Oct 31 2006

High Tech Students Keeping IT Administrators Busy

Higher education institutions find that keeping up with their students' technology sophistication leads to increased student retention and improved learning.

A bookless library? It may sound like an oxymoron, but it makes perfect sense to the faculty and students at Loyola University Chicago. After years of watching students, librarians at the school determined that students constantly search for space to work alone or in groups, access to technology, and the ability to communicate with friends and classmates.

In response, the university is building a four-story, 67,000-square-foot Information Commons building. This “bookless library” will include wireless connectivity, classrooms and study rooms, an electronic library instruction room, help desks, a media production lab, and hundreds of individual and group workstations, notebook PCs and seats.

Loyola University Chicago has the right idea. Like other tech-savvy schools, it's using technology to meet students' evolving needs. In exchange, today's Millennial kids – who've grown up juggling cell phones, PDAs, video games and MP3 players – are turning to these institutions in large numbers.

Schools interested in using technology to help boost student recruitment and retention need not look far to find models of campus innovation. Since launching Ed Tech: Focus on Higher Education last year, we've profiled dozens of colleges and universities that are using technology to transform their campuses.

Responding to Student Needs

Technology is helping universities respond to the needs of their increasingly diverse student bodies. For instance, Tufts University's online Global Master of Arts Program (Fall 2005 issue) gives mid- to high-level professionals the chance to obtain a master's degree in international affairs thousands of miles from the campus.

At St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia (February/March 2006 issue), business students can get a taste of life after college thanks to the high-tech Wall Street trading room on campus.

Professors at Purdue University (Winter 2005 issue) are using technology to ensure that their students are keeping pace in class. As instructors ask questions, students click answers using remote controls, and the results are tabulated instantly.

Technology isn't just limited to the classroom. At Boise State University (Fall 2005 issue), digital video recorders are used in the gym so coaches can record athletes during practice, then review the recordings to pinpoint and correct problems.

Smart schools take their technology cues from their students. Podcasting, which was popular with students long before educators considered its value, is now being used on campuses such as the University of Virginia (May/June 2006 issue) to offer recordings of classroom lectures, events and news.

The return on investment for such high-tech offerings is becoming increasingly apparent to college administrators. Technology is helping schools of all shapes and sizes recruit new students and retain the ones they already have.

Take St. Francis College (May/June 2006 issue), for instance. It could easily get lost in the shuffle of New York City colleges, but by reinvigorating the school with technology, such as campuswide Wi-Fi and a high-definition TV studio, it has been able to distinguish itself from its peers.

Harper College (August/September 2006 issue) has seen a 20 percent increase in its full-time student body in the last eight years. By offering course registration, library resources and textbook sales on the Web, the Palatine, Ill., community college is simplifying students' hectic lives.

As we continue to highlight schools that transform the college experience with technology, we hope that you, our readers, will be able to use some of their ideas on your own campuses.

Chris Rother is group vice president, CDW Government Inc., a leading technology provider to government and education based in Vernon Hills, Ill.

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