Canada’s leading higher ed monitor and futurist, Ken Steele, will open the conference with a fast-paced, dynamic overview of digital media trends and developments over the past year. Plenty of institutions have launched social media campaigns featuring students, researchers or alumni – or even a hitchhiking robot. Text messaging has been put to work as a student recruitment, retention, and teaching tool. Student and faculty groups have launched online protests against sexism, perfectionism, alcohol abuse and trigger warnings, and agitating for lower tuitions, better campus food, or the value of the liberal arts. More collaborative platforms have emerged for note-sharing, homework, and tutoring, as well as plagiarism, identifying bird courses, and shaming professors in new ways. MOOCs have matured from overhyped “disruptors” to useful tools for graduate programs, student orientation, alumni relations, corporate training, and potentially even credit transfer. Wearable tech has started to impact classroom teaching and grading, as well as student recruitment campaigns and campus tours. Instructors are working with digital simulations of everything from welding and daycare operations to Shakespeare’s London.

Digital and social media tools are being put to use in some exciting and interesting ways by faculty, students, and campus administrators – but in the long term, what will be even more significant are the ways in which collaboration and connectivity are transforming the fundamentals of higher education. Student evaluations are increasingly nuanced and complex, incorporating co-curriculars, competencies and badges, peer grading, and digital portfolios. Traditional structures like courses, majors, and departments are under new pressure to unbundle and embrace interdisciplinarity. Traditional approaches to peer review, academic journals and library acquisitions are being transformed by open access research and publications. Crowdfunding and clickbait strategies are attracting new interest and investment in academic research from the general public. Everything is moving online, from the library and lecture hall to student services and the campus chapel. Government is embracing “big data” and its potential to measure outcomes, while predictive analytics are transforming student advising and retention. New digital and social technologies are powerful tools for higher education, but in the longer term the tools gradually transform the users as well.

(At #PSEWEB it hardly needs saying, but bring your smartphone or tablet so you can participate in some real-time interactive polling during Ken’s keynote.)