How to digitally transform higher ed without coding

Higher education has been on a tear in recent years, racing to digitize processes once held sacrosanct, such as libraries, curricula, and centuries of collections. But higher-ed institutions still struggle to keep pace with digital transformation in many core operational systems, particularly those managing the student lifecycle—from recruiting to student records to alumni fundraising.

Fierce competition for technical resources, scarce funding, and entrenched legacy systems can make it difficult to shake the dust off of internal processes. Kenneth C. Green, founding director of the Campus Computing Project, said that “if he had to give campus IT a grade, he’d give it a C-plus or a B-minus at best,” in an interview with Inside Higher Ed.

Off the shelf, few applications (old or new) cater to the varied and complex needs of educational institutions. The lack of IT resources, coupled with the reluctance of vendors to allow customizations, makes adaptation of existing systems untenable. So universities end up settling for applications that meet only a portion of their needs, and must try to “bolt on” other solutions and customizations as best they can. Over time, this creates thorny problems with maintenance, and typically deteriorates usability, increasing the odds that users will abandon the costly software (or at least complain very loudly).

So how can a higher education institution:

● Deliver personalized apps for students, professors, and administrators to accomplish their goals simply and easily?
● Replace or transcend monolithic core systems with adaptable, agile systems?
● Reduce or even eliminate costs for customizations?

An extensible, no-code platform can make it all happen, more quickly and less expensively than you might imagine. Berklee College of Music in Boston and World Maritime University in Sweden have already seen success, along with many others. With the right no-code platform schools can create and modify completely custom enterprise software without writing a single line of code—drastically reducing barriers to innovation.


6 ways schools can offer wallet-friendly three-year degree programs

A three-year bachelor’s degree may help students dodge some of the increasingly burdensome debt associated with higher education–that is, if the programs can get off the ground.

At least 32 institutions offer programs that help students graduate in three years, and more colleges and universities are expected to follow suit. Many of these three-year degree programs have existed for more than 10 years, notes Paul Weinstein Jr., a senior fellow of the Progressive Policy Institute and director of the Graduate Program in Public Management at Johns Hopkins University, in a report detailing the trend toward three-year bachelor’s degrees.

“American college students are facing a triple whammy–out-of-control college costs, record levels of student debt, and declining real earnings for college graduates,” Weinstein contends in the report, yet lawmakers haven’t taken any real action to remedy the issue.

But while the motive behind three-year degree programs is encouraging, the programs themselves are not–” if one were to assign a grade to the current crop of three-year bachelor’s degree programs, it would be an ‘F,'” Weinstein writes.

The primary reason for this poor performance? Many three-year degree programs try to squeeze four years of learning into three years, meaning they appeal primarily to a few highly motivated students and have small adoption rates–between 2 percent to 19 percent, according to research cited in the report.


3 ways technology has evolved the lecture

Interactive flat panel displays (IFPDs) have become increasingly common in educational environments, thanks in part to the technology’s flexibility and ongoing evolution. IFPDs let us easily share information with more devices in more ways seemingly every day. As a result, university users are making the most out of their IFPDs, from connecting to smartphones to help turn a lecture into a dialogue to syncing with a learning management system (LMS) to hash out a group project in real time, regardless of participants’ location.

As IFPDs’ feature sets continue to grow, it can be easy to think about what they can do in the abstract (connecting with smartphones or other IFPDs, for instance) instead of how they can actually help in the classroom (making it easier for students to participate and collaborate). Recently, we worked with a customer whose architecture school was still using overhead projectors and wanted to make a change. When working with potential customers, I like to talk about how their school can put the technology to work so people can see how IFPDs are empowering digital classrooms. Here are three key examples:

1. Everybody in. Multiple students can use the whiteboard at once, using built-in text and shapes to call out specific areas and a pen to add or highlight key details of their architectural drawings with more precision than a fingertip or felt-tip pen. This allows collaborative teams and/or instructors to enter a dialog, making changes and responding to one another in real time.

Previously, classes gathered around desks and used tracing paper placed over architectural drawings to mark up their changes. From there, the professor would walk to each desk to critique the markups. Now, they make changes and comment on and learn from them in real time.


3 higher ed experts share their blended learning advice

With a growing non-traditional student population, many colleges and universities are looking to blended learning technology and strategy to meet their pedagogical needs. But finding a combination of online and in-person components that match the expectations of both students and faculty can be daunting. Thankfully, higher ed’s collaborative culture makes networking and sharing expertise with other IT professionals easier.

On March 1st, the higher ed IT Professional’s Meetup gathered at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., to discuss how attendees could find the right blend for their university’s blended learning offerings. A panel of industry experts came together: Eric Palson, director of academic technologies at Babson College; Kristen Palson, director for Simmons Online at Simmons College in Boston; and Gaurav Shah, director of academic technologies at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass. Elmore Alexander, the dean of the Ricciardi College of Business at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Mass., moderated the discussion.

While blended learning environments may not be as ubiquitous as other programs in higher ed, they are growing in popularity and have proven successful at some institutions. “This is an important topic for schools of all sizes,” said Babson’s Palson. “With so many options for learners, including free education, to be able to create online and blended offerings in an efficient, scalable way that ensures a quality learning experience is critical right now.” Palson has more than 15 years of creating online and blended content and applications; his team at Babson runs six online or blended programs, with nine expected to be live this fall.

Different types of blended offerings

Blended programs differ greatly, based on the school’s budget, infrastructure, and stakeholder expectations. At Babson, it’s a combination of face-to-face and fully online time, with the potential for synchronous work as well. Bentley University has a hybrid program, which Shah defines as an in-person classroom with a synchronous online component. Bentley also has an online degree completion course, which relies much more heavily on asynchronous work with some synchronous components. The Simmons team, which offers nine online or blended programs, partners with 2U to help bring their programs online at a larger scale than the programs they design and support in-house.

The experts offered several lessons on how to build, implement, and support a blended learning program that exceeds expectations. Here are some of their major takeaways.

1. Start with a thorough understanding of stakeholder needs and expectations. Shah explained that when Bentley created its hybrid program in 1999, one of the first steps was to survey students to gauge their interest in the program. “They all loved it,” he said. “They jumped at the idea. Without that need, we wouldn’t have even gone there.”


How we improved decision making at Indiana University

You don’t have to look far to understand that data is arguably an organization’s most valuable asset. The Economist declared that “The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data,” while Facebook is being scrutinized over its handling of data and how it may have been used to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. However, many higher education institutions fail to recognize the value of the data they hold beyond their day-to-day operational needs.

In 2015, Indiana University embarked on the Decision Support Initiative (DSI). Our goal was to improve decision making at all levels of the university by dramatically enhancing the availability of timely, relevant, and accurate information to support decision makers.

Higher ed institutions produce an abundance of data from our systems of record (financial, student, HR, learning management, etc.) that are valuable to inform decision makers, but often the data is not accessible in a timely manner for the people who need it. Decision makers rely on analysts that “know the data,” where to find it, and how to massage it for the question of the day. The result? One-time solutions that must be recreated many times, based on the personal knowledge analysts have acquired, with varying results. DSI strives to put information directly in the hands of decision makers, using well-curated and documented data sources so they may make data-informed decisions.

Cultural change
Indiana University has historically had a distributed structure and culture for decision support. In most cases, units have done their own decision support using self-service capabilities against a central data warehouse. Data has been amassed from our systems of record and modeled with the hope that all the institution’s questions can be answered. In practice, a large portion of our data warehouse is never used and only those analysts with appropriate privileges are granted access, forcing us to rely on those who “know the data.”


The villain cheating students and faculty

There is a pervasive villain that strikes at the very heart of higher education. Its wound is painless yet powerful; victims don’t even know their academic life has been crippled until it’s too late.

There has been much gnashing of teeth and angst about the rapid rise in cost of textbooks and course materials. Some statistics show an 80 percent increase in prices over a 10-year period, with students spending an average of $1,200 each year on hardcopy textbooks and supplies.

To help curb costs, a market of used and rental textbooks has emerged that offers titles at more reasonable prices. However, the used market has actually made the problem worse, forcing prices of new books to rise even higher because publishers can now only generate revenue on the initial sale of the first edition of each title.

Enter our pernicious villain, also known as “The Maze”—a confusing and complex course-materials marketplace that ambushes students at the beginning of their freshman year.

Students are unknowingly ensnared in The Maze when they first stop into the college bookstore to collect required books prior to the start of classes. They may be shell-shocked by the prices, but feel they have no alternative but to purchase the materials.

By the second semester, the villain’s trap begins to work. Instead of going to the college store before classes start, students explore the larger textbook market. The options are seemingly endless: campus college store, local bookstore, Amazon, Chegg, publisher direct, innumerable online retailers, and more.

Many students opt to wait until after classes begin before deciding which materials to purchase. They miss assignments or force faculty to delay teaching more substantive subject matter. Now both professors and students are stymied by The Maze.


5 ways to connect high schoolers with higher ed

What is the fundamental difference between high school and college? I would say it is the independence and freedom in learning. High school students gear their efforts toward exams and transcripts. They don’t focus their time on processing large volumes of reading, picking apart flaws in an author’s argument, and generating their own ideas. But this is the beauty of college if students know how to handle it well. So giving them tools and relationships they need to succeed in colleges is critically important.

Based on my experience mentoring high-caliber high school students in a rigorous research process through The Pioneer Research Program, here are five ways that educators can connect with students and help them prepare for the next stage of their academic careers.

1. Engage with students closely
For the past few years, I’ve served as an online research mentor to groups of high school students through Pioneer Academics. I work with only three or four students at a time, and these small classes help foster a real connection. I can really get to know everything about students on a deeper level.

While mentoring these students, I spend quite a bit of time interacting with them about politics via the program’s learning management system, but I also help field their questions about college applications and personal statements. I couldn’t do that with a class of 20, but I can do that with a class of four. I can devote time to them and offer them a perspective on their work and their college applications that they may not be getting elsewhere.

2. Challenge high schoolers to work with undergraduate materials
The material I deliver to my high school students is exactly the same as in my college classes. For example, we use Arend Lijphart’s Patterns of Democracy, the same text I use in my comparable upper-division Rice seminar. I take a subset of the modules from my Rice course for juniors and seniors and use it with my high schoolers.


Real-time info makes campus maps more high tech than ever

Gone are the days of the static campus map. Today, campuses of all size and type—from massive public universities to prep schools and urban city colleges—are integrating real-time data feeds into their campus maps.

As the internet of things (IoT) continues to heat up and more campus departments and technologies are connected, I anticipate seeing a lot more of these integrations down the road.

Below are several exciting applications that can integrate into a campus map platform, mobile apps, and other areas to make it easier for students, staff, faculty, and visitors.

1. Real-time parking lot occupancy
Providing your college’s visitors with live parking feeds is an incredibly helpful tool. Finding parking is not only a frustration for the driver, but it also causes congestion and unnecessary pollution on campus. With live parking lot feeds, visitors can easily see which lots are full as well as those filling up and wide open—as they approach campus.

Live parking feeds are also incredibly helpful for event-day and construction staff directing traffic and parking. Arizona State University has integrated real-time parking lot occupancy data into its campus map. By looking at the feed, visitors can see the status of a specific parking lot and make a split-second decision. The lots are color coded: green for low occupancy, yellow for filling up, and red for full.

Live parking data integration gives admissions, marketing, and facilities officials the ability to redirect visitors on-the-fly and also to indicate when a particular lot is closed for a special event or construction, among other uses. Map visitors can select a specific lot to see the exact number of spaces available and anyone with a mobile device can head to the campus map and immediately see available parking.

2. Transit
Because of limited parking, many campuses encourage the use of public or mass transit. In partnership with Ride Systems, a technology company, real-time transit feeds can be integrated into the campus map. The system uses GPS tracking to provide users with the ability to view bus/shuttle routes, see the exact location of buses, and estimated times of arrival.

Rice University in Texas was one of the first to use the live transit feature on its interactive campus map. Riders love having real-time bus information and routes easily accessible on mobile devices.


5 ways for universities to build corporate partnerships

When it comes to higher education and corporate partnerships, it’s not a “nice to have;” it is mission-critical for colleges and universities to survive. The job market is evolving so quickly that institutions need a steady stream of information from employers on what they want and need from their workforce so curriculum and learning can reflect those needs.

The key here is “partnership.” Think quality over quantity. Both sides—institutions and employers—are looking for return on investment (ROI), and these five approaches will help universities build impactful relationships with mutual benefits.

1. Identify your internal champions
First and foremost, understand internal champions of the institution. Many faculty members and trustees hold professional external positions and are willing to share the university’s mission and strengths with the outside world. Alumni have a broad reach when it comes to garnering support. LinkedIn is a great tool to easily identify where alumni are employed. The next step is to determine if those companies are recruiting your graduates for meaningful internships or full-time positions. If so, tap the alumni to develop or strengthen a relationship.

2. Understand what a corporate partner wants
What’s in it for them? Corporate partners should gain something from having a relationship with your university. Identify what they are looking for and create opportunities that are mutually beneficial: access to student talent and faculty research; a business case analysis as part of curriculum or a presentation in the classroom; participation in career fairs; or opportunities for broadbrand awareness on campus.


Here’s how one university overhauled its mailroom and print services

The typical campus mailroom configuration in 2018 consists of a bank of hundreds, if not thousands, of mostly empty P.O. boxes, a desk for package pickup, and a long line of students waiting to be served.

Clemson University had one such typical mailroom, with average wait times exceeding 40 minutes for students to pick up mail. It’s a common problem: A mailroom designed decades ago to handle mostly letters is struggling to adapt to an era when text messages have largely replaced letters and e-commerce is flooding a plugged-in generation of students with packages in unprecedented volumes. By partnering with Ricoh USA, Inc., to redesign its mailroom around the types of mail today’s students actually get, Clemson slashed the average wait time to just over one minute. These changes came as Clemson reinstated its on-campus print shop, which has in turn driven enough revenue to cover nearly 90 percent of the costs of both the print and mail changes.

Clemson has implemented electronic kiosks that allow students to retrieve their packages quickly and easily. These kiosks double as point of sale terminals, providing a similarly streamlined experience for students shipping outbound mail. They accept payment via student card, credit card, check, or cash, and even allow users to compare prices across FedEx, UPS, and the USPS. The revamped mail center also extended its hours to better suit students’ busy and often variable schedules, staying open during lunch and the early evening.