By Rajiv Shenoy, Chief Technology Officer, Apogee
Throughout its illustrious history, higher education has been a stepping-stone to the future, a mark of success to come. But a sea change is taking place! The digital media age has ushered in a generation of college students so technologically advanced that schools are struggling to keep pace. Many of these digital natives, dissatisfied with their campus experience, wonder if higher education is necessary for success. They cite innovators and college dropouts like Gates and Zuckerberg and view education as an unaffordable means to antiquated career ends. They’re creating their own markets, learning from each other on digital platforms and picking up new trends faster than they can be consolidated into a lesson plan.
This rising generation is inextricably tied to the internet and social media long before even applying for admission. They completed standardized tests and researched competitive application criteria online, and proactively reached out to and interacted with current and prospective classmates in Facebook groups and Instagram stories. In fact, 96% of college students have some form of smart device and 80% feel distressed without internet.
Faced with being outpaced by technology and pressured to stay relevant, manage costs and deliver healthy financials institutions are rethinking and evolving their strategies and approaches to technology. Many are turning to partners in innovation to show them exactly how the digital media age can serve as the reinvigoration (not disintegration) of higher education.
As Chief Technology Officer at Apogee, higher education’s largest managed technology services provider, I feel fortunate to be in a unique position to work with our regional management teams on a daily basis to help address challenges and collaborate with over 400 higher education institutions and several hundred prospects. In the first half of this year, Apogee leaders spoke with more than 200 of these higher education decision makers and reviewed over 200 strategic plans. One clear takeaway is this: technology and IoT are playing an increasingly mission-critical role that will make or break universities as they strive to find better ways to educate future generations. This CTO Perspective highlights our insights, and looks at how Wi-Fi is a complex utility that serves as a foundation to campus technology, and how tech-savvy leaders can empower their campuses for the future.
This blended digital in-person experience will not only provide more personalized learning for students but also more freedom for institutions to orchestrate a dynamic learning environment. Fewer resources will be needed as learning operations are pushed into the cloud. Rather than managing infrastructure, IT professionals will be designing student learning experiences directly through applications. And most importantly, education will become more accessible, personal and affordable to diverse demographics.
With this new learning environment, the regional walls of higher education will come down, making it possible for students to learn remotely or in immersive environments, while also having access to on-campus resources when needed. Residence halls and on-campus housing will become more central to the institution’s goals. As Living-Learning Communities proliferate, the technology within them will become mission-critical. Students will not only stream Netflix and entertainment content, but will also rely on the internet to stream class lectures, interact with each other when working on assessments and projects, and educate themselves outside of the traditional classroom setting.
The blended learning experience, which combines online and offline, will be the new learning process to engage students. Online students want more of an in-person experience and in-person students want more of an online experience. We are seeing this trend not only in higher education, but globally, as massive online only companies like Amazon are venturing into the brick and mortar space through the acquisition of firms like Whole Foods. In time, our consumer experience will be blended, a seamless oscillation between online and in-person.
But what if interested visitors could register their smart device on campus Wi-Fi and embark on a self-guided campus tour, using their Bluetooth enabled smart phone to access various buildings?
Admissions in colleges and universities will dramatically change in the digital age. At this moment, though, the admissions process remains largely unchanged from what it was 30 years ago. Prospective students can research a college website and chat with peers and active students, but not much else at a deeper level. Admissions officers noted the on-campus visit process as follows:
They’d have freedom, flexibility and security to tour campus in their own way. Universities, in turn, could use important analytics to understand what interested students during their visit. If the visitor spent 30 minutes in the gym, the head of recreational sports could email a 5-day visitor pass to that student to truly experience the facility. Or, if the visitor spent time in the Mechanical Engineering department, the department head could reach out for a lunch and learn. Utilizing technology to personalize the admissions process, abstaining from a deeper privacy rights discussion, will create the more individualized, hyper relevant experience modern students have come to expect in their day-today digital interactions.
Students come to the welcome center, listen to an admissions officer speak of the history of campus, embark on a guided tour from a current student, and then fill out an exit survey.
One of the biggest potential benefits enabled by the IoT is a 1:1 journey that is personalized and unique to each student from the recruiting and enrollment processes, in which communication can be tailored to who students are and the decisions they make, to the orientation process and ongoing engagement. Higher education can significantly benefit from the latest advances by Facebook, Amazon and the streaming industry in this area.
Earlier in 2016, Facebook launched Facebook Live with reactions. Facebook empowers their users to upload live streams of whatever the user would like to showcase. In turn, their friends and followers can interact with reactions to the live stream: they can Like, Love, Laugh, Wow, Sad and Angry each segment of the live stream. Once users react during Live, a timeline and heatmap is on demand letting users interact with the data once the show is no longer live and now on demand.
The consumer application of this is quite fascinating. Say Facebook Live streams your favorite college football game, but you miss it. You can go back to Facebook and watch the entire game on demand. Now, with Reactions, you can also do a search and get a heatmap from the game as to how people like you reacted. You can check where people like you ìlovedî the play ñ and see the team score a touchdown. You can create your own highlight summaries ñ essentially replacing less individualized highlight reels on SportsCenter or ESPN.
This translates into higher education quite nicely. Instead of the same Facebook Reactions, institutions can utilize: I understand, I do not understand, I’d like an example, etc. Students can then react to a one hour lecture and a dashboard can be created for the professor. The professor can see who watched the entire lecture ñ but did not react. Well, why didn’t they react? Perhaps they were distracted. Or, the professor could see that 30 students didn’t understand titrations and, in turn, can create an in-person TA session on titrations. For students, who understood the titrations lecture well, did they get it right on the exam? If not, why?
The truly exciting prospect of the IoT for higher education is that the more data we can capture about the different interactions happening continuously, the more we can improve practically every aspect of the institution’s engagement with all parties involved. This will only help students succeed ñ better preparing them for their futures post-graduation.
Cloud computing moving data and programs from local servers to the internet is transforming the way institutions do business and serve constituents. And higher education is no exception.
There’s a massive trend on campus today in moving old processes and systems into the cloud. In the wake of budget restrictions, cost reduction strategies and new efficiencies are increasingly sought after by higher education institutions. Increasingly demanding requests and service delivery times have made these considerations even more pressing. The cloud can further their objectives.
Many institutions still use legacy or customized technologies that are resource-intensive to maintain and upgrade. But these solutions are not agile enough to meet the needs of today’s high-tech education environment. To meet these new demands, many colleges and universities are transitioning to a model where operational applications such as ERPs, CRMs, student information systems, and even learning management systems are in the cloud. This results in the ability to better process and utilize data, facilitate information sharing, and most importantly drive effectiveness and efficiency across the enterprise.
The cloud also offers the ability to serve not just educators and administrators, but students. Those students come to campus with their own devices and expectations about how and when they want to use them. Now, IT departments must provide greater interoperability between campus and student platforms; 24/7 access to secure, reliable networks; and the ability to create, deliver, and share content campus-wide on any number of devices.
Cloud computing removes typical IT constraints and gives colleges the capacity to handle IoT technology. So not only do they meet the digital demand, higher education institutions will boost their competitive edge in innovation, allowing them to develop curriculum that encourages active learning. By removing typical IT constraints, the cloud allows colleges to do what they do best: teach.
Today, that trend is no longer necessarily the case. Enrollments have been steadily declining, mostly due to demographic shifts and perhaps a countercyclical nature of higher education. One of the biggest means to combat this decline has been to offer tuition discounts, but that mainly benefits the top quartile in socioeconomic status. Increasing access and student success as well as affordability, are the keys to survival for the higher education industry. And it is here where technology and IoT, when utilized correctly, will have profound outcomes.
First, through the efficiencies created, higher education will become more affordable. The expensive overhead and inefficiencies we currently face will become more automated and lean ñ reducing the costs. Resources will instead be reassigned to delivering a better campus experience.
Part of accessibility is increased access to a quality classroom experience. One of the benefits of the new technology is it means more learning styles can be adapted. Take online learning. Its interactivity will provide greater access to the future of blended learning. Students will learn wherever and whenever they like and will venture onto campus for a deeper dive into areas they need help.
Technology and IoT also give institutions the means to personalize the learning experience, and this personalization will only lead to better outcomes. Professors will have more information to cater their teaching to each individual student rather than generic, one-size-fits-all approach. Students will be more skilled and prepared for life outside of campus. The personal attention they receive will ensure they are receiving the best education they can.
For years, the population of post-secondary students kept growing, the government provided ready and easy access to student loans, and people were willing to pay higher tuition rates because the promise of a degree was so strong. The belief was that a college degree was a golden ticket to a good job, a steady income and living the American dream.
While higher education institutions face a lot of challenges, our experience shows that university leaders who embrace technology and IoT will ultimately see more efficiencies, reduce operating costs and most importantly enhance student success.
To prepare for this movement, institutions must invest in the foundational components already present today: internet and Wi-Fi. These are complex commodities that are better managed on a recurring basis rather than one on one initiative. Creating a predictable funding model for innovation, and having a network scalable enough to handle the fast pace of technology innovation is the critical first step to achieving the campus of the future.
Concerns of data security, personal identifiable information and lack of staffing are top-of-mind for many institutions; however, success in alleviating such worries can be achieved in strong partnerships and collaboration by teams who truly understand higher education and the ethical tenets of technology. These teams should include not only IT but the Provost, CFO and student body president as well as technology providers and trusted partners.
While this type of sea change can be daunting, the resourceful, forward-thinking and collaborative university has much to gain by seeking out strategic partners who understand higher education and the benefits that technology and IoT can deliver to their constituents and to their mission. When done correctly, universities will be equipped and prepared to exceed student expectations well into the future in sustainable ways.