The Role of IT in Higher Education

Laurie Panella, Chief Information Officer, Marquette University

Laurie Panella, Chief Information Officer, Marquette University

When I was a college student, technology meant something very different to us, and it usually focused on hardware. Without internet, cell phones or email, we registered for classes in person with IBM mainframe punch cards at the old gym. I only knew one person who had a personal computer. I carried large, heavy textbooks to each class, and homework assignments had to be written down in my personal notebook. If not written on a chalkboard, class material was displayed on an overhead projector while my classmates and I feverishly hand-wrote our notes. If I wanted to call home, I put on my shoes and went on a journey to find an available payphone. I loved every minute of my college experience. I learned so much about my field of study and myself as a person, but it nothing like how we today view the role and opportunity for technology to impact the higher education experience.

Today’s student has a much different experience than I did over thirty years ago. Technology is fully integrated into students’ daily lives and has become an essential, expected element of the university fabric.

Transforming learning with collaboration, flexibility and simulation

Technology enables activating new insights and experiences and continuously transforms visions into reality. In the higher education setting, technology has helped us reimagine teaching and learning in ways that can more actively engage individuals and foster more effective and targeted learning and living environments. Collaboration and communication tools can eliminate the barriers of education posed by space and time. Hybrid technologies provide flexible pathways for non-traditional students to complete their educational goals. Faculty assistance and student support services have become more immediate and accessible through mobile technology, virtual offerings and self-service on-demand electronic resources.

We can also create impactful experiential learning with technology. Active learning environments connect course content to students in new ways that aid in mastering skills and possible retention of course content. Simulation and virtual reality make experiential learning of a given field more readily available and open the door to a broader experience of real-world problems. Classroom use of industry-specific technologies prepares today’s students for the digital demands of their chosen careers. These tools will allow students to demonstrate knowledge and skill that would align with workforce needs.

Using data to individualize and improve student experience

Students from their expectations of the college experience well before they step foot on campus and have expectations of technology largely based on their consumer experiences. Harnessing information will drive insights for learning and living on our campuses. Each student has a different need, want, and desire to enable personal and academic success. How the institution defines this and leverages it for each student is where the technology and the student experience intersect.

Every intersection with the student should be seen as an opportunity to gather data. Data, balanced against privacy, should be used to provide actionable information to underpin what we do as an institution and how we do it. Data can promote excellence in assessment practices and provide diagnostic insights into student learning that can be used by students, instructors and other academic support staff to improve learning outcomes, excellence in campus services and, ultimately, student success.

The technology ecosystem must enable the right experience for our students while building the groundwork for education expectations and our students of the future. It’s exciting to think about what our world will be like 30 years from now.

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