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The benefits of early technology adoption

University Business, October 2013

This fall, Arizona State University (ASU), the nation’s largest public university with 72,000 students, rolled out Knewton’s Adaptive Learning Platform in its introductory math classes, a software system that tracks students’ progress and customizes assignments based on each student’s strengths and weaknesses.

As early adopters of interactive learning platforms, ASU is working to leverage technology to further individualize instruction. “To provide a personalized learning experience at our scale, we have to bring on new technology,” says Gordon Wishon, CIO.

ASU often takes advantage of its size and substantial budget to pilot and adopt new technological solutions that may be out of reach for other schools. “We are always one of the first schools to attempt to do new things at scale,” says Wishon. “Over the years, we have been fairly aggressive in challenging some of the long-held assumptions about what sort of technologies can be delivered in the university setting.”

By bringing on new technology, universities are better able to keep pace with students’ own tech use. “Students prefer classes and instructors they perceive as adaptable and who keep up with the latest and greatest technology,” says Sammy Elzarka, an expert on tech adoption and the director for University of La Verne’s Center of Advancement of Teaching & Learning.

According to recent research Elzarka conducted, students are much more likely to take classes seriously when their instructors are up to date on the latest tech innovations. Often, being an early adopter leads to improved efficiency and frees up much-needed resources. ASU was one of the first universities to embrace outsourcing for many essential IT and support services. Over the last five years, it has outsourced the servers that host Blackboard, the IT helpdesk and the HR call center. “This helped us maximize our IT staff,” says Wishon. “Now they spend less time maintaining servers and more time working with our students and staff.”

At ASU, trying out new technology is ultimately about continuously improving the learning experience for students. But, at the same time, Wishon acknowledges that being an early adopter makes
ASU a model for other schools. “In many ways, we are a laboratory for new tech solutions,” he says. “If it works at ASU, it can work elsewhere.”