The benefits of creating a more connected college campus, from stronger academic outcomes to cost savings in facility management, are readily apparent to most administrators. Yet the transition is easier said than done. To truly turn living, dining, outdoor and common areas into connected learning spaces, most campuses must undergo a significant transformation.
In a Center for Digital Education study, IT administrators listed several technologies that are necessary to implement planned connected campus initiatives. Thirty-nine percent said their colleges will need bandwidth improvements to carry out their plans; 36 percent will require network modifications, data analytics and improved cybersecurity; and 33 percent will need to beef up cloud infrastructure. Perhaps most alarmingly, nearly one-third (28 percent) of respondents said they don’t even know what technology improvements will be necessary to support connected campus solutions.
IT leaders at colleges and universities should consider taking the following steps to help realize their vision for a fully connected campus.
1. Eliminate or Mitigate Campus Silos
By their nature, higher education institutions may be fragmented, with business schools, graduate programs, humanities departments, athletic departments and other suborganizations all pursuing their own goals. Historically, this has often meant that individual departments have considerable control over their own funding, including money for IT initiatives.
It makes sense for programs to invest in the tools that leaders consider most helpful for their individual aims, but this scenario can lead to a hodgepodge of solutions that IT staff must support. This is especially worrying when ad hoc IT implementation extends to networking solutions and other systems that should be centralized. To the extent possible, IT administrators should bring the connected campus systems of various departments under the umbrella of a single, cohesive strategy.
2. Modernize the Campus Data Center
Whether institutions are thinking about investments in IoT, data analytics, wireless connectivity or all of the above, they’re likely to need three things to power their plans: more networking capacity, more processing power and more storage. As IT staff work to replace legacy infrastructure with modern tools, leaders must take the time to strategically evaluate options.
In just the past few years, the options open to data center administrators have changed dramatically. For instance, public cloud adoption has grown, and the price of high-end, on-premises solutions such as flash arrays has dropped. Officials should consider these changes and future needs as they map out data center modernization efforts. By upgrading the data center, institutions can drive operational efficiency and cut costs, enhance security and reliability, improve the student experience and future-proof their campuses.
3. Collaborate with Other Colleges
Technology vendors, consultants and resellers tend to focus their efforts on the largest institutions, which have bigger budgets and larger IT staffs. As a result, some smaller colleges, especially those in remote or rural markets, may not be early targets for tech companies rolling out new and innovative technologies. This is not to suggest that IT administrators at small colleges are not informing themselves about changes in the industry, but even when these leaders want cutting-edge solutions, financial constraints often force them to scale back their ambitions.
One way to address this gap is for neighboring institutions to partner on large-scale IT initiatives. By collaborating with peer institutions, colleges can leverage the expertise of IT colleagues and share the costs associated with connected campus projects.
4. Rethink Higher Ed Learning Spaces
At the K-12 level, educators are working to create modern learning environments: providing students with connected devices, deploying audiovisual tools and installing flexible furniture that can accommodate multiple learning styles. The trend hasn’t made as much headway in higher education, in part because of differences in education models. However, colleges should reexamine the ways in which classrooms and learning spaces affect teaching and learning, together with how IT upgrades and other changes might improve student outcomes and opportunities. Some institutions are already doing so, creating active-learning classrooms that emphasize tech-supported collaboration and support pedagogical trends such as flipped learning.
For starters, institutions should expand and improve connectivity across their organizations, helping to turn virtually all corners of their campuses into potential learning spaces. But educators can also enhance or redesign existing classrooms by incorporating technologies such as augmented reality and telepresence solutions. Some colleges are even creating makerspaces featuring cutting-edge tools such as virtual reality equipment, digital editing software and 3D printers. Such initiatives help take the connected campus to the next level by giving students hands-on experience in technical fields and truly revolutionizing the learning environment.