Oct 28 2020

Defining and Illustrating DX and its Role in Student Success

During the second day of EDUCAUSE 2020, higher education thought leaders delved more deeply into digital transformation.

Of the numerous benefits universities might cite when discussing digital transformation, the role of DX in student success ranks among the highest — and in multiple ways. 
“When we asked higher education IT leaders and professionals to tell us how potentially beneficial DX would be in addressing various challenges and opportunities, we didn’t know what to expect,” EDUCAUSE Director of Research Christopher Brooks told listeners during an Oct. 28 session at the 2020 EDUCAUSE Annual Conference. “As it turns out, DX really is a student-centered endeavor.” 
In fact, Brooks continued, six of the top 10 major DX benefits that respondents cited were directly related to student success. Those benefits, he shared, included improving the student experience, improving faculty teaching and advising, decreasing student dropout rates, improving student course performance, reaching a more varied array of students, and reducing the amount of time it takes students to achieve their degrees.

DX Requires More Than the Latest Technology

Pursuing — let alone achieving — digital transformation is about more than simply investing in the technology du jour. “DX is intentional, strategic and transformational, and it doesn’t happen all at once,” said Kathe Pelletier, director of the teaching and learning program at EDUCAUSE. 

“When we say ‘digital transformation,’ we’re talking about the process of optimizing and transforming operations, strategic directions and value propositions through deep and coordinated shifts in culture, workforce and, technology,” Pelletier told conference attendees. Put into context, she explained, DX can be divided into three “stair step” phases that involve increased integration, coordination and transformation. 

  • Digitization: This is the process of changing from analog or physical formats to digital ones. For example, Pelletier explained, this could mean shifting away from paper records, like student or faculty identification cards, in favor of digital options.
  • Digitalization: This stage could involve evolving toward the use of digital technologies to transform individual institutional operations such as registration, admissions, payroll and procurement. 
  • Digital transformation: This a complete optimization and transformation of an institution’s operations, strategic directions and value proposition. 

VIDEO: Learn how university presidents are responding to the transformation occurring in higher education, prompted by COVID-19.

At Davenport University in Michigan, a critical element of digital transformation has been the transition to a blended learning model designed to provide students with improved flexibility and accessibility — an effort that actually predates the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shift to remote learning. As a result, students can shift between learning modalities depending on their individual needs and comfort levels, said Brian Kowalczk, a faculty member in the school’s college of technology. 

“Obviously this is a big change in thinking, but the goals of doing that were focused on our students,” he explained during the session. Since then, he continued, the university has seen higher student satisfaction, along with improved retention rates.

“The flex learning model represents digital transformation at Davenport because it’s enabling a new educational model based on choice and flexibility,” said Kriss Ferluga, director of university academic services at Davenport. “Putting this choice in students’ hands strengthens their paths to degree completion because we don’t have to cancel as many classes, and familiarity with flex did help us to quickly pivot when the pandemic arrived in March of 2020.”

DX Requires an IT Culture Shift

In 2019, EDUCAUSE collected data about the institutional deployments of 12 different student success systems across nearly 400 institutions. One of the top drivers, Pelletier said, was the strategic prioritization of student success and “the desire to reorient institutions from being an enrollment culture to a completion culture.” Not only is culture affected by digital transformation, it also plays a defining role in achieving it.  

At Arizona State University, culture has been the foundation of the school’s digital transformation efforts. In 2009, said ASU deputy CIO John Rome, the university president began pushing an innovation focus that, over time, evolved to include multiple endeavors including online learning, systems modernization and the hiring Chief Culture Officer Christine Sanchez, who’s played an integral role in the school’s DX efforts.

“People will commit to what they help create,” Sanchez told listeners. “Culture change can’t just be driven from the top down. It does need to be supported from the top, but it takes engaging people together to decide what we’re going to do. What we focus on becomes our reality, so the more we can focus on what we want, the more we will move toward that.”

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