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Outlook on technology: Tech renaissance

A more robust, post-MOOC phase of online learning on the horizon in higher ed
University Business, January 2015
Wi-FI, academic technology and data security will see big investments in 2015. (Click to enlarge graphic)
Wi-FI, academic technology and data security will see big investments in 2015. (Click to enlarge graphic)

What cutting-edge devices are going to demand campus bandwidth in the near future? The 21st century versions of two old stand-bys: the refrigerator and the wrist watch.

Sure, there will still be plenty of laptops, tablets and smartphones crowding the Wi-Fi, but the “internet of things” and wearable technology are coming to campus, forcing CIOs to yet again boost the power of their networks.

“We are finding internet connections being placed into many, many different things,” says Theresa Rowe, CIO at Oakland University in Michigan and leader of Educause’s CIO Constituent Group. “If everything a student carries comes with something that expects to connect, that means our network has to grow.”

Less far off in the higher ed tech forecast—and less far-out than smart refrigerators talking to a central campus nutrition system—is a more robust, post-MOOC phase of online learning.

Campus CIOs and experts also say the cloud will become fully entrenched in almost all campus functions and that institutions may push the envelope of privacy concerns in experimenting with how much student data can be collected.

Higher education may be entering “a real renaissance period for academic technology,” says Nicole Engelbert, who is focused on higher ed as director of industries research and analysis for Ovum IT. “It could be a period where we finally exploit technology for the betterment of teaching and learning, as opposed to just using technology to recreate what happens in a traditional class.”

Refining online learning

While MOOCs as we know them probably won’t go extinct in 2015, higher education should see a wave of online learning advancements, including more rigorous curriculum development, and expanded use of social networking and collaborative tools like Google Drive, Engelbert says.

Trending

  • Alternative reality games being used in the classroom
  • ApplePay
  • AppleTV for wireless projection in classroom
  • Apps that forecast GPAs, or that locate specific snacks in specific vending machines, among a range of other tasks
  • Artificial intelligence, both in digital learning software and research
  • Cloud storage of all campus data
  • Personalized learning
  • Smart appliances
  • Wearable technology
  • Wi-Fi calling, which uses internet networks rather than cellular

Fading

  • Computer labs, which are becoming obsolete as students bring powerful laptops and tablets to campus
  • Paper—storing and managing the information becomes IT’s responsibility as departments increasingly go paperless
  • On-campus data storage

“As woeful as MOOCs are as a solution area, they’ve really made most institutions rethink the quality of their online learning programs,” she says. “We’re now getting into truly synchronous learning—using social channels for collaboration and using the cloud for content creation.”

More colleges and universities will likely develop programs similar to Georgia Tech’s online master’s degree in computer science, says Larry Johnson, chief executive officer of The New Media Consortium, which produces the annual Horizons report on technology in education.

“In a year or two, we’re going to see an explosion of those sorts of offerings—part of which is in response to interest MOOCs created and the realization that MOOCs are not really part of the business model of universities,” Johnson says.

Georgia Tech’s online master’s degree in computer science is not quite “massive” or “open”—the nearly 1,300 students who pay a reduced tuition for classes that are the same as ones offered on campus had to apply. “Our admissions is the big change and has the potential to be a game-changer—we accept everybody who is qualified,” says Zvi Galil, dean of Georgia Tech’s College of Computing, of the program’s 51 percent acceptance rate.

Charles Isbell, the college’s senior associate dean, teaches a course in machine learning, which he organized as a podcast-like discussion between himself and a professor at Brown University. In each lesson, either Isbell or the other professor play the role of a student working through the material.

The degree program also has a heavy social medial component. Each course has a built-in social media channel. Students also have created Facebook and Google+ pages where they give each other advice on the program or solve technical issues.

Cloud challenges

Big shifts will be seen in the student information system market. While there may not be a wave of expensive purchases by institutions, the major SIS providers will continue developing new systems that operate in the cloud, Engelbert says.

“The idea of the cloud being a brand new, cool innovation—that’s behind us,” she says. “The old model—the big SIS on premise that’s highly customized with a big IT department— schools can’t afford anymore.”

But signing a cloud services contract, which can run to hundreds of pages, is easier said than done, says Troy Boroughs, assistant vice president for systems and networks at the University of Richmond in Virginia.

Cloud services may be offered by a single vendor, but the actual operation may include several other companies—some of which may change during the term of the contract. When sensitive data is hosted off-campus, CIOs need a clear understanding of the security policies and other terms and conditions.

“It becomes a challenge to know what you’re buying and who’s in charge should something go wrong,” Boroughs says.

Data dilemmas

Data and analytics will represent another tech frontier many colleges and universities will explore this year. “The question for 2015 is: How far will institutions go with analytics?” says Engelbert. Officials need to determine where the comfort line is for their institutions and students, she adds, “in terms of how much data is collected and how it’s used to personalize the educational experience.”

For instance, an institution could learn from a Facebook page that a student is a big fan of The Walking Dead. The LMS could then be configured to pull pieces from zombie literature to keep a student engaged in an organic chemistry class, she says.

“I’m sure we’ll see some institutions cross over the line, and if we do, it’s actually a good thing because it means institutions are innovating,” Engelbert says.

Data will also help outside the classroom, in areas of retention and beyond, says Paul Hardin, a senior project manager in the Office of Information Technology at Brigham Young University in Utah. “Everything from the students’ preferred courses and preferred faculty to their preferred study locations and preferred vending machine snacks will increase the success rates for pupils and the institutions they attend,” Hardin says.

Even more demands on IT

As technology advances in the world outside of higher education, there’s an expectation that campus systems will be able to work as seamlessly as, say, the cloud services offered by Apple and Google, says Rowe of Oakland University.

“Google and Apple are very innovative and they force our campuses to rethink lots of things,” she says. “When Google moved to unlimited document storage, that forced us as campuses to think, ‘Why do we have document storage on campus at all?’ ”

Students and faculty who use iPhones, Macs and iPads can store a document, a song or photo, and then access it instantly from any of those devices. This might lead an employee pulling together data for accreditation to expect a campus’ systems to work as smoothly. But that’s not a reality yet because that data the employee needs is likely still stored on a range of systems, Rowe says.

IT will be more and more involved in designing classrooms as faculty demand more teaching technology, such as projectors and 3D printers, predicts Kathy Monday, vice president for information services at the University of Richmond.

“These new classrooms that enable active learning require more square footage-per-student,” says Monday, adding that her institution is building three prototype tech-heavy classrooms.

One thing that’s certain, says Hardin of BYU, is that there is little room for error or service interruptions when it comes to campus Wi-FI networks. “We are quickly reaching the point where, if there is no connectivity, there is no teaching.”

Matt Zalaznick is senior associate editor of UB.

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