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Taking on today's free-for-all approach to higher ed tech

The rapid deployment of higher ed technology during the COVID-19 crisis has delivered mixed results. However, while challenges persist, the future looks bright.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has forced college campuses to close -- many for extensive amounts of time -- IT departments have had to adapt to the needs of remote learners and education employees.

Traditionally, technology acted as a support function in academic settings. Neither teaching nor learning was singularly dependent on technology. However, as campuses transition to remote learning, technology becomes an essential part of the education delivery process, requiring outside-the-box thinking and innovation.

Technology has had to grow more robust to effectively handle its increased usage. In many cases, IT infrastructure across campuses, as well as that of most home providers, has faced connectivity issues that require analysis and updates. Students and educators have needed to quickly and efficiently adopt video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom, WebEx and Microsoft Teams. Likewise, additional technology features, such as online chat, softphones and online scheduling, have become more important. Schools have also sought to deploy experiential tech, such as virtual reality, to take students on virtual field trips to museums, different countries, the past, or even on tours of the human digestive system.

Considerations to select education technology

Pandemic or not, IT leaders must carefully consider their technology investments, solve the problems that require immediate attention and avoid creating new IT issues.

Organizations should refrain from hastily purchasing products or applications without performing a thorough review. IT leaders should evaluate technology according to the following criteria:

  • use of the best pedagogical practices;
  • reliable security;
  • accessibility;
  • easy implementation in existing infrastructures; and
  • a low learning curve for both users and IT teams.

To ensure successful deployments, vendors should provide good training programs to help both students and faculty use the technology to its full capacity. Additionally, the product should offer a way to measure its overall effectiveness.

This recent fusion of technology and higher education has laid the groundwork for future growth.

There are several pitfalls for IT leaders to bear in mind. A college's transition to remote learning introduces significant challenges for many users. These include a lack of accessibility to high-speed internet and hardware devices, inadequate technology compatibility with campus systems and the need to share devices with other family members. Leaders must balance varying IT needs and address what is urgently needed for the success of all parties.

Additionally, as institutions face funding cuts, drops in enrollment rates and the need to put money and resources toward COVID-19 testing equipment, PPE and other essential items, tech leaders must work within the scope of available budgets to provide the best possible IT systems.

The benefits of tech in higher ed

While the shift from in-person to online instruction has potential shortcomings, education technology enables teaching, collaboration and engagement in a way that would otherwise be impossible in a world so directly affected by COVID-19. Video conferencing, online chat, virtual teams, group meeting sessions, virtual modeling, and polling and discussion boards are all effective tools in academic environments. Moreover, HyFlex and other modes of virtual teaching allow students to take specialty courses at institutions regardless of geographic location.

This recent fusion of technology and higher education has laid the groundwork for future growth. As the current generation of students and faculty grow comfortable with various technologies, they will undoubtedly come to expect its use in all aspects of their lives. Education, communication and countless other industries are finding new and innovative ways to use advanced technology in their respective domains.

Higher education will not only benefit from technological advancements, but from the ongoing need to adapt teaching to these innovations. Using technology to engage learners and bring learning to life will continue to grow in importance. As virtual reality, machine learning and artificial intelligence acquire mainstream appeal, developers will use data to personalize products and learning experiences. This will help students achieve more, even faster than before, in the imminent future.

About the Author:
Cheryl Feldmeier is senior director of technology experience at Synoptek, an IT consulting and managed service provider based in Irvine, Calif. Cheryl has more than two decades of experience in driving enterprise-wide IT initiatives that improve operations, support corporate strategy and enhance customer satisfaction. At Synoptek, she is a part of the customer delivery services team and is currently associated with the College of Southern Nevada. Reach out to Cheryl at [email protected].

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