Willing or Not, Higher Education Faces a Digital Transformation

Posted By Candace Talmadge on July 26, 2016 at 9:26 am
Willing or Not, Higher Education Faces a Digital Transformation

Higher education worldwide stands on the precipice of a long-overdue digital transformation, according to a multinational survey of college students. Commissioned by software maker Unit4, the study polled more than 2,000 full and part-time undergraduate and graduate students in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Australia, Singapore, and New Zealand.

Seventy percent of respondents want their college or university to update what is known as a student information system to make it possible for them to access administrative tools as well as academic coursework through websites or applications on their mobile phones, tablets, laptops, or desktop computers.

Eighty-seven percent of respondents want a single application accessible from any device to manage their entire life on campus. At present, 44 percent of respondents said their institution’s student administration is managed digitally a little or not at all, while 63 percent said administrative tasks are so complex they distract from time for study. Given the level of fees they pay, 47 percent of respondents would expect administrative chores to be easier to complete.

Global student information market growing

Such a digital transformation may appear fairly soon. According to research firm Technavio, the global student information system market will nearly have doubled from its size in 2014 to more than $4 billion in 2019. Depending on their configuration and capabilities, these systems handle student recruiting, admissions and acceptance, course registration, grades and attendance records, housing assignments, financial aid and vaccination records, as well as more typical business functions such as payroll and billing.

When it comes to the digital transformation, colleges and universities don’t really have much choice about updating their administrative software, said Jami Morshed, Unit4’s vice president of global higher education They face intense pressures to adapt digital technology to become more efficient due to the dwindling size of the student age population, which increases competition for students, and from declining state funding, tougher accountability requirements from financial aid providers, and students’ own demands.

“Students are factoring things like Wi-Fi access and bandwidth speed” into their college choices, Morshed points out. The Unit4 survey found that 41 percent of student respondents would be more likely to recommend an institution based on better digital interaction.

Mobile app simplifies some planning

One example of enabling digital technology like to appear on campus by the start of the new school year is Blackboard Inc.’s new mobile application called Bb Planner, which aims to help students make career and course planning simpler.

According to Brook Bock, the company’s vice president of mobile, the app enables students to learn about careers and courses based on their aptitudes and goals. They also get real-time labor market demand and salary information from Blackboard’s partnerships with companies that supply this information to the app. They can then use the app on their phones or tablets to register for the courses they choose.

“Often when students are enrolling in class, they treat it like a transaction,” Bock explains. “But we know [course choice] will impact whether or not they have a degree and whether or not they have a career they like or one they can barely tolerate. The cost of this decision is very high. We’re empowering students to make better, more informed decisions.”

Bock points out that even professionals in a field don’t always have access to info about projected demand levels several years down the road.  Bb Planner includes experiential videos from people talking about their jobs so that students can hear what it like to work in a field.

That latter element is similar to social learning, in which students learn from each other as well as from their teachers or tutors, according to Keith Rezendes, CEO of Mindspree and a former college professor and high school teacher.  Mobile and online technology makes possible this emerging learning model.

“Technology is wonderful for higher education,” he adds.

Blackboard has a linked companion program called Bb Advisor, a web interface that makes students’ course and career choices available to their campus advisers. This eliminates the need for advisers, whose workload can be as high as 300 students, to spend their limited time discussing the basics when meeting with a student, freeing both to focus on other concerns or issues. The digital transformation continues!

Candace Talmadge
Candace Talmadge has been a professional writer since 1976. She has been on staff or reported and written freelance for media that includes Adweek, Advertising Age, BusinessWeek, the Dallas Times Herald, the International Herald Tribune, The New York Times, and Reuters America.

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