Much has been written about emerging trends in Educational Technology, some of which have significantly redefined the way our faculty teach and the kind of support our IT resources provide.  Below we offer a brief review of some of the trends to watch for in 2014, and to what extent these trends are changing the way we approach education at WesternU.

Mobile Technology

blackboard-mobile-devicesThe NMC Horizon Report, 2013 Higher Education Edition, cites tablet technology as a major game changer in the educational landscape.  “Tablets fit well with the university lifestyle. They’re light, portable, and allow students to interact with the lesson and their networks at the same time.”  Competition among tablet manufacturers continues to drive down the price and push the limits of capability.

For some time now, WesternU has been capitalizing on the power of tablet computing by offering mobile versions of Blackboard Learn and its proprietary Rotation software. However, 2013 saw the arrival of more diverse educational applications with the release of tablet based assessment tools for the College of Veterinary Medicine (see Tablets Facilitate Practical Exams for First Year Veterinary Students and Tablets Streamline Clinical Skills Testing of Vet Med Students). A similar tool is being developed for the Physician Assistant Education OSCEs.

Current IT policy now requires that new educational applications adopted or developed for the campus be compatibility with mobile devices. Commercial lesson-building tools such as Doceri (see New Tool Offers Mobile Interactive Whiteboard and Screencast Recorder), Articulate and Adobe Captivate already incorporate this capability.  

The Flipped Classroom

flipped-classroomOne of the most profound pedagogical changes in recent years has been the reversal of higher education’s traditional lecture-based model for classroom instruction.  With flipped classroom concept, instructors record and upload their own lectures for the students to learn as a part of the homework. In the class, the students engage in Q&A sessions, debates and discussions, and other activities that help enhance their learning. 

At WesternU, the idea of the flipped classroom has been vigorously promoted through CAPE and colleges like COMP (see Flipping the COMP Classroom with Echo360 Personal Capture: One Year Later). Among the products of this movement has been the creation of a desktop recording facility in HEC (see A Quiet Place for a Lecture Recording), the upgrading of HPC’s Bartlett Theater for high-quality classroom recordings (see Phase 1 of Bartlett Theater Modifications Completed), and the founding of CAPE’s Faculty Learning Community on Flipping the Classroom (see Lecture Capture Helps Flip Some Classrooms)


moocs-collageThe idea behind Massively Open Online Courses is to take the best courses from the best educators and universities and offer them online. Participation is such courses is theoretically unlimited and usually worldwide. Most MOOCs are open access and free unless being taken for some form of accreditation.

MOOCS did well in 2012, however, popularity began to wane in 2013. The decline may be based on the economic model — MOOCs don’t make any money for the schools that offer them. A research study funded by the Gates Foundation found the majority of MOOC participants do not complete them, perhaps because few students are self-motivated enough to power through the modern-day, high-tech equivalent of a correspondence course (MOOC Fad is Over: Long Live Synchronous Online Learning).

While MOOCs offered through EDUCAUSE, selected universities, and social entrepreneurship companies like Coursera continue to offer numerous learning opportunities for faculty and staff, WesternU’s entry in the field as a MOOC publisher will depend on the development of stricter production standards and review & approval policies for vetting recorded lectures for public release. Drafts of such standards are currently under review by our Academic Technology Partnership (ATP) committee.


medical-gameEveryone knows that interactive learning is more fun and more effective than passive learning.  After all, a billion gamers can’t be wrong. That’s the milestone number of global gamers author and game designer Jane  McGonigal (Reality is Broken) claims we’ve reached, and it’s a testament to the power of good online games to foster curiosity about the world, provide useful feedback, make learning challenges fun.

In 2012, the Gates Foundation granted $3 Million to MIT Education Arcade to develop an interactive game in which students can learn science, math, geography and more. IN 2013, Gamification was a major focus at the annual EDUCAUSE conference (see Gamification a Prominent Theme at EDUCAUSE 2013).

WesternU’s IT department made its own commitment to educational gamification this year by hiring its first Educational Applications Developer with a background in 3D gamer design (Michael Arevalo). In addition to a suite of arcade games designed to help first year PharmD students learn top drugs and pharmaceutical terminology (current in beta test), Michael is also helping ITDL develop a prototype virtual learning portal for the College of Dental Medicine and an anatomical viewer to be used with 3D scans of the human cranium (COMP) and horse hoof (CVM). Future projects include an online scavenger hunt for newly admitted WesternU students, a physiology simulator for the College of Pharmacy, and virtual case study scenarios to teach patient assessment clinical decision making.  

3D Printing

skull-print3D printing technology exploded into mainstream culture in 2013. While it seems like a small evolutionary step from spraying toner on paper to stacking layers of liquid polymer to build a three-dimensional object, the implications are revolutionary.

The idea of replicating real world objects or physically creating any object one can imagine has caught the imagination of artists, architects, engineers, and especially medical educators.  Detailed and accurate models of anatomical structures are expensive, and often too delicate for the kind of extensive handling required in medical education. With the appropriate scanning equipment and software, 3D printers can not only duplicate such structures in astonishing detail, they can scale them up or down to produce larger or smaller versions as needed.

WesternU has recently acquired its first 3D desktop printer, MakerBot Replicator, which will be used initially to test print bone models, organ models, and other soft tissue models. As the cost of 3D printing declines and the university expands its expertise and experience in this area, there are plans to acquire more sophisticated replicators that can produce more complex anatomical structures as well as dental models and prosthetic devices. (see 3D Printer Adds New Dimension to Anatomical Modeling)

Other Trends

According to the New Media Consortium, a not-for-profit consortium of more than 250 colleges, universities, museums and companies that conducts research into emerging forms of media and technology, other key trends to watch in 2014 include: (NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition)

  • Social Media – “Educators, students, alumni, and the general public routinely use social media to share news about scientific and other developments. The impact of these changes in scholarly communication and on the credibility of information remains to be seen, but it is clear that social media has found significant traction in almost every education sector.”
  • Hybrid, Online, and Collaborative Learning – “An increasing number of universities are incorporating online environments into courses of all kinds, which is making the content more dynamic, flexible, and accessible to a larger number of students,”
  • Data Driven Learning and Assessment – “As learners participate in online activities, they leave an increasingly clear trail of analytics data that can be mined for insights.”
  • Students Shifting from Consumers to Creators – “University departments in areas that have not traditionally had lab or hands-on components are shifting to incorporate hands-on learning experiences as an integral part of the curriculum.”
  • Agile Approaches to Change – “When educators are able to experiment with new technologies and approaches before implementing them in courses, they have the opportunity to evaluate them and make improvements to teaching models.”

To members of the WesternU community, we encourage you to stay tuned for developments on these fronts, as well as continued progress on the trends highlighted in this posting.


Kroski, E. (2013). 7 ed tech trends to watch in 2014. Open Education Database, December 23, 2013.

Lepi, K. (2014). The 6 education technology trends you should know about. Edudemic, February 28, 2014.

New Media Consortium (2014). NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition. February 3, 2014.

Parr, C. (2014). 6 trends that will accelerate the adoption of technology in higher education. Times Higher Education, February 3, 2014.

Riedel, C. (2014). 10 Major Technology Trends in Education, the Journal, February 3, 2014.