The right partnerships can spur innovation and digital transformation on physical and virtual campuses--learn how increased diversity is possible

ASU+GSV: How digital transformation can cultivate diversity on campus

The right partnerships can spur innovation and digital transformation on physical and virtual campuses--learn how increased diversity is possible

It’s fair to say the strategic priorities, not just of Rice but most institutions, have definitely changed in a decade. What priorities are on the map today that didn’t exist 10 years ago?
It’s exciting being in the right place, at the right time, with the right opportunity. One of the things that’s been a constant is that it’s incredibly fast-paced. How do you make a long-term strategic plan when the ecosystem is so dynamic? One thing Rice committed to early is that we’re going to experiment. I think we’ve really wanted to learn by doing, and that’s stood us in good stead.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the types of online learners at Rice? How have their needs been different and/or changed?
Five years ago our [undergrad] students were very focused on the residential experience. They love that still, but particularly in the summer semester, which we launched entirely online in last 3 years–what we’ve learned is that our residential undergrads love having the online summer semester delivered by Rice. It increases their sense of mental well-being during the year because they’re not piling on quite as many credits, and it allows them to keep learning while doing other things in summer. At the professional masters level, we’re seeing a much more diverse student body as result of our online student masters program. Rice has had a long-term abiding commitment to access and diversity in all forms. That said, we’re a selective institution with a history of the full-time residential student as our phenotype, and that is not as friendly to a truly diverse student body. The online degrees we’ve [launched] have really diversified our student body. That’s been one of the most exciting outcomes of this.

The last two years have been pretty wild, but particularly for the digital landscape and space. What are you most excited about, considering where we are today? What have we learned from the last two years with respect to digital transformation?
Our faculty and our students all got a crash course in online education. Tt moved with light speed from being peripheral to the student experience to being absolutely central. It’s now part of our resilience strategy–all kinds of events that can interrupt education and suddenly, we have a whole different response system to that. That’s very much a reactive way of thinking about it. But I think it’s instructive, because what it shows us is that our faculty are comfortable with online delivery, and that was not the case before COVID. As a comprehensive posture, we’ve really evolved pretty dramatically. I was talking to a colleague the other day and he said he misses some of the online capabilities now that he’s back in face-to-face instruction. He misses some of those capabilities. The big question is: Instead of missing them, how do we ensure that we’ve got the full power, how do we bring them together?

More and more, it’s not surprising to hear that sentiment from faculty who have experienced online in any variety of ways.
It’s going to be really exciting to see what the next chapter is.

Laura Ascione

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