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Future of Higher Education Technology

Panel of Experts Talk Rolling Out New Technology for College Students

Experts discuss the future of higher education, and how students require optimization and personalization in their learning process. 

Marc Oswald

Co-Founder and CEO, Open Assessment Technologies

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

The holy grail of education is personalization. Implementing this at scale can only be accomplished by digitizing all aspects of education: learning (through study and practice), stakeholder interactions (between teachers, students, parents, etc.), and the measurement of skills and knowledge (individual and classroom assessments, performance tasks, etc.). Providing individual guidance requires access to and analysis of data collected over the course of each learner’s journey.

What should faculty members be thinking about when adopting and rolling out new technology for students? 

There are a number of considerations to be taken into account when rolling out new assessment technology for students, including ease-of-use, accessibility, integration with existing systems, and data collection. For instance, the solution should follow universal design principles, offering an intuitive user interface for both students and administrators. Tools need to be available to support the test-taker experience so that all students have a fair opportunity to demonstrate what they’ve learned. Universities also must consider how the assessment system will integrate with their other digital tools to provide a complete snapshot into student learning. At the same time, they must think about how the data they collect can better inform teaching practices. 

What areas should institutions prioritize in 2021 and 2022? 

Colleges need to implement “open enterprise architecture” solutions to ensure a fully interoperable ecosystem. If faculties continue to choose their own IT tools, data will be locked-in to countless silos, and the student journey will suffer immensely as a result of that. At the same time, colleges need to provide clear guidelines and instructions to faculties to ensure whatever tools they select neatly fit into the university-wide system. 

Mariam Tarig

Senior Vice President, Ellucian

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

In today’s highly competitive — and online — environment, institutions are competing with one another for student enrollments and revenue like never before. Students are the consumer, and savvy institutions know they must appeal to them with modern experiences — including technology — that will streamline their lives and take into account their unique individual needs. With this in mind, we recently launched Ellucian Experience, a new platform to simplify everyday tasks and access to essential information through a personalized dashboard, linking people, processes, and applications. The more we can do to personalize and improve the experience for students overall, the more they can focus on learning and what matters most.

What are your thoughts on the future of higher education?

No matter what modality or format lies ahead—online, in-person, or a hybrid of both —it is clear that there will be an even greater need to drive strong experiences for students. As technology continues to evolve, users expect and deserve “consumer-grade” experiences. The same modern look, interaction, and usability that we all are used to in other aspects of our lives should apply for all digital environments, including in higher education. Along these lines, personalization will be more important than ever. Institutions need to provide more than a generic experience, leveraging data to support the individual needs of each student. As such, the future of higher education will be powered by data. While institutions have the data now, to be truly powerful, it needs to be aggregated and integrated across platforms and modeled in a way that makes it actionable. With actionable data, higher education leaders are empowered to make informed decisions that drive to specific student success outcomes, which is the reason we all are here.

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

Decision-makers need accurate, timely data to help inform planning across all aspects of a campus. As a technology partner to colleges and universities, Ellucian’s primary focus is on helping institutions better support students. That requires the ability to view data from across the institution as well as the tools to then draw meaningful insights for more powerful outcomes. 

Truly integrated data from across multiple systems provides administrators a rich 360 degree view of students, equipping them with insights that they need to reach every student where they are and help move them forward. With an open integration platform, such as Ellucian Ethos, partners and customers can extend an institution’s ecosystem to use data with expanded capabilities to further enrich the student experience. As a result, leaders can make data-driven decisions related to areas ranging from student success, recruiting and enrollment, alumni and fundraising, and finance to personnel. Given the complexities of higher ed and the numerous data sources for a single institution, it is important to have an ecosystem that is configurable, interoperable, and allows all technologies to work together seamlessly. 

As one example, Ellucian’s CRM Advise solution empowers institutions to provide enhanced advising and interventions at the times when it is needed most. With a single, integrated system to handle the flow of information between departments, faculty, and staff across campus, institutions can engage and support students with timely resources to help them persist based on data. Automating early-alert management and appointment rescheduling can save hundreds of hours of manual processing and lost advising time each year—ensuring that more students can get the personalized help they need to meet their goals. 

Mike Tholfsen

Principal Group Product Manager, Microsoft Education 

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

Empowering all learners is a crucial aspect to the higher education experience, and in particular when it comes to accessibility and assistive technology. Often, we’ve heard that students would rather “go without than stand out,” which is why we’ve designed our free accessibility tools to be built-in, mainstream, and non-stigmatizing.  A few examples are speech-to-text, screen readers, and text prediction tools.

What areas should institutions prioritize in 2021 and 2022? 

Given the challenges and burdens put on higher education students during the pandemic, the most important area to focus on in the year ahead is inclusive and accessible technology. Content needs to be engaging and inclusive for all learners, including blind/low-vision students, deaf and hard of hearing students, those with dyslexia, and non-native speakers. It is critical for universities to ensure that the students who need the most assistance are able to engage through free and inclusive software tools and that courses be accessible to all.

Kim Fisher

Higher Education Practice Director, Allitix

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

Having a solid ERP in place is key. Once that foundational system is stable – ideally in the cloud – institutions need to be thinking about technology that will help them be more proactive. The pandemic taught us that, while we cannot plan for everything, we can use our data to model out potential scenarios in order to be as prepared as possible to pivot when needed. Solutions for proactive, data-based connected planning do exist for higher education and I encourage institutions to begin looking into how it can help the be more prepared for whatever lays ahead. 

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

Clean, complete, and well-governed data is critical to decision-making for higher ed leaders though it is not the only factor many leaders have to consider. Often, institutional culture plays a role, as well, which is why it’s important to have tenured leadership that has invested the time immerse themselves into the college or university community. Yes, rely on your institutional data and trust it to drive your critical decisions but do it under the influence of institutional culture. This will help drive change that aligns to the vision of your institution and, ideally, be more readily adopted by your campus community. 

What areas should institutions prioritize in 2021 and 2022? 

Prioritization for colleges and universities will likely vary based on factors such as the economic impact from the pandemic, enrollment projections, funding, and student expectations, to name a few. But generally speaking, “student wellness” has emerged over the past couple years as a focal point regardless of institution type or location. Having 3 teenagers in my house, one of which is about to enter his freshman year of college, I can attest that student mental health is top-of-mind for students and parents and can confidently say that it’s also top-of-mind for college and university administrators. Whether it’s innovative technology, certified mental health staff, creative new programs, or all these things, I suspect we’ll see institutions placing significant energy in this area for years to come. Secondarily, an institution’s ability to build a culture of proactivity is key. Building upon the rich dataset in their ERP and CRM solutions, colleges and universities should be looking to connect and capitalize on that data to plan for the future in a way that allows them to quickly pivot in order to serve students in a more proactive, planful manner. 

What are your thoughts on the future of higher education?

The pandemic taught us many things, one of which is the necessity to pivot. Some institutions did this brilliantly to the point their adjustments will be long-lasting and to the ultimate benefit of the students they serve. I believe the ability to quickly pivot lays at the intersection of data, culture, and assumptions so a college or university can build realistic what-if scenarios that can be manipulated and massaged. This allows institutions to visualize the possibilities for the future, whether that’s related to financial planning, program planning, enrolment planning, endowment planning, etc. Modeling out various scenarios in these areas, and others, provides institutional leadership the ability to be proactive rather than reactive. The proactive higher education institution that can pivot quickly is the one that not only survives but thrives. 

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