Every Learner Everywhere
Tyton Partners

Time for Class 2021: Effective Digital Learning Is a Team Effort

Asked to sum up the takeaways from the most recent Time for Class survey, which regularly examines trends in the higher education digital learning market, Kristen Fox, Managing Director at education advisory firm Tyton Partners, points to the need and opportunities for collaboration for effective digital learning.

“Obviously, instructors are at the center of the teaching and learning experience for students,” Fox explains. “But realizing the potential of digital tools to improve student learning overall and close equity gaps is a team sport that needs to be supported by institutional investments.”

Also part of the team are the software companies and courseware publishers that deliver digital tools to colleges and universities, says Fox. Their products provide instructors with a digital platform, with content, and with support and training. “We increasingly see a win-win when faculty, institutions, and the vendor community are in sync and work together to make sure the tools are easy to access and affordable,” Fox says.

As in past years, Time for Class 2021, conducted by Tyton Partners in partnership with Every Learner Everywhere, looks at how faculty use digital learning and courseware to improve learning outcomes for every student and to close student equity gaps. The most recent edition is based on a survey of more than 4,000 faculty and administrators at 1,600 higher education institutions.

A theme of teamwork connects the four lead recommendations resulting from the Time for Class 2021 survey.

1. Provide support for and celebrate the use of evidence-based practices and high-quality teaching

According to Fox, a key finding in this year’s Time for Class report is that technology is not always better. However, when technology is implemented thoughtfully, Tyton Partners continues to see that courseware has the power to transform how faculty time is used in the classroom for a positive impact on student outcomes.

Fox acknowledges that “changing how you teach a course and using a new technology to do that takes time and effort.” She suggests administrators support instructors’ efforts by providing time to redesign a course, such as through a cohort or peer group. 

Related resources: 5 Steps to a Successful Adaptive Learning Implementation

2. Simplify the selection of high-quality digital tools

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Fox says, “one thing we heard again and again was, ‘I’m just overwhelmed by selecting the technology — which one’s good, which one’s not good, which one’s right for my class.’”

The challenge of selection applies both to the content and the features and user interface. “The product itself is not the only thing that’s important,” Fox says. “It’s helpful to make sure you have the tool that can do the things you need it to do and it’s going to be designed in a way that is creating a good experience for students.”

She recommends instructors and administrators consult a Tyton Partners tool called Course Gateway to help evaluate digital learning tools. It includes peer-reviewed evaluations on criteria including equity, efficacy, functionality, discipline, and cost.

Related reading: Can Technology Enable Authentic Assessment at Scale in Higher Education?

3. Continue dialogue between faculty and edtech developers to simplify the use of high-quality tools

The Time for Class 2021 survey showed that instructors find courseware dashboards confusing, so it is difficult to interpret the student data they collect and instructors miss out on a vital resource.

“We know what makes these tools powerful and effective in closing equity gaps and helping students be more successful is the use of the data,” Fox explains. Vendors and other edtech providers can work with instructors and administrators to ensure their products are not only high quality and affordable but also easy for both instructors and students to use and understand. 

“Sometimes when you have too many features to customize or too many bells and whistles, it can be overwhelming,” Fox adds. 

Related resources: Disaggregating Learning Data to Support Equity Efforts

4. Support those institutions that need it most

Fox says the survey shows that institutions that serve a high proportion of poverty-affected students were more likely to experience technical challenges for integrating digital tools. “They’re more likely to say that institutional budget and policies are a barrier, and they’re more likely to be concerned about the cost to students,” she explains. 

Additionally, the survey found two-year institutions were less likely to have a center for teaching and learning or its equivalent and were less likely to have the instructional design staff to support educators implementing digital learning technology.

“Those institutions where you have the learners who can benefit from digital learning often have the least amount of digital learning infrastructure,” Fox says. “Using digital tools and digital pedagogies is a team sport. You need to have institutional support for equitable access, for students and for staff, as well.”

While Fox acknowledges building this type of effective digital learning infrastructure requires funding, she says the “team” needs to work together to create a business plan to  access the capital required.

Read the full Time For Class 2021 report