Top 6 Higher Ed Digital Policy Issues to Watch in 2015

University administrators can stay ahead of the game by keeping an eye on these ed tech policy issues that may affect them.

by / January 15, 2015
These six technologies are what education technology policy watchers are keeping an eye on. Pixabay/Eelffica

As technology continues to change, policy issues slowly come into play to govern them. This year, education technology policy watchers see at least six major policy issues that university administrators should keep an eye on in 2015.

1. Security threats 

Students carry more devices on campus that connect to the Internet. At the same time, universities collect more student data records, which opens up opportunities for those records to be compromised.

The policy issue that comes out of these two trends is that universities must figure out how to create guidelines and management procedures that govern this data in a variety of places. And they're not just having to deal with external threats toward this information.

"In higher ed, one of our biggest security threats is the insider threat, said Mike Abbiatti, executive director of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) and the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies vice president for educational technologies.

2. State authorization for distance education programs 

The second policy issue places states, distance education providers and the U.S. Education Department in a sticky situation. Here's the background. 

Organizations that want to offer distance learning options for college students in multiple states need to be authorized by each state to operate. This creates a regulatory and legal burden on distance education providers.

To deal with this burden, 18 states have joined a nationwide reciprocity agreement process that establishes baseline criteria for providers to meet. Seven other states are on their way to using this process as well, said Jarret S. Cummings, director of policy and external relations at EDUCAUSE.

The process requires providers to seek authorization in the state where they are physically located. Through reciprocity agreements, other states that the providers operate in will recognize the authorization that the home state already provided. 

Here's the sticky wicket: The U.S. Education Department is proposing its own regulation that tells states how to authorize distance education providers, and their initial proposal raised concerns.

3. Internet of Things management 

Every device we have today is either connected to the Internet of Things already or will be soon. And all of these connected devices present a challenge for universities to meet this demand on the infrastructure. With more connected devices, that will create more infrastructure, support and faculty development costs, among other things. 

One of the policy challenges with the Internet of Things is figuring out how much ubiquitous connectivity is useful to higher education. And legislators have to decide what strategies to follow with Internet of Things. 

"All of the major business sectors in the U.S. have some kind of strategy to deal with the Internet of Things — all of the business groups except education," Abbiatti said.  

At a time when student demand for education is increasing and public support for higher education is waning, policymakers have to slow down and make tough decisions about how to provide digital content and access in an affordable and sustainable manner. And that's a good thing, Abbiatti said.

4. Competency-based education exploration 

A bipartisan bill passed last year allowed the U.S. Education Department to explore projects that demonstrate competency-based education in universities. This exploration could be incorporated into a higher education reauthorization bill this year to build a general momentum for competency-based education, Cummings said.

5. Staffing shortage 

As the physical boundaries of universities expand, universities are at a critical juncture in 2015 where they need more instructional and support staff.  With the increasing importance of data and predictive analytics, the problem is that universities are short on staff  to take action on the data they collect. 

"The most insidious of these issues is staffing," Abbiatti said. "We've reached a point where we really don't have the academic staff and the technical staff to keep up with the rapidity of the demand and growth of education technology."  

6. Electronic accessibility for people with disabilities

Groups of publishers and advocates for the blind are working with higher education associations to develop voluntary guidelines around access to learning materials. This collaboration came about after publishers and advocates created model legislation last year that could have indadvertently imposed new standards or requirements that colleges couldn't meet.

This year, they're creating guidelines together that would help them navigate the process of developing and selecting electronic instructional materials. The idea is to provide guidance in the material's development and selection process so institutions can fulfil their legal obligations to the disabled without having to follow standards that they may not be able to meet, Cummings said.

Tanya Roscorla Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covers ed tech behind the scenes and on the legislative agenda. Likes: Culinary experiments, travel adventures, beautiful landscapes.