Blog Articles

Our 7 favorite examples of innovation in higher education

Ginelle Testa
Higher Education
Teaching with Labster

There are so many administrators and educators utilizing innovation to better the experiences of their students and the performance of their institutions! We’ve rounded up 7 of our favorite examples, as it’s essential to stay up-to-date on cutting-edge technology and innovation for higher education to provide the best opportunities for students and the university or college. 

Since administrators and professors are thinking about innovation, we’ve included examples for the course, program, and school.

1. Artificial intelligence (AI)

AI can do so many things for an instructor and institution - such as reminding students about important deadlines, prompting them to register for classes, and encouraging them to pay tuition on time. Further, so much more can be done in the classroom! College leaders are learning the value of AI. According to Forbes, “They’re starting to use the technology to address some of their largest and most persistent challenges - including such bottom-line issues as increasing enrollment, improving student retention, and allocating financial aid.”

Georgia Tech supplements their existing staff with a virtual teaching assistant Jill Watson. She is a proxy “teacher” who amplifies the voice of the professor. Jill can do amazing things like answer questions about a course syllabus, provide responses during any timezone, and share definitions that students are curious about, such as the word “abiotic.”

2. 3D printing

Active learning is the best kind of learning. Gone are the days when teachers lecture throughout class. 3D printing enables students to get hands-on experience. According to Formlabs, a 3D printing company, 3D printing can also encourage creativity in higher ed and help students gain hard and soft skills to prepare them for future work. 

Formlabs shared a story where students at Penn State’s Innovation Hub 3D printed parts for a small business owner who couldn’t produce the volume of a particular part he needed. “Students at the Hub were able to provide tangible consulting and manufacturing services for this local business owner and by doing so, helped the local community and bolstered their resumes.”

3. Flipped classrooms

In a flipped classroom, instructors assign video lectures, reading material, and science simulations as homework. Students can learn the concept at home before entering the classroom. And this type of innovation is working! According to LearnDash, 9 out of 10 teachers noticed a positive change in student engagement since flipping their classroom.

Professor Bronwyn Bleakley at Stonehill College has implemented this flipped classroom approach in her teaching. She said they do the homework at home to prepare for “the hard work of learning, the part where they really have to think through things, the part where they have to be talking to their peers, and asking questions in the classroom.”

4. VR & Augmented Reality

More and more teachers are trying to make learning social. VR is a great way to encourage collaboration between students and teachers. It’s not meant to replace in-person learning, but rather to supplement it. VR can also help schools cut costs and better train students for jobs. A study found that 97% of students would like to study in a VR course.

By integrating UbiSim into Labouré College of Healthcare’s curriculum during the 2020 Summer Semester, faculty supplemented more than 10,000 clinical hours. They found that the immersive virtual reality experience very closely resembled the in-person experience. 

5. Virtual labs

Virtual labs encourage active learning as students get to make choices, follow storylines, and mess up without consequences. The benefits include getting them motivated in a gamified environment, boosting learning outcomes, and gaining access to labs they may not otherwise be able to access (like spaceships or fission reactors!) Research shows that students learn twice as much when traditional lectures are supplemented with virtual labs. 

Dr. Puja Shahi, Associate Dean at Chamberlain College of Nursing, shared that their nursing students could better connect what they were learning in their science classes to what they were learning in clinicals after using Labster virtual labs. She said they used to see science courses as just something they needed to do, then move on, but now they see the value. 

6. Social media

A study by Pew Research Center found that 72 percent of Americans under 30 use social media, but that percentage is closer to 100 percent on most higher education campuses! There are so many ways that social media can help higher education institutions, from attracting applicants and keeping alums engaged to using it in the classroom (such as offering Facebook groups). 

Harvard has more than 8.5 million followers across their Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. They post about current events, campus events, and they’ve done an excellent job with UGC (user-generated content) where students post their own positive experiences about going to school there. UGC like this attracts applicants. 

7. Blended/hybrid learning

The rise of online and blended learning during the pandemic has forced schools to pivot what they offer. While going entirely online doesn’t make sense for many institutions, implementing a blended or hybrid approach has many benefits. 94% of teachers are open to hybrid learning with the proper resources, curriculum, and support. As both a teacher and an administrator, you want to stay on top of this trend to remain competitive and successful.

Hybrid learning at Columbia University is supported by the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching, Learning, and Innovation and encourages “approaches that re-imagine class as a space for active and collaborative learning.”

Questions for consideration

  • Can you see any of these innovations working in your classroom or institution? Why or why not?

  • What other examples of innovation have you seen in higher education?