Creating the foundation for intuitive tech in education

The pandemic has changed expectations of the level of digital fluency universities should be offering students. Ben Pammenter, education lead at ITGL, explores smart infrastructures in higher education

The university experience is evolving, with changes that amount to nothing less than an educational revolution.

Ever larger numbers of students are applying for higher education, all wanting value from their investment. These new cohorts of digital natives have lived through Covid accelerated hybrid-learning. They expect flexible access to an always open institution, with seamless connectivity. The technology that universities once offered as an incentive to potential students is now seen as the most basic requirement.

A lack of digital fluency can look like incompetency in this new era of education. Universities with poor Wi-Fi and connectivity, disparate systems, and an analogue campus experience risk falling short of student needs and hampering their teaching.

Fortunately, most universities are at least preparing to expand their digital capabilities to meet this challenge. These institutions will possess the technology and intuitive solutions to create safe and inclusive communities, meeting academic, environmental, and social demands.

To reach this point, you need to start with a strong technological foundation. This is the smart campus, and it’s the fundamental first step towards a university’s digital future.

Smart foundation gives rise to intuitive

Let’s assume you have the network infrastructure for your smart foundation, or at least that it’s a work in progress. The next step is to bring your intuitive campus vision to life.

The creation of your intuitive campus takes place in a digital twin of your estate. This gives you a virtual version of the campus that can be manipulated, and from which you can gain data which can be used to enhance the student experience. The digital twin will gather contextual information, developing in sophistication over time and with further digital investment. Ease of control is provided by a single platform which places the potential of the digital twin in the hands of those responsible for the functioning of the campus.

A simple use example can be found with mapping and wayfinding technology. As well as monitoring social distancing and the safe movement around campus, you can run events and open days while the smart, intuitive network operates in the background.

Collected data can show how people are behaving and provide insights into: which areas are busiest? Where are people lingering? Are some people leaving early? Why might that be? Examination of the rich data will allow you to tailor experiences and environments to individual needs, giving visitors that important positive first impression.

Intuitive and inclusive

Students are not a one size fits all group. Each person has their own ability and well-being profile. Using apps to respond to individual needs is just one of the opportunities of an intuitive campus. Even within a large institution you can ensure nobody falls between the cracks, with services that naturally combine with all other aspects of student life.

The single platform of your intuitive campus will integrate mobile learning solutions such as Moodle and Blackboard, as well as other educational apps to give students and staff a frictionless experience. Whether we’re talking about admissions, coursework, administration, or student well-being, you can manage all campus affairs, anywhere and at any time.

Imagine a student arriving on-site, having to speak to reception, trying log in, and struggling to access all the parts of a system they have never seen before. Now imagine the intuitive alternative in which you have secure access to remote classrooms, enabled engagement between lecturers and students, with breakout sessions and curated messaging to increase opportunities for students to collaborate with each other.

The teaching and learning elements of such a platform alone are invaluable. The addition of social, well-being, and retention benefits go to show how the campus experience can be completely transformed.

So, what now?

The intuitive campus opens the door to a horizon of potential for university digital infrastructure. Creative innovation will naturally follow when artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR) are used to blend digital and physical experiences. Using this kind of technology in hybrid and enhanced learning is obvious, but extending it into other areas of the campus will really bring the university experience to life.

Universities that haven’t yet created their smart campus foundation of reliable wireless connectivity should join with a trusted delivery partner to provide the necessary hands-on experience.

For universities who have already developed their smart campus capabilities, the next step is to develop a digital twin of the campus. This is where the ‘art of the possible’ starts to flow; whether digitalising key elements of campus events, meeting net-zero targets through environmental controls, creating a safe and secure campus using location of people and assets, or providing real-time updates. The only limit is the transformation vision of your university.

A digitally rich environment is vital to remaining relevant and efficient as an educational organisation. This is not about demoting the importance of academic excellence, but rather taking the opportunity to enable greater academic engagement, regardless of pace or place. The universities that future-proof their student experience in this way will continue to thrive for generations to come.

You might also like: University tech-investment up to £88m, online-tool reveals

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