is maintained that an intention should be stated by the institution to enhance student-to-content e-interactivity and student-to-student/student-to-teacher e-interactivity in the following agreed ways with the overarching aim of improving student success at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Two Types Of E-Interactivity

Two broad—and not always necessarily mutually exclusive—types of e-interactivity are relevant to this discussion:

E-Interactivity Type 1

The e-interactivity of student with content of an eLearning object (e.g., the way an interactive lecture presentation in Adobe Captivate) is storyboarded and multimedia-designed to engage the student in more dynamic autonomous learning.

Type 1 learning objects, depending on their complexity and institutional budget and level of institutional know-how, can be:

  1. Developed in-house, with a relatively large team comprising especially multimedia, Learning/Instructional Design, and IT specialists, using a very wide potential range of e-learning authoring software options. However, creating, reviewing and updating such content are understood to be a continuous process.
  2. Outsourced to specialist eLearning content development companies, of which there are 100s.
  3. Purchased directly from vendors, who mostly tend to present their products at international learning technology fairs, such as the BETT Show in London EXCEL.

It should be the intention that all interactivity will eventually be measurable at the granular level by using a relevant standard (e.g., an xAPI/Tin Can standard). Suitable Learning Record Store platforms could also provide a range of informative learning analytics visualizations. Furthermore, in the future, machine learning capabilities might be incorporated to help interpret student learning-object engagement, provide adaptive enhancements or nudge recommendations.

Regarding the creation of (e.g., real-life simulations, virtual workshops/environments, interactive school classroom simulations, problem-solving scenarios, or interactive learning games), in most cases, it could be recognized that [2] and [3] options mentioned above are the more suitable and realistic ways of implementing such learning-object types.

In general, with regard to e-interactivity Type 1 (student to content) mentioned above, it is important for the educational institution to express an intention to develop progressively in the most cost-effective way, the highest possible quality interactive learning content in compliance with international standards.

The most advanced learning objects would contain cutting-edge interactive elements, such as branching based on choice, quiz grade or on other triggers, thus enabling, for example, the implementation of a more student-centered, flexible-learning path, personalized, scenario-based, student-paced/self-directed, adaptive or autonomous learning experience.

However, even though [1], [2] and [3] approaches mentioned above, are extremely expensive to do, all three options can be used to implement more-focused academic-level and subject-specific learning objects. Moreover, it could be recognized that the subject area and educational level may play a role in regard to determining level of e-interactivity.

E-Interactivity Type 2

Student-to-student or student-to-teacher interactivity.

The e-interactivety capabilities of a particular Learning Management System (LMS) learning tool or third party LMS educational LTI  plugin (eg., VoiceThread or Cisco WebEx Education Connector) also increase the potential for learning and teaching through synchronous or asynchronous collaboration with peers and teachers.

It might also be recognized that a trend may develop, which could have both Type 1 and Type 2 e-interactivity implications, for Learning Experience Platforms [LXP] to be used to add an additional user layer on top of an existing LMS.

Moreover, clickometry or even natural language processing (NLP) learning analytics capabilities and analyses can be used to review and improve further Type 2 activities (eventually, even more real time).

Therefore, the educational institution should acknowledge that a well-defined educational model based on sound learning design/Instructional Design principles can help guarantee that Type 2 e-interactivity will also help to enable the students to achieve the learning outcomes successfully.

Concluding Remarks

It is felt therefore that this article, which is germane to QAA accreditation preparation purposes, serves two important related purposes: firstly, it represents a possible way of creating a statement of intent for an educational institution to undertake progressive enhancements to e-interactivity in online education; secondly, it indicates the associated need for the educational institution to express, that in spite of the challenges, the overarching trends and best practices of digital transformation in higher education are being monitored.

References:

[1] Database of External Quality Assurance Results

[2] Digital Education Action Plan - Action 4 Higher Education Hub

[3] High Tech Classroom by Harvard HBX

[4] Get A Front Row Seat In Harvard’s Largest Class With The Magic of Virtual Reality

[5] World's first holographic university lecture at Imperial College Business School

[6] Imperial College Business School to offer live lectures via hologram

End Notes:

[7] Laurillard (2002: 202-3) holds that students will have nurtured throughout all their previous educational encounters a conception of how one comes to know i.e. their conception of what learning is and how it should be done.  Laurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking University Teaching. London: RoutledgeFarmer.

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