As strategic planning continues, Board of Regents explores innovations in learning and teaching

Tech-powered opportunities presented at meeting

CU’s strategic planning process continues at a brisk pace, with recently revised deadlines affording more time to those at work on developing goals and metrics.

The Board of Regents heard an update on the process during its meeting Nov. 7 at CU South Denver, where board members also learned more about a key aspect of the plan, innovations in learning and teaching.

Todd Saliman, system vice president for finance and chief financial officer, speaking as a co-chair of the strategic plan, said the first deliverables from the nine working groups – lists of key metrics and action items generation for strategic focus areas – now are due Nov. 15, rather than Nov. 1. A reconvening of the full strategic planning committee, previously set for March, now is scheduled for April.

Saliman said the strategic planning website now is being used as the primary means of communication for updates to the process.

One of four strategic pillars – Access, Affordability and Student Success – includes an area of focus that the Board of Regents put in the spotlight at the meeting: innovations in learning and teaching. Multiple presentations, followed by work groups involving regents and university leadership, specifically detailed fast-evolving technology and its uses – current and future – in educating students.

Dale P. Johnson, director of adaptive learning initiatives at Arizona State University, said technology is crucial, but just one of many tools in a university’s tool kit. A desire to bring more personalization to the student experience led ASU to implement McGraw Hill’s ALEKS, a web-based, artificially intelligent assessment and learning system. The technology led to dramatic improvement in algebra completion, boosting the rate from 57% to 79%.

Closer to home, Dana Judd, assistant professor of physical therapy in the School of Medicine at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, showed how virtual reality transports students into a virtual physical therapy clinic. The technology improves learning while also further engaging and retaining students.

“We need to acknowledge that students really want digital tools,” she said. “They are surrounded by technology all the time.”

CU Boulder’s Peter Foltz said such technology shouldn’t be viewed as a substitute for educators. Foltz is a research professor at the Institute of Cognitive Science and vice president of cognitive computing in Pearson’s AI and Products Solutions. Foltz led a tech startup at CU – WriteToLearn, a web-based program that assesses written assignments – which was acquired by Pearson.

“Artificial Intelligence can amplify teaching and learning,” he said. “Think of it as an amplifier, bringing out more good that teachers can do. … We’re really not looking at, ‘How do we replace people?’ But, ‘How do we add tools that help people?’”

President Mark Kennedy said WriteToLearn is a good example of how tech transfer brings multiple benefits to the university.

“I would rather have other universities be using our tools than us using their tools,” Kennedy said. “This can be an additional revenue stream for the university.”