Higher education leaders likely remember a time when the prominent technology that was highlighted on campuses included computer labs, payphones, emergency poles, typewriters, electronic library systems, and perhaps a baseline learning management system. While many of these technologies have gone by the wayside, several remain and have evolved and retained relevancy with students.
While technologies that are currently working should be enhanced, integrated, and supplemented with modern tools, several of those technologies will see extinction on college campuses in the coming years. These systems that will see obsolescence include the removal of dated physical hardware as well as changes in software and systems that universities utilize to connect with prospective students, active students, alumni, and the community.
Single-Point Emergency Systems
Emergency poles prolific throughout campuses will no longer be the only emergency alert systems that institutions will employ. These poles have been utilized in the last two decades and have successfully created a sense of security and provided a way for students to alert of emergency situations that are in proximity. However, they do not address all of the security and emergency issues that unfortunately can arise on campuses.
Mobile technology will take a leading role in campus safety procedures and, for many institutions, has already served as the first foray into text (SMS) alert services for students. In addition to these text alerts, universities will begin to utilize mobile apps that have capabilities to overtake a student’s phone to ensure they receive vital alerts. These security-enhanced student apps will provide the ability to share less urgent alerts or warnings with a segmented portion of students depending on the situation. This smart segmentation will be powered by known student attributes or by current geographic location — for example, only alerting relevant students who attend in-person classes to weather cancellations versus disturbing or confusing online-only learners. These apps will also provide the ability to quickly contact an emergency line while also allowing the specific location of the phone to be shared with the first responders.
Student Identification Cards
Another physical change that will be seen is the decrease of physical identification cards and their associated scanning devices. Instead, students will utilize mobile apps with virtual student identification cards that include payment tools that integrate with their current university payment account or commercial tools such as Apple Pay to pay for their meals in dining halls, campus coffee shops, the bookstore, and other on-campus locations where payments are accepted. In addition, this mobile ID card will be utilized for access to campus gyms, checking out library materials, and other campus services utilizing student IDs.
In addition to providing payment and the standard functionalities of a student ID card, beacon and near field communication (NFC) technologies will be leveraged extensively to provide an enhanced student experience. These use cases include the ability to take mobile attendance (with no action on the part of the student) as well as location-based communications that could alert students nearby of events happening soon or even a last-minute extra ticket to an exclusive on-campus event.
Additionally, university athletic departments could utilize these tools to engage with event attendees and provide additional content or access for students and alumni at these events. We see this shift already taking place in professional sports as 47% of NFL, 93% of MLB, and 53% of NBA teams used beacon technology in Q2 of 2016 according to Unacast’s Proxbook Report.
Traditional Student Communications
The way that universities communicate with students will be one of the biggest areas of revolution. The higher education space was an early and strong adopter of Listserv technology and, in many institutions, this concept has continued to be prevalent as student communications are primarily driven by a series of mass, campus-wide emails. While email itself will not become obsolete in higher education, universities will continue to strive for more effective and efficient ways to not only communicate with students, but also drive specific behaviors.
The future of student communication will be a mobile-first approach which will utilize a combination of in-app messaging, push notifications, text messages, and native-app content feeds. Additionally, increased segmentation and personalization will become the norm as the need to impact student behavior, engagement, and outcomes becomes increasingly vital.
Because of the analytics of these new, digital communication methods, universities will have a full picture of the students’ engagement with various communications across multiple mediums. This deep level of engagement analytics will give universities an unparalleled ability to influence behavior. Institutions that view the behavior and efficacy of communications overlaid with student demographics will be uniquely positioned to nudge students to attend events, engage with professors and advisors, and succeed in academics. These nudges and corresponding actions will ultimately drive better student engagement and outcomes.
Many universities still have a substantial amount of systems that are run through on-premise software systems that don’t integrate with each other. This will continue to decrease in prevalence as the proliferation of cloud-based technologies continues in both the business world as well as higher education. According to a 2016 Center for Digital Education survey, 69% of higher education institutions already use cloud-based technologies.
In addition to this shift to cloud-based technologies, there will be increased adoption of more business technologies as a whole in higher education. As the pace of innovation and expectations of students increase, the need for best-in-class business technologies will be vital, beyond traditional edtech technologies. We see this as more major software providers launch tailored education solutions and place more focus on higher education.
Many of today’s technologies will become obsolete as institutions move towards a mobile-first, data-driven, and cloud-based approach to technology. Simultaneously, hardware needs will adjust and evolve on campuses as the physical devices change to reflect the newest technologies. These changes must be swift and strategic as these technologies have the power to drive student engagement and ultimately student outcomes.