Nov 02 2021

ICYMI: 4 Takeaways from EDUCAUSE 2021

At the annual conference, higher ed leaders discuss solutions for addressing digital equity, enrollment declines and privacy protection.

Over the past year and a half, higher education institutions across the nation have found ways to do more with less.

At this year’s annual EDUCAUSE conference, institutional leaders gathered to share stories on resilience, transformation and the solutions they are forming to address ongoing challenges. Below are some highlights from the conference.

1. Rethink Conventional Approaches to Digital Inequity

For higher education leaders, the work to address technology disparities is far from over.

“If we don’t rigorously, actively try to address inequity in our pursuit of innovation, those two things go hand in hand,” Ruha Benjamin, professor of African American studies at Princeton University, said during her keynote speech. Benjamin’s talk covered how emerging technologies — without thoughtful design — can deepen social injustice.

On the other side of the coin, California State University found that on a rudimentary level, access to basic technology remains an issue for vulnerable populations. In summer 2020, the university partnered with EDUCAUSE to conduct a joint research project that uncovered profound inequities in student technology access. The survey found that students needed more understanding and flexibility from their instructors.

“Even though students were finding these creative solutions, they were also encountering some really strict syllabus policies, which creates a lot of anxiety for them,” Jenay Robert, a researcher for EDUCAUSE, told EdTech.

To address digital inequity, compassion and empathy come first.

RELATED: See our full EDUCAUSE 2021 coverage.

2. A Cloud-First Approach Pays Off in Good Learning Experiences

Since the start of the pandemic, the University of Notre Dame worked hard to rapidly expand its virtual desktop infrastructure program to meet demand, and it paid off.

“Our arguments were that we need what the cloud offers — we need scalability, flexibility, adaptability. Those capabilities are really what we were after and how we’re hoping to mature our IT organization,” Brandon Rich, an enterprise architect for the university, told EdTech. “We knew that we were getting better resiliency and scale in the ability to respond to disastrous events, but we could never have imagined anything like this.”

“And from a faculty standpoint, it really provides that consistent environment to support,” said IT Project Manager Kevin Strite. “As long as each student can log in to a browser and they have internet access, they get the same, exact virtual desktop that any other student would have. That consistency for every student and for the faculty member really makes it a win-win.”

Moving forward, the institution will be considering more ways to integrate technology in this cloud-first approach.

3. Prepare for More Privacy Laws and Data Subject Access Requests

Following the footsteps of the Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act and the Colorado Privacy Actmultiple states are preparing comprehensive data privacy and security legislation.

As more states pass privacy laws, institutions should expect to see a growing number of students, faculty and staff sending data subject access requests. “Folks whose data we have at our institution may say, ‘I want my data to be forgotten,’ or ‘I’d like to see a copy of my data,’ or ‘I’d like to know what systems my data is in,’” said CISO Sean McKay of Portland State Universitat an EDUCAUSE session. McKay recommends hiring a data protection officer to manage these requests.

And at an EDUCAUSE session discussing student attitudes toward data privacy, it became clear that students want transparency and context to guide data collection.

“I would just specify everything that’s going on, like, ‘Here we’re going to use your data for the betterment of the community,’” one student said. “‘We can promise you that X, Y and Z aren’t going to happen.’ I just want it to be very specific.”

“We should give students much more credit with where their privacy literacy actually is and allow them to be agents in the decisions that we make about privacy at the institutional level,” Kyle Jones, assistant professor at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, said at the session.

MORE FROM EDUCAUSE 2021: What’s next for data privacy and security laws?

4. Use Advanced Analytics to Support Enrollment and Retention

According to national estimates and projections, the “birth dearth” triggered by the 2008 economic recession will soon force universities and colleges to face a significant enrollment decline.

Lisa Keegan, vice president of enrollment management for Bucknell University, spoke to EdTech about how institutions can take proactive steps to prevent such a sharp decline.

These recruitment strategies include using analytics to support admissions and retention activities, adapting processes, and redirecting recruiting focus to new and diverse markets.

“I’ve been spending a lot of my time making sure that all of my colleagues, including the institutional president and the board of trustees, understand what we’re going to do to weather this decline from 2025 to 2030,” Keegan said. “Most important, we have to help the team that is out doing the work by providing them with data that they can understand in their current recruitment markets, and also start to identify new markets that make the most sense for our institution.”

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