Accelerating digital transformation to create the “higher education we deserve”
The past 18 months have seen unparalleled changes in how higher education uses technology to support teaching, learning, research, and service. Many colleges and universities explored new technology not envisioned before the pandemic. This year’s Top 10 IT Issues, 2022: The Higher Education We Deserve, released by EDUCAUSE in October 2021, takes “an optimistic view of how technology can help make the higher education we deserve—through a shared transformational vision and strategy for the institution, a recognition of the need to place students’ success at the center, and a sustainable business model that has redefined ‘the campus.’”
In setting a vision for the “higher education we deserve,” the report recognizes that the higher education we knew before the pandemic will not be the one that emerges post-pandemic. Leaders must meet this moment by redefining the constructs of higher education—reshaping “business models and culture to anticipate and serve the current and emerging needs of learners, communities, and employers.” The report groups the top 10 priorities into three imperatives: 1) shared vision, shared strategy; 2) student success as institutional success; and 3) sustainable business models.
Shared vision, shared strategy
A shared vision and strategy requires diverse units at our colleges and universities to “be willing and able to plan and act collaboratively” to support digital transformation. This requires not only the technology tools to improve operational efficiency, agility, and workforce development, but harnessing this technology to deliver on a post-pandemic institutional vision.
One key to creating a vision and strategy is using data to better understand how the institution is performing, and then asking questions of that data to inform decisions about where the institution wants to go. At Amazon Web Services (AWS), we work with higher education leaders to turn data into wisdom. Leveraging institutions’ data to gain insights and make informed decisions can be a challenge. AWS can help optimize how an institution collects, analyzes, and stores data. In doing so, institutions can help learners get to a degree faster and more cost-effectively, and leverage insights to improve operational processes.
Our customers tell us they need better ways to store, manage, and unlock insights from the large amounts of data at their institutions. At the same time, data optimization can identify cost saving opportunities across the institution. Maryville University recently launched a data lake project to collect and analyze data to improve student outcomes. To make its vision immediately actionable and impactful, the university decided to focus on improving student retention first.
Student success as institutional success
By working backward from the customer (in this case, the learner), institutions should be “optimizing their offerings to meet students’ needs.” This includes not only a student-first mindset, but also designing digital solutions with an eye for equitable access. Additionally, EDUCAUSE suggests that institutions should be focusing their curricular and co-curricular learning on providing students with opportunities to try (and fail) at a variety of skills that allow them to be 21st-century digital citizens, including creative problem-solving, creativity, critical thinking, and more.
At AWS, we work with higher education leaders to enrich the student experience. A digitally-savvy student population expects 24/7 access to personalized, digital experiences both in and outside of the classroom. This can take the form of virtual computing labs, intelligent digital assistants, innovative voice technologies, and extended reality environments. AWS is helping institutions create new ways to engage with students, assist with continuity of teaching and learning, and improve equity and access to digital resources.
In creating this new student experience, our customers are also working to eliminate the digital divide. AWS can help support secure, scalable, and cost effective solutions, allowing students to access important software from anywhere in the world. Solutions like Amazon AppStream 2.0, Amazon Workspaces, and Amazon Connect help institutions give the full campus community access to essential applications and learning/working environments. We also work with institutions to use voice technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) to create innovative solutions that improve student experience and outcomes. For example, Arizona State University leverages AWS interactive video streaming to enhance student life and deepen learner engagement.
Sustainable business model
To achieve a sustainable business model, institutions need to prioritize information security, leverage the cloud, and learn from the lessons of what worked (and didn’t) during the pandemic. EDUCAUSE suggests that “the higher education we deserve needs to be able to operate efficiently and manage risks effectively. It needs to be sustainable. Done well, technology can help organizations control and reduce costs, as well as scale beyond their size.”
At AWS, we work with higher education leaders to modernize and secure the academy. From moving mission-critical IT systems to the cloud to building a digitally connected campus, colleges and universities of all sizes are modernizing their administrative operations on AWS to become more secure, agile, and resilient for the future. AWS helps provide increased agility, data security, compliance, and disaster recovery while helping to lower costs.
Becoming more agile and flexible and driving down operational costs to focus on the strategic priorities are keys to deriving a sustainable business model for higher education. Additionally, unexpected events can have longstanding business and reputational impact, particularly for institutions that house complex systems. To help make sure an institution’s systems are secure and redundant, AWS offers tools to build disaster recovery and business continuity protocols, so institutions like Florida State University, can stay secure without incurring the expense of another physical site. This includes moving an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system and Student Information System (SIS) to the cloud, like Bucknell University did, or migrating data centers and enhancing cybersecurity.
Leveraging the cloud to accelerate digital transformation
As a former higher education chief information officer (CIO), I understand both the challenges and the importance of digital transformation. With a strong cloud technology foundation, colleges and universities can focus on activities that will improve their community. The top 10 issues EDUCAUSE highlights as priorities for the upcoming year extend beyond the borders of any single institution. By modernizing and securing the academy with strong foundations of technology, institutions can focus on turning data into wisdom, enriching the student experience, and empowering and accelerating research.
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