2011 Short List: Critical Challenges


  • Appropriate metrics of evaluation lag the emergence of new scholarly forms of authoring, publishing, and researching. Citation-based metrics, to pick one example, are hard to apply to research based in social media. New forms of peer review and approval, such as reader ratings, inclusion in and mention by influential blogs, tagging, incoming links, and re-tweeting, are arising from the natural actions of the global community of educators, with increasingly relevant and interesting results. These forms of scholarly corroboration are not yet well understood by mainstream faculty and academic decision makers, creating a gap between what is possible and what is acceptable.
  • The demand for personalized learning is not adequately supported by current technology or practices. The increasing demand for education that is customized to each student's unique needs is driving the development of new technologies that provide more learner choice and control and allow for differentiated instruction. It has become clear that one-size-fits-all teaching methods are neither effective nor acceptable for today's diverse students. Technology can and should support individual choices about access to materials and expertise, amount and type of educational content, and methods of teaching.
  • Digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession. The challenge is due to the fact that despite the widespread agreement on its importance, training in digital literacy skills and techniques is rare in teacher education programs. In higher education, formal training is virtually non-existent. As faculty and instructors begin to realize that they are limiting their students by not helping them to develop and use digital media literacy skills across the curriculum, the lack of formal training is being offset through professional development or informal learning, but we are far from seeing digital media literacy as a norm. This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that digital literacy is less about tools and more about thinking, and thus skills and standards based on tools and platforms have proven to be somewhat ephemeral.
  • Economic pressures and new models of education are presenting unprecedented competition to traditional models of the university. Across the board, institutions are looking for ways to control costs while still providing a high quality of service. Schools are challenged by the need to support a steady — or growing — number of students with fewer resources and staff than before. As a result, creative institutions are developing new models to serve students, such as streaming survey courses over the network so students can attend from their dorm or other locations to free up lecture space. As these pressures continue, other models may emerge that diverge from traditional ones.
  • Educators are increasingly expected to teach digital citizenship. The notion of digital citizenship, and our role as educators in instilling it, is not well understood. Clearly, people of all ages need to understand how to behave civilly and responsibly online, but there is disagreement as to what constitutes responsible behavior and whose province it is to teach it. Like other social mores, online etiquette varies from community to community and culture to culture; the challenge arises in the ease with which community and cultural borders are crossed or even blended in a networked world.
  • Increasingly, it is becoming part of the public debate that educators need to improve the ability to measure learning in real time. Current assessment models are criticized for not supporting learners when they are most in need, and educational outcomes are limited by our inability to accurately assess individual student abilities and areas for improvement. Learning analytics is increasingly interesting as a possible avenue for addressing this problem, so much so that major efforts are being undertaken to explore and develop it by EDUCAUSE, the Gates Foundation, and other learning-focused bodies.
  • Our ability to remix and reuse content is increasingly limited. Over the last eighty or so years, but especially within the last decade, copyright laws have become more and more restrictive. Where once it was natural to study, learn from, and build upon the creative works of the past, it is now difficult even to understand what is permissible and what is not. Open content and digital scholarship are impeded by laws that circumscribe the ability of teachers and scholars to reuse material of all kinds that could be employed in the service of learning.
  • Simply staying organized and current presents a challenge in a world where information, software tools, and devices proliferate at the rate they do today. New developments in technology are exciting and their potential for improving quality of life is enticing, but it can be overwhelming to attempt to keep up with even a few of the many new tools that are released. User-created content is exploding, giving rise to information, ideas, and opinions on all sorts of interesting topics, but following even some of the hundreds of available authorities means sifting through a mountain of information on a weekly or daily basis. There is a greater need than ever for effective tools and filters for finding, interpreting, organizing, and retrieving the data that is important to us.