Bryan Alexander looks to the future of educational technology at Distance Teaching & Learning Conference

woman wearing virtual reality glasses and reaching out to touch something

According to internationally known futurist Bryan Alexander, American higher education is entering crunch time.

“First, enormous pressures are squeezing our institutions: demographic, enrollment, labor force, campus finance, and cultural changes,” Alexander says. “Second, the digital world gives us a range of possibilities to teach and research better and expand human access to post-secondary education. Can the second help with the first? Yes, if we do it right.”

Alexander will elaborate on emerging trends during his keynote at the 35th annual Distance Teaching & Learning Conference: “Brilliant Technologies and Challenged Campuses: What’s Next in Ed Tech.”

On Aug. 6-8, the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Distance Teaching & Learning Conference will feature leading lights from academia, industry, and government at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, overlooking Madison’s Lake Monona. The conference attracts hundreds of higher education faculty and staff, instructional designers, and workforce trainers in search of innovative approaches.

Transformation through technology

Alexander will talk about emerging technologies that include greater bandwidth and richer media tools—audio, video, augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality. And he’ll remind participants that technology has already transformed higher education.

headshot of Bryan Alexander
Futurist Bryan Alexander will talk about emerging technologies like richer media and virtual reality.

“We have added a new wing to the higher education house: distance learning or wholly online education,” says Alexander, a researcher, writer, speaker, consultant, and teacher. “That’s historically on the scale of inventing land grant universities.”

Technology in education has created new pedagogies, given life to older ones, and even launched new professions, from instructional designers to the whole campus IT enterprise. “And every job on campus has been altered, from instructors and librarians to development and recruitment,” he says.

Looking further into the future, Alexander will explore the transformative potential of artificial intelligence (AI). “Consider the emerging skills needed in AI, as well as the challenges of educating for a post-automation world,” he says.

The 21st century’s indispensable guide

Alexander completed his English language and literature PhD at the University of Michigan, then taught literature, writing, multimedia, and information technology studies at Centenary College of Louisiana, where he pioneered multi-campus interdisciplinary classes while organizing an information literacy initiative.

From 2002 to 2014, he worked with a nonprofit that helped small colleges and universities integrate digital technologies. In 2013, he launched Bryan Alexander Consulting, LLC, supporting higher education in the U.S. and abroad. He speaks widely and publishes frequently, with features in The Washington Post, National Public Radio, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, among others.

Alexander’s two most recent books are Gearing Up For Learning Beyond K-12 and The New Digital Storytelling (second edition). He is currently writing Transforming the University in the Twenty-First Century: The Next Generation of Higher Education.

When asked who and what have influenced him, Alexander mentions students, colleagues, practitioners in education technology—and science fiction. “Science fiction is the 21st century’s indispensable guide,” he says.

To learn more about the Distance Teaching & Learning Conference or to register, see the conference website. For additional information, contact conference director Wendy Fritz, 608-265-2679, wendy.fritz@wisc.edu.