Paul Oppenheimer, CIO, and Sue Bolt, Director Planning & Resources, RMIT University
The role of technology in a tertiary educational setting is rapidly evolving. Meeting expectations requires more than maintaining operational performance levels and requires a deep and broad partnership with staff and students in exploring and creating experiences that matter.
In earlier times, students carried primary responsibility for learning, with the lecture being the main form of knowledge transmission. Importantly, the institution granting the qualification mattered. But lines are now blurring, with many large organizations moving at pace to disrupt traditional educational settings.
In this environment, how do you best compete, innovate and differentiate? Further, how do you deliver value that will surpass others that occupy adjacent, rapidly evolving industries? And how does the role of the IT department need to adapt to not only remain relevant but to play an increasingly integrative role in positioning long standing institutions for enduring success?
Students shaping learning
University students increasingly recognize that they are powerful purchasers of knowledge, skills and credentials they can trade in the labor market.
Less than a decade ago the term “customer” was seen as antithetical to the university sector. Today, in an economy where goods and services are even harder to delineate, we see the co-production of services, where experiences are just as much shaped by the expectations of the consumer as by service staff. In effect, we are moving to empower students to create their own product and derive value from their personal experience.
Working with students and academics in designing technological solutions to enhance their experience and outcomes -such as the provision of online communities to support meaningful interaction with peers, tutors and industry mentors-is a wonderful opportunity for collaboration.
Technology leaders can partner with university professional staff and academics alike to better understand the changing student landscape; to keep pace as students seek (and demand):
• Inspiring teaching, linked with industry
• Sophisticated digital platforms
• Immersive learning experiences
• Practice-based learning and projects
• Flipped classroom experiences (where students first gain exposure to new material outside class, with class time then used to assimilate that knowledge)
• Ongoing and fruitful connections with their peers, throughout their studies and as engaged alumni
• Unbundled credentials delivered in bite-sized chunks, recognized via digital badging
• More IT and digital content, enabling them to move in and out of formal educational settings depending on life circumstances
CIOs must lean into the space alongside academics and researchers (who are often themselves at the forefront of educational technologies) and support start-up practices to initiate “learn-fast, fail-fast” cultures in-house and with industry partners.
IT departments must adapt to be creative disruptors, engaging with the business to identify opportunities to add value, create frictionless student experiences and demonstrate partnership models to deliver at scale in an agile manner.
Importantly, communicating effectively and illustrating the benefits of integrating digital technology alongside changing business practices can be the proof point for delivering business strategy and keeping competitors at a (disadvantaged) distance.
Applying acute focus and incremental innovation, and finding a mechanism for staff across the university to work together in deeper ways, should become the norm. Identifying exciting new ways to engage students is critical, as they’re the best advocates for innovation.
Tertiary education now operates on a globalised scale, and the unprecedented influence and reach of information and communication technologies is integral to its growth trajectory.
Institutions like RMIT compete with others to supply education, credentials and knowledge more broadly. Growth in international education is increasingly occurring online and through offshore partnership arrangements, as well as the traditional Australian on-campus model.
More than ever, government and societal impacts influence both opportunities and student choices for their future careers. Understanding the world that surrounds students requires us to observe and listen, crowd source ideas, prototype tools and applications and reflect this reality back into their worlds.
Examining student journeys and pain points further helps us focus our attention and investment where it delivers real value. We know that students continue to seek to belong and to meaningfully engage—primarily with their academic program, but also with their cohort. These relationships matter.
Technology and assistive analytics can drive effective interventions that build meaningful connections, starting well before students come through the real or virtual doors. We can empower students to more seamlessly develop peer networks and friendships, create links with academics, access critical information, shape realistic expectations, improve skills and develop their confidence levels. Through this, the IT department contributes to delivering on the university’s commitment to creating life-changing educational experiences that prepare them for life and work.