Ensuring a healthy technology backbone

Highlights from the Campus IT session track at UB Tech® 2019

From Wi-Fi networks to ERP systems, and from help desk efficiencies to virtual reality capabilities, infrastructure decision-making is a key part of campus IT leaders’ jobs. These leaders are in need of information and advice on ensuring that their institutions have the infrastructure to support the needs of students, faculty and staff. UB Tech® 2019’s Campus IT track offered 10 sessions covering solutions and innovations in these areas. Here are some highlights from these sessions.

Mobile capabilities

In “Using AI to Gain Visibility into your Wi-Fi Network,” Chuck Curry of Guilford College in North Carolina shared how his Information Technology and Services office is working toward its goal of providing students with the same wireless technology that they have at home. The school is leveraging artificial intelligence in its wireless LAN infrastructure. The system learns as it goes, so that IT can tell where, when and what types of issues are happening in particular areas of campus.

For example, the AI-driven virtual assistant connected to the student app allows for easy troubleshooting that saves staff time. Guest users can get quick access to the network via a captive portal with SMS. In addition, IT staff are using analytics on mobile user behavior to optimize resources across campus.

Another session on mobile was titled “A Strong Mobile App in Front of an Aging ERP: Why Students Love It,” and it featured August Alfonso, vice president for facilities operations and chief information officer at Del Mar College in Texas. The VikingGo app allows people to get information, inquire and apply without even setting foot on campus.

Nine different groups have their own starting point: first-time college students, returning students, continuing students, transfers, transients, veterans or active military students, internationals, early college or dual-credit students, and continuing ed students. The app has answers to 1,035 questions so far—meaning students may no longer need to call on financial aid, the help desk or another department for assistance.

Alfonso has even called up the app to answer on-the-spot inquiries from Del Mar’s president, such as “When is the last day to drop courses?” He knows the app will offer the correct, most up-to-date response.

The VikingGo project was completed with no dedicated funding. Next steps include integrating the app with a new ERP system and deploying identity access management, both starting this summer.

An emerging tech experiment

Two administrators from Northeastern University in Boston presented on “Launching an AR/VR/360 Pop-Up Lab to Gather Data to Support Future Demands.” Called the Discovery Lab, it demonstrates that IT services is supporting innovation at the university, said Terry Beadle, senior academic instructional technologist. The lab was created to gather data to see what it needed to enable, support and scale augmented reality, virtual reality and 360-degree video.

Academic Systems Administrator Jesse Savage explained some ways the lab is being used:

  • An accounting group is building a consulting simulation.
  • An art professor will host course presentations and assign homework to be completed in the lab.
  • A Japanese language professor will do a virtual 360-degree tour of Japan.
  • Student staff in the health sciences department are coordinating course integrations for five faculty interested in the lab’s potential.

Based on interest in the lab, adding new equipment is being proposed for this coming academic year. The team is looking to hire a full-time staff member to support lab safety, as well as to increase the capacity to design and market the facility to faculty and students, Beadle said.

Cloud solution potential

The Campus IT track also featured a session on “Cloud-Based Student Success Strategies: Real-World Stories.” Nicole Engelbert, vice president for higher education development at Oracle Corp., kicked off the presentation by painting a picture of the catastrophic dashboard that higher ed is facing: eight consecutive years of enrollment declines, institutions discounting tuition by 60% or more, $1.5 trillion in student loan debt (with this kind of debt growing faster than mortgages, car loans and consumer debt combined), and a four-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time students at just 41.6%. That’s why student success efforts are so important today, she said.

The traditional model for higher ed is centered on courses, classrooms, students right out of high school, weekdays, term-based progress, diplomas or degrees, and majors and minors, she said. Next-generation, consumer-centered higher education is about individuals, ages 16 and even up to 99, and learning anytime, anywhere, with flexible time periods, badges and certificates, and competency-based credits. It’s about outcomes and not just knowledge testing.

Two administrators shared their own institutions’ student success strategies and how the cloud is helping them to meet success goals: Steve Hahn, vice provost for enrollment management at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Tonjia Coverdale, vice president for information technology and CIO of Central State University in Ohio.

Hahn spoke of the need to understand what problem is motivating the move to the cloud; to take steps now, even though the cloud may be a bit in the future for an institution; and to pilot new systems by choosing a particular area of campus and then expanding opportunistically. He said it’s important to adopt the cloud in more and more places on campus, but to do so as needs arise, not before.

Coverdale challenged the attendees—who have the power to drive their institutions forward—to feel empowered to go back to campus and really share what they’ve learned with other officials. “If higher education is going to survive, and students are going to be successful, we have to drive it with these cloud strategies,” she said. “We have to be visionary enough to understand this is how we need to operate to gain efficiencies.”

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