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Future of Academic Technology

The Future of Academic Technology at ACC

Joint report from Office of Academic Technology, Division of Distance Education, Division of Information Technology and Areas of Study

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The core function of Austin Community College is providing equitable education to all ACC students, regardless of their socioeconomic status, degree plan, or purpose for enrolling at the institution. That, coupled with Goal 1 of the Austin Community College Strategic Plan, requires that areas around the institution adopt academic technologies that are in line with both the ever-changing academic & technological landscapes, as well as those technologies that are being used in the workforce. Ensuring that students gain experience in using the tools that they will be required to have a working knowledge of when they (re)enter the workforce provides them with marketable skills that elevate them above the competition.

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Academic Master Plan (AMP) Academic Technology Outcomes:

  • Faculty and Students will have access to, and skills around, the use of instructional technology resources and materials aligned with academic and career pathways
  • Faculty will effectively integrate instructional technologies to support student outcomes, retention, and engagement
  • Students and Faculty will have access to optimal communal teaching and learning workspaces – including online
  • Faculty will transform courses through the redesign of curriculum and evidence-based teaching approaches that foster inclusivity
  • Expand anytime/anywhere opportunities for learning through a mobile campus plan
1. Advancement of virtual and augmented reality to create equitable access to alternate educational environments

One the the most impacted areas of the institution through the Coronavirus pandemic has been those academic programs that require students to complete hands-on lab/clinical work. Students have not had the opportunities that they otherwise would to gain such experiences as a result of the increased health & safety risks. Prior to COVID-19, several academic departments began exploring virtual and augmented reality as a way to provide additional students with opportunities to practice and master required competencies. While the results have been fragmented and inconsistent, the next 5 years will undoubtedly yield an increase in the requests of and support for developing activities and assessments in a virtual reality and/or augmented reality space.

2. Increasing opportunities for in-classroom collaboration between faculty and students

As the higher education landscape continues to evolve, one of the conversations that is anticipated is the future of the physical classroom. While many instructors will prefer to continue teaching fully online once campuses reopen, a large number of faculty prefer in-person interactions. As a result, it is important to ensure that faculty and students have similar capabilities to collaborate in the physical classroom space as they do in the virtual environment. An effort that is already in effect, technology is being made available on the campuses to allow faculty and students to collaborate on their own devices while in the same physical classroom. This technology increases the opportunities for faculty to teach from anywhere in the room, encouraging the use of tablets and wireless devices, also allowing students to share content and assignments from their tablets and phones. Each campus will be outfitted with this technology as audio/visual upgrades are completed with all campuses being upgraded by 2027.

3. Increasing the ability to create or curate video-based instructional content

As the nature of curriculum continues to evolve beyond the traditional commercial textbook, the adoption of multimedia assets for use in instruction will continue to expand. As the need grows, opportunities for faculty to not only partner with video producers but also to create their own professional multimedia content will need to be supported in an effort to promote active and collaborative learning environments for students.

In looking at partnerships with video producers and graphic/animation professionals, these services can include the production of instructional video to facilitate the transfer of knowledge via specialized video lectures, supplement teaching by way of technical demonstrations, and develop student learning and awareness through simulations. In addition to audio/video content, the development of instructional content through the use of interactive gamification is an area for growth. In essence, faculty are fostering active learning through the implementation of high impact practices.

In establishing opportunities for faculty to create their own multimedia content, there will be a need to provide dedicated recording locations and the necessary technology. These spaces, which can be described as a “one-button studio,” allow faculty to enter a recording location, record their own content on their own time, and have immediate access to publish the content into the Learning Management System. The development of these spaces is not new, and there are many vendors that provide commercial offerings to support this technology. Establishing 3-5 of these studios in the next 5 years will allow faculty to learn about and begin utilizing these spaces to meet the anticipated demand.

In addition to increasing skills and establishing the technical infrastructure around video creation, it is equally important to provide faculty with the knowledge of and skills around searching for and curating open educational resources, specifically around multimedia. But leveraging the existing resources in the Office of Academic Technology and Library Services, expanding the number of faculty who are able to curate multimedia content that is produced by others allows faculty to focus on creating content that is not readily available, rather than reinventing the wheel.

Lastly, continued support for a platform to host the media that is created/curated is imperative to ensure reliability in the technology for students consuming media around the world. Tools such as Mediasite, which is currently supported, provide the ability for faculty to integrate their media into the Learning Management System without affecting the quality of the students’ user experience. Ensuring that the selected tools are fully supported and integrated with other systems will ensure that the adoption of such tools increases the ROI, student engagement, and student success.

4. Fostering equitable access to technology through establishing a College-wide one-to-one device initiative

As the need for access to laptops and tablet devices continues to increase, Austin Community College risks increasing the socioeconomic tiers within the community, but alienating those who cannot afford or do not have access to the necessary technology. Further, students lacking 24/7 access to the necessary technology not only stunts their ability to succeed within their academic courses, but lack the necessary marketable skills and knowledge to compete in the ever-changing workforce. To ensure that ACC students remain competitive in the global economy, it is imperative that students be required to obtain the necessary technology that not only aligns with the requirements of their chosen academic program, but yields the necessary skills to become employed in their chosen field. Whether the profession requires skills on laptops or tablets, Mac or PC, students should enter into the first semester at ACC with the necessary technology to help them succeed. By partnering with the Areas of Study to create a comprehensive list of technology requirements and providing that information not only to students (through the ACC website), advisors (to assist students in selecting academic programs), the Bookstore (to assist in procuring/selling the necessary technology), and Financial Aid (to ensure that all technology purchases can be done so through loans & grants), all credit students will be able to succeed from day 1, thus eliminating the socioeconomic barriers for ACC students.

5. Supporting the development of web-based materials to increase student engagement

As an anticipated result of COVID-19, the number of students who will continue to opt for distance education courses and virtual services may yield a significant population of students who never set foot on a physical campus. Further, as faculty continue to develop their curriculum around online or hybrid delivery, the need for student activities & interactions in varying formats will continue to increase. Given the technological restrictions on the types of activities that can be developed within the Learning Management System (LMS), resources will be needed to develop activities outside of the LMS.

In looking at how best to foster student engagement using alternative methods, the solution will likely result in the development of web-based activities. Examples of these activities would include virtual tours and galleries, custom assessments for admission into certain academic programs, the development of mobile apps for instruction, etc. Identifying and securing technology to design such experiences will be beneficial for recruitment, retention, academic success, and post-academic success.

6. Fostering cross-medium instructional delivery

At the time in which face-to-face courses resume en masse, there will be a contingent of faculty and students that wish to remain virtual. While a natural solution to such a split is to offer sections of courses that are delivered face-to-face while other sections are delivered fully online, there exists a third option–the hybrid approach. By leveraging the best parts of face-to-face and online course deliveries, faculty have the ability and opportunity to maximize efficiency and student engagement. Through continued efforts to develop a workflow that is seamless and effortless for the Board of Trustees and administration, the ability to offer a hybrid approach to multimedia delivery yields professional quality media content while supporting cross-platform collaboration district-wide. Using video conferencing platforms in tandem with live-streaming technology, a two-way interactive communication environment provides an accessible broadcast medium for wider college outreach. Additionally, through the use of live-streaming video platforms, there is the potential to bring ACC-produced content to a national viewership.

7. Providing equitable access to reliable internet service to ensure student success and retention

Many, if not all, of the strategies mentioned throughout this document have 1 thing in common, the need for reliable access to the internet. Without this access, there exists an issue around equity for our students. As part of ensuring that this need is addressed, there are 2 pieces that must be addressed.

The first is ensuring that the ACC wifi infrastructure is upgraded and can withstand the increase in devices and internet traffic when implementing a College-wide one-to-one device initiative. Not only will devices be issued to students, but it is expected that a large number of students will bring their devices to campus for use in the classrooms, as well as an increase in the reliability on these devices to participate in the face-to-face learning environment. One of the biggest issues that the Office of Academic Technology has faced since the start of COVID-19 has been the wifi infrastructure on campus, which has limited the speed at which devices can be prepared for distribution to students. It is imperative that the College establish this as a high priority over the coming years.

The second aspect of equitable access to the internet for our students is to address those students who do not live in parts of Austin that have reliable internet service providers. At the start of COVID-19, there was a growing percentage of students who identified that they live in rural areas where internet access is limited. And as a result of the pandemic, access to free internet access at libraries, fast food restaurants, etc. was non-existent. While the pandemic will not last forever, it does not change the fact that there exists a population of our student body that will continue to not have access to reliable internet at home. In an effort to mitigate this problem, the Office of Academic Technology will partner with IT Services to make available hotspots for students to check out during the semester.

8. Increasing student competitiveness in the workforce through access to technology training

While one of the big drivers for ACC is ensuring that our students are competitive in the workforce, an important area that has been missing in achieving this outcome is providing students with training on the use of technology. For years, students have relied on their instructors and the internet to look up how to complete tasks in and general usage of technology tools, without any formal training or deliverables. By leveraging workforce data to ensure that students are learning appropriate technologies, developing training with the Office of Academic Technology, implementing LinkedIn Learning for self-service training, and the implementation and development of badging within the institution to recognize student mastery of skills, students are able to leave ACC with marketable skills that elevate them above the competition.

9. Fostering partnerships with the Austin community by establishing academic technology-focused incubators

In building upon the success of the Bioscience and Fashion Incubators, opportunities exist for ACC to team up with leading partners such as Apple and Adobe to establish spaces where corporate innovation merges with student learning and research. By creating an Apple Incubator and Adobe Incubator, start-up companies that have interest in building mobile apps or getting into graphic and/or video production are able to leverage the resources and partnerships that ACC has to provide a space for innovation to occur. Additionally, students are provided with access to start-up companies within the community, to gain experience in these fields, build their skillsets in these technologies, master these marketable skills, and help conduct research in these areas. These outcomes provide benefit to ACC, the start-up companies, the partnering organizations (Apple and Adobe), as well as the students.