Tech’s big impact
Administrators and staff must change process and practice if campus technology is going to make a real difference as its impact on higher ed evolves. Here are what experts in various functional areas of institutions believe will happen in 2019, and their perspectives on how campus leaders can maximize tech’s tremendous potential.
Julie A. Selander, director of One Stop Student Services at the University of Minnesota
How will technology impact student services in 2019?
Artificial intelligence technologies will start handling simple tasks such as locating forms and providing information about due dates. Handing off these tasks to chatbots lets staff focus on tasks that require a deeper knowledge base and more one-on-one support, such as helping students navigate financial aid.
Incorporating more high-tech tools into student services will boost satisfaction, Selander says. “This generation would rather go online to get information than wait in line, wait for an emai
l response or wait in a phone queue,” she says. “The expectation is that information will be available 24/7, and we want to deliver that.”
As excitement and buzz builds about chatbots’ potential to improve the student services experience, Selander intends to spend 2019 determining whether the tools will provide a return on investment.
What will campus leaders need to know and do to incorporate the latest technology into student services?
Plugging chatbots into the student services experience will take time and patience. Selander has reviewed existing research and connected with other schools that use chatbots to better understand how these tools could work in her department. Other administrators would be wise to do the same, she says.
“It can be a frustrating process, but there is good reason to pause … so we can have better ROI,” Selander says. “The great thing about higher education is that we’re open to benchmarking and sharing lessons learned and best practices. We don’t have to recreate the wheel, and we can learn from others’ mistakes.”
Campus leaders also need to figure out how to fund chatbots. Selander expects that student services will partner with other departments—such as housing/residential life, campus stores and human resources—to share licenses and reduce the cost. —J.H.
Matt Birnbaum, assistant professor of higher education, student affairs and leadership at the University of Northern Colorado
Big data will continue to be a big deal. Campuses, for example, can gather a range of information, including who is accessing the dining hall and the busiest times in retail locations, and use it to make decisions about staffing, ordering and hours of operation.
As 5G connectivity spreads, administrators may have to power up their Wi-Fi capacity so speeds are comparable to those available through cellular networks, says Birnbaum.
The lure of artificial intelligence is strong, and campuses will be tempted to look for opportunities to leverage tools to ease labor demands in departments such as dining and housing.
What will campus leaders need to know and do to incorporate the latest technology into student affairs work?
Rather than focusing on how technology can solve problems, administrators should also consider the potential negative impacts of high-tech tools, Birnbaum says.
“Students rely on us for jobs, and certain technology, like automation, could take them away,” he says. “You have to strike a balance between what seems to be a great technology with what it might cost the institution.”
Inviting feedback from all stakeholders, including students, can help campus leaders make informed decisions about incorporating the latest tech. The focus should be on how tools can enhance the use of human capital to improve student life. —J.H.
Student success and retention
Joe Sabado, executive director of student information systems and technology, and associate CIO of student affairs at the University of California, Santa Barbara
How will technology impact student success and retention in 2019?
Technology has made it easier than ever to meet diverse students’ needs from application through graduation. High-tech offerings ranging from chatbots to online classes to engagement data are boosting student success and retention—and these tools will continue to proliferate in the new year. “We can use data to see if students have been going to class and direct message them,” Sabado says. That messaging can include language such as: “We see you’re missing classes; is there something going on? How can we help?” Campus administrators are grappling with ethical issues around gathering data. Sabado believes conversations will continue on how data is used and the importance of being transparent with students.
What will campus leaders need to know and do to incorporate the latest technology into student success efforts?
Student retention and success administrators need to think of the IT department as a valuable partner. The chief information officer should also be at the table to talk about high-tech tools that have the potential to improve student success and retention. These professionals have important insights into the value of potential investments. “It’s not just about the technology infrastructure, but how you intentionally make sure that funds from the [federal government], the state and the students are being put to good use,” Sabado says. Before rolling out any new technology, “student perspective always needs to be part of the conversation,” he adds. —J.H.
Campus safety and security
John Ojeisekhoba, chief of campus safety at Biola University in California, and Mountain-Pacific regional director for the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators
How will technology impact campus safety and security in 2019?
Protecting students will remain a priority as colleges add emergency notifications and electronic lockdown systems to their safety networks. In 2019, administrators will determine best practices and continue to work out the kinks in these safety technologies. Allowing students to opt in to notifications (rather than enrolling all students and having an opt-out option) often leads to low rates of adoption.
Biola replaced its mass notification system after discovering some cell phone carriers delayed transmission of messages to students. “While there are many possibilities, there are also many pitfalls, and schools are working to address the problems,” Ojeisekhoba says.
What will campus leaders need to know and do to incorporate the latest technology into safety and security efforts?
Administrators must decide how the tools function. Some institutions require multiple levels of approval: A dispatcher calls an administrator and that administrator must call another administrator before a message can be sent. “You’re looking at 10 minutes or more before a message goes out, and that’s not fast enough if there’s an incident,” Ojeisekhoba says.
Rather than relying on administrators or high-ranking campus police staff to send out mass notifications, frontline dispatchers can get messages out much faster and free up campus security to respond to emergencies, Ojeisekhoba says. The technology must be tested regularly to ensure it functions perfectly in case of an emergency. “If we fail to test and maintain the systems, it puts students at risk,” Ojeisekhoba says. —J.H.
Enrollment, admissions and marketing
Scott Schulz, vice president for enrollment management at Baldwin Wallace University in Ohio
How will technology impact enrollment, admissions and marketing in 2019?
Personalized communication technology will continue to allow administrators to use data to better target the information sent to students. Smart websites that adapt to visitors will let campuses further customize content, Schulz says. “You have to exist in the realms of social media and texting, where students are. We have a formal texting plan, and separate it into recruitment texting and texting for current students.”
His staff has expertise in social media, including using QR codes to help in sharing videos and other platforms that connect with students.
It will be challenging to engage students who have already expressed interest in the institution, he says. “Spambots now preread emails and artificially inflate open rates, which can also inflate your assessment of engagement with students and create false leads.”
What will campus leaders need to know and do to incorporate the latest technology into the admissions cycle?
“Make sure your technology works for you and you don’t work for your technology,” Schulz says. “It’s changing so fast, and it’s expensive and logistically painful to put in a new system. So, many times, we’re adding these patchwork processes for old CRMs and SISs with inefficient workarounds.”
He advises thinking about future needs and planning ahead so the technology is ready to meet those needs. For example, an enrollment department’s team members may be putting in a new CRM and then finding themselves building the road as they drive on it.
“Finally, make sure your technology and communication tools are being implemented with efficiency and effectiveness, and not adapted to old practices that exacerbate structural silos,” he says. —R.B.
Kenneth “Casey” Green, director of The Campus Computing Project, the largest continuing study of the role of information technology in American higher education
How will technology impact institutional finance in 2019?
A top issue for CFOs is determining when their department’s ERP finance package will move to the cloud. Many institutions hold back because they’re not ready or don’t have a compelling reason to do so. “In the business realm, the cloud saves money with less personnel and infrastructure and fewer real estate costs, and that’s usually a matter of moving money over rather than costs coming down,” Green says. “We’re also having a huge problem hiring and retaining tech talent, partly because as much as a third of institutions face compounding budget cuts.” There is no letup in the demand on campus for technology, so institutional business departments must make choices that barely satisfy needs. Rather than solving the problem and taking the institution to the next plateau, Green says leaders will wonder, “Can we spend enough money here to put a finger in the digital dike?”
What will campus leaders need to know and do to incorporate the latest technology into campus finance?
“Higher ed does a terrible job of evaluating IT initiatives. Whether it be an administrative or instructional initiative, less than a fifth of campuses do it routinely,” Green says. This creates an opportunity for a strong alliance between financial officers and CIOs to examine the ROI of technology. Financial officers also understand deferred and delayed infrastructure investment issues, especially in terms of building infrastructure. “There’s an opportunity for financial officers to bring their expertise about deferred and delayed infrastructure costs in collaboration with IT leadership, and that will help elevate it because that puts a number on it,” he says. —R.B.
Instruction and learning
Trang Phan, assistant professor and director of the Instructional Technology Resource Center at the Kremen School of Education and Human Development, at California State University, Fresno
How will technology impact instruction and learning in 2019?
New technology, such as artificial intelligence, or immersive technology, such as virtual reality, will be the key focuses of the coming year, Phan predicts.
For example, the virtual human interaction lab at Stanford University has analyzed how VR can be used as a basic research tool to study the nuances of face-to-face interactions.
“We are seeing the growing use of AI for giving feedback to instructors,” she says. “For example, through an LMS, students’ responses to open-ended questions in a massive online course can be clustered.” Often, 70 to 80 percent of student responses have similarities and common thoughts. So the instructor, rather than reading and responding to hundreds of individual answers, can now respond to six or seven main points in a way that ends up being personalized.
What will campus leaders need to know and do to incorporate the latest technology into teaching and learning?
For Fresno State, the first step is engaging both faculty and teachers who have come back to get degrees, Phan says.
“For faculty, knowing that there’s a wide range of skills and attitudes toward technology, we have to present it delicately,” she says. “Rather than intimidate them or make them feel bad, we should encourage them to try new things, including workshops and other PD opportunities.”
Teachers who come back to school to get advanced degrees aren’t always sure how to integrate edtech into the classroom. Phan says the message to them should be: “Here, you can use technology to encourage collaboration and enhance student ownership of learning.”
“It’s also important to be mindful of student access to technology because not everyone has the same level of technology at home,” she adds. “Ultimately, technology needs to be treated as a tool to engage learning, not the main focus of learning.” —R.B.
Don Guckert, associate vice president for facilities management at the University of Iowa, and president of APPA, the leadership organization for education facilities professionals
How will technology impact campus facilities in 2019?
Technology is having a huge and accelerating impact on facilities—with, for example, the adoption of internet of things tools that allow better building management. “The capabilities that we now have in our buildings can offer tens of thousands of sensing points, monit
oring all sorts of activities, including motion, air movement, temperature and pressure,” Guckert says. Predictive maintenance is getting a boost from fault detection and diagnostics technologies that alert staff to imminent system failures. More maintenance workers now bring tablets into the field, while architects more often de
sign buildings using virtual and 3D platforms that, along with a geographical map, include data for every fan, electrical switch and other component. “It’s a design construction tool for today with maintenance prospects for tomorrow,” he says.
What will campus leaders need to know and do to incorporate the latest technology into facilities operations?
“Campus leaders need to know that the internet of things revolution is coming whether we’re ready for it or not, and it holds the promise for more efficient building operations,” Guckert says.
Adoption requires investments to enable campus facilities organizations to have the newest data-gathering tools. “This is a funding challenge, but it’s a budget solution in the long run that will reduce the operating expenses of our buildings,” he says. “We’ll be able to repair things before they catastrophically fail.” “We need to start adopting the tools of tomorrow that really will allow us to be more efficient,” he says. —R.B.
Related: Reader responses to the question, “How will technology impact your role at your institution, or your department’s work, in 2019?”
Mary Beth McGrew, senior associate vice president of planning, design and construction, and university architect at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio
How will technology impact campus planning in 2019?
Geographic information systems (GIS) are providing more in-depth details on facilities and systems. “We don’t just have a map of light poles, but a map of light poles that includes the size of the light, its manufacturer, its color and more,” McGrew says. The dilemma with GIS and other technology is keeping it all updated—and then instituting policies for continuous updates.
When designing and constructing buildings, she says, “we’re increasingly including weather models to look at where we’re siting a building—for example, what the predictive wind patterns might be so we’re not creating wind tunnels on campus.” McGrew’s team is trying to use the model to predict the performance of the system, and then tweaking the model to see results before tweaking the building. “We need to lasso technology to be of use to us—not drive us,” she says. “We want data-informed planning in combination with informed opinions.”
What will campus leaders need to know and do to incorporate the latest technology into facilities planning?
“Campus leaders need to understand that you can have too much data, and that’s not useful,” McGrew says. “You can go broke buying a lot of expensive software.”
Also important to know is that there’s the soft side and the data side, and the solutions are somewhere in the middle, she says. “So there’s going to be a bit of an education for campus leaders as well, not to be wowed by technology.” In this field, she adds, “You learn how to sniff out the campus—how many square feet per student, and all the variables. We use that info to reflect back to institutional leaders how their initiatives will make the campus feel, such as what increased density will mean.”
At the University of Cincinnati, for example, higher enrollment affects how many students can eat lunch because there may only be enough cafeterias to accommodate staggered lunches. If everyone plows in at noon, dining services might not be able to handle it. “Big data is both scary and fascinating, but data can really help us make a much more sustainable campus,” McGrew says. —R.B.
Alumni relations and advancement
J Thomas Forbes, CEO of the Indiana University Alumni Association
How will technology impact alumni relations in 2019?
Most universities use CRM systems to track alumni and deliver targeted messaging. Digital outreach such as social media and email newsletters will remain commonplace while administrators take data mining to the next level, using software to target communications to specific demographics, Forbes says.
More higher ed institutions are developing content strategies to encompass both high- and low-tech outreach—with messaging via everything from alumni magazines to targeted email marketing campaigns. In addition, administrators must focus on complying with new regulations, such as potential changes to the CAN-SPAM Act, anti-spam legislation, and the European Union’s General Data Protection Plan, which has had a ripple effect on international email communication. “These new rules will have us thinking more deeply about the right ways to communicate,” Forbes says.
What will campus leaders need to know and do to incorporate the latest technology into alumni relations and advancement work?
Administrators must shift mindsets to capitalize on new alumni relations and advancement technologies. “You have to be willing to experiment with the understanding that not everything you try is going to work,” Forbes says. “Use data to measure outcomes and provide feedback to guide future decision-making.”
Data has the potential to bolster acquisition and retention, increase engagement, and improve fundraising success, but it will take a significant investment of time to get it right. Forbes suggests that administrators establish priorities and work toward achieving them—even if it means using one tool at a time instead of opening the entire toolbox. “It’s better to work strategically and incrementally to get where you want to go,” he says, “than to be overwhelmed with information and have no idea what to do with it.” —J.H.
Jodi Helmer is a North Carolina-based writer who frequently contributes to UB. Ray Bendici is deputy editor of UB.
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