Learn how to make your campus-to-campus videoconferences immersive

Higher-ed instructors are always looking for new ways to make their courses more attractive, engaging, and convenient for students. Doing so helps institutions remain competitive and ensures they are meeting students’ needs. One way that many colleges do this is by using videoconferencing technology to connect far-away classrooms or campuses to each other to provide better access to courses.

A basic videoconference is fine, but students want a more immersive experience when they are paying to learn. That’s why Rutgers University in New Jersey used AV technology to take our videoconferencing program to the next level through our “Immersive Synchronous Lecture Initiative.”

We launched the initiative on our New Brunswick campuses to connect students in different buildings and on different campuses that are miles apart. Our university is unusually spread out; our New Brunswick students take busses between classrooms that are up to 10 miles apart. The Immersive Synchronous Lecture Initiative addresses this challenge and allows students on two different campuses to take the same lesson from the same instructor at the same time, while making it feel like they’re all together in the same room.

The tech behind the scenes
Here’s how it works. The Immersive Synchronous Lecture Initiative uses cameras and multiple high-definition, wide-screen Epson laser projectors to project a life-sized video of an instructor who is standing in Classroom A, onto a screen several miles away in Classroom B. The instructor’s image shows in Classroom B on a screen positioned in the spot where he or she would typically stand. This creates the illusion for students in Classroom B that the instructor is actually standing at the podium in their classroom.

Meanwhile, in Classroom A, the instructor can see the images of the Classroom B students, projected onto screens on the back wall, and can interact with them in real time. The cameras and screens are positioned in such a way that if the instructor points to the video image of someone in Classroom B, the student feels like the instructor is really pointing at him or her. An assistant is present in Classroom B to pass out handouts, administer exams, and make sure everything goes smoothly.


Transitioning to a new advising structure at Northern Arizona University

Transforming advising in support of student success with purpose, commitment, and technology that can support better sharing of data across multiple units has been the focus of Northern Arizona University’s (NAU) work in the Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success (iPASS) grant program through EDUCAUSE, with financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. NAU has approached the work in phases with a very deliberate student-centered approach and most notably has focused on enabling advisors to be successful in the new roles they are being asked to play.

On any campus, efforts to improve student success bring about significant change, purposefully touching many if not most departments of an institution. This process of change forces long-established processes to be changed, new communication across departmental boundaries to happen more transparently, and radically increased amounts of data to be shared, understood, and taken into account in order to guide and support students completing their degrees.

Ambitious goals for student success and retention are nothing new at NAU. A decade ago, a first-year advising center served a subset of students. But there were many other advisors throughout the campus working within the disparate schools and academic units. They recognized the value of working together informally and had a working group—and no formal system that would have enabled a consistent student experience.

As is most often the case at four-year institutions, students who had declared a major were transferred to advisors or the faculty of their major department, and those advisors had no defined relationship to the advising center, a student’s former advisor, or one another. In considering how to improve its retention rates, NAU brought in a retention consultant, who led them to recognize the advantages of a more formal structure for advising. An essential underpinning for this organizational change was a formal structure that would ensure uniform adoption of some of the new technologies being introduced at the institution. Thus, ensuring that the technologies and tools were adopted by all advising units, not only those who were eager to participate.

Northern Arizona made the decision to leverage the funds from a student success grant to bring in a new enterprise-wide platform to replace the various independent student information systems including academic advising notes, student affairs records, faculty alerts, and a curriculum planner. They implemented a customer relations management (CRM) software to host all of this information in a single system with the capacity to inform staff and faculty and empower them to coordinate advising interactions with students.

Beginning in early 2016, a nine-month period of developing and testing a new CRM platform marked the first step in the transition from many disparate systems into a single new platform. Recruiting, admissions, advising, mentoring, financial aid, and other student service offices all needed to be incorporated, their requirements considered, and their users trained. By the beginning of the 2016-2017 academic year, academic advisors began taking their notes in Salesforce, the new CRM, while advising notes taken in the legacy system were imported to maintain continuity of the record.


3 ways colleges are using technology to help students borrow less

Last month, a group of six senators introduced a bill designed to help prevent unnecessary student loan debt by encouraging greater transparency. The “Know Before You Owe Act” would, among other features, require colleges to counsel students on financial aid before they agree to expensive student loans.

And with good reason. The obligations of some 43 million student borrowers now exceed $1.3 trillion, having long ago surpassed credit card debt as the country’s second biggest source of personal debt. It’s a challenge that stems from the rising cost of higher education, but it’s exacerbated by the complexity of an aid system that puts a heavy burden on financial aid staff and can leave students and families guessing about the real cost of college.

Research suggests that one in five student-loan holders does not understand the terms of his or her loan, and about half of students can’t accurately identify the cost of their first year of college within $5,000. Brookings estimates that more than half of first-year students seriously underestimate how much they actually borrowed. And that lack of understanding can lead to overborrowing at critical points in a student’s higher-ed journey.

But as policy makers wrestle with the politics of reform, a growing number of institutions are tapping the potential of technology to create a process that’s more intuitive and transparent. They’re taking steps to help students make better-informed decisions and drive down borrowing. Here’s how these institutions are using technology to help students borrow less.

1. AI and machine learning automate drudgery
Important but monotonous tasks like chasing students down for financial-aid documents or sending and processing countless forms mean financial aid officials spend much of their time on routine, behind-the-scenes work. That means less time for important one-on-one conversations about the aid process.

Many of the more mundane tasks can be automated with the advent of natural language processing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Responding to routine student questions, for example, can be automated through the use of artificially intelligent chatbots. Such chatbots are already in use at Georgia State and Arizona State universities. The technology is meeting a real need: Georgia State University’s chatbot, “Pounce,” answered more than 200,000 questions during a three-month period.
AI won’t replace the critical interpersonal connections, but with digital support for routine inquiries, administrators have more time to invest in personalized counseling and advising. They can deploy time and tools to help students discover grants and scholarships.

2. Going mobile streamlines the process
Helping students make informed decisions begins with giving them the right information at the right time, and in the right format. For today’s students, that means their phones and other mobile devices. Today’s students spend four hours a day on their mobile devices, and more than three-quarters of students say they would like to receive relevant information from their colleges through text messages.


Here’s what higher-ed leaders should know about Generation Z students

Members of Generation Z say they vastly prefer video as a learning method, according to a new study that outlines similarities and differences among these learning and Millennials.

Beyond Millennials: The Next Generation of Learners, from Pearson and The Harris Poll, notes that Generation Z students, ages 14-23, have had their educational expectations shaped by technology in more ways than Millennials, ages 24-40.

Generation Z ranked YouTube second only to teachers as a learning tool. In fact, YouTube is ranked well ahead of lectures, in-person collaboration with classmates, learning applications, and books.

As much as Generation Z has embraced technology for social engagement, they very much still value an on-campus education experience. Compared to Millennials, 45 percent of whom seek out as many online courses as possible, only 26 percent of younger students say they would prefer taking as many online courses as possible.


Instructional designers share an evolving role, research finds

The demand for instructional design professionals in higher education has soared in recent years, due in part to an increase in online and blended courses across the U.S., according to new research.

A whitepaper from Elaine Beirne (Dublin City University) and Matthew P. Romanoski (The University of Arizona) takes a look at the growing field of instructional design in higher ed, and also explores the reasons behind the field’s growth and how instructional designers function in their role.

While the field of instructional design isn’t new, it has evolved over decades to meet unique and changing demands of faculty, institutions, and students.

More students, particularly nontraditional students with work and family obligations, are seeking more flexible learning formats. The 2017 Survey of Online Learning shows that nearly one-third of all higher-ed enrollments include at least one online course.


Survey: Employers should prepare workers for lifelong learning

More than half of respondents (56 percent) participating in a recent survey say they believe today’s employers are not adequately preparing workers with future-forward tech skills.

The survey, conducted by Researchscape for Coding Dojo, measures consumer attitudes about technology skills and offers insights into how employers can “upskill” the tech workforce and improve tech literacy.

The results come at a time when many colleges and universities have to prove their return on investment for students who are increasingly more eager to learn about cultivating skills and post-graduation career prospects than athletics programs or campus social life.

Many industry experts also predict that continued lifelong learning will be a key factor in a healthy future workforce. In fact, a new report from Jobs for the Future (JFF) and Pearson notes that a career path won’t have a single-job trajectory, but instead will require a lifetime of learning. Higher education will have to experience significant reform to create graduates equipped for such a workforce, the report’s authors claim.

Nearly all of those surveyed (90 percent) believe employers, and not individual workers, have the primary responsibility to improve their upskilling initiatives.

Fifty-seven percent of survey respondents don’t have any basic coding skills and 12 percent described themselves as “not at all” tech literate–struggling with basic tech like smartphones and social media.


Middle Tennessee State University: Pressing forward on the quest for student success

Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), a public research university of 22,000 students, is located in Murfreesboro, southeast of Nashville and almost exactly in the geographic center of Tennessee. Its student body is 50% Pell Grant eligible, 50% first generation, and 40% minority. It has recently received wide recognition for improvements in the rates at which its students persist from one year to the next. The improvement has been gradual, steady, and impressive: In fall 2012, MTSU’s rate of year-to-year retention was 65.2%; by fall 2016, it had risen to 76.4%. This represents the highest level of retention in the modern history of the institution.

How has this transformation come about?
MTSU made a strong commitment to student success—and followed through on it with a set of concrete steps to transform the ways in which it helps students achieve success. A little more than four years ago, MTSU advised its students in a traditional way. Advisors held meetings with students to ensure that they carried out the basic business transactions necessary to register themselves for the following semester’s classes. At these meetings, advisors had scant information at hand on their students’ backgrounds and experiences and they faced large caseloads of students, all of whom needed to see them in a short period of time. As a result, advisor-advisee meetings typically did not include discussions about how the proposed classes did or did not align with the student’s recent academic effort, progress toward completing a degree or a major, or career plans.

The model is quite different today. MTSU, recipient of a 2015 grant for Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success (iPASS), has been pressing forward in the pioneering use of data collection and sharing to maximize the potential of these advising relationships. In doing so, the institution has achieved significant increases in the rates at which students persist and, ultimately, complete degrees.

In 2014, MTSU joined the Education Advisory Board’s Student Success Collaborative (SSC). This enterprise-level technology enables the analysis of data relating both to the student and to the course over time, examining patterns of courses and mixes of courses as far back as the institution has data. Among the results of the analysis are predictive scores that allow administrators to look at the student body overall and identify the specific students most in need of help from their advisors. MTSU uses these data not only to identify and support the lowest spectrum of students but also to find and provide forward-looking assistance and advice to the larger cohort of students just above that spectrum. This larger grouping, an often-neglected group sometimes labeled the “murky middle,” is made up of students who have not yet left the institution but whom the data indicates are at risk of doing so in the immediate future. MTSU advisors and other student success specialists use the output of the technology to identify, reach, and monitor their assigned students before the first obvious markers of trouble, such as failing or not completing a class in the major or missing a success marker.

Using data to inform advising
Having such a powerful system in place to filter and analyze data is only a small piece of the puzzle, however. In order to utilize it successfully, the advising function itself must evolve to be data-informed. Getting the right people in place in advising roles and providing them with appropriate training are both equally important. As MTSU implemented the technology, the institution also committed to a substantial increase in the number of advisors it employed. Forty-seven new advisors were hired, allowing a reduction in the number of advisees that each was assigned. The increased numbers of advisors allowed for the creation of multiple distinct advising centers to address categories of student needs, from transactional to coaching/student support, and for the gradual evolution of advisor special expertise.

MTSU has also used its analysis of the wealth of data now available to develop and refine programs for student support. Here are just two examples of these:

1. The bridge program Scholars’ Academy.
An intensive two-week summer program on campus, the Scholars’ Academy Freshman Summer Institute is open to all first-year full-time students and particularly targets those who are first generation, members of minority groups, and/or Pell-eligible. The Institute is designed to prepare participants for college-level general education courses, to engage them in serious conversations about college, and to offer them connections to student support resources and valuable advice that will continue into their first year of study. Joining the Academy makes a significant difference for its students: Participants in the program have a one-year retention rate of 84.9 percent, which as of 2016 exceeded the 73.8 percent one-year rate rate for all other freshmen.

2. Peer-assisted supplemental instruction.
MTSU has used the extensive data available on course results to build meaningful learner support outreach through an expanding program of peer-assisted supplemental instruction. Data from the system allows staff easily to determine those courses in which rates of low or failing grades are especially high. They can then make peer-led study and discussion sessions available to students in the courses. The peer-led sessions incorporate content specific to a particular course section. From 30% to 60% of the students in a course with supplemental instruction available take advantage of it, and assessment shows average improvement of half to a full letter grade among students that participate. The supplemental instruction program served 21 course sections in fall 2016, expanded to nearly 70 sections in Fall 2017, and is expected to continue its expansion as learner support at MTSU evolves in the future.


10 ways colleges use analytics to increase student success

The success of higher education institutions depends on the ability to excel across the student life cycle. Regardless of the type, size, or focus of a college or university, they all strive to attract and enroll high-quality students, retain and graduate students, and maintain strong relationships with alumni.

One of the keys to realizing these outcomes is using analytics to go beyond reporting on what has happened in the past, to providing a best assessment on what will happen in the future. By applying analytics to student life cycle data, universities can generate deeper insight into students before they arrive, while they are on campus, and after they leave.

Higher-ed institutions that are already using advanced analytics in these areas have successfully transformed their processes, decision making, operations, and funding. Let’s look at how some of these innovative organizations are enhancing the student journey with analytics.

Recruitment and marketing
Universities face fierce competition for students. With increasingly restrictive budgets, recruitment officers need to focus their limited resources on the students most likely to enroll. Having a better understanding of the factors that lead to successful recruitment of a talented student requires analyzing the data of past students.

The University of Oklahoma did just that. It took a data-informed approach and created predictive models to assess the probability that an admitted student would enroll, then determined which actions recruitment officers should take. By narrowing the focus to a smaller list of students, recruitment officers could now pursue better prepared students–and use fewer resources to do it. As a result, the university had its largest and most academically prepared student body ever, including more National Merit students than any other public or private university.

As Oklahoma learned, analytics can help universities answer questions like this and more. Such as, which scholarships and amounts would not only attract select students, but also get them to apply and ultimately enroll? Are students with higher SAT scores more likely to be engaged throughout campus, perform better academically, and graduate? Are first-generation students more likely or less likely to get involved in campus? By answering questions like these, universities can tailor their recruitment and marketing efforts to enroll more successful cohorts of students.


The explosive growth of collegiate eSports, part 1

Nearly a year ago, SUNY Canton President Zvi Szafran was looking at ways to grow his athletic department. Statistics on student-athletes showed higher GPAs, higher retention rates, and higher graduation rates than the rest of the student body. Recruiting more of these academically successful students was a top priority, and President Szafran had come across an idea that was non-traditional but showed great promise.

Within a few short months, SUNY Canton added three eSports teams and was competing at the varsity level with a number of other forward-thinking colleges and universities around the country. eSports is growing exponentially (the numbers are staggering), and university athletic departments and administrators are taking notice.

In the first article of this three-part series about collegiate eSports, I’ll discuss how SUNY Canton built our eSports program. Stay tuned for parts two and three, which will show how teachers are developing curriculum to support the gaming workforce and what IT departments need to do to make eSports come to life.

The new digital athlete
Ten, five or even two years ago, the association between video games and athletics didn’t exist. Today, however, we’re recruiting and training eSports students that are changing the complexion of traditional college athletic teams.

Generation Z is often referred to as the first digital generation. They grew up using the internet, and according to Nielsen, 73 percent of them have video game consoles. They spend hours each week playing popular games like Fortnite and League of Legends, and, with the launch of Twitch in 2011, live-streaming parties became another new normal that helped pave the way for eSports.

But eSports isn’t just about playing games. Its popularity has opened the door to new career paths in game design and development, and the dream of working in the eSports industry or becoming a professional gamer is now a reality. In fact, Indeed job postings related to eSports are up 18 percent since last year and 57 percent since 2015.


How our campus supports active learning and collaboration

Active learning continues to be a hot topic in higher education and we have had many requests to help design spaces with technology to support that teaching style. Most instructional spaces at West Chester University in Pennsylvania are designed for bring your own device (BYOD) so that students and faculty can bring in their own computers, smartphones, or tablets. We wanted to provide tech that faculty, staff, and students can access from their personal devices, regardless of hardware platform, including our learning management system, Office 365/OneDrive, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), cloud printing, wireless presentation, mobile on-demand lecture capture, and mobile videoconferencing.

People can access all the tech we’ve implemented, but our concern was how would we help them recognize and adopt this tech? Although we send mass emails, host faculty and student orientations and training programs, and use digital signage and our webpages, we know this can lead to communication overload and the message can get lost.

The beauty of brand names
We all know what people are talking about when we say Kleenex, Band Aid, or Xerox—all brand names, not the actual products. We see the same thing in technology. Some classic examples are Google (web searching), Smart (interactive whiteboard), and Skype (for web conferencing). To make our technologies more recognizable, we used the branding approach.

Since we are the West Chester Golden Rams, most people are familiar with the Ram name and our mascot Rammy. We all have RamCards for ID and we can load them with RamBucks to pay for things on campus. Here are some of the names we’ve used to brand the technologies particularly useful for the many BYOD devices:

  • RamNet (wireless network)
  • RamCast (wireless presentation)
  • RamCloud (VDI)
  • RamPrint (cloud printing)

RamNet, our robust wireless network, is the foundation for the success of many of our new technologies that can communicate wirelessly. We needed to support an average of three devices per person and the concentration of devices is always much higher in classrooms so a dense wireless network is a standard in classrooms.