Thoughts on student experience, culture, MOOC’s and more…

I was recently asked by the folks over at University Business magazine to contribute to a New Year themed Q&A piece on the HE sector. The final article seems to be offline only, but I thought it would be good to share my contribution to readers of the blog.

In your opinion, what have been the most significant technological developments in the UK university sector in 2013?

With exciting new trends and technologies such as game based learning maturing and building momentum, mobility solutions that offer access to core university services becoming more widespread and infrastructure investments now making ubiquitous connectivity a reality for many HE students, 2013 has been a significant year for technology across the HE sector. These technology trends are helping to better connect students, create more emotional connections with learning and raise attainment.

The drum roll moment here though, in terms of what is actually the most significant technological development in the UK isn't actually technology related at all, in my opinion. While these are unquestionably making a real difference to the experience of students, faculty and staff across the sector, I believe the key 'stand out' development with regard to technology across the sector in 2013 is culture.

With emerging technologies, combined with areas such the cloud now maturing and reaching the mainstream, without the cultural transformation that has supported these developments the sector would not be as flexible, supportive and experience orientated as it is currently.

With the importance that technology plays within the overall sector, this cultural transformation, alongside cloud technologies etc, has created a perfect storm for shaping an environment where staff can be more effective and students can excel. Roll on 2014, and beyond. It's going to be an exciting ride! 

Will the student experience continue to be a major focus in 2014?

With the intense level of competition across the sector, student experience can't afford not to be a major focus in 2014. We have heard for some time now the mantra that 'students are consumers' and the level of service that they experience from HE institutions needs to delight, surprise and exceed their expectations.

Offering ubiquitous connectivity, great devices and anytime, anywhere access to learning materials is only a small part of this overall equation. In order to create great experiences for students, institutions need to become more proactive in developing and offering a unique and personalised offering for students.

Business Intelligence (BI) technologies or analytics need to be featured at the heart of this dedication and commitment to creating compelling and action orientated experiences for students. With BI technologies, for example, at the heart of any student experience initiative, institutions can gain greater insight and turn data into a set of actions that can help improve grades and increase the likelihood of helping the student meet their objectives and get a job within a highly competitive market.

Institutions need to start with the desire to put the student first and be dedicated to creating memorable experiences. With this as the foundation, institutions then need to get serious about creating a holistic view of the student, which can then help shape a tailored journey through their university career from recruitment to alumni. Business Intelligence solutions can act as the key to unlocking the door to delivering exceptional student experiences and should definitely be on the Christmas wish list.

Will 2014 present any new challenges in the higher education sector? If so, what will they be?

The last few years has seen some serious innovation within the HE sector, particularly with regard to technology. Some of the key challenges the sector faces over the coming years, though, will be about creating an even stronger environment for this innovation, in both technology and teaching and learning, to flourish.

MOOCs, for example, are offering democratised access to world class content and bring new competitive pressures to universities (as discussed in the excellent 'An Avalanche is Coming'), but what about the assessment? Without the formal assessment, and recognition of these achievements, the full impact of these exciting development will not be realised.

I am incredibly excited about what 2014 will bring, but it's up to the whole sector to ensure that we are stepping up to ensure that the support, pedagogy and culture keeps pace to ensure that we are delivering an environment and experience that takes full advantage of the technologies and best practice available to us.

I would love to hear what you think. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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