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July 13, 2017
Conquering the Digital Divide
By: Ian Watt

Colleges and universities have already begun to welcome students who have lived their entire lives in a digital world. An 18-year old was born a year after Google was founded. They may, for example, have never set foot in a bank branch, and they cannot conceive of life without a smartphone and the instant access to information that it provides. Their expectations of always-on, instantly available services are set by the likes of Amazon, Uber and Netflix. As these digital natives arrive on campus, they bring with them some very different ideas about how life should be organized and how they will navigate every element of their experience—from lecture halls to living accommodations.

I expect that efforts to design a re-imagined digital campus will become as important as the development of better physical spaces for students was a decade ago. Many institutions sought to differentiate themselves by delivering extraordinary facilities and environments for students to enjoy. We saw everything from rock-climbing walls to fancy dorms, gourmet food options, and resort-style swimming pools appear on campuses to appeal to prospective and current students. And now, as institutions begin to realize that digital experience extends well beyond offering online classes, we’re starting to see the same degree of attention paid to the type of digital environment necessary to attract and retain today’s students.

Getting this right matters. In a recent survey we conducted, 85 percent of high school seniors said that digital innovation was an important factor in their enrollment decision-making. Yet, when we asked college freshmen what they thought of their institution’s digital environment, only 13 percent offered a positive assessment. Campus administrators are responsible for all aspects of real estate, energy, technology, and finances of the institution, as well as the safety, well-being, and personal experience of its occupants — not to mention fulfilling the educational and research mission. In this context, administrators are under enormous pressure to deliver a higher quality living/learning experience in an increasingly complex and competitive landscape.

New technologies, such as Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Advanced Analytics, and Virtual Reality have the potential to transform the campus digital experience. But, technology alone is not sufficient. It’s tempting to pursue new technologies to highlight innovation on campus. However, pursuit of new technologies without a clear plan risks isolated use cases that, while neat, will fail to deliver enterprise change or value. With a well formed digital strategy, designed to harness the full potential of emerging technologies, institutions have the potential to achieve a safer, more sustainable, cost-effective, and transformed campus experience.

I’m looking forward to discussing these ideas in further detail at the upcoming NACUBO conference with Orlando Leon, CIO at California State University Fresno; Deb Crawford, VP for Research at George Mason University; Ron Hutchins, VP for IT at the University of Virginia; and Rob Alexander, VP for Enrollment and Communications at Millsaps College. It’s a diverse group of institutions and roles. And that diversity is important, because the development of a digital campus is something that Higher Education leaders across all roles at all institutions must address.

In the meantime, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the challenges and opportunities related to designing the campus of the future.

See this post on LinkedIn: Conquering the Digital Divide

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