7 examples of digital transformation in higher education

 
By Eric Spear
founder and president, Precision Campus
June 5th, 2019

Everything around us is rapidly going digital. Once manual processes are now handled by intelligent and efficient machines, while phone operators and secretaries are being replaced by computers and digital means of communication. You can book a trip, order dinner, pay your bills, make a doctor appointment and even apply to college without ever picking up a pen, talking on the phone or printing out a sheet of paper.

When it comes to the business of higher education, these facts are relevant. So, what is higher education doing to keep up with this rapidly evolving digital world? It’s called digital transformation.

With the digital age moving faster than ever, higher education needs to set themselves up for the scalable capabilities it will require to remain competitive. So how are schools meeting the demands and expectations of their students and staff? Below are 7 examples of digital transformation within the higher education space:

1. Chatbots and online Q&A availabilities in libraries: Despite the rapid digitization of information, the library is still an important and relevant piece of the education landscape. However, allocating funds and staff resources to the traditional library in the same ways of the past no longer provides enough ROI.

To meet the changing needs of their students and budget allocation, libraries are exploring digital transformation. One relatively simple way they are doing this is by digitizing periodicals and books so they can be available online to more than one student at a time. This increases the library’s value and convenience to students and staff.

Another great example of digital transformation in higher education libraries comes in the form of chatbots and online Q&A capabilities. The College of St. Thomas, for example, offers a website widget to get in touch with librarians in four different ways. A Q&A chatbot has also been created to field questions about basic research topics, find relevant results, and even reserve materials for customers. An FAQ bot could also be used in different departments on campus beyond the library. For example, a bot could assist students and staff in setting up appointments with the IT department or health services office, or by requesting maintenance in student housing.

2. Note-taking and studying: Retention and graduation rates are measurable data points that are always in the forefront of administrators’ minds when it comes to budget allocation and programming. So, it comes as no surprise that note-taking and studying is an area where institutions are exploring digital transformation.

Interactive displays and whiteboards have become more and more popular on campuses. These allow students to receive a digital copy of everything the professor writes on the board during class, and gives the instructor access to more stats, data, maps and online information during the lesson.

There are also new technologies and mobile apps available that make it easy to scan images or text from any document using your mobile device. This is a great way for students to have the information they need from books that they may not be able to check out of the library, or collect information on the go for a project they’re working on. On top of this, digitizing class notes reduces paper waste, which could count towards “green” initiatives on campus that can sometimes lead to earning grants for the school.

3. Digital payment options: Modern students are doing most of their banking and monetary transactions online, with 44% of millennials sending money digitally. Students will soon expect the same convenience and security when it comes to paying for higher education. Reducing the use of paper checks in favor of digital payments is a great place to start in digital transformation, because it is convenient for students waiting for much-needed funds in the form of a tuition reimbursement or work study check.

Beyond tuition payments, some schools may someday consider becoming “cashless campuses.” An app on a phone or the digital transformation of student ID cards could become the only means of payment that schools need to accept on campus. This can reduce the need for cash registers and employees to handle cash transactions

On top of this, the data that your school could collect from these digital interactions could help you make decisions when it comes to fund allocation and improving product offerings to match what your staff and students are actually purchasing.

4. Moving the curriculum online: This example of digital transformation is maybe one of the most popular right now. Online courses offer the freedom and flexibility that many non-traditional students are looking for in their education, and creating online options for degree programs is quickly becoming a necessary step that colleges need to take to remain competitive. Moving your courses and degree offerings online, be it a few credits for each degree program or fully online degree options, is a necessary digital transformation in today’s landscape.

5. School-wide apps: Campuses across the country are now finding the value in digital apps made specifically for their school and their students. A school’s app can be loaded onto a device and used anytime to find important phone numbers, maps of the campus, events to attend and more.

The University of Arizona has an app that can alert students of their meal plan balance; the University of Alabama shares upcoming events and athletics information on their app; and Ashford University allows app users to post in class-related discussion forums.

Soon, apps could also be used to enhance the student experience on-campus by being the go-to tool for everything campus-related — from accessing emergency services to contacting a building RA or student adviser. Once the technology is in place, the app could become even more central to campus life, pinging students when their laundry is done or when a professor has cancelled a class due to weather.

6. Transforming utility operations to digitally-controlled systems: Digital transformation goes well beyond the student experience when it comes to the areas in which it can be applied. If they are not already, most utilities on campus can be moved to digital systems that reduce, and even eliminate, the need for anyone to physically touch the lights or thermostats.

Smart technology set up to conserve energy when buildings and classrooms are not in use can save campus funds that could be allocated elsewhere. If your digital transformation includes the installation of digital devices to gather data on energy use, campuses are now implementing energy audits to calculate usage, find ways to further reduce waste levels and increase efficiency.

7. Digitally transforming decision-making with data analytics software: Efficiently gathering all of the data your institution collects from students and campus operations, and presenting it in a way that supports positive changes at your school, could be one of the most important digital transformations your school makes. Data doesn’t mean much if you cannot view it in a meaningful way and use it to make informed decisions.

Using the right higher education data analytics software, the data silos that exist in your operations can be avoided and the holes in information that they cause can be reduced. By comparing and analyzing separate sets of data from different departments in one visualization, you will gain a holistic, overarching view of your institution, including where you’re succeeding and where change is required to achieve success.

If you observe that you are missing points of data, consider whether or not that piece of the administrative process in your college is still done manually, and if a digital transformation for that process could be effective in speeding up and simplifying it. The IoT and data analytics software can help with this; the more connected devices you have gathering information about your campus, students, programs and operations, the better you will understand the whole picture. Once you have the data, organizing, comparing and presenting it in meaningful ways will help make it easier for administrators to make suggestions on how to streamline processes, including which would benefit the most from–or are in the most desperate need of–a digital transformation.

Digital transformation is happening rapidly throughout every industry all over the world, and higher education is no exception. To remain competitive, higher education institutions must continue to gather as much information about themselves as they can and use that data to make decisions that will benefit them in the long run. Investments in digital transformation, when the decision comes from careful observation and data analytics, can be the means by which a school breaks free of its past and becomes the educational institution of the future.

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