Reflecting on the pandemic, we must implement intentional strategies with technology implementation that can have positive impacts on student learning.
For most institutions, Spring brings the finalizing of the upcoming year’s budgets, and a reexamination of priorities for the upcoming academic year. The latter should include an assessment of current and previous initiatives — even more important with the pandemic’s dramatic impact on our systems and how we use technology.
Despite schools and universities returning to full in-person learning, remote learning remains a critical option. As we move forward in this new normal, it is essential to streamline and amplify our tech resources to ensure we meet the new expectations of our students, faculty and staff. From virtual classrooms to online resources and tools, there are now an abundance of options available to help educators and institutions meet student needs. By leveraging these resources intentionally, we will create a more engaging and interactive learning environment. Furthermore, strategies such as increased collaboration and data-driven decisions now must be employed to ensure tech resources are used in the most effective way possible.
Leveraging Technology to Improve Education
During the pandemic, Information Technology departments became indispensable partners and enablers, leveraging technology to continue institutional missions during the massive pivot. Because physical campuses were no longer an option, remote learning became the only option to continue our mission. Virtual classrooms allowed for more flexibility in scheduling, while providing a range of new options for communication and collaboration. In many cases, they allow students to work on their own time and at their own pace, which is especially helpful for those with special needs or who are working remotely. And restructuring or rearchitecting services made it possible to support a remote faculty and workforce.
Strategies for Streamlining and Amplifying Tech Resources
With three years of the pandemic behind us, technology is now at the center of institutional strategic planning. While keeping up with the latest technology is critical, it is also important to evaluate past investments as part of a larger institutional planning cycle. Assess the outcomes of a specific tool. Did they perform as anticipated? Reach out to the targeted audience, or your governance groups to collaborate in evaluating outcomes. Is it, whatever it is, producing as intended or delivering expected results with its targeted population or program? Is the investment made sufficient to meet objectives? Or, if missing targets, is there a better place to apply limited resources? It’s not only important to plan for how technology will be used, but how schools leverage data in making decisions about which technologies are worth investing in for potential expansion or may need to be swapped out.
Greater Resiliency of Resources
Institutions should be focused on improving the way they store, transfer and access data. The idea that resources need to serve the 24- hour student or institution is now essential. On-premise investment in data centers and hardware is rapidly becoming archaic. Cloud services have become easily accessible and affordable and can be accessed from anywhere. Migration of core resources, your institution’s student information systems, single sign-on services, learning management system, degree audit, virtual instructional spaces or your Portal as your single point on the web for all services. In an environment where your students come from anywhere, all services must be accessible around the clock to meet student expectations. On-premise data centers and the staffing to support 24-hour a day monitoring and support, (not to mention the investment for redundancy) have become cost prohibitive. Cloud storage or hosted solutions improve data management, access and provide resilient disaster recovery and business resumption platforms.
Leveraging Virtual Classrooms and Online Learning Resources
Virtual classrooms and labs, terminal services and virtual desktops — call them what you will — they’re now essential in delivering instruction during the height of closures. Many institutions invested a substantial amount of their HEERF (Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds) into classroom and employee audiovisual infrastructure. Now moving forward, virtual classrooms are essential in meeting the expectations of a responsive learning environment. Be it asynchronous online learning to meet the needs of working students or streaming to meet the requirements of synchronous instruction during a brief closure, the virtual learning environment is here to stay. Hosted video and conferencing solutions are also essential in facilitating and managing not only online courses, but remote employees as well. They enable real-time collaboration and communication among students, staff and instructors — making it easier to learn remotely and reduce the need for travel. They also provide collaborative space for students beyond the classroom.
Collaboration and Data-Driven Decisions
Often, larger hosted product suites provide overlapping services with smaller boutique applications. Using data and metrics to drive decisions about how to use these tools improves your organization’s productivity. The more you know about your organization and how it uses technology, the better you can use it to your advantage. Is there an eighty-percent solution with one service over another that can provide an opportunity to consolidate? To that end, building an assessment into your projects ahead of time provides a foundation for analysis. What is the matrix by which you will collaborate and determine success, or failure with relevant stakeholders? Having that data, and those measures built with intention, in advance, will help in determining future investment for your institution. Focus on your goals and outcomes. This is especially important in the current state of the pandemic when many of the previously ‘typical practices and tools’ may no longer be viable solutions.
To create the best possible learning environment. The pandemic left a lasting impact on our education system and our institutions. There are expectations this whole new set of services be retained to enhance options to serve students. Resources, however, are not limitless. With a potential recession looming, and HEERF dollars expiring, competition for those resources and investments will become much more contentious. Having data to drive decision-making will aid leadership and governance groups in their deliberations. By building in assessments, we aid in streamlining and potentially amplifying select resources, enabling the best possible learning environment for our current and future students. And in doing so, we create more engaging, interactive and efficient learning environments.