Community and connection are deeply rooted in our nature. Humanizing education is critical to activating intuition, discipline, and maturity, leading to self-agency and global citizenship.

In an age where technology makes education accessible in so many formats, from YouTube to the classroom, it is belonging that tips the balance in favor of lifelong learning and success. Technology is a tool that can be used to foster belonging, success, and engagement. While most students aren’t digital natives, they use technology and apps for self-agency and community. This familiarity can be leveraged to increase the connection between the course material, the instructor, and their peers. Deeper learning happens when learners feel confident and have an engaging platform to study, apply, and reflect within a welcoming community. This, in turn, will increase belonging, purpose, and success.

Technology in Higher Education

Throughout the pandemic, using digital tools for education, workplace, and personal learning allowed us to connect while inspiring new ways to grow and create. The use of technology in Higher Education continues to evolve from learning management systems (LMS) to artificial intelligence.  As educators, one of the most meaningful questions we have to ask ourselves as more technologies become available is, does this help my students? For this reason, some of us need to be pragmatists or conservatives when adopting new technologies, while others may be techies and visionaries ready to try it out.  Careful consideration of the user interface, distraction quotient, cost, and available features is a worthwhile endeavor to ensure success for both the instructor and students. When the match of technology and course material is a fit, the institution, instructor, and student benefit leading to better outcomes and course completion.

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Technology can be used for relationship building, aiding in creating helpful, timely feedback; data-rich, versatile, engaging assessments; teamwork and collaboration opportunities; and becoming more proficient in technology and communication.  Matching the cadence of the students and class with data-backed decisions (engagement reports, assignment length, metacognition, misconceptions, disaggregated student data) allows for self-agency and a community of inquiry. Students feel supported, safe to ask questions and experience belonging, find new strength to persist, and cultivate a support system and network. Learner engagement and success connect the content with targeted technology to streamline learning. The benefits of this structure and support are increased academic performance, confidence, and retention; improved efficiency in teaching and learning; relationship-rich education; and potentially reduced long-term operating costs.

Trends in Higher Education

Current trends are leaning towards more students seeking online course options (synchronous, asynchronous, hybrid, hyflex). Based on student performance data, it is clear that both digital infrastructure and course design play a key role in predicting course withdrawals and failure rates.  (Chisadza et al.) (Altindag et al.) (Volery and Lord). The critical component in the success of these modalities is belonging and purpose - social connectedness. For some in an online course, it is easier to become siloed, withdraw from the community and its resources (see (“Educational Displacement Theory”)), and disconnect from the purpose of the subject. Whether in person or online, technology can be a tool for discovering purpose and reflecting on the content- to deepen the connection between the student and the subject. Course design and digital infrastructure must consider user experience and interface, universal design learning, personalized learning, effective communication, course outcomes, and materials integration. We also acknowledge that access to technology may be a barrier, and multiple platforms and device types should be investigated. Giving your students a precourse survey with a needs assessment focus can aid in determining where your students are concerning knowledge, personal effectors/situatedness, and access to technology. Survey Monkey or Google Forms can help you quickly capture the information to build rich relationships.

After starting the conversation and learning about the students, think about technology/apps for belonging, engagement, and success metrics. Learning platforms that allow interactive discussions, posting, and participation are great for belonging. Student data and feedback shows that students connect and perform better when they know and interact with their classmates. However, communication is a skill learned over time, so traditional LMS discussions need more integrated feedback that students need for robust discussions. Technology that employs AI-assisted feedback allows the discussion to be insightful and substantive, with real-time feedback and clear goals. Features such as likes and threads also help students get into the most popular discussions. In a traditional pedagogical sense, reflection is vital to learning, and practice of this will help the learner in future courses and their profession. Additionally, this is an excellent way for students to demonstrate their learning and learn from peers.

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Increasing Engagement with Students

For increased engagement, think about apps that give students visual, auditory, and kinesthetic ways of learning. Several apps allow you to create, edit, and embed questions and activities into the video. This is beneficial because you have assurance the students are watching the lecture/learning video and applying the knowledge. Also, determining how often students engage with the video/lecture can let you know how helpful it is or if it needs to be updated. Gamification is an engaging and relationship-building technique to enhance community and lifelong learning. Students love applying knowledge in fun ways to prepare for their assessments and overcome misconceptions. Escape rooms (made with a linked photo, e.g., photos in Google Slides that link to a Google Form), quizzing apps, annotation apps, and outside-of-the-box activities will allow students to conceptualize information for long-term access. Alternative assessments that allow creativity and encourage self-agency accelerate student learning.

Data-informed decisions are at the heart of educational technology. Course learning outcomes and instructional design can be enhanced through an in-depth view of course metrics (student engagement, scores, metacognitive data, and evaluations). Most LMS’ will provide insight into user data. However, learning platforms like McGraw Hill Connect® can give a detailed learner snapshot. This adaptive learning platform grants the ability to personalize learning, give real-time feedback, and engage students through virtual experiences, critical thinking, and real-world applications. Additionally, partnering with your institution’s research and analytics team can open perspectives to possible bridges to increase student success.

Keep this in mind regarding technology

Think big picture but act in small intentional ways, be bold, and fail forward. At the same time, question your assumptions and identify patterns and new perspectives to reflect and refine your outcomes. Success for the institution, instructors, and students depends on scholarly and personal connections. Technology is a part of our world, and when we use it in the classroom, we are setting up our students for new skills and lifelong learning. Intentionally creating flexible, welcoming, and safe learning spaces (low-stakes, alternative assessments, reflection, multimodal learning), our students gain confidence and deep roots of belonging. This community building will strengthen our learning, shape our futures, and activate our global citizenship. Technology is equity and, when used intentionally and in consideration of our learners, can tip the balance toward success for all.