Here’s how some leading institutions are using technology to improve the campus experience for students, faculty, and staff

Improving the student experience means ‘meeting our students where they are’

Here’s how some leading institutions are using technology to improve the campus experience for students, faculty, and staff

As CIO of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, Raymond Lefebvre sees a key function of his job as “providing enhanced experiences using innovative technologies and approaches.”

In today’s hyper-competitive higher-education landscape, the ability to recruit and retain students and faculty is critical — and providing a seamless, high-quality campus experience is fundamental to meeting this goal. “Educational institutions that strategically and effectively respond to the needs of students, faculty, and staff … will survive and thrive,” Lefebvre observes.

Having grown up in a technology-charged world, the current generation of college students expects immediate access to services through their phone or a self-service web portal. Consumers have become accustomed to ordering food, scheduling a ride, and requesting other services instantly from the palm of their hand — and they’re coming to expect the same level of convenience from their experience both on and off campus.

Delivering on this premise requires a smart, interconnected campus IT infrastructure driven by mobile apps and self-service.

Consider these examples:
• Arizona State University’s Tooker House dormitory is equipped with Bluetooth-enabled laundry machines that eliminate a lot of the hassle involved in doing laundry. These smart devices allow students to see which washers and dryers are available in real time — and they automatically notify students when their laundry is done.
• Davidson College and the University of North Alabama are among the institutions that allow students to check out mobile devices through automated kiosks. The kiosks give students access to laptops or tablets at all hours of the day, without burdening administrative staff. When a laptop is returned to an empty bay, it’s connected to a power source so that it recharges automatically.
• Ohio State University is among a growing number of colleges and universities that have installed self-serve kiosks in their dining halls. These devices enable students to interact with a touchscreen display to view photos, descriptions, and nutritional information for each menu option — and then place their order online. The kiosks support hundreds of made-to-order recipes, and the menus can easily be changed or customized by food service staff. Because more than one student can place orders at the same time, the devices are speeding up food service lines, which is critical for students who are in a hurry.

Campus CIOs “should be integrative leaders,” Lefebvre says. They should work with their colleagues across all campus departments to design services and solutions that make it easier for stakeholders to live, work, teach, learn, and succeed.

“Our goal is to provide the best possible teaching, learning, and working capabilities to students, faculty, and staff,” he says, “because they deserve no less.”

Before joining UMass Boston, Lefebvre did just that as the CIO at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts. At Bridgewater State, he led the creation of a One-Button Studio, where students and faculty could record a presentation without knowing anything about technology — and he also developed an innovative “smart parking” feature for the university’s 7,000 students who commute, in which low-cost video cameras count cars as they enter or exit the parking lots and an app tells users where there are spaces available.

Lefebvre has brought this entrepreneurial spirit to UMass Boston as well, where he has launched a CloudPC virtual desktop platform, among other services. Leveraging Microsoft Windows VDI technology, the CloudPC service gives faculty and students access to physical teaching lab resources from the cloud anytime, anywhere, from any device.

For Chris Gill, CIO of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, improving the student experience means ensuring that students achieve the outcomes they want from their academic career. “In this age,” he says, “that’s going to mean that we become digitalized as well. We need to meet and empower our students where they are, not expect them to meet us where we are.”

At Drake, Gill has led the charge to improve the delivery of IT service by empowering stakeholders to resolve their own technology issues with the help of a knowledge base of articles and a self-service catalog. The university uses an IT service and project management platform called TeamDynamix to host these tools and enable both users and technicians alike to initiate service tickets, manage workflows, and track the status of service and project requests from a smart phone or other mobile device.

In addition, the university is redesigning and automating other important business processes to increase efficiency and is investing heavily in customer relationship management tools at many phases of the student lifecycle. By empowering stakeholders to help themselves, while also streamlining and automating key processes, Drake University is serving students and faculty more effectively, which has resulted in greater satisfaction as measured in annual campus surveys.

“There’s not a single academic or administrative process taking place on our campuses today that isn’t defined and constrained by the technology that underlies that process,” Gill says. “Our jobs as CIOs are no longer about managing technology, but rather about managing change. How do we help our communities adapt to the changes that new technologies require of us, and how can we empower them to embrace the sustained pace of change in a digital world?”

To answer these questions, Drake has developed an effective system of IT governance and has implemented a mature IT project management system. It is redesigning key business processes and dedicating resources to effective communication. “Those don’t sound cool or cutting edge,” Gill says, “but they are the foundation that enables our institution to adapt and change.”

Looking ahead, he says, the next barrier to overcome in improving the student experience will be enabling data interoperability.

“Our big opportunity (and challenge) will be to bring data together from the many standalone systems we support,” he concludes, “and use all of that data more effectively and proactively to improve student outcomes.”

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