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Future of Higher Education Technology

Experts Share How Technology Can Optimize the Higher Education Experience

Our panel of experts shares the trends in Higher Education, and how technology can optimize the education experience for students.

Steve Wozniak

Founder, WOZ ED 

Can you talk about the digital divide and what that means regarding education?

Children learn what they have the opportunity to. Those without access to a computer and reliable internet lose opportunities to learn, yielding lower academic outcomes and less college and career readiness.

What current barriers are in place for school systems looking to provide access to technology beyond funding? 

School accountability systems emphasize standardized tests. Leaders at the national and state level could change the way we evaluate our schools, and the barriers would disappear. 

How can underserved communities learn about resources that are available to them? 

School systems respond to what metrics they are accountable for. If we make preparing students for life a priority at the state and national level, underserved communities will seek out resources to help them achieve those goals. 

Teresa de Onis

Vice President of Marketing, Apogee

What challenges do colleges and universities have when changing their infrastructure to ensure student and institutional success? 

The biggest challenge I see is that higher education continues to design, build, and manage their IT infrastructure in-house. They miss the opportunity to “rightsize.” Small to mid-size institutions especially need to rethink this because continuing to do this work in-house is costing them. It’s costing them time, our most precious resource. Second, they risk being unprepared to deliver the IT services needed for the successful hybrid/blended learning environments that will drive increased enrollment. Third, while IT budgets remained steady or slightly increased during the pandemic, IT teams are unable to transform from cost center to value center because they’re focused on day-to-day operational tasks instead of innovation that drives student outcomes. 

What are your thoughts on hybrid learning? 

At apogee, we believe hybrid, or blended, learning is here to stay. For small to mid-size colleges and universities looking to attract, retain, and graduate the modern student and compete for students with larger land-grant institutions, blended learning is the key. But many schools aren’t sure how far the pendulum should swing in this direction. We advise our clients to not think about replacing the traditional in-person classroom experience, and instead think about how they can use online modalities to make it even better. In this new environment, students can interact with a lecture and replay material that slipped by them. Platforms can measure sentiment in real-time, and professors can use that information to follow up or drive longer-term improvements in content and delivery. Imagine the efficiency gains here that would drive lower costs and more accessibility and equity in higher education.

Jim Hoefflin

President, CBORD 

What kinds of technology should colleges and universities be looking to invest in?

Students want easy, quick access to campus services and prefer to use a mobile device or smartwatch instead of a plastic ID card. Many of our university partners have implemented a mobile application to manage campus card activity or have enabled student IDs in mobile wallets for completely contactless access and payments. 

We’re also seeing emerging trends with biometric hand- and facial-recognition devices, as well as self-service kiosks in several areas of campus. The most popular adaptation is in campus dining, where biometric readers can provide access and deduct a meal plan in a single transaction. Kiosks can be used for order only or order and pay to manage flow and traffic during busy meal periods.

Both solutions also can help universities tackle labor shortages, optimize personnel costs, and move customers through lines faster.  

What areas should institutions prioritize in 2021 and 2022?

Remote access to software applications, contactless transactions to minimize germ transmission, and labor-optimizing infrastructure were all key to safely reopening campuses in fall 2020. Challenged by difficulties fully staffing positions in IT and foodservice/retail, we see these as critical components in the coming months and years, and believe cloud-based technology, mobile access and payments, and self-service solutions can enhance safety and adaptability of campus services. 

Divya Bheda, Ph.D.

Director of Education and Assessment, ExamSoft

How important is it to consider each student’s unique needs in optimizing their higher education experience? 

Very important. COVID-19 has taught us the importance of being flexible and realizing the challenging physical and psychological lived experiences of students and faculty. Critical, feminist theory talks about the importance of understanding the most marginalized lived experiences and changing systems and practices to ensure those experiences are transformed for the better. Beginning from the margins, it allows for the best solutions that are more likely to improve the circumstances for all.

When we center student voices and include the diverse lived experiences of students who are minoritized through the current normative practices of higher education, we can improve the experience for all — from an access, equity, justice, and success perspective. 

What kinds of technology should colleges and universities be looking to invest in?

They should look at technologies that offer them strong and diverse pathways to connect the various siloed functionalities of different offices and teams so that the data gathered across these offices can be used to better serve the whole student. This also includes technology that can connect academic and student support services, and assessment data that can advance student learning in and outside the classroom so that all the data can come together to comprehensively serve the student in the best way possible. 

Kathleen Gibson

CEO and Founder, APL nextED

What kinds of technology should colleges and universities be looking to invest in?

As schools evaluate what kinds of technology, particularly software, to invest in they should consider this question:

“Will the software technology solve institutionally identified problems and priorities or will it only address one problem for a small set of users?”

Higher education academic operations have traditionally been siloed and highly decentralized.  This increases cost and reduces efficiency and data transparency and has impacted how technology buying decisions are made at many institutions.        

Software investment decisions are often made by a user group trying to solve one problem.  These user groups may not have an institutional perspective and can be attracted to “point solutions”, or non-integrated software applications, that solve a singular problem for one type of user (for example, there are point solutions that help accreditation liaisons track and report faculties’ non-teaching activities).

Buying point solutions results in perpetuating the expense, redundancy and opaqueness of siloed and decentralized organizations plus it adds additional strain to already thin IT resources.

Most institutions of higher learning have recognized that the cost of siloed and decentralized operations is not sustainable. For these institutions the better way to buy software is to bring various stakeholders together to establish institutional software needs and priorities. Looking for comprehensive solutions is ultimately less expensive, more efficient and creates greater cohesion among teams and data.

What areas should institutions prioritize in 2021-22?

Institutions have mostly moved out of the crisis-mode induced by the events of the last year and half and have begun to address long-standing issues facing higher education. At the top of this list of issues are planning for financial sustainability, centralizing operations for greater efficiency, and strategizing for an increasingly competitive environment.      

In a post-COVID-19 environment, many schools have recognized that they must prioritize the adoption of best practices for financial planning and management. New budgeting models, greater collaboration between academic and executive leadership and boards, and the creation of “rainy day” funds, are some of the ways strategic leaders are addressing this important priority. 

In addition to adopting financial best practices is addressing operational inefficiencies to maximize resources. Schools can no longer afford to operate in the highly decentralized and siloed way that many have in the past.  Institutions that will thrive recognize that continuing to use manual and redundant processes and non-integrated software is a waste of valuable resources. Without a centralized, connected, and collaborative operational approach, the work of the entire team cannot be optimized.

Without a solid financial strategy and a plan for streamlined operations, few schools will even be in a position to consider the third priority, the ability to compete in the marketplace. For those that can compete, serving the ever-growing majority of students who are deemed “non-traditional”, building programs that match student-demand, translating the language of learning outcomes to skills and addressing affordability are a few ways schools can distinguish themselves. The most significant way for schools to compete is to offer an extraordinary educational experience. The surest way to ensure that, is to recruit, engage, and support extraordinary faculty.

Tyler Smith

Executive Director, Healthy Buildings

What challenges do colleges and universities have when changing their infrastructure to ensure student and institutional success?

Infrastructure has a significant impact on students, educators and staff. Healthy, safe and comfortable campus environments empower people to perform better, help students advance academically and attract people onto a campus. Even though colleges and universities can invest significantly in their infrastructures, people may not always notice the effect a building environment has on their quality of life. Infrastructure improvements can be as simple as LED lights that adjust the available light or more complex with scientific-based clean air solutions that filter out irritants such as mold, pollution, allergens, viruses and bacteria. Buildings can also be more interactive with touchless access control systems and sophisticated building security measures. 

Today, sustainability is a high priority for students and campus administrators. They must strike a balance to meet their commitments as responsible environmental citizens while providing safe and fulfilling campus experiences. The reality is they can do both; by approaching the two goals as a unified initiative, administrators can model environmental leadership and also deliver a positive and healthy experience. For example, through healthier buildings they can reduce the number of sick days for students and staff while achieving better energy efficiency that helps lower tuition costs and supports bold sustainability aspirations that benefit communities.  

How does data inform strategic decision-making for college and university leaders?

Today’s campuses are smarter than ever. They are connected by a multitude of sensors and devices within dormitories, research laboratories, classrooms, dining areas, athletic facilities and other campus buildings. When this data is analyzed and acted upon using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, college and university leaders can personalize student and staff experiences to create healthier and more comfortable spaces. 

For instance, advanced technology solutions can predict future classroom activity and automate features like temperature and natural light levels by collecting and analyzing how students and teachers use classrooms. In turn, this helps create in a more customized classroom experience.  Beyond this, when administrators use technology to connect buildings and strategically leverage collected data, they can save money by making the most out of their investments in buildings, infrastructure and other capital improvements. Data is the clearest guidepost helping higher education leaders make smart choices and provide a rewarding campus experience.

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