Digitalisation strategy for the higher education sector 2017-2021

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1 Where are we?

Digitalisation has changed all sectors of society and is dramatically changing the way we work, live, communicate, and interact. The opportunities brought about by technological change are affecting everything from infrastructure and administration, learning materials and research data, methods of teaching, learning and assessment in the education sector, and research methods to the very content of education and research, and the way that the higher education sector interacts with society and business. Currently digitalisation and new platforms are of powerful and growing importance for the sector, and in the coming years ICT solutions will have a great impact on education and research. Through digitalisation it will be created opportunities for new and different learning and teaching processes, as well as new forms of organisation and communication. The use of learning analysis, such as to understand students’ learning patterns and improve learning processes, is only in its infancy 2 . Research on artificial intelligence and machine learning is continuing to break new ground and may lead to fundamental changes for better or worse. The new and complex information landscape, together with its extensive use of data and technology, poses extensive challenges in terms of ethics, law, and security. Furthermore it places increased demands on ICT skills, accountability, digital judgement, and the ability to source critisism at all levels. In line with the main principles of the government’s digitalisation policy, the primary starting point will be the needs of the users.

In order for higher education and research in Norway to leverage the potential of technology to improve student learning, make the range of study options available on a wide scale, and support outstanding research, the focus on use of technology for learning and new knowledge must be elevated to a strategic level at institutions and integrated into all academic and administrative activities. Leveraging the power of digitalisation to bring about change requires governance and management at all levels. The development and use of technology in the sector must therefore be rooted in strategies at both the national and institutional levels.

Higher education institutions (HEIs) posesses academic freedom when it comes to education, research and innovation, and have been given more administrative and organisational authonomy than other state bodies. A digitalisation strategy for the sector must take into account that it will apply to academically independent institutions that must be able to brand themselves academically and always have real opportunities to develop and innovate. The digitalisation strategy must clarify how to organise, and promote measures that put the sector in a position to react swiftly to the opportunities and challenges posed by the use of ICT.

The Norwegian higher education sector is at the forefront of co-operation on digital solutions. The sector has effective infrastructure solutions and has developed a number of joint services for administrative tasks, education, and research. Nevertheless, there is significant potential for further efficiencies and improvement in quality by exploiting existing and new ICT solutions.

Studies 3 on digitalisation in the education sector that have been conducted at Norwegian universities and university colleges show that digitalisation has been largely governed by individuals and enthusiasts, rather than being rooted in management and in cohesive institutional strategies. Studies also indicate that newly trained teachers have not been given sufficient academic digital skills as part of their basic training 4 . Academic staff in the higher education sector have called for improved skills and support in the use of digital tools. A stronger rooting in management, more shared solutions, and more efficient governance and organisation have also been called for. These challenges were also pointed out by the MOOC Committee 5 . The appointment of a public committee in 2014 to advise on how Norway should approach the rapid emergence of MOOC helped to raise awareness of the potential of digital media and learning methods from a Norwegian perspective, with particular emphasis on increased quality in learning and pedagogical practice. There is reason to believe this situation has changed since 2014. More institutions have adopted their own strategies for digitalisation or incorporated digitalisation goals in new institutional strategies. Digitalisation is being increasingly linked to education quality. There has been an especially high level of activity with regard to the digitalisation of exams. In addition, new digital assessment methods are being developed 6 . With the support of the Norwegian Agency for Digital Learning in Higher Education, several institutions have developed various versions of MOOC – cf. www.mooc.no .

Although effective solutions have been established with regard to the management of the sector’s support services and data, there are still many challenges yet to be resolved and opportunities yet to be leveraged. The institutions in the sector continue to perform many tasks in parallel, and the sector has a relatively large number of insourced service providers who do not operate with adequate co-ordination. The sector has long been calling for a cohesive ICT strategy and key decision-making structures that ensure the better and more efficient management of services, data, and related ICT solutions.

Footnotes

2.

 The MOOC Committee’s proposal to establish an environment for research-based knowledge development, development work, and knowledge-sharing related to learning analysis was followed up through the establishment of the Centre for the Science of Learning & Technology (SLATE) in 2016 by the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research with the University of Bergen as the host institution.

3.

Norwegian Agency for Digital Learning in Higher Education, Digital tilstand 2014, which follows on from corresponding surveys from 2008 and 2011.

4.

cf. Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research’s digitalisation strategy for basic education (2017-2021)

5.

NOU 2014:5 MOOC for Norway. New digital learning methods in higher education... MOOC means “Massive Open Online Courses”.

6.

 Both the Norwegian Agency for Digital Learning in Higher Education and SLATE are central to these development efforts.
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