FSU leverages technology to maximize student experience and response to COVID-19

The public university partnered with Microsoft to improve information management

Whether designing its landmark Campus Reimagined initiative or responding to a pandemic, Florida State University has demonstrated how using existing technology in a smarter way can lead to better outcomes.

The Tallahassee institution has long used data to inform decisions on everything from course options to library hours. In 2018, however, information management became the cornerstone of Campus Reimagined—designed to first help students better understand their interests and goals, and then provide a personalized experience based on acquiring knowledge necessary to fulfill their personal passions.

Managing information effectively

“The most recent shift in using data is toward identifying unique characteristics, goals and aspirations of students,” says Associate Provost Rick Burnette. “How do we use technology—specifically data—to make sure the experience is as meaningful and impactful as possible for our students?”

To advance that goal, the university partnered with Microsoft to set up a data lake and manage information effectively.

“The school is already using every Microsoft data visualization and management tool,” says Sean Brown, chief strategy officer for Campus Reimagined. “But the human factor was extremely important. We found Microsoft’s view of digital transformation was parallel to ours, and it had the road map for where we were headed.”

‘Maintaining continuity of collaboration’

“Microsoft representatives provided the expertise we needed,” Burnette adds. “They said, ‘Here’s how to get more bang for the buck with the technologies you have.’ It’s one thing to have a tool; it’s another to use it appropriately. Microsoft provided a lot of focus.”

“It’s one thing to have a tool; it’s another to use it appropriately.”

As a result, when COVID-19 led to campus closure and wholesale remote learning for some 42,000 students, FSU was ready.

“We had the technology, so people could collaborate over Teams,” Brown says. “We found that the things you could do six feet apart or across the quad could still be done when you were a nation apart. We were able to maintain continuity of collaboration.”

Remote learning after COVID-19

That continuity was key to administrative and academic success, Burnette says, and raised an important question: “How do we use technology to make sure we’re not just delivering the same presentation remotely, but we’re making it an interactive learning experience?”

The school’s tech partner is helping with answering that question.

“Both in the Campus Reimagined partnership with Microsoft, and the broader university, it is clear that a secure digital platform with chat, video communication and document sharing is very important,” Brown says. “When students return to campus, we’ll need to maintain digital collaboration and distance delivery to continue maximizing student experiences and success.”

Pandemic accelerates the need for first-tier remote learning options for higher ed

Q&A with Rob Curtin, Director of Higher Education Strategy, Americas, for the Education Industry Group at Microsoft

How has the coronavirus prompted higher ed leaders and their communities to better appreciate the importance of the campus experience?
Higher ed leaders have always appreciated this, but students, faculty and staff are now feeling just how important the campus community is to their experience, and how much learning occurs in and outside the classroom. Campus leaders realize they need to foster community for distributed populations, and technology can help.

How can colleges and universities ensure remote learning remains a first-tier offering even after the COVID-19 pandemic?
Colleges and universities have always focused on quality learning experiences. The pandemic showed how agile campuses can be. Their rapid transition to remote learning was impressive. Moving forward, the conversation has to focus on learning with remote inclusion as a first-tier option for any or all participants—students and faculty. Over the next few years, we’ll see significant investments in learning experiences and pedagogical evolution of models designed for inclusion. Faculty and students will have options for on-campus and remote learning, and synchronous and asynchronous learning. It will be more than lecturing to muted squares over a video conferencing tool.

COVID-19 has created an urgency for project-based or active learning scenarios, continuous engagement over various modalities, and interactions that extend the classroom and give everyone a voice.

How can colleges combine first-class remote learning with crucial on-campus experiences to improve student success after the coronavirus crisis?
Providing flexibility on when and how students consume information, and how they meet and interact with others is important to the entire experience. College is more than just the classroom. There are many lessons to be learned on campus: Time management, self-discipline, organization and group collaboration. Human interaction is critical. Technology should not disintermediate students and teachers. It can connect people and inform their interactions to make them more personal and effective.

How can higher ed leaders ensure that both distance and on-campus experiences promote equity and remain inclusive?
Now that students have access to low-cost devices or virtual machines on the cloud, we need to ensure they have access to high-speed internet. Microsoft is working with telecoms, energy access providers and others to provide high-speed internet using TV white space. These partners are using our Airband technology to promote equity and to help close the massive digital access gap, particularly in rural and agricultural areas.

Our Immersive Reader capabilities ensure learners of all abilities can see and hear text. With rich controls for word spacing, contrast, text size and even colors, we help people overcome vision and reading challenges. Immersive Reader is also found in our Browser and Office applications, and we make it available to partners who can integrate into their interfaces and scale these inclusive experiences.

For more information, please visit aka.ms/etfhe

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