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Insights into Higher Education IT: A Renewed Focus on Students

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Institutions of higher education are complex. Universities with physical campuses have always had to consider how best to support not only traditional curriculum, but also workflows in healthcare, finance, personal banking, retail and even services like security and law enforcement that we think of as local government.

Traditionally, IT decisions around these varied services have been siloed. Departments had budgets and made purchases. Most seemed satisfied. But over the past couple of years, I’ve heard a different strategy begin to emerge. A student-first IT mentality that maybe, just maybe, will transcend campus silos.

How do students want to learn? How can universities equip students with a more complete set of job skills that companies are demanding?  How is a changing student demographic—that is tilting toward adult and online learning—best supported?

Common Goals to Accelerate Objectives

Recently, VMware has engaged more closely with EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association and one of the foremost communities of IT leaders and educause logoprofessionals committed to advancing higher education in the U.S. We share a common goal: EDUCAUSE’s website states it is “to advance higher education through the use of technology.” And after attending a number of EDUCAUSE  conferences in the first three months of 2016, it’s clear change is on everyone’s mind.

Universities I met across the U.S. are challenging traditional teaching models and looking for progressive ways to deepen learning for traditional brick and mortar students and online learners alike.  To do it, they must consider closely the needs of both traditional and adult learners—two groups with very different situations—and consult with companies, parents and others.

An Outside-In Approach: Students as Teachers, Faculty as Coaches

This outside-in approach is a way for universities to more closely align student skills with the demands of future workplaces and employers. To drive innovation and entrepreneurship, it’s an effort at meeting the needs of students head-on, rather than assuming that traditional teaching models incorporate everything students need to succeed in their chosen careers (or in their lives). This new teaching and learning strategy is reaching across disciplines, faculties, departments, students, IT departments, instructional design experts, administrators and staff.

[Related: Colegio Mirasur Prepares Students for Technology Influenced World]

Putting the focus back on students has the power to bring everyone together, so they move forward with a common vision. It has the opportunity to bridge the gap between the campus silos we see today.

At EDUCAUSE’s annual ELI conference, I was intrigued to hear discussion about the challenges and opportunities related to turning a significant part of learning and teaching over to students. Educators debated the position of faculty and how professors would assume a new role—as guide and coach, rather than leader—the majority of the time. Aptly named “flipping the classroom,” it gives significant control over to students and has proven to help them achieve more than expected and engage in deeper learning.

At these regional EDUCAUSE events, instructional design teams and CIOs have explored topics such as competency-based learning (learn more at cael.org), micro-credentialing (a nice overview by blogger Krista Moroder can be found here) and badges (check out openbadges.org). What is clear is that nearly all IT professionals in higher education are recognizing the need to address shifting demographics—adult learning is a major force—reduced enrollment and corporate cries for more prepared students with specific skill sets. Technology, now more than ever, is critical to learning success.

More Agile & User-friendly IT

At EDUCAUSE’s Nercomp event this week, Terri-Lynn Thayer, University Research Director at Gartner, advocated for a fluid, open and agile enterprise architecture to meet the challenges of shifting demographics, private sector competition and globalization. Attendees were incredibly engaged, and in the end, the biggest question on their minds was, “How do we move things forward? Where do we begin?”

cal poly higher education airwatch mobilitySome institutions like California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), the University of Cincinnati, North Carolina State University and Menlo College are already ahead. They’ve been looking at improving outcomes from the student perspective and using easy-to-use workspaces to address multiple scenarios—teaching and learning, sporting events, computing labs, finance, business office, and admission professionals.

[Related: Cal Poly Enhances Campus Life with Mobile Technology and mPOS Secured by VMware AirWatch]

Now with the introduction of VMware Workspace ONE, we can have even more meaningful discussion about tackling user, device and application management through a single, secure and simple-to-use digital workspace. Our user-centric and nimble approach, as described by Noah Wasmer, is powering the VMware Secure Digital Backpack solution for higher education. If your institution is looking to move toward a more student-centered approach, let’s talk soon.

Preston Winn

Preston Winn is the director of education solutions and product marketing for End-user Computing at VMware.

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