5 Technology Trends in Higher Ed

I’ve practically grown up in the data, application, information and tech industry. Over 18 years, I’ve worked with both small size growth organizations and major corporations like Gartner and Nelnet. With Nelnet Campus Commerce, I’m proud to help our partners consider the impact future technology will have on higher education.

  1. Higher customer expectations.

    If you still remember the rotary phone, you’re very different than today’s “digital natives.” Now, students have access to technology that is vastly more efficient. Some have smart speakers like the Google Home or Amazon Alexa in their kitchen and bedroom. For the especially tech-savvy, thermostats, sprinklers, refrigerators, lights, and other home devices are connected by Wi-Fi and controlled by phones. They’re creating their own apps in high school – sometimes with augmented reality.

    Generation Alpha, children born in 2010 (the same year Instagram and iPad launched), won’t see higher education tech as a “nice to have” bonus. They’ll expect the same technology they experience in their smart homes, cars, and communities to be in their classroom too.

  2. Artificial intelligence to scale individualized learning.

    One of the most interesting developments in higher ed technology has been the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI). For example, a Georgia Tech professor was teaching an artificial intelligence online class of 250 students from around the globe. Those students heavily utilized the active online forum and it received 10,000 messages at all hours based on their various time zones – the majority of students asking similar questions in different ways.

    At that level, how could any professor provide the questions and answers necessary to help each student succeed? Could personal student attention scale? Through a teaching assistant chatbot powered by IBM Watson and crafted and recrafted by the teaching team, the answer overwhelmingly became yes. The fun part is that the professor had the class fooled for several weeks thinking that “Jill Watson” (the IBM chatbot) was a real person.

  3. Corporations investing in education.

    Intel has been a key player in designing smart stadiums for universities to create a better fan experience.

    In smart stadiums, fans can use apps to find open parking spaces, order concessions, and get through security lines faster. Tech-infused stadiums like this serve as proof of concept for other educational uses – even in the classroom itself.

    Big companies like Oracle, Google, CDW, Cisco and Microsoft are seeing opportunities on college campuses. They know that higher education has traditionally lagged behind in the technology sphere and needs to be making up big ground in the next decade. Major companies like this are able to test out tech infrastructures that they’ll eventually use in gyms, airports, and offices nationwide.

    The opportunities are there. Imagine heating and air conditioning systems throughout campuses that automatically adjust to provide the most economic and comfortable spaces. Campus laundry facilities that send notifications when a student’s laundry is dry. Classrooms that automatically take attendance when students walk through the door. Or buses that notify the teacher when students are running late because of traffic or mechanical issues. Companies (and even cities) are making big investments in technology – and colleges are at the center of it all.

  4. Big data and analytics.

    While analytics are being used to help focus recruiters’ attention on the most likely prospective students to persist to graduation, many universities are also using big data to pinpoint areas students are struggling in and intervene before it’s too late. Some examples of retention usage:

    • Dartmouth College created a smart app to predict student GPAs based on studying, sleep, exercise, and face-to-face interactions. This 10-week experiment ran in the background and didn’t require any manual input by the students.
    • Temple University implemented a chatbot to lighten the customer call center’s load and improve the website experience. The chatbot has been a hit and answers common questions from current students, employees, and prospective students.
    • Georgia State University deployed an AI program focused on identifying and stepping in early for at-risk students using 800 academic and 14 financial risk factors. The AI looks at how well a student is doing in class, whether they’ve skipped class recently or if a payment has been missed to identify students in need of instruction or advising.
  5. Privacy and security considerations.

    All of these changes make working in higher education right now an especially interesting and exciting time. However, there are some very big concerns to consider when integrating new technology on campus.

    • Privacy

      Where’s the line between providing personalized answers and unnerving a student with the amount of private information the university holds?

    • Security

      Having access to so much information is attractive, but it also creates the idea of “rainy day” information – collecting and keeping all information in case you need it later. But if personal identifiable information is not protected effectively, there are major risks to students and institutions. In some cases, the less information there is to protect, the better.Students expect a frictionless experience, and they expect campus technology to be secure. When it comes to personal identifiable information protection, so does the federal government through FERPA requirements.

Technology is always on the move. Keep an eye out for where you can start implementing smart technology now, so you’ll be able to continue meeting and exceeding prospective students’ expectations.

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