In the classroom
There is an expanding market for technology inside the classroom as postsecondary is moving away from the lecture/readings/papers/tests paradigm. Online capabilities and technology continue to evolve and to play an increasing role, and not just in the growth of online classes.
Lectures are increasingly being captured, either so that students can use them as reviews, or so that students can miss the live lecture. Institutions are increasingly creating collaborative assignments, completing the assignment in a group. This increases the engagement of the students, and also gives them an additional life skill, that of working as part of a group. Solutions that capture lectures, increase engagement, and help collaboration are in demand.
For recording lectures, the trend is for the software to integrate with the LMS (Blackboard, Sakai, Angel, etc.), and for it to be tagged and searchable. Thus, if the instructor’s computer has notes about a particular point, students should be able to query that point and go directly to the section of the lecture-capture that addresses it without having to listen to the entire lecture.
Some of this material will need to be reusable, while some will exist just for that one course in that one semester. For example, the student in Psych 101 in the winter will have no interest in watching the lectures from the previous term. But, the professor may decide to save a particular demonstration for other classes, especially if it cannot be replicated.
To increase engagement, classrooms increasingly have projectors, elmos, smartboards, speakers, and student response systems. New SRS systems allow the students’ PDAs and Cellphones as input devices. Classrooms may also have classroom networks that allow the instructor to dynamically give control of the projector to a student’s laptop, share applications with the students, set up a backchannel for classroom chat, and send and receive files.
Technology helps students and researchers visualize, map, and tag data, collaborate, and share resources. There is continued demand for solutions that are more powerful, easier to use, and meet new applications. For example, researchers in different locations may record data on different but related phenomena. Institutions want applications that make it possible for students or researchers in different locations to access, analyze, chart, map, tag, report, and present this information. In another example, highly specialized or expensive equipment can be remotely controlled; imagine an astronomy class being able to control a telescope in Australia or the probe on Mars.
With today’s mobile students, there is also demand for applications that can function through smart cell phones with tiny screens, individual computer screens, and shared large screen output devices, depending on the location and needs of the student at the time. Issues around these applications don’t just revolve around the user interface and screen size, but also the processing power of the device and the collaboration needs of the project.
Collaboration can involve special group work areas, software that let students see and control a central machine, and share virtual screens and applications.
There has also been some evidence that institutions and publishers are working together to design materials (print and electronic). This may be due to the abovementioned changes in the classroom dynamic, an attempt to reduce the cost of textbooks, and the desire of institutions to brand and differentiate themselves. While the for-profit schools were the first to institutionalize custom materials, a number of community colleges and technical state schools are also starting to move in this direction.
Changes in administration
Over the past twenty years, institutions have installed different technologies to meet their various needs, including student information systems, LMS and CMS systems, accounting systems, ERP systems, security systems, CRM systems, portals, etc. While these systems often perform their functions well, they break down when the same data needs to be used in different departments or contexts.
Efforts to increase effectiveness are forcing academic, student, financial, and administration systems to share information. Postsecondary institutions are desperately looking to integrate this data in a secure way; but they are also looking to continually enhance the functionality of each solution, cut costs, and be green.
Meet all of these needs, and you’ve got a winner.
The large ERP systems are trying to round out their offerings, but in the absence of a single product that meets all of a university’s needs, interoperability, standards such as PEST, consulting services, and outsourcing are filling the gap.
Many of the large companies are looking to provide ERP systems that do everything. Niche players are working to ensure that their best of breed solutions integrate easily with general-purpose ones while improving functionality, ease-of-use, and/or security. Consulting services companies find ways to construct custom solutions for institutions, to integrate legacy systems with new additions. Middleware companies are building solutions that pass data between applications; one of the most pervasive of which are document management systems that have been tailored for the postsecondary market.
There is a bias in many postsecondary institutions toward using open source software. Universities will join together to design software that meets all of their needs, and then offer that software to others once it is usable. Past projects have died on the vine once the product reached a certain level, but increasingly, for-profit firms are joining in the consortia. They offer the group the ability to hold the development efforts together while they gain the advantage of being part of the project from the beginning and the source of choice for support, installation, and customization. One such effort just starting to bear fruit is the Kuali project; an open source ERP initiative with financial, student-facing, and human resource modules. Each module has a five year development cycle, with five institutions supporting it with $1 million per year. The first module, Kuala Finance, is being rolled out in Spring, 2009.
Changes in Infrastructure
Institutions feel pressure to reduce costs, increase flexibility, and go green, while facing a hostile environment for fundraising, withdrawing money from their endowment, and increasing tuition.
IT is often called in to solve these problems, yet there is an inherent conflict between IT, which needs a stable controlled environment to maintain security and reliability, and the academic environment, which often encourages openness and experimentation.
Sometimes, C-level jobs are being filled by people coming from the private sector. Often trustees are highly successful private sector executives. Either way, the institutions are being asked to show the ROI for their expenditures, and the current term for this is cost recovery.
There is a growing need for systems that allow institutions to track the costs, life, and usage of their assets. Not just sticking an RFID tag on a computer, this includes tracking all capital and operational expenditures, and then following usage of those assets. A surprising example involves tracking light bulb expenditures and expected replacement dates, because the significantly higher initial cost, extended lifetime, manufacturer guarantees, and lower power usage of CFL bulbs.
There is a huge consulting opportunity for service organizations to guide institutions through the process of tracking and analyzing their assets, and then using the data to increase effectiveness and efficiency.
Cloud computing can intersect all three infrastructure needs. The computer center is a major user of electricity, and can be the number one use. Cloud outsourcing can reduce electric costs as well as the carbon footprint of the institution.
Another advantage, in difficult financial times, is that cloud computing can move a solution from requiring a large initial capital outlay, to just an operational expense while also adding the flexibility for the institution to only pay for what is used.
IT has often resisted outsourcing, but significant pressure to reduce costs is forcing them to reconsider and define their core competencies. Many IT operations, which were state-of-the art ten years ago, have now become commodities. For example, running an Exchange email server used to be a highly value added job. But, while every university needs email, what student picks a college because of its email system? Using a shared service, the institution can free up an IT employee for more strategic work and reduce costs.
The term most often used is to outsource what is critical but not strategic.
While thin-computing never took off, its current day analogue, desktop virtualization, may be hitting critical speed. Institutions are interested in desktop virtualization when they can be shown dramatic reductions in software licensing costs, support costs, and use of electricity. One of the larger postsecondary consulting firms acknowledged that its desktop virtualization consulting services increased 40% a year over the last two years.