The higher education landscape is rapidly transforming due to the increased use of technology among students and staff. Now, rather than using technology as an extracurricular resource, digital solutions and platforms are deeply engrained in how students learn and engage with others. As more modern, digital-savvy students enter the post-secondary environment, institutions are pressured to adopt and fully embrace more technology-driven ecosystems.
In today’s world, technology must be incorporated into an institution’s overall strategy and underlying infrastructure at a fundamental level. As online learning gains traction and fewer students return to campus in-person, colleges and universities need to prioritize digital experiences.
Enter: The digital campus.
In the world of higher education, the digital campus comprises an environment that leverages innovative technologies to drive and modernize social, academic, and administrative activities. A digital campus infuses technology into nearly all aspects of campus life to drive student experiences, improve efficiency, modernize operations, reduce costs, and build a future-proof foundation primed for growth.
At its core, the digital campus prioritizes user experiences for students and other constituents.
Most of today’s learners are tech-savvy, digital-native students who have incorporated various technology services and platforms into their everyday lives. Online services from providers like Amazon, Netflix, Apple, Instagram, and others have permeated consumers’ lives to the extent that people have come to expect similarly digital, if not mobile, experiences elsewhere in the physical world. In higher education, institutions that are not leveraging modern, consumer-grade technologies will simply not be able to deliver the experiences that students demand.
A true digital campus has minimal manual or paper-based processes. This enables students to avoid waiting in long lines for questions to be answered or transactions to be processed. Tasks like registering for courses, finding housing and roommates, paying tuition and other fees, interacting with advisors and faculty, and more are conducted online to accelerate the process and support the anywhere, anytime mentality of modern students.
A digital campus also fully embraces the self-service attitude of today’s consumers. The digital campus offers a single point of access to critical resources through an online, user-friendly portal that connects all constituents, from prospective and current students to alumni and staff. With one login and password, constituents can easily access myriad role-specific content, including everything from administrative records and reports for faculty and staff to calendars, chatrooms, online exams, and other learning materials for students.
The traditional higher education experience in which an individual completes high school, attends college and lives on campus full time, and graduates within four years is no longer the norm. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, institutions were implementing new elearning modalities – from technology-enhanced to fully online or CBE models. However, the pandemic shook the industry to its core and forced higher education institutions to make this transition even faster and more aggressively. As a result, the modern, digital campus delivers online learning experiences that have become the new normal.
While an institution may have adopted an online learning strategy, the model it follows may not be the same as another institution’s elearning program. Today, there are multiple modes of course delivery, including fully online, hybrid learning strategies that include a balance of in-person and online courses, and even the more modern hybrid-flexible (HyFlex) models that give students more freedom over how they attend classes. Whatever the case, the digital campus has adopted one of these strategies for at least a portion of its academic portfolio to give students more elearning options.
The digital classroom, like its digital campus counterpart, requires deliberate course design; it must enable student engagement, collaboration, and community building; flexible learning paths for learners of varying levels of preparation; and different types of assessments to measure student outcomes. The way digital classrooms are established and supported determines the effectiveness of an institution’s online learning program.
To support a successful online learning environment, the digital campus often includes broadband on campus and enables students to perform coursework through mobile platforms. In many cases, the digital campus also utilizes a cloud infrastructure to scale and secure online courses.
The use of advanced applications and technologies in their personal lives has encouraged students, faculty, and staff to expect similar experiences on campus. As more solutions are introduced and brought into the higher education space, the network grows in complexity. Enabling seamless operations and experiences requires IT to integrate and orchestrate these diverse solutions to minimize silos.
The modern digital campus ensures that applications used across the network meet the latest standards so they can be integrated through application program interfaces (APIs) or orchestration platforms. While many institutions have integrated their student information systems (SIS), enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, and other core technologies, some of those integrations may be outdated or tied explicitly to legacy platforms that are not up to speed with more modern applications. By prioritizing standardization across the IT environment, the digital campus better promotes system interoperability and data integrity.
Meanwhile, a fully integrated technology footprint can help IT departments work more productively, which can result in reduced costs and increased innovation. When systems across campus are integrated and sharing data, staff can eliminate cumbersome processes or workarounds and streamline workflows to increase efficiency. As a result, productive IT departments will have more time to strategize the next iteration of the digital campus and make way for new, creative ways to support students.
Technology will continue to evolve alongside its increased use. Higher educations that want to stay relevant, deliver satisfying student experiences, and combat enrollment challenges need to focus on implementing a digital campus that keeps pace with modern expectations.