“… And I have become convinced that the most revolutionary force for change is the students themselves. Give children the tools they need and they will be the single most important source of guidance on how to make the schools relevant and effective”.
Don Tapscott, author of numerous books that discuss technology’s affect on our daily lives, including 'Growing up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation', McGraw Hill 1998; and, one of the most sought after experts on how the Internet is transforming business strategy, government and society included this quote in an article written on behalf of the Milken Family Foundation: ‘The Net Generation and The School'.
According to this pre Y2K published article, broadband access for households with students was projected to reach forty to fifty per cent by 2000. During March 2007, Datamonitor published a research paper titled,'2007 Trends to Watch: Education Tecnology', where the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR) 2006 annual survey of US college students was cited. The Educause report stated that “97.8% of undergraduates own either a desktop or laptop computer and spend an average of nearly 23 hours per week using technology.” Without taking too much of a leap, I’m going to guess the majority of those hours are spent using academic, social networking, career search and other consumer oriented applications that are all web delivered (web services).
The Datamonitor report further explores compelling issues facing Higher Ed in 2007 that CRM vendors need to understand, “in order to manipulate these changes to their advantage” while serving the Higher Ed technology market effectively:
"The ethos of doing more with the same or less will continue to pervade the education market”
Over the past decade Higher Ed has replaced its custom applications built on mainframes that handled Admissions, Class Registration, Finance, and other mission critical business processes with vendor provided ERP solutions. As institutions implemented systems that were more powerful and could be accessed through a PC connected to a network, significant investments in infrastructure and qualified technical resources to support these systems were made.
Along the way though the broad availability and use of the Internet began impacting how Higher Ed communicated with its customers (students), alumni and others. Universities rushed to get web sites up and running that serve to attract new students and communicate with their constituents in an efficient manner. While university web sites are engaging, well designed and do deliver on providing visitors information required, those areas of day to day interaction with students (student portals) continue to lack the function necessary to serve these users effectively. The student portals have evolved as a patchwork of systems – some more efficient than others – and are usually front ends and links to systems designed in a client server world, operating as silos for information.
And now these institutions are at cross roads. With limited available resources, do they spend more money, time and effort upgrading or ‘fusing’ these systems; slapping a front end on them and expecting savvy Internet users to wait while the screen flashes ‘processing’; or, do they leverage the investments already made in these systems by integrating them on platforms designed and built as web services from the ground up?
Web delivered platforms can enable the use of data stored in a relational manner while leveraging infrastructure already in place. This approach can provide the services users enjoy when using the consumer web and is a method by which universities will be able to do more with less.
Platform solutions designed and built as web services are available now. They can extend the life of the technology investments institutions have made while providing the efficiencies, services and most importantly look, feel and user experience students and those paying for education demand.
“More vocal demands for external accountability are changing how institutions evaluate their effectiveness”
Which leads me to the next issue facing Higher Ed. Transparency and accountability! The costs for education; an average $5,836 per year at 4-year public institutions in 2006; and, an average $22,218 per year at 4-year private schools during the same year, has brought together, “a broad range of constituents, including policymakers, students, families, taxpayers and even business leaders … in order to demand more stringent accountability from education institutions”. If I’m writing a check for anywhere between $5,000 to $40,000 each year to educate my child and/or paying taxes that are contributing to my states ability to finance the post secondary education of its’ citizens, I’m going to want to know where that money is coming from, how it’s disbursed and, what I’m getting for it.
In its Draft Report on Higher Education issued August 2006 the United State Department of Education clearly states, “There is inadequate transparency and accountability for measuring institutional performance, which is more and more necessary to maintaining public trust in higher education”.
The report recommends, “… the creation of a consumer-friendly information database on higher education with useful, reliable information on institutions, coupled with a search engine to enable students, parents, policymakers and others to weigh and rank comparative institutional performance”.
There’s that phrase again – ‘consumer’. So, universities [who, by the way will be doing more with less] have to also provide to the public: data, which will be distributed through a ‘consumer-friendly’ information database in order to enable transparency and accountability required by the community, the government, the student and those who finance education.
Where is the data going to come from? How will it be distributed? How will it be formatted? Where will it be hosted? Who’s going to pay for it? Challenges perhaps a web services information distribution platform modeled after the consumer web can address.
“The millennial generation has arrived at the schoolhouse doors with its consumer market technologies”
Although, students are the largest (and, probably most disenfranchised) group using systems maintained by Higher Ed, the user experience provided them by institutions is dictated by the limitations of applications built on infrastructure schools currently use to process data. Students represent the savviest users of the Internet. However, when they arrive at their dorm rooms and log in they access important information about their education through ‘portals’ – merely web front ends slapped on client server designed and delivered systems.
These students have grown up using consumer market technologies and expect - rather, demand, at least the same level of user experience when they get to school. And, let’s face it – school isn’t only about classes, assignments and grades. It’s also about sororities and fraternities, parties, dating, establishing life long personal and career relationships, shopping, entertainment and, the pursuit of a career; all life experiences addressed well by the consumer web. Therefore, web services that integrate students’ social networking, media, academic, and career interests while in school and well after they leave (referred to as the ‘student life cycle’ in the Datamonitor report) must work like, and be as efficient as, consumer web technologies students use now on a daily basis.
According to the Datamonitor research paper; “students are driving the transformation of collaboration and social networking applications.” Sound familiar? However, the difference between Don Tapscotts prediction nine years ago and today is that the technology is readily available, the users are experienced, and the methods by which these services are distributed already exist.
Therefore, those who provide students the tools they need thereby, fulfilling Don Tapscott’s prophecy, while meeting the challenges Higher Ed institutions face will win the hearts and minds of faculty, staff, policymakers, the community and the students. More importantly, consistently high and deep adoption by [educated] users will continue well beyond graduation ceremonies.