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Andy Barrow

Building the digital future of education

Why infrastructure is at the heart of effective technology implementation in HE

By Andy Barrow, CTO at ANS Group

The use of technology to improve the standard of and access to education has become ubiquitous across the sector. Although universities and educational institutions have moved away from a reliance on physical textbook and resource, they shouldn’t stop at going paperless. It’s essential that they are ambitious and keep their fingers on the pulse when it comes to the adoption of emerging technologies.

To stay ahead, universities across the board need to embrace agile, state-of-the-art technology to boost the speed of their student-facing and internal administrative applications, as well as exploring new ways to engage with students to transform their learning experience for the better.

How technology is changing the sector

One of the biggest ways technology is revolutionising the sector is through improving access to education on a global scale. Even though distance learning is by no means a new concept, it has only gained more traction since the Open University opened its doors in 1969, giving students the freedom to learn from anywhere in the world, at any time.

Since then, more universities have realised the potential of offering courses beyond lecture theatres and the physical campus. In today’s world, this is powered forward by technologies such as virtual reality (VR), video-recorded or online lectures, e-portfolios, and other forms of interactive study. The Stanford School of Business is just one example of an institution which is taking advantage of this technology to deliver one of its leadership programmes entirely through VR. This allows students to attend classes in a virtual lecture hall, meet in virtual breakout rooms, and present in virtual auditoriums – all with the aim of helping them understand how to interact with others virtually and understand how others perceive them.

We’ve also seen virtual reality being applied when teaching languages by providing students with the opportunity to immerse themselves into language and culture through VR headsets. By stepping into authentic scenarios, students are able to learn and put their skills to the test with native speakers, just as they would if they were able to visit the country; only this is a much easier and flexible way of doing so.

Applying artificial intelligence and machine learning across student-facing systems is also becoming more popular across the sector. A number of institutions across the USA are already placing a focus on machine learning to help students navigate their way through applications before they apply and then help tackle daily issues around timetables and finance.

One of the biggest ways technology is revolutionising the sector is through improving access to education on a global scale.

Embracing technologies such as these ensures that universities are keeping up with the needs of their students, but more than anything, it also provides students with a proficiency in technology as the workforce of the future. On the other end of the spectrum, more tech-savvy students will come to demand constant access to network and resources for a deeper, more flexible learning experience as traditional, deep-rooted academic methods become less appealing.

All of these technologies are helping to boost the experience of modern-day students and staff, with many more innovations in the pipeline. However, all of this needs to be supported by agile and scalable infrastructure which acts as a foundation for future innovation.

Laying the foundations for the future

It’s easy to say that all of this can be done, but it’s essential that universities have the right infrastructure in place to support digital, collaborative learning in the age of technology.

With many universities well into their digital transformation journeys, having infrastructure – whether private, public cloud or on-premise – that can adapt and evolve with these cutting-edge technologies has become even more essential.

The cloud has transformed from the early days of allowing on-demand access to computer storage and networking. The focus has now shifted to AI, deep-learning capabilities and serverless platforms, which allow organisations to gain new and meaningful insight. When universities and education institutions get this right, they can find themselves on an upwards digitalisation journey.

A network which can uphold this and also react to any increases in demand in terms of connectivity and accessibility is also crucial as it will form the backbone to the success of these technologies, and thus, the overall digital learning experience.

Moving forward, universities should take the time to assess their current infrastructure and what would be required to help them embrace new ways of working and digital learning, if they haven’t done so already. This involves assessing the foundations needed, and ensuring they have the right environments in place to allow technical maturity, ultimately allowing universities to deliver the best learning experience for their students.