As institutions such
as Stritch prepare for the future, the very definition of higher education is changing in the face of
By Scott Rudie
It appears that the traditional college lecture hall may have
larger issues than the drifting attention of freshmen enduring a 90-minute
Despite the revolutionary changes taking place in education,
the lecture hall endures as a place outside of time where learning is
structured in traditional ways. The experts agree, however, that those days
have passed. More than ever before, technology is significantly affecting how
As Stritch’s 75th anniversary becomes yet another
milestone in its history, the University is joining the ranks of countless other
institutions in more closely examining the higher education landscape of the
next decade. Those in leadership understand that key trends identified by
experts must be continually monitored and accommodated if colleges or universities
such as Stritch are to remain relevant and competitive.
Online learning as a
Technology drives higher education trends. However, colleges
and universities have been notoriously slow in adapting to changes in
technology and understanding how those technologies have the potential to
enhance the educational experience.
Among the most significant trends, online learning is
expected to continue to grow. Some institutions embrace the online delivery
format exclusively. But, for most, the key is to continue to balance a variety
of class delivery formats to meet the needs of students.
In the earliest days of online program delivery, prospective
students frequently heard that online learning was best suited for certain
personality types; in particular, independent self-starters excelled in online
learning environments since students often worked at their own pace. However, as
the technology surrounding online programs improves, the delivery format is
becoming more attractive to a wider group of learners. As a result, online
programs will no longer be a specialty or niche delivery format in the future.
“You’re going to see a continuing blend between online and
face-to-face, and instructors will be able to provide better facilitation of
learning online,” said TJ Rains, vice president of information services and
chief information officer at Stritch.
Turning the page to e-
Even face-to-face learning will continue to change through
new technologies. In a January 2012 article, Campus Technology magazine points
to the continuous expansion of digital or e-textbooks. Many colleges and
universities already embrace e-textbooks as the preferred format for academic study,
and continuous enhancements to the technology make e-textbooks an increasingly
“With a traditional book, you can highlight and before it
was difficult to do that with a digital textbook,” Rains said. “However, the
systems are being built so that you can now offer that experience in a digital
According to Campus Technology, retailers promote the use of
e-textbooks. In September 2011, Amazon.com began offering digital textbooks for
on-demand rental, allowing students to download textbooks onto tablets. Perhaps
most significantly, the traditional benefits associated with paper textbooks – the
ability to highlight text and write margin notes – are not only possible with
e-textbooks, but readers can save those notations in the Amazon Cloud and access
them again, even after the rental expires.
Rains is aware of at least one higher education institution
that has mandated iPads and MacBooks for all students, allowing course
materials to be delivered uniformly via the latest technology. Stritch presently
is engaged in a pilot program for which all students and instructors receive
iPads to better understand how the technology can be best leveraged to enhance
the academic environment.
“Embedding technology like an iPad into the curriculum is
critical to success,” Rains said. “Otherwise, it may simply become a
technological toy and the benefits are not maximized.”
No more bricks and
As significant as these trends are, they point to an even
larger paradigm shift within higher education, one that challenges even the
most adept prognosticators. This shift tests the very definition of “college
For example, many of world’s most prestigious institutions
are beginning to place course content online in places such as Einztein.com and
iTunes U. Courses from schools such as Harvard or Yale are available for free, which
is both a challenge and opportunity for other colleges and universities.
As Rains sees it, all institutions must assess their areas
of greatest specialization and begin to offer that content online as a service
for the wider community. This has the benefit of not only better positioning institutions
like Stritch in a global community, but also providing a service to, literally,
the entire world.
With so much information at students’ fingertips, the role
of instructors also will undergo an adjustment, said Dr. Tia Bojar, Stritch’s executive
vice president for academic affairs.
“The quality of faculty is critical, and we will need a
different kind of faculty member, one who is a facilitator more than a lecturer
or dispeller,” she said. “It will be important to match the skills of faculty
to expected outcomes and to the delivery methods to ensure the best possible
Colleges and universities cannot dismiss the efforts of learners
who choose to engage free online academic content. They must recognize these
experiences, which require schools to create methodology for measuring that
kind of independent learning.
“We’re going to have to create a new model of assessing
outcomes,” Rains said. “For example, is a student going to get more out of a
free online lecture by one of the world’s foremost authorities of physics, or
in a large lecture hall taught by a grad assistant? We need to begin evaluating
these kinds of experiences in the same way that we evaluate related work
The ability to assess new students’ knowledge and experience
at the beginning of their college experience will be critical, Bojar said, as
the new reality of higher education is meeting each student where they are and
working with them to attain their goals. A “one-size-fits-all” approach for
education is becoming less feasible.
“We need to be talking about competencies,” Bojar said. “In
the future, I don’t think it will be about credit, or even degrees. I think it
will be more authentic, and there will be a much broader use of one’s
As an extension of the approach represented by ITunes U, a
key trend in higher education delivery is called a “massive open online course,”
or MOOC -- an online course aimed at widespread participation and open access. A
MOOC could be any kind of class offered online to any student at any college or
Theoretically, students enrolled at a college or university
on the West Coast could take their liberal arts core at a Midwest institution
through MOOCs. This begins to challenge many of the oldest notions associated
with higher education, including the seemingly foundational element of a campus
as a place, or a degree granted by a single institution. This will change the
very definition of what it means to earn a college degree.
A 2009 executive report titled “The College of 2020:
Students” by the Chronicle of Higher Education details the most significant
trends over the next decade. It states that the traditional model of college as
a four-year experience is changing.
“The idyll of four years away from home — spent living and
learning and growing into adulthood — will continue to wane,” the report reads.
“It will still have a place in higher education, but it will be a smaller piece
of the overall picture.”
Stritch President Dr. James Loftus said Stritch must accept
this realization with a spirit of flexibility and adaptability, but must never
lose sight of its commitment to the development of the student in a holistic
“This demands us to be nimble in the marketplace, which
includes elements like online learning,” he said. “But we must never forget our
core values in curricular and co-curricular experiences. There must always be a
sense of place to develop the full person. That is a key differentiator,
especially for faith-based institutions.”
For college and universities to be successful in the next
few decades, there must be a demonstrated benefit to studying and earning a
degree at that institution, Bojar said. Colleges and universities cannot simply
point to a raw number of graduates.
“It is not enough to say we graduated a bunch of people,”
she said. “Every college needs to be much more accountable as to what that
Loftus agrees. “There is a need to demonstrate the value of
the investment. We must tell that story effectively.”
While the structures and even the definitions within higher
education are in a state of flux amid these changing realities, what is not in
doubt is the need for higher education. Students will continue to need the
exercise of personal and intellectual development – which exists at the core of
Stritch’s mission –even if that dimly lit lecture hall is replaced with an
online learning management system.
The Chronicle of High Education report states, “While many
jobs still do not require a college degree, nor will they in the future, most
of the higher-paying, career-oriented jobs increasingly require a college
degree as a means of entry or advancement. In other words, the product colleges
are offering is in greater demand than ever.”
This article appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of Stritch Magazine.