How EdTech Can Break Down Silos In Higher Education

EdTech In Higher Education: Breaking Down Silos
Summary: Higher education has a myriad of silos, from student and administrative offices all the way down to individual committees. How can EdTech be used to break down these silos and bring back cohesion and collaboration to improve student success? Let’s explore.

EdTech In Higher Education

Silos aren’t good in any organization, but they exist in almost all of them. Universities are no exception. Silos can exist across various services, offices, and teams in higher ed such as academic affairs, student affairs, and across other administrative divisions; assessment, institutional research, or accreditation offices, or centers for teaching and learning; curricular committees, faculty development, and/or student success teams. Silos can also exist among and between faculty, students, leaders of individual programs or departments, and/or university leadership. Ironically, no matter what the silo, every single entity is striving for the same thing: student success.

Luckily, education technologies exist and continue to be developed that can help break down these silos. By collecting the right data and offering it back to educators and educational institutions in relevant, consumable formats, EdTech can coalesce student learning and success efforts and bring cohesion and collaboration that meaningfully connects these silos. It can remedy existing dysfunctional ways of being and help unify and align intention, action, and impact. Here is one example of how that can happen.

Roles And Responsibilities In Higher Ed

Within higher education institutions, those with accreditation responsibilities work to demonstrate mission alignment and sound fiscal responsibility in all endeavors. The assessment office and personnel strive to demonstrate continuous improvement across all educational practices and student achievement of learning outcomes. Those charged with faculty development are trying to build or enhance faculty skills and facilitate teaching excellence. Curricular committees are building effective scaffolding to enable student success and ensure comprehensive content coverage that meets professional standards and future market needs.

Faculty are hard at work trying to create a strong, positive learning environment where students can successfully demonstrate their learning through assessment performance. Students are busy learning and trying to demonstrate their competence in formats that they may or may not be comfortable with. And student support offices offer services and programming that attempt to meet the cognitive, social, and emotional needs of the student for their all-around success. So, how can EdTech bring these groups together to foster student success?

How Technology Can Help

A strong assessment platform can do this using data. An assessment platform can help serve integrity advancing efforts, but it should also have features that allow for curricular mapping, psychometrics for assessment item analysis, and various grading options from rubrics to automated scoring. Together and separately, all these features enable the generation of robust assessment performance data that can be used by faculty and administrators to:

  • Review the strength and quality of the assessment and items;
  • Revisit the efficacy of the curriculum and content;
  • Investigate the effectiveness of instruction;
  • Identify the students who need proactive support for success and share data with all students about their strengths and opportunities for growth; and,
  • Efficiently develop outcome achievement reports that can be used to demonstrate accreditation compliance.

With this kind of holistic approach, one EdTech platform can help various stakeholders unite over their roles, responsibilities, and goals by offering the data needed to achieve student success. Using the data, faculty and program directors can work together to investigate whether gaps exist in instruction, the course or program curricula, or elsewhere. The faculty development offices can use the data to support individuals or groups of faculty by orienting them to best practices for effective instruction and assessment.

Curricular committees and/or individual program faculty can update or innovate their curricula for better scaffolding or content coverage. Individual students who need early interventions, remediation, or support gain the tools they need for academic success. Working with faculty, assessment professionals can assess student learning outcomes data and document the resulting continuous improvement processes for successful accreditation or reaffirmation. They can also work with faculty on effective item creation and assessment design best practices. All this and more can be achieved while fostering integrity and equipping students to make the right choices around academic honesty.

You Still Need People

Now, this was just one example of how an EdTech, by offering meaningful data-based decision-making opportunities to educators and educational institutions, can break down higher education silos. Regardless, every EdTech has its limitations, and for any one of them to be successful (i.e., for technology to serve its purpose and for any silos to be broken down) it still comes back to people. The responsibility still lies with human beings because we are integral to the technology adoption and change management processes. Educators must be proactively, comprehensively, and consistently taught the full use of the technology to engage with the comprehensive scope of it, or the technology is rendered useless.

If robust processes are not created for technology adoption and continued use, learning, and innovation, once again, the technology becomes defunct and pointless. If the institutional culture doesn’t foster vulnerability and learning where an educator can say, "I am overwhelmed and I do not know how to use this technology and get the most out of it" without losing face, again, the opportunity for collaboration, mutual learning, and group engagement with technology is lost.

Additionally, for any collaboration to happen and for any silos to be broken down, the attitudes around new technologies and EdTech must change. Too often there’s skepticism about why a particular technology is being brought in in the first place. Too often decisions are made by a select few without engaging the necessary stakeholders in the process. This type of decision-making leads to distrust and poor, incomplete, or ineffective implementation, adoption, and use. And sadly, it is ultimately the students who end up suffering.

Many EdTech companies have grown out of the entrepreneurship of those with close ties to higher education to meet a need or address a gap. The important question is: Are we, as education professionals, willing to engage in the hard work of changing our institutional processes, cultures, and ways of being to learn and effectively use existing and future technologies to break down silos and truly harness technology’s full potential? Can we commit to this for our own and our students’ success? I hope the answer is yes.