How can Universities Thrive in the Digital Age?


Higher Education

If you were asked to imagine yourself sat in a university lecture, what would you think of?

If you’re picturing a theatre full of students and a stage occupied by a single lecturer with a PowerPoint behind them, you wouldn’t be alone. Now what would you imagine if I asked you to think of the same scenario in 20 years’ time? Will there even be such a thing as a bricks and mortar university? Will lectures evolve into a digital portal of resources? Will the next generation of students even have the opportunity to make university friends?

For more than a century, the way universities were run didn’t change much at all. Of course, the technology we’ve come to rely on has evolved, but the basic model of a person giving lectures in a big room then marking tests on their speeches has existed for centuries. But is this all about to change?

Over the past few years, open online courses which are often free or offered at a low cost fee to students around the world, has been causing major disruption in higher education. Research has shown that it’s as effective for students to use a combination of online courses and traditional in-classroom instruction as it is to just have classes in person so where does this leave traditional universities?

In 1997, renowned management philosopher, Peter Druckeri was interviewed by Forbes when he made this rather bold statement:

Thirty years from now the big university campuses will be relics. Universities won’t survive…Today’s buildings are hopelessly unsuited and totally unneeded.”

Well here we are, 21 years on from when Druckeri first made this statement and I think it’s fair to say that not only are universities surviving, they’re booming, evolving and reinventing themselves to meet and even exceed the needs of today’s students. So what does the university of the future look like now we’ve established it’s not dead and buried?

Universities are now evolving into Digital Campuses. Virtual and augmented reality is being used to give prospective students a richer digital experience before and during open days. Artificial intelligence is being deployed to intelligently, accurately and rapidly respond to queries coming in online or over the phone and telepresence solutions are being used to support better remote working.

Let’s take a closer look at how these technologies are being used to drive this wave of innovation.

Campuses are getting smarter (and we don’t just mean they’re looking better)

Campuses are transforming into smarter places to both work, learn and live. IoT Connected classrooms are adapting to personalised settings to prepare the room for different faculty members, monitoring attendance and invigilating exams will soon be automated and made more robust.

This development in technology will also enable smart campuses to adopt advanced systems to automatically monitor and control every facility. Universities will be able to monitor parking spaces, building alarms, room usage, heating and lighting with ease, not only making them more efficient but reducing costs and improving the student experience.

Taking teaching outside of the Lecture room

For decades it has been understood that people learn at different speeds and using different methods and yet universities are still largely using the same techniques and resources to teach but this is all about to change.

As educational AI develops, students will be able to study where they want, when they want and using whatever platform they want. This is likely to mean that tablets and mobile phones will become the main delivery methods.

Universities are already using AI-enabled smart building concepts to redesign learning spaces. Modern “smart” classroom spaces are now generally equipped with circular tables, laptops, flat screen monitors, multiple projectors, and whiteboards to encourage and support collaborative and engaged active learning. This helps educators move away from a traditional classroom set-up, to a more interactive style of working, to encourage deeper learning approaches. And this will start to include more hybrid methods of learning – such as both face-to-face and online interactions.

Improving Student Outcomes using big data

Initial research carried out by education technology consultancy, Portal, has shown that non-traditional students and international students are much more susceptible to a sudden drop in academic performance and attendance than traditional students. Universities such as London South Bank, has a high proportion of mature, minority and part-time students meaning they need the ability to pick up on any drastic changes in student behaviour.

By harnessing the power of big data, 7 departments at London South Bank University are piloting the scheme and pooling all their data in order to get a better understanding of when a student is getting better or worse at completing their course.

How is the UK education sector building the campus of the future?

Technology is playing a crucial role in supporting the next wave of delivering education, but the right platform has to be in place to enable this game-changing innovation.  

In particular, Cloud-based IT is transforming the art of the possible and is delivering a step change in terms of agility for those organisations that are able to adopt the modular and scalable approach. New ideas can now be tried out with a minimum of upfront investment, and this reduction in the ‘cost of curiosity’ means that trying to predict the future is becoming almost impossible. It is far more important to invest in gaining the true agility that comes as a result of being able to rapidly respond to changing market conditions and take advantage of the new opportunities presented in the digital age.

ANS has partnered with many of the UK’s leading Universities to build the foundations to enable change in an agile and cost-effective way.

We make end-to-end IoT solutions easy to adopt, integrate and scale and can support you in turning the big data from your sensors into intelligent decisions to transform the way you deliver the teaching experience. This is underpinned by our cloud-native application development capabilities which can help you leverage cutting edge technology to deliver seamless functionality to your users and students.

To see how ANS are helping the University of Staffordshire to enhance its digital learning experience and become a truly 24-hour university, read the press release here.

Posted by Helen Thomas