By Neil Bailey, Senior Sales Manager, Education at CDW UK & Matt Eccles, Education Business Development Manager at Lenovo UK & Ireland
In a world of “work from anywhere,” people also want to “learn from anywhere”. As Higher Education institutions establish themselves in a hybrid era, they are faced with a new set of challenges as they navigate increasing cost pressures that have far reaching effects.
During the pandemic many institutions rushed to implement expensive short term hybrid learning solutions to ensure they could continue supporting students’ education. Now as a hybrid approach becomes the new staff and student expectation, many universities and colleges are looking for technology solutions that fit a dual purpose, excellent user experience and security that are fit for purpose for the future context of learning.
The hybrid learning journey so far
The pandemic and consequent work from home experience saw most learners become accustomed to a home learning environment where they not only have multiple devices at their fingertips to switch between but are also equipped with lightning-fast Wi-Fi. Universities are now faced with the challenge of how to recreate this user experience on campus.
The UK has some of the best and most highly-regarded universities in the world and often with that comes best in class equipment at their fingertips – yet far too many are still using this technology in a pre-pandemic way. The way we use technology has fundamentally shifted in the past two years; there is now an urgent need to review security and user experience to keep pace with new expectations.
However, cost remains a key challenge for Higher Education Institutions. This is a historic issue for many establishments which has now exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis. Not only in terms of how this will affect future learners’ affordability, but also the increasing cost of devices and other technology solutions.
Education Institutions are among the most targeted industries in terms of ransomware, and at a time when the prevalence and sophistication of security threats is increasing, it is incredibly important that they have the right security systems in place.
One of the factors that makes university network security so complex is that higher education institutions require open networks to allow for the breadth of resources that staff, and students need to access for specialist research. Many learning organisations now host documents such as theses and doctorates exclusively in the cloud and they require peace of mind for themselves and their learners that this information is protected and accessible at all times.
In many institutions, the devices and infrastructure are already in place, the question is: are education institutions implementing measures effectively? In the new hybrid world, there is so much more to consider when it comes to safely and securely accessing the university network. For example, it’s no longer just about protecting on-campus technology and ensuring a seamless user experience, the same level of security and access needs to apply to those working and learning from home.
A first in class experience Often Universities have an enormous number of different software applications to fulfil niche requirements, many of which are out of date, and navigating these can be a challenge even for the most tech savvy of people. As user experience (UX) becomes more embedded in our everyday lives, moving forward a simple stocktake of which applications are fit for purpose will help to streamline UX for staff and students alike. Taking stock of apps that are no longer used or fit for purpose is a good exercise for organisations to go through to get rid of technology that is taking up space for no good reason.
Student wellbeing and mental health is also a major concern when it comes to ensuring students have a positive university experience. According to data by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the suicide rate for higher education students in the academic year ending 2020 in England and Wales was 3.0 deaths per 100,000 students. Technology can play an important role in protecting and supporting students, for example safeguarding tools can be used to help identify students at risk of self-injury.
From student wellbeing to accessibility of resources, technology solutions play an integral role in the delivery of a first-class university experience.
The future of hybrid education
As we adapt to a hybrid world, navigating and striking the balance between online and in person interaction will likely remain a challenge for universities and higher education institutes moving forward.
Universities are increasingly seeing demand for courses and qualifications that provide students with transferrable skills for careers of the future. For instance, the esports and gaming industry has seen huge growth and investment over the past few years. Collaboration, problem solving, and communications skills are all valuable skills for this sector.
Choosing a technology partner that can understand the unique challenges that the sector faces will be instrumental in delivering a seamless and secure user experience. At CDW we call this the art of listening, and it includes understanding every possible user perspective to deliver solutions that are fast, efficient and deliver tailor made solutions that solve for specific client needs.
The past two years have seen an enormous amount of change in how we teach and learn, however it is not only the way we learn that has changed – the context of learning is also shifting. Views on the future of hybrid teaching reflect an increased demand for a hybrid approach, in fact many higher education institutions offering this style of learning have seen a boost in enrolment numbers. Not only does it increase the accessibility of higher education but allows it provides students with skills that are now considered mandatory for the future workforce.
To support a new generation of learning, education institutions must embrace hybrid technology and choose a knowledgeable technology partner that is able to support them on this journey.