Higher ed is in the middle of a critical–yet often invisible–technological transformation, according to a new report from the Center for Digital Education (CDE).

Technologies such as augmented reality and artificial intelligence are hyped daily for their future impact, but higher-ed leaders must first prepare their campuses for these `technological revolutions.

A CDE survey finds that college and university leaders are focusing on transforming academics, securing students and data, improving student services, and modernizing IT. These for core areas, they believe, will establish a solid foundation to support future innovation on campus.

Within those four core areas, higher-ed leaders are focusing on 10 top priorities for 2018 that will help them lay the groundwork for future transformation:
1. In-classroom technologies
2. Digital content and curriculum
3. Cybersecurity
4. Online services/portal/mobile
5. Faculty/IT training
6. Budget/cost control
7. IT infrastructure
8. Campus security
9. Personalized online learning environments
10. Recruitment and retention of IT personnel

CDE surveyed 169 academic and IT leaders from two- and four-year institutions to learn how these leaders are focusing their efforts to bring their campuses into the future.

Transforming academics

Seventy percent of respondents in the CDE survey say improving student learning outcomes is their top challenge, and faculty know significant changes are needed to meet that challenge. New classroom technologies changing in order to better integrate with learning environments and help educators better understand how students learn. Focus is on not just in-person and blended classroom experiences, but also on improving online learning experiences. Digital content and curriculum–and the professional development necessary to help educators use them–have their place in evolving classrooms, too. Participants in the CDE survey say just 50 percent of faculty members can effectively incorporate technology into teaching.

Up next: Personalized learning environments and more individualized learning experiences will be made possible with new technologies, including virtual reality and the Internet of Things. Digital content and curriculum, classroom technology, and faculty training are all necessary to cultivate a personalized learning environment.

Improving student services

Institutions know they need to improve student services in the face of increased competition for students. Online services, such as portals and mobile apps, are important to this goal. For instance, mobile apps can offer admissions information, orientation schedules, activities, and map progress toward academic goals.

Up next: Technology will play an even bigger role in improving students’ experiences. For instance, leaders at Florida State University are looking to companies such as Disney and Netflix to create a completely new experience for students using artificial intelligence and data.

Securing students and data

Cybersecurity and physical security are both in the top 10 concerns for campus leaders. Education and campus community involvement are important to both security efforts.

Institutions are responsible for a vast amount of private data and personal information, but many are at risk for security breaches and attacks. Many institutions are partnering to create shared cybersecurity centers that monitor threats around the clock, while others are encouraging students and faculty to take extra steps to protect their data.

Up next: Security systems will evolve to feature AI-powered tools identifying suspicious behaviors. New technologies could help students wield more control over their academic credentials and data after graduation. Many ed-tech leaders recognize the importance of blockchain in creating secure digital records of learning and credentials.

Modernizing IT

CDE survey participants say that, on average, roughly half of their IT infrastructures need immediate investment, and this includes nearly all departments and business functions from email and financial systems to learning management and student information systems.

Data management is an especially challenging area, and just 8 percent of surveyed leaders say their institutions manage data in a highly effective manner.

Up next: Using advanced analytics systems could inform and improve decision-making, and these systems are particularly important as campus leaders move to create smart campuses.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura

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