The Retrofuturist Chronicles: Crises and All That Jazz Making Education More Intelligent

Miranda is a reluctant participant in a late-night fire drill in Episode 8, and Aunt Natalie takes the opportunity to regale Miranda with yet another tale from her remarkable past. This time, the story centers on how a group of legendary South African jazz musicians used their improvisational skills to help the different departments of a university collaborate more effectively to manage crises.

True to form, the historical basis of Aunt Natalie’s story may not be as reliable as the moral she imparts: namely, that today’s colleges and universities must adapt to a radically new reality, and do it fast. The COVID-19 pandemic raised the stakes overnight as educational institutions around the world struggled with the sudden shift to remote learning. But for colleges and universities that were already on the path to becoming intelligent enterprises, embracing a fundamentally new educational paradigm in a limited timeframe is more of an opportunity than a crisis. Here’s a quick look at how innovative institutions are making the transition.

Rethink student engagement

Effective student engagement begins before a prospective student steps onto campus. It’s an evolving two-way relationship where the institution begins to gather data on student sentiment and preferences to create personalized experiences and anticipate needs. As the student’s journey progresses, the institution continually updates and refines its data to deliver tailored curriculums and recommended services and activities.

One critical component of the engagement experience is its “always on” nature. Students now expect instant access to a full slate of services—and they don’t necessarily want those services to be bound to a physical campus (although they still want that option). As a result, universities and other institutions will find themselves competing to attract and retain students based on the quality of online engagement that they provide—in addition to the traditional trappings of the on-campus college experience.

This calls for a fundamental change in how universities and colleges view the student. They must begin to treat students as the focus of an integrated suite of services instead of expecting them to navigate a confusing administrative landscape. To achieve this paradigm shift, institutions will need advanced engagement technologies such as a mobile, interactive online presence with features such as live chat capabilities integrated with the analytics and logic that delivers answers and support, on-demand.

Transform operations and support

Over time, many colleges and universities have invested in a heterogeneous mix of “point solutions” to address specific operational needs. However, because these systems weren’t designed to work together and share information, individual departments became operational silos, each with its own data set and processes—creating the inconsistencies that can make for a frustrating, disjointed student experience.

As intelligent enterprises, colleges and universities need an IT infrastructure and operating environment that knits together these discrete silos into a single, integrated whole where information and workflow move seamlessly across organizational boundaries. They will create an analytics-driven and flexible cloud platform that can integrate different functions to create a shared service environment. By creating a single source of truth available to the entire institution, colleges and universities can build a common platform for teaching, research, and engagement, bringing together administration (the back office) with campus stakeholders (the front office).

Create an end-to-end research experience

As they eliminate multiple redundant workstreams for purchasing, supplies, and accounting in various departments and create a synchronized approach across all operational areas, educational institutions will be able to reduce their administrative support overhead and renew their focus on their research mission. Through centralization, standardization, and automation, they will maintain the inventory and supplies needed for research across departments, and they will establish a more intelligent approach to securing grant funds with economies of scale that maintain strict accounting segregation across projects—but still enforce the best practices that ensure consistency and discipline across all research areas. 

Provide real-time data and analytics

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the gaps in the student support structure of many colleges and universities.  Too many relied for too long on the traditional top-down service model, ignoring the fact that their students lived in a mobile-first online world. The educational institutions that evolve to become intelligent enterprises will equip students—as well as faculty, administrators, and support staff—with a single real-time

view of the institution, classes, schedules, and finances tailored to the viewer’s needs based on the insights from advanced analytics. They’ll continually capture the data needed to support and refine the related services, and prioritize service delivery and resource allocation based on evolving student needs and budgetary constraints.

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