Oct 28 2021

EDUCAUSE 2021: Reimagining Student Services and Success

CIOs and students gather to brainstorm ideas for improving the student experience.

What could higher education CIOs achieve if they didn’t have budgetary, bureaucratic or logistical limitations? In a simulated competition called CIO Shark Tank, EDUCAUSE organizers tried to find out.

The competitors included Jack Suess, vice president of IT and CIO at University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Wency Lum, associate vice president and CIO at University of Victoria; Keith McIntosh, vice president for information services and CIO at the University of Richmond; and Mairéad Martin, CIO at EDUCAUSE. 

Here’s a look at some of the platforms and services these higher education leaders proposed and how students responded to their ideas.

AI-Enabled Tutoring to Drive Student Success in STEM Courses

Wency Lum from the University of Victoria wants to use artificial intelligence to improve learning outcomes and accessibility.

The proposed technology is called the University Network Computer Assisted Learning Entity, and “it’s an intelligent tutoring system that gives you a personalized, one-on-one tutoring service,” she said. By comparing solutions and approaches with the correct answer, the technology detects areas where students are struggling.

The initial focus will be on tutoring students in STEM courses. Over time, the technology will evolve to cover topics beyond science, technology, engineering and math.

MORE FROM EDUCAUSE 2021: How can colleges begin planning for the ‘birth dearth?'

“This will help level the playing field between neurotypical and neurodivergent students and address socioeconomic disparities for those students who can’t afford tutoring or who came from disadvantaged learning environments,” Lum said.

The students thought this sounded great in theory, but some expressed concern it would impact job security for human tutors.

Lum assured the students that the technology isn’t meant to compete with human tutors. “It’s more to augment,” she said. “What I hear a lot in my role is that there aren’t enough tutors. There aren’t enough resources. And this is a way of bringing more to the table — not a replacement.”

Redesigning College Transcripts for Students and Employers

At most institutions, academic transcripts are one area that could benefit from digital transformation. Jack Suess from UMBC wants to bring college transcripts into the digital age.

“The modern educational transcript was created in 1910 to standardize the format of educational records when students move between institutions,” Suess said. But these transcripts fail to show skills and competencies.

“Does it highlight internships, experiential learning or service learning? No. Does it allow you to easily share parts of your journey with friends, employers or family on social media? No,” he said. “Why is this acceptable in 2021?”

To fix this problem, Suess wants to develop a service called My Edu Journey, a platform and website that will make it easier to track and document skills and achievements.

Jack Suess
Why is this acceptable in 2021?”

Jack Suess vice president of IT and CIO, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

The platform will also present the information in a way that is designed for sharing on social media. “One advantage of this platform is you can easily connect students with alumni to see what skills and activities helped them on their journey,” he said.

He noted the website will provide blockchain-enabled services that empower students to control what personal information and data are shared.

The platform will document badges, endorsements, the completion of boot camps and massive open online courses, internships and other kinds of corporate training. The site will be available for students to use throughout their life as they continue to expand their knowledge after college.

And it will be a creative way for colleges to earn revenue. “We expect that employers will be very interested in advertising to our members based on their skills and capabilities,” Suess said.

MORE ON EDTECH: Colleges innovate to support at-risk students.

Dione Leung, a student at McMaster University, questioned how the institution would identify skills. “What metrics are you using to distinguish soft skills? What are the certifications, and how will you balance that between a student’s experience versus a need for standardization?” she asked.

Suess pointed to a variety of career service organizations that analyze soft skills. “These are things that can easily be microcredentials,” he said. “One of the key things that we’re going to be leveraging are microcredentials and badges that can track when you’re achieving learning outcomes and other competencies in your courses.”

The fact is, faculty already do most of this work when they plan curricula. “We just don’t make it transparent to students,” he said. “This is a beginning that will allow us to do that.”

An Easier Way for Students to Navigate College

Keith McIntosh from the University of Richmond wants to develop a portal to make it easier for students to strategically navigate their academic careers.

“Success is often driven by who you know, and when you know,” he said. “Despite arriving at graduation, many have missed out on connections with people, topics and opportunities that can enhance — or perhaps change — the trajectory of their lives and careers.”

McIntosh recalled a former student who said he didn’t know there were mentoring services that he could take advantage of until his senior year. And he only learned about the services by happenstance. “He wished he would have known during his freshmen year,” McIntosh said.

Such oversight might result from an excess of information and choices, making it difficult for students to find the services and experiences that support their aspirations and needs.

“We endeavor to meld the curricular, co-curricular, extracurricular activities and aspirations into one space for students to strategically and thoughtfully plan their time in college,” McIntosh said.

His presentation struck a chord with the student sharks, who may have their own struggles with information overload. They picked his initiative — and Lum's intelligent tutoring system — as the winners of CIO Shark Tank.

Read more coverage of EDUCAUSE 2021, including interviews and advice from higher ed experts.

Alessandro Biascioli/ iStock / Getty Images