As I mentioned previously, my main interest in the EDUCAUSE conference this year is to learn about new technologies which may impact higher education. The sessions I chose for the second half the conference included presentations on nudge theory, the blockchain distributed ledger, and voice control interfaces
Katherine Milkman, who gave the keynote presentation on Thursday, is a behavioural economist researching how people make decisions. She gave a set of principles, backed with examples, on how we can structure everyday tasks to help people make better decisions. She called this “choice architecture”; it’s more commonly known as “nudge theory”. There are ideas here that we could use when building and configuring our student systems.
The Blockchain is a distributed financial ledger which can store records of your transactions securely and forever. It’s best known as the record that underpins Bitcoin and it has many other potential uses. Philip Kormany and Phillip Long of the University of Texas have been investigating its potential for education. The most obvious use is for secure student transcripts, perhaps linked to detailed records of achievement using badges. Other uses they suggested included recording academics contributions to peer review (as a record of work worth rewarding), and validating whether people have the appropriate training to work in laboratories. This work is at an early stage; time will tell whether the security provided by Blockchain will lead to significant uses.
Also at an early stage is the use of voice control interfaces such as Alexa, Siri, Home & Cortana. John Rome of Arizona State Univerity suggested that voice interfaces will be the next stage of user interaction, largely supplanting mobile apps just as mobile apps supplanted desktop GUIs. He has been exploring the use of Alexa, including a pilot in which they gave Amazon Dots to all the students in a hall of residencl, to see how they used it. The capabilities of their interface are very basic at present but they are learning what features students would like to have and how these needs may be met. Most of the actual programming is being done by student interns, which seems a good way to get students involved in shaping future University support.