Redefining student experience for success
As CIOs from many top higher education institutions spend less time “keeping the lights on” and more time innovating, a new wave of solutions is emerging that has the potential to completely redefine the future of student experience and, ultimately, success. These leaders are exploring a new landscape of interactions and outcomes that impact how students feel about an institution throughout their lives. From the front office to the back office to the policies and governance that guide their work, they are leaving no stone unturned – and blazing new trails for the future of higher education.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with four technology leaders at the forefront of this wave to discuss where their thinking is focused and how they see innovation redefining the student experience moving forward.
1. Leveraging Data to Improve Career Success
As students become more cost-conscious consumers, the very definition of student experience is expanding to include the return on investment they receive. To address this expectation, some institutions are leveraging data to help student success programs better align curricula with the jobs of tomorrow.
Tim Dickson, Vice President, Digital Learning and Analytics, Laureate International Universities, sees big opportunities for data to align student success efforts to the jobs of tomorrow. “I can see all of us doing a lot more around profiling and assessments in the future. We need to really know the student or professional we are serving. What are their core competencies? What are they capable of? What are they interested in? What are they curious about? Armed with those insights, we can then match students to jobs in ways that deliver a greater probability of success after graduation.”
2. Empowering Students through Digital Diplomas and Credentials
A few progressive institutions are looking to expand the definition of student experience to include interactions with students after they leave campus. Once students have completed their course of study – whether it be a degree program, a professional credential, or an apprenticeship – they want to be owners of their educational record. They don’t understand why they have to engage with the registrar to prove their competencies to potential employers. As such, some technology leaders are exploring blockchain to enable students to truly “own” their records while ensuring that they remain secure and verifiable.
Fred Rocha, the Executive Director of Information Technology for the Coast Community College District, is one of those leaders. “With California’s 115th community college, which is fully online, we have a great opportunity to look at micro-credentials and badging. The online college is an opportunity to not be bound by any of our current restrictions or constrictions – so we’re thinking about how the institution can securely and verifiably move away from issuing a transcript and enable students to be the owners of their academic history. That history needs to be secure and shareable with potential employers – so we’re seeing lots of potential for blockchain to play a leading role.”
3. Delivering More Services through Mobile Devices
It’s no secret that today’s students expect their colleges to be technologically savvy, with the delivery of announcements, coursework, and grades displayed in mobile apps. Taking that one step further, some institutions are looking to invest in emerging technologies that leverage mobile devices to deliver even more services to students 24x7.
“I think we’re going to see near-field communication start to build a bigger presence on campus,” says Steve Earle of Biola University. “Just about every student carries a smart phone today. Why can’t those phones act as ID cards so they can do things like get in the doors on campus? And what if that ID didn’t just contain personal information, but educational information as well? Things like credentials and badges could live on students’ smart phones and start to redefine the way we think of a transcript.”
4. Considering Security, Privacy and Ethical Implications
As institutions think about collecting and using student data in new ways, keeping sensitive information secure and private becomes more of a concern. And as AI, machine learning, and advanced algorithms are increasingly deployed to perform tasks with less human input, the ethical use of those tools is becoming a big area of focus.
As such, most technology leaders are investing time and effort to improve data security and meet requirements for the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). A few forward-thinking leaders, like Laureate’s Tim Dickson, are going one step further and operationalizing ethics into technology decisions to ensure proper and fair use of technology.
“With innovation moving so fast and impacting business processes in such dramatic ways, my team now meets every week to discuss ethics. We're shaping a program to review our processes and ensure they’re operating as they should. We know we can’t allow machines to automatically make admissions decisions without human input. We know the dangers that can arise when algorithms introduce unfair biases. So, we're taking a page from things like internal review boards to ensure we’re always meeting the highest ethical standard.”
5. Driving Student-Centered Innovation
Finally, no matter the steps they are taking to improve the student experience, some campus leaders are recognizing the need to include students in the shaping of their own experiences at the earliest possible point.
Pam Thorburn, Director of Student Academic Services at New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington, sees student input as an essential first step.
“Students have to have a voice in driving change. So, we’re establishing 'digital hubs' on campus where technology and business leaders can work with students to better understand their needs. In the past, institutions would often organize themselves and their initiatives according to what the institution needs, rather than looking at the students first. We’re trying to reverse that dynamic, because the more you involve your constituents in change, they more likely they are to embrace it.”
A Redefined Student Experience Taking Shape
On their own, each of these innovative ideas and new approaches are impactful. Together, they form something far greater than the sum of its parts - a more connected, directed, and personalized student experience focused on support, guidance, and outcomes.
Best of all, they are examples of innovation that every institution around the world has the power to expand on and emulate. I can’t wait to share what’s next!