Jun 02 2020

In a Remote Learning Landscape, Tech Adoption Has Never Been More Critical

In the shift to virtual learning environments, how can you make sure your stakeholders are as invested in your IT solutions as you are?

After years of playing tug of war over the merits of online or remote learning, it seemed to take only a few days (and a pandemic) for higher education to accept it as the new reality. Today, with physical campuses shuttered from coast to coast, even the most technology-resistant faculty and staff find themselves forced to embrace the digital revolution. 

The trick, however, is making sure they embrace the right tools — more specifically, the tools in which your university has invested to make remote learning viable. Of course, we’ve always known the importance of promoting organizationwide technology adoption. Not only is it a matter of security but it’s also critical from a budget standpoint. Today, however, with remote learning forcing your entire faculty and student population online, adoption has never been more critical: Your risks and potential losses, after all, have multiplied many times over.

When it comes to promoting organizationwide adoption, there are some critical questions IT teams should be asking. 

How to Deal With Unsanctioned Applications

Why aren’t our users embracing the remote learning solutions we offer them?

When it comes to student and faculty success, IT professionals tend to play a supporting but silent role. Technology decision-makers generally have good reasons for selecting the solutions they do, and universities invest significant money into these products. So, it’s frustrating when your end users deviate outside the parameters you set by downloading unauthorized software applications.

MORE ON EDTECH: Here are the best Zoom remote learning tech tips.

Armed with analytics products that give insight into whether universities and their end users are fully using the solutions they pay for, IT teams can identify whether, when and where certain products are being underutilized. The key, however, is what you do with that information. 

If your users consistently refuse to embrace the solutions you’ve chosen, it’s critical to ask why. When your faculty, staff and students opt for different applications than the ones your team provides, there’s often a reason. Maybe the university-approved solutions are too complex. Maybe they lack a specific function that users need. Whatever the reason, it’s critical that you learn what it is. If you know why your users are opting for unsanctioned applications, you can work together to make sure that the solutions you add to your technology stack meet their needs.

Why You Need to Pay Attention To User Experience

What kind of user experience are you providing for remote learning?

This is a difficult time for students and faculty who expected their academic year to take place on a busy campus, surrounded by their peers and university resources. Add to that the steep learning curve that comes with such a sudden transition to remote learning, and the situation grows even more challenging.

It’s critical that you provide a digital experience that limits complexity and tedium while providing the dynamic and engaging online environment they need to promote successful online learning. You can’t just think from an IT perspective; you need to think from a design and user experience perspective. 

You Need to Discuss Shadow IT With Users

Do your users truly understand the risks of downloading and using shadow IT?

From your users’ point of view, that unapproved software download or file-sharing app probably seems harmless enough. But IT professionals know better: Every unsanctioned application opens up your university to varying degrees of potential harm, from malware to insider threats and countless other risks. 

MORE ON EDTECH: These are the 3 remote learning technology must-haves for higher ed.

Lacking solid adoption of their sanctioned IT investments, university IT teams can expect to repeatedly encounter noncompliant applications downloaded by faculty, staff and students. In the process, those users open up your network to any number of security threats while simultaneously letting your technology investments go to waste. 

Why User Awareness of Tools Is Key

Are your users fully aware of the remote learning tools and options you’ve made available to them?

These are particularly challenging times for maintaining consistent communication. Once largely contained on a physical campus with classrooms and libraries and labs, your user base is now spread far and wide. When it comes to communicating with them, you’re often at the mercy of email and online communities — and most of us have long become desensitized to mass emails and web postings. Meanwhile, Zoom fatigue is setting in. 

Still, if you want your users to avoid shadow IT apps by adopting the solutions you provide, they need to know those solutions are available. Every IT team needs a communication and outreach strategy designed to educate network users not only about the resources available to them, but also the risks and consequences of using unsanctioned products instead. 

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Ask the right questions to get the best remote learning outcomes.

Your network users are facing unprecedented challenges right now when it comes to teaching and learning. For all of its conveniences and benefits, remote learning at this scale is entirely new to many (if not most) of your stakeholders. We’re all doing the best we can to maintain momentum, success and, sometimes, sanity.

Realistically, it’s almost impossible to guarantee that shadow IT will never creep into your network infrastructure — and the bigger your university, the harder it becomes. What you can do is ask the right questions in order to develop an adoption strategy that anticipates and mitigates as many of these challenges as possible.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.

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