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November 7, 2018 | By

Educause 2018: What Does Digital Transformation Mean for Higher Ed IT Departments?

The Educause Annual Conference happened last week in Denver bringing together higher education institutions of all shapes and sizes to discuss what’s happening in the world of Higher Ed Technology. Amongst the many different initiatives highlighted throughout the conference, it was clear that each and every one is dealing with a common trend: Digital Transformation.

While Dx is not new to other industries (think: Amazon in retail, Uber in transportation), Higher Ed is just starting to be really revolutionized by technology.  So it’s no surprise that this year’s agenda was chock full of sessions surrounding that topic as IT professionals all grapple with the question “Is my IT department set up to support the changing technological ecosystem at my institution?”.  Here are some challenges that are becoming increasingly prevalent as a result of Digital Transformation and what it means for those IT departments.

Supporting Distance Learners

It is no secret that there is an increasing population of students that are considered “distance learners.”  Whether it is taking one or two online classes, or opting for a fully online degree, 29.7% of all students are taking at least one distance course (up 3.9% over the previous year).  This means that supporting these students’ needs goes beyond the on-campus help desk.  Ensuring that the proper tools are in place for effective remote sessions is critical to student success, especially in those time-sensitive scenarios like submitting a homework assignment or registering for classes.  Worth noting is that the list of devices these students use seems to grow every year, so supporting mobile devices, Chromebooks, and the like are a new focus. IT professionals are considering how they can scale their efforts offsite and provide fast, easy support for simple and complex tech issues alike.

Leveraging Chatbots and AI

A quick walk around the exhibit hall makes it clear that AI and Machine Learning are taking off in the Higher Ed space in a big way.  And this makes sense! Students expect more personalized and convenient experiences with every brand they interact with – so their school is no exception.  IT professionals are exploring how to meet students where they are already and cut back on archaic processes by  utilizing chatbots. A great example is in the elimination of forms living statically in portals. Instead, schools are looking to digitalize that process using chatbots backed by data the schools already have. Additionally, I talked to multiple departments who want to provide omni-channel support (whether that’s tech support or beyond) using AI to take care of those first-level questions.

Training Faculty and Staff

As technologies advance and are embraced by students, faculty and staff will need to follow suit. IT departments will need to consider how to best serve the professional development needs of employees to get them comfortable leveraging new technologies.  This ranges from education around what Digital Transformation even is, to training on specific technologies that they will come across every day. Due to this, IT will play a bigger role in these initiatives and facilitate those conversations across the institution.

It’s an exciting time in Higher Ed as technology promises to unlock new potential for students and faculty alike. And with this comes a renewed focus and importance on a prepared help desk and proactive IT department to support institutions through this transformation.

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