When it comes to using technology in higher education, universities have a lot to learn. Students in Canada have expressed that many universities are stuck in the dark ages, lagging when it comes to adopting the latest education technology trends. That’s a real problem for people who’ve grown up touting their textbooks around on mobile e-readers, picking up extra class material on YouTube, and talking to other students via Slack.
These sentiments are borne out by a DJS Research survey of 2,000 university students across Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Benelux, Singapore, New Zealand, and Australia. Four in 10 students said their experience at university would be better if there was more digital interaction, and four in five would be happier if their university managed its administration using a digital system rather than, presumably, a clerk sitting at a wooden desk with a quill.
Why is IT in higher education such a problem? The NMC, an international community of experts who monitor education technology trends, points to several reasons in its 2017 Higher Education Horizon Report. A lack of digital literacy is one: “Higher education leaders are challenged to obtain institution-wide buy-in and to support all stakeholders in developing these competencies,” it said. In short, professors and administrators need to learn the joy of tech.
Go back to school to learn the latest in edtech
To solve this problem, you may need to start learning from the students by asking them what types of technology they want to see in the classroom—and why. Incoming first years are straight from Generation Z. These digital natives are more clued into tech than their millennial predecessors. They can probably even teach you a thing or two about mobile access, online collaboration, and video.
Armed with that knowledge, university IT teams can school educators on the latest advanced tech, bringing them up to speed on those underlying capabilities and working with them to integrate technology smoothly into the classroom. Knowing how to work YouTube and put it on a smart projector in the lecture hall isn’t enough. Understanding how to use it as part of a blended classroom initiative to maximize student productivity will bring university classes into the 21st century.
Assuming you can get staff on board, though, you may face equally daunting challenges overhauling an immense technology infrastructure at your institution. For years, many universities have been supporting a mountain of technical debt as they lug along old systems introduced years ago by different teams.
Prepare your infrastructure for education technology trends
It’s hard to overhaul IT in higher education without understanding what you already have, so a yearly IT audit is a good place to start. You should take a hard look at your current IT climate and see what technology you can retire. That’s tricky, because a lot of systems depend on each other for data. Ripping and replacing one will affect others. The underlying infrastructure must also be able to support these developments. University computing environments deal with huge numbers of students accessing resources unpredictably at any time of day or night.
Before upgrading applications, ensure the network and compute resources can handle them. This may involve introducing private cloud-based architectures that can shoulder spikes in demand by dynamically reallocating resources, while serving mobile devices. And when it comes to mobile devices, make sure you’re considering the security aspect. You can control some endpoint security by installing printers and computing devices with embedded security features for administrators, but students expect to use their own devices in the dorm and the lecture hall—and they tend to be notoriously BitTorrent-happy. Their specious downloads and installed malware are your problem now and make universities some of the most hostile computing environments on the planet.
Lock down your network and policies
All this makes network security even more important. Proper segmentation and access control for university resources is a must if you’re trying to elevate your institution’s technology game. If you can’t secure the endpoint, secure the router, the switch, and the firewall. Even secure endpoints can be compromised if they’re not properly segmented from network traffic or configured to restrict access. Hacker-slash-troll, Andrew Auernheimer, was able to spam university printers after university administrators deliberately left them open to make access easier for each other.
For those managing IT in higher education: Start being more paranoid. Universities are meant to be open places encouraging the fluid exchange of thoughts, ideas, and information. But that doesn’t mean letting everything flow everywhere—and certainly not onto that private printer in the Dean’s office.