As I prepare to head to EDUCAUSE 2017, I look to debate the impact of digitization in higher education. EDUCAUSE is attended by a wide spectrum of people from universities and colleges across North America and even around the world. Many represent IT departments and university facilities and support organizations, but an equal number serve in leadership and academic positions. Digitization has become crucial to so many parts of higher education, and it is a significant keystone of each organization’s mission. Notably, this includes the need of every institution to deliver student success.

As a dyslexic child, I failed the mainstream subjects I needed for a successful college and career path. I felt as though other students had better genes; they were born clever, with an ability to test well or to understand things more quickly. It was not until I left school that I discovered that with a word processor, a spell checker and more time, I could conquer my learning disabilities and get the qualifications society required of me.

Today, however, my focus has changed: what about all those students with similar difficulties attending school now? If student success is so crucial, I wonder if we are using the power of technology to help every student be successful. Are we adopting digital pedagogy correctly to accommodate all student needs? Are we creating next-generation learning environments that give every type of student the best platform for success?

What about all those students with similar difficulties attending school now? Are we using the power of technology to help every student be successful? Are we adopting digital pedagogy correctly to accommodate all student needs? Are we creating next-generation learning environments that give every type of student the best platform for success?

Of course, no one is born a genius. The idea that IQ is passed on in genes has been a much-debated topic over the history of education and society, and a recent article in About Intelligence argues that social and environmental factors play a critically important role in determining intelligence. (Unfortunately, dyslexia is hereditary, which means that in some cases, the development of intelligence can be hampered from birth.) The combination of factors that contribute to intelligence and learning confirm that we can’t deliver information in the same way to everyone.

What if technology could augment a learner’s genetic, social, and environmental make-up, help a student’s ability to translate information, and deliver a better opportunity to learn? This is where the concept of adopting collaborative visual notes as part of higher education becomes important; with visual notes, an educator can illustrate a student’s understanding in real time for a dramatic effect on student success. In fact, a recent article in Education Week  highlighted the use of visual notes during lessons to help students with learning disabilities become successful.

As a dyslexic student, I used visual notes to help conquer my learning obstacles, and when I first began my career in IT, I started to perfect mind mapping, which helped me mask my dyslexia disadvantage with colleagues who learned and understood new concepts more quickly. Over time, this approach has heightened my ability to absorb information and to develop a deeper understanding of information so that I can better innovate. I now create these memory maps instinctively as I listen to someone speak or read a passage. As I began to utilize whiteboards and schematics in my professional life, I was catapulted to a better IT career, one that has been very rewarding.

This approach has implications in both K-12 and higher education, as well as in the workplace, and technology exists today that can help us make life so much easier for students with learning difficulties and for the educators who teach them. For example, I recently took part in a series of higher education meetings at Gartner ITxpo in Orlando. Using a Cisco Spark Board, a graphic illustrator, I created live visual notes of each discussion using the whiteboard function.

After each session, the visual notes were available in the Cisco Spark space, and snapshots were provided to document different steps in the conversation to give context. In some cases, we needed expert advice and were able to add these remote resources right away to offer input on the whiteboards. This allowed us to show the visual notes in chronological order so anyone could see and understand the development of the content.

A couple of weeks later, I was meeting with a different group of people from the same university and walked through the visual notes, step by step. I remembered every second, in perfect clarity. The power of this visual note was incredible for the new attendees too. (For this reason, every teacher needs this for every student, on every topic… okay, I am getting too passionate.)

If we couple visual notes and collaborative teaching in a classroom, not only are we using digital education properly, but we are also facilitating inclusion for all students who need learning accommodations in real time. Collaborative platforms like Cisco Spark create the ability to do this, to enable the student and educator to collaborate on those visual notes that are never lost, and that allow continual collaboration. In addition, thanks to the fact that visual notes enable an active learning experience by offering an asynchronous teaching method that can also be used synchronously, many students with learning difficulties will be able to augment their learning in real time.

More and more academic technology leaders are coming to grips with digital pedagogy and how that impacts the digitization strategy within teaching and learning institutions. I will be excited to show them at our booth how utilizing collaborative technologies can be part of any student success program today. Combining teaching techniques and collaborative technology can deliver a platform for students with learning difficulties to exceed their goals, not just in higher education, but in their careers ahead of them.

People wonder if Cisco—and indeed, technology itself—can really make an impact on student success. Can the choice of infrastructure really make a difference with student retention? Does the adoption of digital learning techniques within the classroom really improve the graduation rate, and enhance future career prospects of students? Cisco Spark and Cisco Spark Board provide a compelling example of how technology can influence these key metrics—and an important reason why Cisco is an education company.





Neal Tilley

Cisco Education Advisor