11 November 2021
Universities embracing technology
Universities across the UK are undergoing a digital transformation as they start embracing new technology in many forms.
The higher education sector is usually under the spotlight for one reason or another. In the last two years, there have been many reasons to talk about universities and the way they're structured. We've seen a growing trend in the industry that's continuing to grow - and has been sped up by the ongoing pandemic.
We're talking, of course, about universities embracing technology.
Universities across the UK are undergoing a digital transformation while embracing new technology in various forms. From their websites to the actual educational content provided to students, there have been many ways in which the universities of today are vastly different from those of yesteryear.
Today, we're going to explore some of the ways in which universities are transitioning to the digital age. This will include going over some of the technologies at play, displaying how and why higher education institutions are adopting them.
Remote learning has been around long before the pandemic started. Many online institutions only provided higher education courses remotely, but it's fair to say that the mainstream universities only really adopted this approach when forced to in March 2020.
Fast forward to September 2021, and many of the top universities in the UK are refusing to scrap online lessons. This comes after all COVID regulations were lifted by the government earlier in the summer. Why? Because these universities have realised that there's enough technology at their disposal to offer online lessons. With the rise in video conferencing software and digital teaching platforms, lecturers are realising that they don't gain much from physically being in the room with students.
In fact, a study by Birmingham University found that remote and blended learning can be just as effective as face-to-face learning in higher education. This is because it gives students a chance to learn in a comfortable environment, removing some of the stressors associated with face-to-face lessons. There's no need to worry about getting ready for lectures and leaving with no breakfast; students can get comfortable in their rooms and still engage in the learning materials.
Universities are also embracing technology with regard to the learning tools offered to students. One study found that 82% of students use digital tools to access lecture notes or recorded lectures every week. This shows how critical digital technology is for the regular tasks that students have to undergo.
Every university will have its own online portal for students to access, with Blackboard being the most popular. Here, lecturers and course leaders can upload documents, videos and anything else that might help students throughout the course. It's a way of providing more structure to courses while still encouraging the idea of independent learning.
As time goes on, more and more digital tools will be implemented to enhance the learning experience for university students. For instance, the latest update of Blackboard Learn has brought new technologies to help lecturers annotate and mark assignments, making it easier for students to see notes and understand where things could be improved. There's also technology that allows students to check the originality of their submissions before submitting, ensuring they don't fall into the plagiarism bracket.
We've also seen a massive change in the way that universities are approaching the idea of student support. If you were to look at the five pillars of digital transformation, customer experience falls in as the first element. In a university sense, the student is effectively the customer - at least, if you think about it from the perspective of the university being the business.
Consequently, to venture into the world of digital transformation, universities have had to start improving the student experience. Part of this is done via digital tools and online learning, but a large chunk falls under the student support category. New technologies and ideas are being implemented to provide students with as much support as possible.
It's all about giving students easy access to support, whenever they need it. If you run a university, could you think of a simple way of doing this? Adding live chat for your website is arguably the easiest way of improving support while moving ahead with your digital transformation. As it happens, if you visit most university websites right now, you will see a chatbot in the corner. Existing students can use these bots to gain information on lots of topics - including help with their studies, mental health support, living on campus, and much more. Of course, prospective students can also find live chat useful, gaining answers to questions relating to courses, etc.
The bottom line is that universities are embracing technology to offer better support to students and prospects. It is getting easier than ever for someone to get the assistance they need without needing to spend time on a long phone call - or needing to email a lecturer.
Naturally, cybersecurity has long been an issue in the world of higher education. With so many students and faculty working on network systems, it's a big challenge to keep everyone protected. However, times are changing and universities are using technology to slowly adapt and improve security measures.
Interestingly, this is being fuelled by the fact that demonstrating you take cybersecurity seriously is now a prerequisite of grant funding and government contract applications. The only way for institutions to do this is by embracing technology to tightest their defences. The latest and best cybersecurity technology and software are being rolled out across the country, ensuring that universities remain protected.
All in all, we can see many instances where universities are implementing technology throughout their organisations. The pandemic has definitely been a catalyst of sorts for some elements of this, speeding up the acceptance of online learning and encouraging more advanced digital tools to be implemented. Many of the technological developments in higher education focus on the student's experience, particularly with regard to support. As time goes on, we can expect to see even more acceptance of technology in this sector, turning universities into more tech-focused organisations in the future.