In the last few years, the education sector has been evolving at pace to take advantage of new technologies to help save costs, meet rising student expectations, and compete with online learning institutions, and rightly so.
As technology adapts at an exponential rate and becomes more and more ingrained in people’s day to day lives, it will continue to be a key asset that higher education institutions (HEIs) must make the most of to help with these and other goals.
HEIs also have a responsibility to prepare students for the changing job market as we enter the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0. In our sector, we call this Education 4.0. Enabling student contact with new and emerging technologies as part of learning will help equip them for the workplace and teach them how to adapt to the next wave of digital innovation.
But what technologies do universities see as the most important for their organisations, and how are they using these technologies to support organisational strategies?
Developed with UCISA, Jisc's new report, digital leadership in HE: improving student experience and optimising service delivery (pdf), addresses these questions, using a survey of 50 UK university leaders and interviews/focus groups with 25 HEIs.
What’s top of wish lists?
Our research finds that 68% of respondents identified online learning tools as the most important technology, with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in second place (32%). I believe all the technologies identified could be used to improve experiences and provide greater accessibility for a wider range of students.
Indeed, in the report, John Beaver, director of IT services at Bath Spa University, spoke about how AI could help a student with research and module/course selection:
"For us, AI is a big interest, both as a technology that we may apply for student experience purposes, such as an AI that might find books of interest in the library for a student knowing what they're doing or recommend particular modules or courses that may be of interest to them."
Progress on digital strategies
It’s heartening to see HEIs throughout the UK increasingly making progress with digital strategies; the research shows that more than half (53%) have a digital strategy in place, while a further 21% have integrated a digital strategy with other strategies.
Innovation must have a purpose, and it is important to take a whole-campus approach to a digital strategy before implementing new tools; technology initiatives work much better when aligned with an organisation’s business and teaching and learning plans.
Digital leaders in HE must now work out how ‘disruptive’ technologies can be introduced into methods of working in a way that encourages engagement from academic and support staff.
Thanks to all of those who were involved in the research of this report. I hope that it encourages university leaders to keep engaging with technology, but also remember it’s only a means to an end, not the end itself.