As part of our University of the Future series, we spoke to leading institutions from across Asia to understand their vision for the future and how they plan to realise these ambitions.
The following article stems from an extended interview conducted with Vice Chancellor for Academic, Geronio Ulayao at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, Manila, Philippines as part of the research for our University of the Future eBook. Read more from the University of the Future series or download the eBook – University of the Future: Transforming Asia’s higher education in the new normal and beyond – to explore how universities can embrace the opportunity to reimagine the future of tertiary education through innovation.
The educational technology (edtech) industry has seen tremendous growth in the last decade, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic put extra pressure on educational systems across the APAC region and the world to implement new information technology-based strategies and adapt. Universities have played a specific role in traditional education, but their role in academia is beginning to shift exponentially. The evolving landscape of higher education is starting to feel the changes in the education ecosystem regarding technology integration.
Due to the massive spread of lockdowns and restrictions, traditional in-person learning came to a halt. Digital transformation, which has been a long time coming, was expedited significantly. Now, the possibilities for teaching and learning in and outside of classrooms are changing with the times. The university of the future is bound to look unlike anything students, and educators have seen before, thanks to the increased implementation of technology in higher learning.
The COVID-19 impact on higher education
Educational institutions are backdrops for social interaction. From a young age, people begin developing interpersonal relationships and developing human connections while attending schooling. This aspect of education was stripped away during the COVID-19 pandemic and replaced with isolating virtual classrooms and the complete disruption of the socialisation part of educational institutes. Without warning, students and educational institutes found themselves bound to the confines of online modalities in a way never witnessed before.
At De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, creative solutions to an unprecedented problem were explored as they had to scramble to come up with new strategies to ensure that students’ academic journeys were not affected in the same manner their socialisation was. Vice-Chancellor for Academic Geronio Ulayao told D2L that they had to switch their offerings into full-online mode without much notice. He continued, “We capitalised on our previous investments in people and technology to direct that shift and bring everyone together in the same path.”
Although students had to adapt to the changing way their education was provided, the educators were required to do the behind-the-scenes work to ensure as little impact as possible on their academic journeys. The Vice-Chancellor continued, “We undertook a massive faculty development programme, training more than 900 teachers across all programmes, to enable them to get on board the digital normal. We supported them with additional training on instructional design, online pedagogy and assessment and related technologies that they could use for their online classes. To support their commitment, we established teams that will help in the pre- and post-production of video materials that they used for their online classes.”
The initial shock had to be felt in a passing manner so that they could step up and ensure operations continued without a hitch. “We were able to redirect using our learning management system and the infusion of related technologies.”
As De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde had already implemented some digitalisation into their educational format, they could lessen the pandemic’s impact. Unfortunately, not all courses were salvable by their already technologically advanced system, and classes such as Culinary Arts, Motion-Capture, and Live Arts suffered without adequate alternatives.
Rising technologies that will play pivotal roles in the university of the future
Unsurprisingly, a space has opened for more innovative technologies in education. Although the pandemic painted a clear picture of what would be needed if technology was the only answer, it also solidified an already-changing education ecosystem that has been evolving over the last decade. Geronio Ulayao shared, “We always believe that technology is an effective tool in delivering quality education but not the panacea for education itself.”
Of course, technological advancement can help improve or build upon a system, but it in and of itself is not able to fix any issues seen in higher education. He continued, “Schools like ours have to be innovative and creative in weaving technologies in conventional teaching and learning approaches.” The next three to five years will be pivotal for the University of the Future. Emerging technological tools and systems designed to make learning easier must be used in conjunction with traditional schooling styles.
Specific technologies will stand out from the rest when it comes to higher education. Making changes driven by technological advancement is only helpful if those tools are effective and make the learning experience more efficient for both educators and learners alike. Of the upcoming advances, Geronio Ulayoa believes that augmented reality and mixed reality will be big players in the education ecosystem. He continued, “Unlike virtual reality, these two media may be deployed without the use of goggles and elements may be developed within the context of an environment while promoting social connections. AR’s and MR’s applications in education are exciting and we are looking forward to their future developments.”
The impact on students and educators as the educational ecosystem changes
Both students and educators will experience a time of adjustment as technology begins to dominate higher learning. Undoubtedly, there will be a learning curve for both students and teachers, and Geronio Ulayoa further shared, “The proper match of pedagogy and technology could lead to exciting evolutions in learning and teaching models. The use of appropriate devices and applications for pedagogical approaches could enhance the effectiveness of delivery on part of the educator and the absorption and understanding on the part of the students.”
The Vice-Chancellor for Academics also voiced some concerns over the changes, as with all types of teaching and education, no option will suit all educators and all students in the same way. Many people have different learning styles. He continued, “There is no one-size-fits-all-formula for pedagogy and technology.” Educators adapting to the ever-changing educational landscape will need to continue the traditional aspect of knowing their students for courses to be effective and engaging. “It is the responsibility of the educator to find the right balance of teaching methods and technology to which the students will respond.”
By taking the best of both worlds in terms of traditional education and edtech advancement, both educators and students can benefit wholeheartedly from the current upswing of change to create the University of the Future.