5 technologies that will help colleges meet digital-age students’ expectations

A look at how universities are--and should--use predictive analytics, nudge technology, and more

Most students entering college have grown up with digital technology. It touches nearly every aspect of their lives, and they view it as a critical requirement for a quality education. So, it should come as little surprise that students expect advanced technology at the center of nearly every key administrative and educational process.

Indeed, 87 percent of U.S. students consider the technology savviness of colleges to be important when applying for admission, according to a recent Ellucian-Wakefield Research survey, and 97 percent say technologies supporting their education outside the classroom are just as important.

Not only that, modern students have been conditioned as digital consumers to expect a certain level of personalized service from their favorite schools. They want to see that their school has invested time in figuring out their needs, has assembled ideas or programs to address them, and is sending tailored communications that feel as if the institution really knows them.

Such expectations were almost impossible to meet in the analog world; it took too much precious time to tailor programs and communications for every student. But in the digital world, you can automate everything and still have personal touchpoints with individual students—making them feel special and unique.

Here are five technologies higher ed should adopt to meet modern-day “tech-pectations.”

1. Predictive analytics
The ability to extract meaningful insights from data sets to spot outcomes and trends, predictive analytics can help institutions keep students on track throughout their scholastic journeys.
This is critically important for institutions because by 2020, 65 percent of jobs in the United States will require a postsecondary credential. Yet in 2013, only about 40 percent of working-age Americans had one. As such, colleges and universities face intense pressure to improve retention and completion rates.

Predictive analytics can raise the likelihood students will get the classes they need to graduate by identifying likely demand for certain topics based on historical course-taking patterns and suggesting a need to either add or eliminate scheduled courses.

The technology can also determine which courses a student can take, based on history, to maximize their odds of doing well in their major. Going forward, predictive analytics tools are expected to eventually help schools identify when students might be at risk of dropping out based on factors such as waning attendance, lack of engagement with course work, or even their work or commute schedules.

Predictive analytics in higher education is still in the early stages of implementation, but analysts indicate it’s a top consideration for most college and university CIOs.

2. Artificial intelligence (AI)
AI is another technology that, while still in its early stages, appears poised to transform higher ed in significant ways.

Gartner defines AI as “technology that appears to emulate human performance typically by learning and coming to its own conclusions.” We’re all familiar with it. Every time Amazon suggests we look at a new product based on our shopping history, that’s AI. When we engage with our Alexa on our Amazon Echo and she recommends a new movie or restaurant, that’s AI too.

Universities are already beginning to use AI algorithms to personalize learning and deliver content they’ve adjusted to student needs and their pace of consuming information. At the University of Michigan, AI is making it possible for students to get immediate feedback on their writing. An automated text-analysis program reviews student work to identify strengths and recommend revisions.

AI can also provide a conversational interface with students, helping to answer common questions they have for administrators, such as “When is the first day of school?” or “How do I enroll in classes this quarter?” By building automated responses into telephone lines, web sites, virtual digital assistants, and other channels students use, AI can help institutions save time and trim costs. And by using AI to add special touches to interactions, like “Hi Bob, I noticed you haven’t enrolled in classes yet; would you like to talk about that or something else?” institutions can also address student desires for more personalized service.

eSchool Media Contributors