Technology trends in higher education today and tomorrow

Leveraging technology to make education more adaptable and accessible.

By Chris Witeck and Nicole Nesrsta

When you talk to colleges and universities and ask them what challenges they face today, you often hear responses centered on serving more students and at the same time, ensuring better outcomes for these students. Obviously there are many ways a college or university can meet these challenges, ranging from how classes are instructed, how instructors are recruited and trained, how students are recruited and taught, and how various technologies are used to improve the student experience. In this article we narrow the focus towards technology trends that are impacting how colleges and universities engage with students online, both today and in the future, and where Citrix can add value.

Technology in Education Today: Providing an equal learning experience anywhere, on any device

As mobile devices and mobility solutions become more common amongst schools and with students, faculty and staff, education IT is facing a new set of challenges and opportunities. With an influx of new technology and devices, such as tablets, touch screen displays, 3D printers and even drones, schools are taking big leaps forward to provide the latest and greatest technology to their students. The challenge arises when IT and educators realize that this incredible technology essentially becomes a flashy, expensive toy without the right infrastructure, mobility strategy or learning plan in place first.

Citrix and other solution providers are striving to help schools bridge this gap and design a campus mobility strategy that takes advantage of the newest technology while also utilizing their legacy equipment. This type of strategy allows schools to provide an equal learning experience regardless of each student's socioeconomic status. When IT services and resources can work anywhere and on any device, it makes other critical technology initiatives—like BYOD, collaborative learning spaces, and flipped classrooms—easy to introduce and expand.

With programs like these in place, you increase learning continuity and reach students in completely new ways. If you can deliver any application, even heavy applications like AutoCAD and SPSS, to any device, whether it is a MacBook Air or inexpensive Chromebook, you level the playing field for education. In the past, if a student hoped to someday be an engineer, those dreams could easily be shattered due to the inability to afford the expensive software or device required for the classes. In addition, with anytime, anywhere access students no longer have to wait in line for a seat in the computer lab or risk walking across campus late at night.

The next level of IT responsibility will be to address student engagement and success through technology solutions and services. It is no longer enough to put a tablet or laptop in every student's hand and expect them to instantly improve test scores and graduation rates. However, with the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) we may begin to develop new ways to increase student learning and engagement and change traditional classroom pedagogies to be more effective.

Education Trends on the Horizon: The Internet of Things potential for improving student engagement

Citrix recently talked in detail to many different colleges and universities both in the United States and globally, and what we wanted to gain from these conversations is insight on how the Internet of Things (IoT) can improve how colleges and universities engage with their students. In those conversations we learned that there is a lot of curiosity and interest in how IoT can simplify and enhance blended, or hybrid learning, with the goal of using IoT to automate much of the effort involved.

These conversations revealed that this would be no simple task, as we saw many different definitions and implementations of blended/hybrid learning across the range of colleges and universities that we talked to. Some of the schools define blended learning as a way to enhance the on campus experience by using asynchronous education and flipped classrooms to allow students and instructors to manage their time on campus more efficiently. We then heard from other schools that see synchronous learning as a great and efficient way to reach more students today, either by allowing students to access lectures from their home or by allowing content to be pushed across multiple campuses simultaneously. And finally we talked to those more interested in asynchronous methods to reach new students online with schedules too busy to support attending a traditional classrooms on a regular basis.

There are definite pros and cons to the different approaches, and what we saw in our conversations were schools using models best matched how they wanted to engage with their students, with everyone sharing the same goal of tracking and improving student outcomes. However, with all of this variation, is it even possible to define a solution that can help everyone?

This is a problem we think IoT can solve, but it depends on how you define IoT. This is not a problem a new automated gadget can simply address. Rather, it requires framing IoT as the Integration of Everything, thinking of IoT as a platform to connect together disparate elements within a hybrid learning environment to improve the instructor and student experience while not overloading the IT staff.

Using The Internet of Things to create the classroom of the future

With that framework in mind, we started looking at how we could use IoT to help automate the classroom. Our goal is to use IoT to link together all of the classroom elements: devices, projectors, screens, cameras, microphones, lecture capture systems, learning management systems, etc….

Out of that linkage we can create workflows that allow instructors to simply walk into a classroom and teach the content they have prepared for the day. In the background we can have all of the classroom elements working together to support the presenting and capturing of the classroom content, which can then be provided to students in a synchronous or asynchronous fashion (whatever the college/university feels is most appropriate).
The goal is to do this simply, allowing IT and instructors to define in advance their classroom preferences and to then automate the rest. Further simplifying making classroom content easily accessible to students, when and where they need it.

Summary: Change is on the Horizon

The escalating cost of higher education is forcing greater scrutiny on the value provided to students while the advance of mobility combined with emerging technologies has the potential to disrupt the status quo. How will schools respond? By focusing even more on student outcomes; and leveraging and adapting these new technologies to make education more accessible to everyone, and more adaptable to the student's needs. Will this all make a difference? We think so, although the next few years may see disruptions to traditional learning experiences as institutions experiment with and embrace new strategies. Throughout all of these changes, Citrix is ready to provide our customers a helping hand whether that is helping to design a campus-wide mobility strategy or looking forward to the IoT enabled learning experience.

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