The shift to remote and hybrid learning in higher education has understandably generated a lot of conversation about the how and why of video adoption for remote learning. Telephony is following suit. With faculty, staff and students becoming more mobile, desk phone setups are increasingly giving way to cloud-based telephone service.
Phones on desks and conference room tables connected to landlines are giving way to smartphones, which most everyone has and which can be taken anywhere, allowing individuals throughout an institution to be reached wherever they are.
EdTech spoke with Toussaint Celestin, director of partner product marketing at RingCentral, about who and what is driving the cloud-based telephony trend and what institutions should consider before adopting the technology — because it’s not a small or easy task. “A miserable experience could mean people might not enroll or institutions could see attrition,” Celestin says.
EXPLORE: How RingCentral empowers universities to connect in the cloud.
EDTECH: What is driving the move to cloud-based telephone adoption in higher education?
Celestin: A core trend is the change in demographics and behavior, along with how different cohorts consume and access information. Generation Z is the age group that makes up the student body of colleges and universities today. The youngest slice of them haven’t lived in a world without smartphones. They’re digital natives, used to learning and sharing information with each other online.
With 57 percent of Gen Z enrolled in two- or four-year institutions, there’s a need for tools in higher ed that satisfy the demand for online experiences — and that includes making phone calls. Institutions are looking at technology that allows them to cater to the needs of these students.
EDTECH: With the massive adoption of remote work and learning tools, to what extent did the pandemic affect cloud-based phone adoption?
Celestin: I don’t think the pandemic kick-started the trend. Colleges and universities were already investing in ed tech. Spending had reached $19 billion in 2019, so people were already migrating in that direction. The pandemic just accelerated it.
DISCOVER: Colleges boost productivity by moving communication tools to the cloud.
EDTECH: Who typically oversees the migration?
Celestin: A couple of decades ago, this would have been the domain of IT exclusively. Often, now, it’s the bursar or the president of the university, or a faculty member who oversees this type of initiative. When it was just the phone, when it was just dial tone, and the handsets and cables throughout the infrastructure of a building, only IT was involved.
I’ve been surprised at how unprepared some folks at the college and university level are; not for lack of smarts, but because stakeholders often underestimate how complex the transition can be. That’s also why this is one of the best use cases for relying on a trusted adviser. Unlike buyers in other verticals — where the place of business is less distributed than a college campus and hardware needs are for more predictable — educational institutions need to merge hundreds or thousands of hardware devices, online tools and software applications for very diverse needs. This is when you need a large distributor like CDW, who not only carries many of the devices and tech in its catalog but who is an expert in bringing together different technologies and combining them in unique environments.
EDTECH: Are there any challenges in these migrations?
Celestin: Many unforeseen challenges involve out-of-class requirements. For example, one-way auto-dial phones are needed for large campuses where safety and easy access to security for escorting may be needed. Institutions need to make sure there are efficient ways to notify thousands of students when classes are cancelled due to weather, health risks or even threats. In addition, administrators need to ensure students’ personal information is protected, even when providing a credit card by phone for registration. Thinking of everything as you’re trying to migrate a campus to this new technology can be overwhelming. Again, these are instances where cloud offers an excellent solution, but a partner like CDW can assess, diagnose and deliver a full menu of complementary technologies to complete the picture.
LEARN MORE: Five benefits of cloud communications in higher education.
EDTECH: What should colleges and universities be doing to succeed at migrating to cloud-based phone service and all that comes with it?
Celestin: There’s no substitute for planning. Do the research, check in with colleagues at other institutions and read a lot. If ever there was a time to drop your email to get that white paper, e-book or solution brief, this would be it. Don’t take it lightly, like it’s just dial tone and you only need to plug a few cables in. It’s screens and conference rooms, and a lot of different technology. Develop a shortlist of providers. Then ask for customer success stories or a demo or even a proof-of-concept. Find a way to kick the tires — visit a school that’s accomplished what you’re looking to do. The great thing about this space is that administrators and faculty often enjoy sharing experiences and best practices. In essence, act like a student and learn, learn, learn. And then consult your trusted technology advisers.
Also, try to keep an open mind regarding project scope. It’s not just the phone, but what kind of add-on hardware — webcams, speakers, mics, cables — also need to be in the conference room or on the desktop? How does the phone marry up with the interactive whiteboard? How does the whiteboard marry up with the cameras? Conduct due diligence, and you’ll experience long-term dividends. Most important, so will your students, both on campus and off.
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