Jul 31 2021

What Technologies Do Colleges Need to Support Modern Students?

To support students on campus this fall, technology can be a key part of student-centric experiences.

After 16 months of online and hybrid learning, a good portion of students, faculty and staff are preparing for a return to campus classrooms and offices.

During a time when the public is questioning the value of college, offering quality, student-centric learning experiences is critical not only for this academic year but also for the future of higher education. According to a recent survey by BestColleges.com21 percent of prospective students trust student reviews over college websites.

While positive student experiences involve many factors — such as individualized support, and regular reassessments of whether courses are designed to achieve learning objectives — studies have found that effective use of educational technology is an important component to student-centric learning experiences.

EXPLORE: Click the banner below to check out CDW's white paper and roadmap for designing flexible learning environments

A 2019 study published in the International Journal of Action Research found that digital tools promote “interactive learning, timely feedback, and better engagement with students.” In a similar vein, a recent Promethean survey found that 86 percent of educators believe technology is a powerful way to engage students. But of the 2,000 educators surveyed, about a third said they refrain from teaching with technology because they believe the tools are unreliable.

For higher education IT departments, a key area of focus moving forward will be investments in user-friendly technologies, properly deployed to deliver good user experiences. This requires a thoughtful approach when selecting and managing audiovisual, software, connectivity and cloud solutions. Here are some key technology considerations for an interactive, modern classroom.

Audiovisual Technologies for Hybrid Learning

Having decent recording equipment is critical for hybrid and modern in-person classrooms.

For those on a tight budget, the Logitech HD Pro C920S webcam is an affordable and popular choice. This webcam can easily attach to monitors, laptops and tripods. It’s compatible with both Mac and Windows operating systems, as well as common video recording and videoconferencing software such as ZoomMicrosoft Teams, WebexCamtasia and FaceTime.

For those who are able to spend more, it is worth looking into the Vaddio EasyIP 10 PTZ Conference Camera, which offers viewers a 67-degree horizontal view and 10 optical zoom, providing a full, interactive learning experience.

For professors and instructors who prefer to teach with physical whiteboards, having a special content camera attached to the whiteboard can create an in-person environment for students learning at a distance. Some content cameras come with automated image enhancement features, and can save and share images in real time on collaboration platforms.

DIVE DEEPER: Get exclusive insider content for IT insights on how to create value for your campus.

Visualizers, or document cameras, are also a great way for online learners to see close-ups of readings and documents. The HoverCam Solo 8Plus is a popular high-resolution document camera that can record up to 4K resolution at 30 frames per second, as well as slow-motion video at 1280x720 resolution and 120 fps. For courses that may not require such advanced features, the AVerVision U50 USB Flexarm is an affordable document camera and a bestseller.

If an educator is willing to part with traditional whiteboards, interactive projectors and displays can help engage students by allowing them to collaborate on PowerPoint presentations. The interactive flat-panel displays, in particular, help online students feel connected to the traditional classroom, while plug-and-play tools allow users to add video, audio and images to lessons.

Digital signage is also becoming popular on college campuses and can be used to convey important announcements such as COVID-19 safety precautions and exam dates.

Software Considerations for Modern Higher Ed Classrooms

From desktop virtualization to improving learning management system integration with existing collaboration software tools, investing in the right software solutions is just as critical for hybrid learning success. First, university leadership must define the pedagogic approach and teaching strategy before IT teams can consider how students and staff will interact and collaborate. Once that’s determined, it’s time to look for software that delivers on specific goals.

Broadly speaking, a good virtual learning environment should stimulate in-person student discussions in college classrooms and offer a personalized learning experience. Examples include software for recording lessons; solutions for improving LMS integration with existing collaboration software tools; and creative apps, such as student response systems, for collaborative learning in synchronous environments.

Regardless of which technologies are chosen, the utility should be informed by pedagogical considerations.

MORE ON EDTECH: Avoid these 5 higher education UX mistakes. 

Hardware Tools for Managing the Device Flux

At this point, most higher education institutions know that adequate hotspots and one-to-one (or even two-to-one) device programs are essential for hybrid learning success.

But universities and colleges may need extra help managing all of these devices. Tools such as Ergotron baskets for mobile work stands can help users easily move stacks of computers from one room to another. Other options include JACO printer mountscamera hanging mounts and flat-panel TVs that double as charging stations.

Another popular solution that saves both time and expense is a simple charging cart or tower. Whether for a building full of devices or just one classroom, these space-saving cabinets can cheaply store and charge a large number of tablets and notebooks. Simply pile the devices on, plug them in and they’ll be charged in time for the next class.

LEARN MORE: Get CDW's white paper and roadmap for designing flexible learning environments.

The Infrastructure and Cloud Solutions for Campus Readiness

In a Twitter poll posted July 8, EdTech: Focus on Higher Education asked readers to rank the IT investments with the greatest impact on student experience. Nearly 50 percent said Wi-Fi infrastructure.

But many institutions lack the manpower to navigate wireless preparation. One-to-one programs provided everyone with a laptop or other device; now, most of these are coming back to campus. Is the infrastructure ready for this explosion of technology? One of the best ways to find out is by conducting a wireless site survey, which can provide a roadmap for designing a network that can meet a campus’s specific needs.

To support hybrid learning, colleges also need a robust compute, storage and security infrastructure.

Institutions should also clarify the storage parameters governing cloud-based resources, such as virtual meetings and online materials.

For cloud technologies, there are three service models to consider:

  • Software as a Service: This delivery model offers e-learning software on a subscription basis.
  • Platform as a Service: This category of cloud computing provides hardware and software tools from third-party service providers. 
  • Infrastructure as a Service: This solution type supports services such as storage, networking and virtualization.

Because these solutions support face-to-face communication with students anytime, from anywhere, they are ideal for asynchronous education. Students can pop in and participate in lessons around the clock.

With unlimited storage that’s accessible across devices, all three as-a-service options can be scaled to accommodate a growing student base.

Illustration by Alex Williamson