Dec 22 2022

Higher Ed IT Leaders Discuss 2023 Tech Trends

A panel of higher education IT leaders weigh in on cybersecurity, classroom technology and other tech trends for 2023.

Time and technology share one common trait: Both are constantly advancing, never staying in one place. With this in mind, EdTech: Focus on Higher Education invited leaders from across higher education to weigh in on emerging tech trends for the coming year.

Participants included:

They addressed a range of topics, including evolving needs in cybersecurity, classroom technology, networking and emerging technologies. Bottom line: It’s shaping up to be a busy year for higher education technology leaders.

EDTECH: How is the cybersecurity threat landscape evolving, and how can you be prepared?

SEIDL: A few years ago, we’d say, “You need to be moving to multifactor.” Now we’re at a place where you must have multifactor, and should likely be considering number-matching technology for critical accounts, at a minimum. At the same time, endpoint detection and response tools are becoming a basic part of a good security posture. If you haven’t already put one in place, you’ll probably be doing so after your next incident.

Those aren’t the only security technologies that higher education needs to be looking at though. One area that I’m talking to a lot of my peers about is data resilience. In other words, have you protected your data from ransomware, and do you have instrumentation in place to detect if a ransomware attack were to impact it?

KOAN: The threats are ever present, and they seem to be increasing every day. Unfortunately, education is a target, so this has become a critical area of investment for us.

We are rolling out multifactor authentication for students, like many other institutions have done. We’re also looking at managed services in this space. As we move forward, it’s not just going to be about the software and tools that we buy, it’s also going to be about finding help in implementing those effectively.

READ MORE: Here’s what you need to know about passwordless authentication.

LEVINE: To be less vulnerable we must be quicker than we have in the past, keeping applications, operating systems, plug-ins and enterprise to end user up to date. It’s not enough to just adhere to scheduled patch cycles. This comes with added challenges, not just for those of us in the IT field but also for the students, faculty and staff we support.

Looking ahead, it’s imperative that we educate users on risks and appropriate actions. In addition to our own hard work behind the scenes, a theme for the coming year is to educate and test our users, ensuring they are prepared and active participants in their own cybersecurity portfolio.

KRAUS: HBCUs have seen an increase in threats both physical and cyber.

At North Carolina Central University, our campus leadership team has increased our focus on cybersecurity this past year and a half. We have conducted a series of IT security assessments and tabletop exercises. IT Services has strong relationships with the key stakeholders across campus and is strategic with our vendor partnerships. We have made deliberate investments in technologies and training for ITS and our campus.

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EDTECH: What are the main trends you’re seeing in classroom technology?

SEIDL: We’re evaluating which solutions and changes need to stay, which ones need further investment, and which ones will be dropped. I think this will be a slower process, as we made major investments quickly when dealing with the pandemic, and now we need to move that incident-response style effort toward a sustainable strategy.

That means the trend from my perspective is toward maturing hybrid classrooms and better understanding which classes and which spaces need to have which set of capabilities.

Finally, we’re continuing to see the videoconferencing and other vendors build more capabilities into their tools to support education and classes. We’re keeping an eye on that to see what comes out and what makes sense to adopt.

KOAN: Like everybody, we need to expand video capabilities, and we’re building that out in our classrooms, especially in support of hybrid learning scenarios.

There are a number of factors to consider when building this capability in our classrooms. Does the instructor have a monitor at the back of the room so he or she can see remote students in addition to the students who are face-to-face? How do they see the students who aren’t physically there, and how do those students participate with the other students in the class? Learning isn’t just about the instructor and the students, it’s also about the students and their peers.

LEVINE: The pandemic made tools and methodologies once reserved for distance and online education part of daily life. While triage devices like portable Zoom carts helped us survive 2020, we are now rapidly working to expand those capabilities.

It’s not enough to simply provide remote and hybrid learning; there is renewed focus on the quality of the learning experience, particularly when it comes to audiovisual clarity into and out of classrooms, and room designs that promote student engagement equally for remote and in-person participants.

Globalization, active learning, flipped-classroom approaches, team and project-based activities — and now remote/hybrid learning — can all benefit from better room design, flexibility, modern hardware, and ever-improving collaboration and conferencing platforms.

KRAUS: NCCU has embraced a “classroom of the future” model for several years, building out classroom standards that allowed for a variety of learning activities. Initially this was to allow faculty to bring remote speakers into the classroom and to enhance in-person teaching and learning experiences.

COVID, of course, changed that. We were able to utilize CARES Act funding and invest in converting or augmenting more classrooms to allow for hybrid and HyFlex learning. Faculty are excited about the options and opportunities that come with the new technology.

In general, faculty find the technology accessible, and it is becoming more seamless for them to use. The focus has shifted some, away from the tech and toward the redesign of courses with pedagogy that supports this new HyFlex teaching and learning environment.

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EDTECH: What trends are driving bandwidth consumption? To what extent do you foresee a need to upgrade the network?

SEIDL: There are a few trends in the networking space, including continued use of videoconferencing. Where we used to see a small number of virtual meetings a month, they’re almost a default for many faculty, staff and students now. There’s a drop from what we saw at the height of the pandemic, but the numbers are still quite large.

We’re also seeing even more devices. That trend just grows every year — the average person walking around campus is carrying two to three devices connected to the network. Finally, we’re integrating more technology into buildings and spaces. That means more devices consuming more bandwidth.

KOAN: The need for bandwidth knows no bounds. The traffic seems to expand to fill the size of the pipe, no matter how big you make it.

The good news is that we’ve recently been able to connect to the Research and Education Network in our region. Many community colleges are not connected to the REN in their region, as it’s sometimes seen as something that’s only for larger research institutions. But with the right partnerships, there’s no reason that we can’t also participate.

The Maricopa Community Colleges connected to Arizona’s REN, called the Sun Corridor Network, in 2021 and that has resulted not only in great connectivity but also in cost savings.

LEVINE: Just when you think you have indoor coverage under control, enter the great outdoors. Demand for outdoor coverage has been high throughout the pandemic. The persistent requests have not slowed down since, which has led us to explore the possibility of augmenting our coverage with technologies like Citizens Broadband Radio Service in the future.

We have to factor in the inside, the outside and the emerging Internet of Things. Reliance on video continues to grow, and having the bandwidth to consume, broadcast and even edit over the network is increasingly important for teaching, learning, research, operations and student life. So the need for us to seek increased capability and pursue upgrades is constant.

DISCOVER: Find out about the latest smart campus technology.

KRAUS: We were fortunate that, in 2018, we successfully completed an end-to-end network refresh. This included enhanced wireless in our classrooms and residence halls as well as additional capacity and bandwidth. The focus was on the university’s strategic goal of becoming a research-intensive, R2 Carnegie Class institution. That also prepared us for COVID.

We are now fully back on campus and have three new residence halls and an increase in on-campus students. We have been able to meet the campus demand for connectivity and bandwidth. We do expect in the coming years that our research network capacity may increase, and we have partnered with Duke, Davidson College and network solutions provider MCNC on two National Science Foundation grants to develop capacity through NCShare.

EDTECH: What emerging technology trends are you noticing? What’s on the verge of becoming a trend?

SEIDL: We’re leaning into the virtual reality and augmented reality spaces with a new data science building that has a large-scale VR studio. At Miami University, we see VR, AR and data as tightly coupled.

The continued integration of additional sensors into personal devices is likely to be a trend that has interesting impacts on medical and academic programs. More sensors mean more data, and that offers opportunities for research, including artificial intelligence and machine learning models. Drones also continue to change how things work. Delivery robots and drone delivery have the potential for unexpected impacts on campuses.

KOAN: In the past few years, we’ve been working very hard to build a data lakehouse environment, combining a data lake and data warehouse, so that we can leverage the power of machine learning and AI to deliver better insights from our data and better experiences for our students. That’s part of why it’s so critical to move data to the cloud. We’re using cloud-native technologies in Amazon Web Services such as Aurora Serverless and S3, so that we can innovate with some of our applications and create advanced dashboards to help visualize our large, complex data sets.

71%

The percentage of colleges and universities that are now either engaged in or developing a strategy for digital transformation

Source: er.educause.edu, “Higher Education in Motion: The Digital and Cultural Transformations Ahead,” Oct. 18, 2022

We are also thinking about how we might leverage the capabilities of blockchain for things like transcripts, so that students could own their transcripts. This model would enable trusted educational providers to write to these blockchain transcripts as students earn credentials throughout their career as lifelong learners. It may become an emerging trend in higher education.

LEVINE: VR, AI, machine learning, blockchain, IoT, autograders, data science, 3D printing, cloud-everything, graphic processing units, low-code platforms — it feels like nearly everything is emerging these days. The most interesting trend in my mind is not these technologies themselves (and there are countless more), but rather the growing interest they are generating across all fields of study, far beyond the usual suspects. Access to and effective use of these technologies is now an expectation.

We are rapidly working to build expertise, recruit talent, develop support models and position ourselves to help our institutions stay ahead without sacrificing consistency and security. Programs like Duke’s Innovation Co-Lab and Center for Computational Thinking focus on providing and getting the most out of trending technologies, and enabling computational education for all disciplines.

KRAUS: Integrating VR into courses and using AI to better understand student learning has a lot of potential, and faculty are exploring and pushing the limits on what is available.

The increased use of data and AI tools to better serve students outside the classroom will increase. We have a variety of predictive tools and dashboards presented to campus stakeholders, and equally important, we are also using similar technology to present this data to the students so that they can advocate for themselves and their success.

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