Meeting higher education needs through digital transformation

Driving the future of higher education

Digital transformation describes the process of using data and technology to innovate processes or products in order to produce customer value while adjusting to changing market demands (Schmarzo, 2017). Higher education institutions are driving digital transformation to allow flexibility in different types of classrooms, optimize remote learning and save costs, and promote soft skill development.

Emerging research and developing pedagogies have highlighted that technology can enhance learning for educators and students alike when used effectively. A 2019 EDUCAUSE survey reveals that 75% of IT leaders believed digital transformation would be more important in the next two years (EDUCAUSE, 2019). These predictions have motivated institutions to research dynamic teaching models and digital transformation in order to ensure they are delivering value for their students.

Achieving institution-wide objectives require research, planning, budgeting, and an alignment of stakeholders. Embracing and making progress within the digital transformation means institutions are set up to thrive in a constantly evolving market.

We have outlined a comprehensive overview of DX below, with the steps, goals, potential challenges and tools to help you facilitate the transition that’s driving higher education forward. The following areas are covered, below:

Goals of Dx

Challenges in Higher Education

Challenges of Dx

How to Approach Dx

Higher Education Digital Capability (HEDC) Framework

How to Design your Dx Strategy

Use Case: University of Toronto

The role of Kritik in Dx

Goals of Digital Transformation:

EDUCAUSE identifies four main goals of digital transformation (EDUCAUSE, 2021):

  • Enhance education: Digital transformation can help institutions innovate pedagogies and support a more diverse student body
  • Improve student success: Digital transformation introduces dynamic benefits to students and instructors, leading to increased student satisfaction, increased student retention, increased quality of teaching and learning, and improved course performance
  • Advance research: Digital transformation allows opportunities for improved research and development, and access to more metrics for quantitative performance
  • Streamline administration: Digital transformation allows institutions to optimize administrative practices and operations because technology enables institutional flexibility and agility (EDUCAUSE, 2021)

Challenges in Higher Education

The digital age has introduced technology to support higher education institutions in adapting and innovating their systems and modes of teaching and learning. While adoption of new systems and technology are often slow, the COVID-19 has accelerated the need and attention on improving teaching and learning practices and embracing technology whether in the online or in-person learning environments. 

EDUCAUSE identifies four objectives and their associated “Grand Challenges,” of digital transformation: 1) Student Success; 2) Financial Health; 3) Reputation and Relevance; 4) External Competition (Grajek & Brooks, 2020). Identifying these Grand Challenges helps stakeholders innovate and allocate resources in order to make progress in achieving these outcomes (Grajek & Brooks, 2020).

Higher ed institutions aim to develop student success, improve financial health, increase institutions’ reputation and relevance, and build a competitive advantage; however, there are challenges associated with these objectives:

  • Student success: Determining what student success means and identifying what indicators correctly measure student success
  • Financial health: US institution leaders describe decreasing enrollment levels as an obstacle to budgeting (Grajek & Brooks, 2020). Additionally, fewer financial resources are available to support institutions in maintaining or upgrading their systems. The average US research university received about 33 per cent of funding from the state government in 2012, which has decreased by 53 per cent compared to 1987 (Grajek & Brooks, 2020). 
  • Reputation and relevance: Students are leaning away from traditional educational models and seeking “alternative credentials” (The image above lists this under external competition) or more flexible ways to obtain credits (Grajek & Brooks, 2020).
  • External competition: Institutions across Asia, Europe, and Australia have increased investments in higher education over the years, while US investments have decreased (Grajek & Brooks, 2020). With waning financial resources, US institutions struggle to maintain a competitive advantage over international institutions.

Challenges with Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is an institution-wide process, and when implemented effectively, the benefits will extend to all levels of stakeholders. That being said, it is prudent for institution leaders to consider the challenges and how they should overcome or address these through their future planning. 

  1. Communicating one vision across all stakeholders

With many stakeholders involved in such a transition, institutional leaders and project managers should make a deliberate effort through their planning and process to align all stakeholders. Information and resources will need to be communicated and shared in a timely manner, and strong leaders, project management teams, and specialists need to work together to communicate the plan of approach, what to expect and why certain changes are taking place (Rodrigues, 2017).

  1. Digital literacy

Higher education is now seeing more diverse student groups, including different generations of students pass through institutions (Rodrigues, 2017). Younger generations of students typically have better digital literacy skills than older generations, meaning that the implementation of new technologies will be experienced and felt differently by different students(Rodrigues, 2017). Institutions should provide dynamic resources that support diverse student groups without compromising students’ quality of learning.

  1. Financial and technological constraints

Historically, universities have utilized a top-down approach and invested resources in technologies without appropriate research or willingness from faculty. Institutions often earn funding from grants or contact investors to close financial gaps. Institution leaders should also involve and communicate with faculty to understand pain points and find technological solutions to overcome these obstacles. For example, a 2021 case study states that a CIO took initiative to identify a well-funded, reputable faculty member who was willing to shift IT systems and worked with this individual to persuade the other staff to shift technologies (Puckett et al., 2021).

Overall, a system should be developed where all stakeholders can express their ideas, wants, and desired course outcomes. Moreover, educators should consider new pedagogies and adapt previous educational models in order to reap the full benefits of digital transformation without limiting faculty and students. 

Approaching Digital Transformation

It is fundamental to align all stakeholders when implementing digital transformation. This can be achieved when future-forward educators and IT leaders consider system sustainability, examine what resources are available now, and decide what is needed to transform their institution. By doing so, leaders help their institution build a competitive advantage by adapting and planning proactively for changing culture, workforce, and technology (Grajek & Reinitz, 2020). 

  1. Recognize a need to change and accept challenges.

Digital transformation is institution-wide and will impact various stakeholders differently. EDUCAUSE (2021) states that the expected outcomes from Dx and tasks related to Dx will need to be collaborative and institutional. That said, to approach digital transformation, institution leaders should adopt an open mindset and realize that effective digital transformation will require careful planning, resource acquisition and allocation, and restructuring. 

  1. Create a digital transformation-driven culture.

Institutions should foster a homogeneous culture in which all stakeholders are aligned on how to harness technology and data. Technology should be flexible and agile to support the pedagogy and suit diverse needs based on class size, student type, discipline, or learning environment. Digital transformation requires leaders and stakeholders to be adept and adaptable, and not only to be open but to also encourage openness as a means of fostering innovation (EDUCAUSE, 2021). Encouraging active stakeholder engagement will introduce new perspectives and ideas about how to undergo digital transformation.

  1. Shift the workforce.

While technology should be flexible and agile, educators and other institution professionals should develop the same agility and flexibility to adapt to digital transformation changes (EDUCAUSE, 2021). Institution leaders should expect and prepare for restructuring, including the creation of new jobs. In fact, new skills will be required to adapt to these changes, and institution leaders should emphasize the development of soft skills such as teamwork and communication (EDUCAUSE, 2021).

  1. Embrace technology and its role in the digital transformation.

The final step is recognizing that technology shifts follow workforce shifts. In terms of technologies role to support the digital transformation in academic institrutions, it is important to recognize that technology is a tool to support curriculum and pedagogy and not to guide the pedagogy and curriculum. This ensures that any major changes that take place in teaching and learning are fully backed by research and data.

Technology, business, and infrastructure should be agile and flexible in nature to adapt to dynamic changes. With technology we can improve how we measure student success and better align what skills and competencies are taught that best prepare studentds for their lives post-graduation.

Higher Education Digital Capability (HEDC) Framework

The Higher Education Digital Capability Framework can be used to identify areas for strategic focus and development. In this model, institutional capabilities contain four dimensions, which are 1) Demand & Discovery, 2) Learning Design, 3) Learner Experience, and 4) Work & Lifelong Learning (HolonIQ, 2021).

These four dimensions contain 16 domains: 4 for each dimension. Under all domains, a list of 70+ capabilities represents digital contexts in which institutions might decide to invest time, resources and money. 

An open-source capability framework for higher education

6 steps for designing a Digital Transformation Strategy

The roadmap toward digital transformation published by EDUCAUSE is a planning model that guides institutions towards the process. It starts with identifying the purpose, or the why, and ends with the inputs, or resources required to execute the vision. While every institution will have a different strategy and path, this roadmap provides the flexibility and direction to help shape a customized approach to Dx.

Downes, S. (2021, September 22). How Dx Powers the Post-Pandemic Institution. Stephen Downes - Knowledge, Learning, Community.

Both, the Higher Education Digital Capability (HEDC) framework and the roadmap from Educause can help decision-makers build a foundation for effective digital transformation: PURPOSE, CONTEXT, IMPACT, OUTCOME, OUTPUTS and INPUTS (Reinitz, 2020).

  1. Determine a Purpose. The goal is to define a single mission and vision to lead the culture and strategy. Leaders are responsible for aligning all stakeholders with this mission and vision.  Some important questions include, “Why am I engaging in digital transformation? What institutional goal, challenge, or need would I be addressing?” Universities need to decide on what philosophy they want to adopt, such as a teacher-centered or learner-centred approach. The institution should clarify their strategic institutional goal, challenge, or need that they want to address when undertaking the strategy.
  2. Identify Context for change. In 2014, North Carolina State University began a five-year project to improve its IT governance design and function to better align its IT governance with the university mission and undergo digital transformation (Carraway & Hoit, 2019). By understanding the challenges they were facing in their current system, they were able to develop a vision that addressed these obstacles and later plan an effective strategy that would enhance their institution while resolving these issues. Educators can follow the Higher Education Digital Capability (HEDC) Framework to contextualize their problems and desired outcomes for digital transformation, such as student recruitment, curriculum design, student life, career planning, and placement, to better align the domains and polish their strategy.
  3. Determine Impact: There is a spectrum of impacts and consequences in this strategic and organizational change when we start considering the trends and triggers of digital transformation in higher education. Bringing together thought leaders from diverse disciplines to trace the relationships between ethics and policymaking, as well as the human impact of AI, will improve the understanding of use cases, edge cases, and consequences of change for both academic and administrative (Phillips & Williamson, 2019). To describe the impact of the anticipated change to the institutional value proposition, stakeholders can ask this question: “How does it address the purpose?”.
  4. Follow Outcome: There is a shift toward digital transformation from 13% in 2019 to 44% in 2021 (McCormack, 2021). There are barriers to the digital transformation such as insufficient cross-institution planning, not enough buy-in, the cost, and insufficient level of digitized processes. To remove these barriers, the outcome needs to stipulate the potential benefits of digital transformation for each stakeholder, the processes, a cost and a timeline. This is by overcoming these barriers through the four stages to effective digital transformation – Stabilization, Standardization, Optimization, Transformation – that institutions can focus on improving their productivity and their students' experiences while creating new growth opportunities to innovate and position their university as a unique experience that most students would desire to enroll in (Fahey, 2021). Then, leaders can ask themselves, “What will change in the next 6 months? In the next 1-3 years?”
  5. Change Outputs: The result should be a new value proposition, providing better learning experiences for faculty and students through exploring new course delivery options. Faculty need to start spending less time on routined tasks and investing more time in creating courses for students to learn better (Weil, 2021). Leaders can ask themselves, “What will you implement, and what shifts will be needed in culture, workforce and technology?
  6. Inputs: Lastly, with the plan, vision and why determined, the inputs, or resources required need to be clearly identified and aligned between relevant stakeholder groups.

The overall goal is to create alignment in various domains such as student recruitment, curriculum design, student life, career planning and placement. Some universities would like to create new technology in-house, and other universities would like to find strategic partners (, 2021). Finding strategic partners is an optimal solution as technology is moving fast and it might be too costly for universities to invest in one technology and not in another area. For instance, universities could develop Virtual Reality and Peer Assessment tools with a team of engineers; however, the future of education might pivot from this perspective to a new one in a few years, resulting in rebuilding the technology and best practice from scratch.

Instead, institutions can consider partnering with companies to integrate technology in their campus, such as using Kritik for peer assessment. There are various technologies that could be used to serve faculty members and Kritik is only one solution for one particular need. The primary role of Kritik is to create an environment in which everyone needs to work together to: 

  1. Establish buy-in from all stakeholders to work together toward a common goal.
  2. Access to technology that promotes diversity, equity and inclusivity.
  3. Meet emerging workforce needs to support competencies for the future 

Use Case: Dx at the University of Toronto

The University of Toronto (UofT) has an Academic Toolbox, which is a collection of programs that the institution uses for its curriculum. UofT has designed a research and implementation process for edtech that aligns with the values of digital transformation. UofT determines faculty and student demand, and then researches and acquires the right technology that will meet these needs; these tools typically add new capabilities and create more value for instructors and students (University of Toronto, n.d.). UofT follows a three-step process for implementing new technologies:

  1. Submitting an idea: Requestors submit a form to initiate the process, discuss their pain point, and introduce the program they want to use; they are encouraged to research whether there are any existing tools used at the institution that will resolve their problem (University of Toronto, n.d.).
  2. Prioritizing the queue: Ideas and requests are published onto a forum and prioritized accordingly for the institution’s Executive Steering Committee for Quercus and Academic Technology to review (University of Toronto, n.d.).
  3. Integration project stage: The integration stage is the most complex of the three but ensures the institution’s adaptability and security when implementing the decided programs. Poorly designed and tested tools compromise the system’s integrity and can lead to security breaches and interrupt services (University of Toronto, n.d.)
  1. First, information security specialists will conduct an information risk and risk management (IRRM) audit on the program and analyze how student data is communicated (University of Toronto, n.d.).
  2. If the program passes, it moves onto the functionality review, where the toolmaker describes the functional structure of their program, such as compliance with accessibility requirements (University of Toronto, n.d.).
  3. Moving on, the toolmaker and institution draft contract conditions such as Terms of Service and End-User Licensing Agreements (University of Toronto, n.d.).
  4. Then, the program is tested on the institution’s servers before it is released for public use for functionality and security (University of Toronto, n.d).
  5. UofT’s Center for Teaching Support & Innovation collaborates with the toolmaker to acquire, develop, and distribute the necessary resources to onboard faculty and staff (University of Toronto, n.d.).
  6. The program is publicly released for use and is monitored onward to determine if it is still viable as curriculum develops (University of Toronto, n.d.). If the tool is no longer needed or used, the institution can decide to remove the program from its Toolbox (University of Toronto, n.d.).

This process has aided the institution in successfully procuring all the necessary programs and tools for its Academic Toolbox: each step helps UofT effectively measure how the tools solve faculty and student pain points and whether the tool has improved student success. UofT encourages a more democratic process by firstly allowing stakeholders to submit a form to request what tool they would like to use in their coursework, and then participate in an online forum to prioritize pain points and identify which requested tool would be best to resolve this pain point. 

In this case, a professor might request to use Kritik across the English Department to actively engage students in the editing process for their essays and help them better apply course concepts in their work. When submitting the form, the professor can highlight the value of Kritik: saving instructors time grading through peer assessment and allowing them to dedicate their resources to personally mentoring their students. Moreover, Kritik helps students prepare for the workforce by encouraging soft skill development through peer assessment tasks, such as communication, critical thinking, and evaluation skills. 

Afterwards, specialists and faculty will audit accessibility and security to determine if Kritik is secure to use and actually resolves student and faculty pain points. The institution will continue to conduct thorough tests before purchasing licenses for the English Department to use Kritik. 

The role of Kritik in Digital Transformation

Kritik can play two roles in helping institutions facilitate digital transformation:

  1. To be used as a tool to support teaching and learning in class
  2. To improve dialogue between educators and discussions on how technology can support pedagogies

Kritik is used as a performance-based peer assessment tool that empowers professors to provide engaging and meaningful learning activities for students at any level in the same classroom. Kritik provides students with a safe space to interact with their peers and engage with course material. According to the HEDC Framework, Kritik falls into the dimension of learner experience, the domain of assessment and verification, and the capacity of peer and group assessment. 

Kritik can also be used at the institution level to facilitate technical shifts towards Dx while achieving all four goals of digital transformation. 

The goal of enhancing education can be supported by Kritik by offering a space to manage dialogue and actualize the stages of Dx in which all stakeholders feel respected, valued, and heard for their contributions. Leaders can create an activity in Kritik in which all stakeholders can engage in the conversation on various topics. IT governance can use Kritik in various ways according to their needs as well. Each institution is unique and Kritik should be considered as a tool that empowers all faculty and students to create content that is meaningful and that progresses individuals and groups towards established objectives.

By designing activities in which students participate in individual self- assessment and cross-functional assessment via institutional self-assessment for the whole institution, it is going to be easier to get buy-in from all stakeholders to work together toward a common goal.

Kritik can help overcome financial and technological constraints by collecting anonymous feedback from all stakeholders in a safe environment to express their opinions – a more inclusive process to collect information, resulting in saving money and time to develop technology that faculty members truly want. 

With information and data accessible in seconds at our fingerprints, educators have moved away from assessing students' memorization of facts and information. Competency-based assessments have been proposed as an alternative solution by many researchers. Despite that, almost all work on this area has remained at high-level discussions without any widely-accepted implementation plan for classrooms. Unlike traditional assessments, competency-based assessments are more subjective and demand a substantial amount of time from busy instructors. These limitations have kept competency-based assessments from being adopted on a larger scale. 

Turning students' assignments into their e-portfolio has been the subject of some research in recent years. Unlike job applicants with previous work experience in the industry, most recent graduates haven't yet built a reliable portfolio to help them compete in the job market. The letters A, B, C, and D in students' transcripts convey little information to prospective employers, and many simply don't even ask for transcripts. Competency-based learning theory proposes specific guidelines that transform student assignments into e-portfolios across all disciplines in post-secondary education. To overcome the limitations of competency-based assessments, Kritik "crowd-sources" assessments using a data-driven and calibrated peer review platform. The platform, with customizable rubric templates, helps professors create peer assessment rubrics that are aligned with course objectives and competency-based learning principles. Finally, Kritik maps these competencies with the skills demanded by employers in the job market.

This approach to transform assessment in competency-based learning during post-secondary education has been studied; however, it is important to continuously advance research, which leads to the third goal of advancing research. To illustrate, peer assessment has been the subject of numerous research papers over the last few decades. Computer and information technology that has facilitated "double-blind" peer review in the context of assignments and course evaluations has led to increased interest in peer assessment among educators. While there has been plenty of studies on designing a proper overall structure for peer feedback, most are limited to a specific subject matter or student background. In addition, there is no comprehensive research on different written feedback models. 

Further studies need to review existing feedback models, and look to new models such as the TEACH model, in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) can play an important role to enhance the ability of students to create quality content, peer evaluation, and quality feedback. Today, Kritik is fostering a culture of quality teaching and learning. Summative and formative assessment has been used to measure Student Success, but it can also be used to measure Teaching Effectiveness.

When students have the opportunity to evaluate their peers, they apply their learning, develop evaluative and critically thinking skills and allow instructors to more efficiently and effectively improve student success through assessment. Increased grading efficiency allows instructors to mentor and provide personalized feedback to ensure that their students learn deeper and master competencies in their courses. Kritik empowers students to take ownership of their learning and actively engages them in the course through the peer assessment process. Instructors provide additional quality feedback throughout the process to guide students to become better evaluators and master their competencies. 

Students are empowered to “own their learning” and enhance their critical thinking skills and decision making.

When institutions decide to undergo digital transformation, technology should be viewed as a tool to enhance the curriculum and education models, support flexibility in putting in place various methods of pedagogy to suit diverse needs (class sizes, student types, disciplines, learning environments, etc.) that foster learning and teaching at all levels. Creating a digital transformation strategy can be difficult without methods in which all stakeholders feel empowered to participate and contribute to the change. 

It is time to include all stakeholders in this process of change and start the bottom-up and top-down approach, which leads to the fourth goal: streamlining administration. Kritik can be used free of charge to all CIO, CTO, and stakeholders who want to assess or adjust their existing processes, analyze outcomes, ask for feedback, and improve communication to successfully achieve your digital transformation. Every institution is unique and everyone in it deserves to see the benefits of the change before validating the change. 


Measuring success should not depend on the technology being used, but rather the indicators for what and how learning and teaching is improving. Institutions should look at what value they are trying to produce with technology, and seek for these tools according to those conditions and metrics. Ultimately, digital transformation should help institutions empower their students and enhance their learning experience with more opportunities to learn and apply their knowledge in real-world situations (Ashford-Rowe, 2019).

Kritik was launched in 2019 for educators to make teaching and learning more meaningful, efficient and effective through peer-to-peer learning. At the time, the platform was primarily used by in-person classes, but the platform has evolved to fit the new and emerging learning environments - including online learning environments. This development was further accelerated by the pandemic, where we saw Kritik become a solution and an opportunity for professors to improve student connections in the asynchronous or virtual classroom, improve the teaching process for the professor, and reduce the professor's grading and administration load along the way. Kritik professors like Katson have expressed what the platform has meant to them, and others have stepped up to be an active part of the Kritik community connecting and sharing knowledge with professors across North America through workshops, conferences like EDUCAUSE, and professor stories.

The digital transformation is about recognizing where we are headed, culturally, technologically and within workforce, and adopting the tools and platforms to prepare students for their future.

If this article resonates with you, please contact me, Carine Marette, E.d.D in Instructional System Technology from Indiana University at


Ashford-Rowe, K. (2019, November 4). Case #3: Leading digital transformation. Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from

Benavides, Tamayo Arias, J. A., Arango Serna, M. D., Branch Bedoya, J. W., & Burgos, D. (2020). Digital Transformation in Higher Education Institutions: A Systematic Literature Review. Sensors (Basel, Switzerland), 20(11), 3291–. 

Carraway, D., & Hoit, M. (2019, March 25). Redesigning IT governance for digital transformation at North Carolina State University. EDUCAUSE Review. Retrieved November 11, 2021, from (2021, April 12). Six steps for creating a digital transformation strategy. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from

EDUCAUSE. (2020). Digital Transformation Signals - Educause. Digital Transformation Signals: Are You On Your Journey? Retrieved November 15, 2021, from

EDUCAUSE. (2021). Defining DX. EDUCAUSE Digital Transformation. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from

EDUCAUSE. (2021). DX and culture. EDUCAUSE Digital Transformation. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from

Fahey, K. (2021, October 18). How higher education can overcome barriers to digital transformation. EDUCAUSE Review. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from

Grajek, S., & Brooks, D. C. (2020, August 10). A grand strategy for Grand Challenges: A new approach through digital transformation. EDUCAUSE Review. Retrieved November 10, 2021, from

Grajek, S., & Reinitz, B. (2019, July 8). Getting ready for Digital Transformation: Change Your Culture, workforce, and Technology. EDUCAUSE Review. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from 

HolonIQ. (2021, February 10). Understanding Digital Transformation in Higher Education - Webinar 1 [Video]. YouTube.

Li, C., & Lalani, F. (2020, April 20). The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever. This is how. The rise of online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Retrieved November 10, 2021, from

McCormack, M. (2021, August 6). Educause QuickPoll results: Institutional engagement in Digital Transformation. EDUCAUSE Review. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from

Phillips, J., & Williamson, J. (2019, June 3). DX in practice: Triggers, impacts, and outcomes. EDUCAUSE Review. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from

Puckett, J., Pagano, E., Ahlawat, P., Zwemer, N., Hilal, P., Trainito, A., & Frost, A. (2021, June 28). Higher Ed Must Go All In on Digital. BCG Global. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from

Rodrigues, Luis. (2017). Challenges of Digital Transformation in Higher Education Institutions: A brief discussion.

Schmarzo, B. (2017, May 31). What is Digital Transformation? CIO. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from

University of Toronto. (n.d.). Academic toolbox: New tools. Academic & Collaborative Technologies (ACT). Retrieved November 15, 2021, from

Weil, D. (2021, May 18). Putting all three components of digital transformation to work on campus. EDUCAUSE Review. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from

Carine Marette
Carine is the Co-Founder of Kritik.