Australian universities are getting creative with digital. Here’s how.

Summary: Digital technology is transforming the higher education landscape in Australia to provide for a more inclusive and flexible learning experience.

Australia’s higher education landscape is experiencing unprecedented change – for the better and for the benefit of the future generation. Recent research by Harvard Business Review Analytics Services reveals that only a mere 7% of Australian schools and universities are “very digital” in their dependence on technologies – but 80% of respondents consider digital disruption in education to be likely.

“Australia’s higher education industry is a robust one, generating more than AU$21 billion worth of economic activity as the country’s third largest export. Progressive educators and institutions know they need to digitise their curricula, at least in part, to prepare today’s students for the challenges of tomorrow and keep their courses relevant,” says Dan Bowen, Education Solution Specialist.

Greater reach and higher involvement

Two main factors have driven the digitisation of higher-education syllabuses: an influx of overseas students, and an increase in adult learners who are returning to university for part-time degrees. The government’s cuts to funding also mean universities have to find innovative ways to deliver programmes and redesign their lessons–while still delivering high-quality education for a large and diverse student body.

For many universities, the use of online streaming and cloud-based software has helped drive a more open and collaborative method of learning. Take David Kellermann, a lecturer and researcher in mechanical and manufacturing engineering at the University of New South Wales, who started live-streaming his lectures in high definition–complete with slides and drawings–due to limited seating in halls. Students can ask questions in live chats, annotate his notes in a shared forum and re-watch his lectures at any time. The result, he says, has been much higher engagement amongst his students…and significantly better pass rates.

At the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, part of the University of Sydney, tutors use digital devices like Surface Book and OneNote to teach music and collaborate with students. Chord sheets can be displayed side by side with an artist track playing in real time, while both teacher and student practice on the piano together. Using Microsoft Sway, tutors can also perform in front of students and have them recreate the same piece on their computer back home.

Looking to the future

“Technology is a vehicle that allows us to inspire and engage students,” says Dan Bowen, Education Solution Specialist. Cloud services, data analytics and mobile computing have the potential to make education far more personalised and personal. If Australian educators can use these technologies cleverly, they’ll be able to take our national reputation for high-class higher education to even more competitive levels.”

A few practical steps can speed up digital transformation in the classroom. Educators can create a cloud-based repository of lecture outlines and reading materials. Collecting data on enrolment levels and student demography can help universities allocate their resources better. Finally, more technically able and enthusiastic educators should take the time to expose their colleagues to the practical benefits of introducing digital technology to their lesson plans.

The Harvard Business Review study revealed that 97% of education leaders identified social media as important to an organisation’s success by the year 2020, followed by 95% of believers in big data and analytics, 89% in cloud platform and 66% in mobile computing. All these are positive signs for the future, but the true success of Australia’s higher education will still come from a much more traditional source.

“Australian universities have succeeded with digital because our educators enjoy using it in creative, efficient ways,” says Dan Bowen, Education Solution Specialist. “Ultimately, the creativity of our teachers and their relationship with their students define how technology gets used, and how much the results stand out on the world stage. Digital can’t replace our teachers’ ingenuity and skills: it can only make it more accessible to more students than before.”

Read the full Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report.

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