Four Ways Institutional IT Creates Value for StudentsPaige Francis | Chief Information Officer, Fairfield University
How can a university’s IT department help to create ROI for students, especially when it comes to improving the student experience?
Defining the value in higher education as a whole is a current hot topic spanning all media to an almost hysterical degree. “Once the most educated nation in the world, the U.S. is now tied for 11th place worldwide in the percentage of young adults with the equivalent of an associate degree or higher.”
Employers are not only requiring more higher education experience, they are looking for graduates to be more prepared than ever before at the entry level with some even needing a training bridge to eliminate any skills gap prior to joining as a full-time employee.
College and university IT departments are ideally positioned to create tangible and transferable experience for students, not only improving the student experience but concurrently increasing desirability and employability.
1. Normalization of Change
Technology is pervasive in business. We don’t use technology in most instances to eliminate positions; we use technology to more efficiently complete tasks empowering positions to be more innovation-focused. In the workplace, hoarding old, labor-intensive processes is not only frowned upon, it’s sought out and used as an example of how not to do business. The students of today heavily rely on technology on their path to degree completion by way of devices, applications, learning management systems (LMS), email, and software. With each, updates are ongoing and new features are rolled out often. Behind every archaic process hoarder is fear—fear of change, fear of elimination, fear of not being able to master something new. Students of today don’t have that same fear. With each patch and upgrade, our students learn to be agile, responsive and quickly scalable to what’s new. During the education experience, this flexibility enables students to do more, better and faster. Post graduation, when translated in some way to a resume, this is a check mark in the “bring in to interview” box.
2. Familiarization and Capitalization of “New”
One of the most repeated student requests in Fairfield University’s Educause ECAR survey results involves improving our faculty’s familiarity and usability of tech tools in this classroom. Technology not only changes, it also supports and enhances the classroom experience. It is not a curriculum replacement, simply a facilitator of a more rich, robust learning exchange. Our education offering is a high-touch one, where student/faculty interaction is at a consistent high and leaves students still wanting more. Technology delivers avenues for non-traditional communication methods and may enable easier scheduling. This benefits the professor seeking to find the teaching sweet spot for their students. This benefits the students as well, acclimating them to a moving target environment, adaptable to any technology tool with little to no prior experience.
3. Meeting Expectations for Open and Secure Online Environments
In higher education technology, there are messages we want and need to get to our students. For every ten methods of communication, another is popping up tomorrow that our students prefer to use. Technology facilitates delivery—of notifications, of benefits, of coursework, of currency to eat at the local diner all the way to ability to find that darn shuttle when you need it most. One of our most integral roles is protecting our students and we use technology to do that. We are creating tomorrow’s leadership, employee and customer. Are we creating monsters with expectations of convenience via technology? Maybe. But mostly we’re creating individuals with the knowledge of what technology can do to improve an environment with little focus on limitations. We are creating super-users, in the now and for the future. Be ready.
4. Online, Mobile, Remote – It’s All Good
Snowstorms impede coursework? They don’t have to. Technology is 24/7/365. There is little excuse or reason to miss an opportunity to complete an assignment on time and with excellent references. Need a small group gathering to view a video on a personal device on the fly? Share it on classroom monitor, like, now. Can’t make it to the computer lab but didn’t want to invest hundreds of dollars in a high-cost specialized software? That’s OK. Use the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and access it from Starbucks on your iPhone, with gusto. Need a refresher in Excel for your current assignment due in the morning? Visit Lynda.com. Technology in 2015 supports the classroom and provides exponential value and convenience to the student.
Technology provides tangible and intangible value for the student experience. Saving cash on software, gas and training is measurable. Time, worry and tears saved stressing over roadblocks, new processes and over-extended schedules? A thing of the past. And when the ROI is literally at your fingertips? #Winning
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 George R. Boggs, “Investment in Education Benefits Nation, Economy,” U-T San Diego, January 24, 2015. Accessed at http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2015/jan/24/investment-in-education-benefits-nation-economy/?#article-copy
Author Perspective: Administrator