Exploiting data and learning analytics, collaborative and mobility are some of the main IT trends used for post-graduate studies in the US. A French delegation who attended the last Educause congress reported back on the various digital strategies deployed and presented some of the solutions implemented by some of the top American universities...

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Educause is a community of digital technology and IT experts, committed to bringing higher education in the States into the twenty-first century. This non-profit organisation implements a number of initiatives including its annual conference, which this year will take place at the end of October and is expected to draw over 7,000 higher ed IT professionals.

Using analytics to improve higher education services

Reducing the alarmingly high – and ever-increasing – debt levels among students and improving their employability are major concerns in the US. Educause 2015 thus focused on these issues and looked at new ways to address them, such as the potential of big data and analytics for improving universities’ organisation and offering. The aim is to improve the level of skills taught, provide services such as mobile access to information, adapt teaching methods to digital uses and create new vocational training courses.

Active learning classroom, peer teaching, learning analytics

The French delegation gained some valuable insights from its time at Purdue and Washington Universities and after interviewing some of their heads.

Purdue University strives to offer a holistic teaching experience, both classroom-based and virtual, by setting up learning communities and collaborative rooms or active learning classrooms in libraries. These initiatives are supported by mobile apps to facilitate remote working, peer teaching and self-correction, whilst encouraging teaching to adopt innovative teaching methods via incentive programmes. Purdue University in Indiana is known for its master's and doctoral courses in astronautical engineering and has around 40,000 students.

At the University of Washington, meanwhile, there is a major focus on data exploitation. With three campuses and over 54,000 students, it’s one of the world’s top-rated universities. Data is used for a number of reasons, such as enabling students to find out about and sign up for active learning classes and analysing their results thanks to learning analytics, and providing assistance to struggling students and guidance throughout their course.

An individualised approach through adaptive learning

Learning platforms whereby students’ progress can be monitored are still in their early stages: complex to implement at universities, they also rise the considerable issue of indicators. But, as the report mentions, this approach has enormous potential in terms of providing students with individualised teaching.

When will robots be able to create teaching content?

American universities have not yet entered the age of machine learning and AI for developing their teaching content. But as robots are already writing newspaper articles, Educause is starting to look into the potential of these technologies.

The report by the French delegation at Educause 2015 also covers issues such as BYOD and tablets, mobile learning, data governance, serious games and video platforms.

In France: 2 portals for digital higher education learning resources

- Universités Numériques Thématiques (UNT) is a nationwide platform that shares doctorate-level teaching resources for teachers and students. They are either open to everyone, free and for members only or paid and cover eight disciplines including science, engineering, economics and sustainable development.

- sup-numerique (ex FUN -France University Numérique) provides MOOCs.