Innovation in the classroom exceeds its limits and opens new horizons

The challenges of education are configured as an increasingly complex equation, exposed to an exponential growth of the demands to be up to the task.

Innovation in the classroom exceeds its limits and opens new horizons

The challenges of education are configured as an increasingly complex equation, exposed to an exponential growth of the demands to be up to the task. An obstacle course that looks like a sprint, when in reality it is a marathon that needs to find the right balance between digitization, market demand and quality teaching. Natalia Orenes, responsible for Teaching Digital Technology for learning at the European University, emphasizes virtual reality, the metaverse and digital simulation, as the bet made from the Horizon report (Educause) every year, where the key technologies and practices for the future planning of higher education institutions.

Hence, the ICT sector commission of the Conference of Rectors of Spanish Universities (CRUE) considers that higher education is at a turning point in which technology is shown as the main ally, and in recent years The pandemic has accelerated the transformation processes with phenomena such as "hybrid teaching, live recording and transmission of classes, the deployment of LMS (Learning Management System/virtual classroom) in the Cloud to improve its scalability, the provision of desktops so that the student body can continue developing activities remotely...».

Innovations that manage to “increase interactivity for new teaching models”.

But, Jorge Gómez, vice-rector for Technology and Sustainability at the Complutense University (UCM), clarifies that for all this to go ahead, the problem is not only digital skills, but mainly the lack of means. And the CRUE ICT sector also highlights regulatory limitations and resistance to change as obstacles. Remarking that in this scenario Artificial Intelligence shows special potential. “Some universities have already deployed chatbots that provide help to students or even use predictive models to detect students at risk of failing. AI in higher education will play a critical role as an enabler.”

From the European University, in this process of change, Orenes highlights «the simulated hospital that we have developed, as tangible interfaces, important and necessary in the area of ​​health; the digital manufacturing laboratory, the wind tunnel or the industry 4.0 laboratory, with robot programming; or the Financial Hub, a market data laboratory to work on financial solutions». As well as the incorporation of many degrees in an e-learning format, 100% online allows the development of a more international and professional academic model that promotes transdisciplinary education.

One of the key technological bets in recent years from the European University has been the implementation of extended reality. For the development of teaching resources based on virtual reality and augmented reality, teachers from different faculties have collaborated. “For example, our students in the area of ​​education can experience moments of conflict in the primary or secondary classroom through virtual reality and train decision-making in these situations. And the latest 'ad hoc' development that has been implemented from the university has been collaborative virtual rooms and simulated trials, under the essence of the metaverse. Students can participate with their avatar in a trial assuming a certain role”, says Natalia Orenes, head of Digital Teaching Technology for learning at the European University.

In this transition, students are expected to be responsible for their own learning and teachers now take on the role of facilitators and mentors. Thus, Gómez from the UCM emphasizes that «the university is more than an issuer of degrees. We have to talk about the university experience in which, of course, the teacher is necessary and not expendable in this technological change. Increasingly, students are encouraged to come to the classroom to work and study theory at home, what they call the flipped classroom.

And the administrative part does not have a trivial role. Its streamlining has been in evidence during the pandemic, and is equally important in the university setting. The Vice-Rector for Technology and Sustainability of the UCM points out that “the most developed technological projects have to do with electronic administration and distance education or teleworking. “In the first, the signing of the minutes was identified. In a natural way, the processes have been assumed and now we have the regulation of electronic media, which sets a start date for a paperless Complutense University. In the second, infrastructure and personnel have been key, training so many teachers is not easy, we have more than six thousand. The work has been done on several fronts.

The idea of ​​remote work is already an old concept for an institution like the UNED, its spokespersons highlight that one of the most important changes in recent years "is our complete digital management system for the life cycle of the exam, since the professor It loads it in encrypted form, until personalized printing in one of the 80 locations where the student can go, going through scanning and digital correction». And now that they have the boost from the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Funds, they can talk about cloud computing, high-speed Wi-Fi, server renovation, even projects in the most current technologies, such as process automation and blockchain.

Institutions such as the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) are taking the initiative in this era of transformation. Silvia Sivera, director of the eLearning Innovation Center (eLinC), points out that the UOC is the first digital native university in the world. “Now we can say that we are digital from end to end, thanks to the application of technologies that guarantee identity and authorship at different moments of learning.” Technology is not transformative by itself, when there is no pedagogical model to support it. With a model based on the activity carried out by the student, not on the lectures. Regarding management processes, Sivera points out that "a pending task is the application of the blockchain for the certification of official documents, titles and micro-credentials".

In this sense, one of the most outstanding pedagogical innovations of the UOC is Folio, which is a very unique reinterpretation of the portfolio concept that allows collaborative work, the development of the student's digital identity and, if desired, its projection to the professional world. Graf also stands out, which is its own system to assess the skills that are acquired throughout the degree, and which takes the form of a graph that can be downloaded and shared in the professional and work environment. “Both examples don't use particularly complex technology, but they are great tools. I would be concerned that the technology was used as a simple firework, or that it was so complex that it wasted the student's time and involved useless efforts, ”says Sivera. The idea at the end of this change and as indicated by the vice-rector for Technology and Sustainability of the UCM is a realistic formula of quality and where the classroom concept remains unbeatable.