Teaching, Learning, and IT Issues: Priorities and Intersections

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This article highlights the results of two EDUCAUSE community surveys—from the IT and the teaching and learning communities—and shows their complementary priorities, intersections, and synergies.

As this year’s EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues list makes clear, student success has become a strategic focal point for many higher education institutions. The concept of student success is itself multidimensional: it includes success not only in academic coursework but also in degree planning, constructing next-generation digital learning environments and resources, and supporting a range of what the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) calls high-impact practices. Increasing student success requires institutional attention to all of these areas. Although challenging, improvements made in these areas, if done in tandem, can result in academic transformation: innovation and change that is multidimensional and strategic and that addresses campus culture.

The results of the Key Issues surveys from the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI)1 over the past two years clearly indicate that the teaching and learning community is focused on this idea of academic transformation: it was the #2 issue in 2015 and the #1 issue in 2016.2 Below we will identify some of the important intersections between the EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues and the ELI Key Issues for 2016. This side-by-side comparison makes it clear that with these concepts of student success and academic transformation, the IT community and the teaching and learning community share a common agenda.

The EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issue #2 (Student Success and Completion) closely aligns with several of the ELI Key Issues. Through the 2016 Key Issues survey, teaching and learning community members identified several building blocks supporting student success: assessment of learning (Key Issue #3), adaptive learning (Key Issue #12), learning analytics (Key Issue #5), and academic transformation (Key Issue #1). Taken together, these are all necessary components that speak to the increased collaboration needed across campus units and stakeholders to make progress on student success. At many institutions, campus organizations are working to develop and deploy a student success technology ecosystem that creates shared ownership for educational progress by providing students, faculty, and staff with holistic information and services that contribute to the completion of a degree or other credential. As an example, Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success (iPASS) initiatives are designed to coordinate the efforts to monitor, understand, and act on these factors to promote higher rates of student achievement and success. This illustrates the point that in order to make progress on these particularly challenging issues, we must establish cross-organizational collaborations, involving key stakeholders who support learners all along their experience.

Many of the ELI Key Issues intersect squarely with the EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issue #3 (Data-Informed Decision Making) and Issue #6 (Data Management and Governance). While data-informed decision making and the related data governance issues are becoming more common in all facets of higher education, perhaps the most important intersection is with the ELI Key Issue #3 (assessment of learning). The importance of learning assessment to student success is intuitively clear. One domain where this is becoming evident is instructional design. As applications begin to deliver near-real-time learning data back to the instructor and the instructional designer, they both are increasingly enabled to introduce improvements in the course design, even as the course unfolds. Both ELI Key Issue #5 (learning analytics) and #10 (next-gen digital learning environments and services) provide further points of intersection. For example, on the management side, new open standards for learning data (e.g., the Caliper Analytics standard from IMS Global) provide a kind of Esperanto for learning data, enabling all learning applications to contribute to an institutional learning record “store,” which in turn provides the basis for richer and more thorough analyses. For this idea to succeed, all technologies associated with these services are highly dependent on effective data practices.

Strategic Leadership—repositioning or reinforcing the role of IT leadership as a strategic partner with institutional leadership—is #4 on the EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues list. The teaching and learning community identified several Key Issues that support institutional strategic leadership but point as well to several organizational units beyond the IT department. Academic transformation (Key Issue #1) describes a reorientation around learner success through new course models (online and blended learning, Key Issue #4), learning space design (Key Issue #6), and assessment of learning (Key Issue #3). As we’ve stressed, many factors are involved in leading academic transformation, including a focus on stakeholder-centered design, relevance of credentials, and the strategic use of technology. Teaching and learning is central to academic transformation. Faculty development (Key Issue #2) supports faculty as they explore new modes of instructional delivery and experiment with technology-enabled enhancements. Faculty development programs are becoming more adept at demonstrating return on investments and offering recognition to faculty, sometimes in the form of digital credentials, as they expand their ability to create successful learning engagements enabled by the strategic use and development of technology.

Digital Transformation of Learning (EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issue #10) strongly echoes ELI Key Issue #1, academic transformation. This common use of the term transformation makes explicit just how aligned the results of these two surveys are. We’ve already sketched out points at which the ELI Key Issues intersect with the EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues on the theme of transformation. Additional examples include accessibility and universal design for learning (Key Issue #7), which moves away from the more piecemeal approach of focusing on accessible content and aspires to create learning designs that work for all. Similarly, the goal of the next-gen digital learning environments and services (Key Issues #10) is to replace sole reliance on the LMS and instead introduce a component-based architecture for learning technology, enabled by adherence to open standards.

As important as each of these issues are, not one of them can, by itself, accomplish true academic transformation. An institution must be pursuing innovation in all of these individual dimensions so that, when orchestrated together, they result in transformation that is strategic and institutional in scope and impact. Such transformation also entails cultural change, requiring both IT and academic leaders to work together to realize these institutional aspirations. This is why EDUCAUSE has collaborated with teaching and learning leaders to establish a community of practice—Leading Academic Transformation— for campus leaders engaged in such transformative work on the academic side.

Clearly, the most significant teaching and learning innovations necessitate cross-organizational collaborations, cohort-based leadership, and institutional community building. This evolution of the academy, along with the evolution of the profession (Key Issue #15), has the potential to transform our cultures, from the classroom to senior leadership. The interests and mission of the IT organization and of the teaching and learning community converge, since making progress on core organizational challenges will require the integration of an ever-wider range of resources and skills. These points of contact between the key teaching and learning issues and the top IT issues can provide the basis for strategic and tactical discussions between the IT organization and a cohort of campus organizations supporting teaching and learning. Each serves to illuminate the other, providing a better sense of direction as we move forward in support of student success.


  1. ELI is a community of higher education institutions and organizations committed to the advancement of learning through the innovative application of technology. The program has three pillars: learners, learning principles and practices, and learning technologies.
  2. Since 2011, ELI has surveyed the higher education teaching and learning community to identify its key issues. The community is wide in scope: we solicit input from all those participating in the support of the teaching and learning mission, including professionals from the IT organization, the center for teaching and learning, the library, and the dean’s and provost’s offices.

Veronica Diaz is Associate Director of ELI and Director of Online Programs for EDUCAUSE.
Malcolm Brown is Director of ELI for EDUCAUSE.

© 2017 Veronica Diaz and Malcolm Brown. The text of this article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 52, no. 1 (January/February 2017)