Innovation has become a common catchphrase in higher education, both at institutions of higher education and within the educational technology enterprise. Each of these entities has as its goal the success of the students they educate. Yet in fixating on innovation itself, these enterprises risk losing sight of the end game: How does innovation contribute to the educational success of the student?
For example: New research has shown that predictive analytics technologies, which have recently provided critical interventions in the academic course of study, often send early warning alerts to students when they are not doing as well in a course as they should be. Yet these alerts are sometimes backfiring in their mission of supporting and redirecting students through their learning experience. Instead, students can become discouraged and dropout rates can increase.
The area of alternative pathways for students who may pick up badges, certificates, and other non-terminal credentials on their path to college completion is inspired. These efforts yield many success stories, but we must be vigilant about the value of the badge or certificate, in isolation, in the long term. For students seeking better employment or even new employment, achieving credentials quickly can provide a springboard to higher wages. Over time and in many occupations, however, the value of a completed college degree is still undisputed for higher earnings potential. Following the alternative pathway may not prove to be the best decision to attain long-term success.
Right now, we are seeing newly emerging programs that identify students who have left the higher education community without completing their degree. These programs craft a plan to help these students get to the finish line. Peer communities, success coaches, and technologies are combined to provide support to these students up through commencement. The number of students being helped by these programs is beginning to grow, and although these programs are a strong positive step, time will tell as to the aggregate long-term success of their endeavors.
As a backdrop for all these developments, we crucially need to keep in mind that innovation in higher education has always been necessary—for, as history tells us, without it post-secondary education would never have become attainable to anyone but the upper classes of society. Yet it is incumbent on us to make sure we keep the student success mission top of mind—and not just the tools we might use to achieve that mission.