When it comes to students selecting a higher education institution, the reputation of the institution is everything. Students are increasingly dependent on both the physical and digital environment in which they study. Technology and access to personalized digital tools to support their learning and teaching is now a standard part of the college or university experience. If an institution does not offer a suitable digital campus environment students will look elsewhere. For this reason, I anticipate a growing number of colleges/universities in the US and the UK will begin adopting technologies and strategies to become digital campuses and improve the student’s user experience of and access to online systems and learning environments. Doing so will be a necessity if these institutions want to remain competitive and relevant.
About three years ago, AUB was regarded as being slightly behind the times in terms of delivering a digital campus, and so we have spent two years improving the technology offered to students and the methods by which they could access information and online systems. By making these changes, we strengthened our reputation as an Institution where today’s students want to enroll and study.
Converting to a digital campus
A digital campus should offer students seamless access to online information, learning and teaching tools enabling them to produce the work required of them, and software allowing them to stay connected to and collaborate with each other and the university. To start the process we convened a group of stakeholders -- members in the university community, students, staff and professional business staff -- to speak candidly about what they wanted in regards to a "digital campus." From these stakeholder meetings, we gained a clearly defined set of aims and objectives which a digital campus needs to deliver. This gave us a "shopping list" so to speak, of tools, software and technology that was needed to develop and deliver.
Ensuring the tools fit the needs
The design of our previous learning management system didn’t fit the needs of our students. Most LMS platforms aren’t geared toward specialized art, design, media and performance students’ work. You can’t upload an art installation into a traditional LMS platform and expect it to be accurately reviewed and graded. AUB students make things. We paint, make films and computer generate projects so the element of doing exams or quizzes within an LMS just doesn’t fit for us. We talked with students about the various ways they submit their work and ended up building our own LMS site that supports handbooks, presentations, videos of creating material and students blogs. We also gave students a terabyte of free cloud storage to allow easy movement of files between university and home. Another aspect of a digital campus is collaboration. Students must learn how to work together effectively on teams. So we also adopted software that allows them to share their tablet’s screen with the class on a large television, access projects online, and conduct video meetings.
Give them an app
Higher education institutions will increasingly be focusing on convenience and personalization. The most important thing on our “shopping list” was to find a tool that could integrate all of our systems -- the website, student schedules, calendars, email, news feeds and alerts, and even bus schedules -- and present them to the students in a clear, concise, convenient manner via a smart phone. Giving students choices and easy access helps keep them connected and engaged.
Checking off the list
In the past 18 months, we’ve developed and checked off almost everything that was on the shopping list. Students and staff are very pleased with the new digital campus environment. It is inevitable that higher education institutions will go down this path as students increasingly demand access to student-facing information and learning environments. Three years ago a common question for colleges and universities was “do you have wifi?” Now it goes without saying that every campus has wifi. Now the questions are “What else do you offer?” and “do you have an app?” When it comes to a place of study and learning there are certain services that students now expect. We can now say that AUB offers them all. In the coming years, I expect more and more colleges and universities will follow suit in creating a digital campus environment -- a necessity to meet the needs and expectations of today’s and tomorrow’s students.
Stephen Harvey is head of Digital Campus Services at Arts University Bournemouth, an arts university in Dorset, England. AUB uses myday by Collabco.
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