Did you miss EDUCAUSE 2020? Discover the key trends in Education Technology in our latest blog from #EducationNow.

There’s no disputing the massive shifts the world has experienced in the way we learn, work, and play in 2020. Following suit, the way we gather with peers to share best practices and learn from the industry has changed too. Last week, Educause, the premiere higher education technology and innovation conference, looked a bit different than years past: it was hosted fully virtually. Despite a global pandemic, Educause created a space for like-minded leaders, professionals, and educators alike to (virtually) gather, share, and learn. 

Arguably, now more than ever the higher education IT community needed a way to come together and tackle the greatest changes and challenges higher education has faced.  The pace of change this past year in education, can be argued to have outpaced the past 5 years combined. This past week was a week of discussing what institutions have tried in the face of a global pandemic: What’s working? Where is pain felt? How are students managing? How are faculty adjusting?  

Overall, attendees sought to answer the same question: Where is higher education headed in the future, and how will education be affected long-term, past this pandemic? Plus, attendees looked to understand the role digital transformation and technology will play in the future of education. My team at Cisco both hosted and attended conversations with Provosts, CIOs, IT, and faculty members across the globe to seek and debate answers to this question.  

Below read about our top 7 takeaways from Educause, by listening to the industry needs, goals, and dreams for the future of education. 

Note: Within this list, you’ll find links to some of my favorite sessions at Educause. To view the recordings, first log in to the Educause website, then click the source links.

1. Students remain the #1 priority in the future of education. 

This is a statement I am thrilled is never disputed. At the core of all growth in education remains the wellbeing and continuous improvement of the student experience. From a survey  conducted by the Educause team,  Dr. Christopher Brooks reported six out of the top ten benefits of digital transformation identified by higher education IT were student centric. These benefits included decreasing student dropout and increasing retention, improving student course performance, and reaching a different or broader sector of students. Kathe Pelletier reported that the biggest transition in higher education has been moving focus away from student enrollment numbers, to student completion rates. As your organization seeks to use technology to enhance the experience at your institution, always keep student needs and the culture you create for students at the forefront. 

> Learn how Cisco is affecting students around the world. 

2. Sentiment towards virtual learning has shifted, and will to continue to grow positively. 

Virtual learning used to be saved for special student scenarios, certain events, or a few large courses before COVID-19. Now, 1.37 billions students experienced learning from home since March of 2020. This pandemic has been a watershed moment for virtual learning. 50% of teachers who previously disagreed that online learning was effective in May of 2020, changed their mind to see remote learning as effective by August of 2020, said research by Tyton Partners.  Plus, faculty appreciate that students have more flexibility to learn than ever before, improving accessibility of coursework. Students can review recorded lectures before and after class, to catch up if sick or if they missed something. There are more options than ever for students with disabilities, finds researcher Dana C. Gierdowski from Educause. Closed captioning of digital lessons aid students who are hard of hearing. Audio playbacks and user-controlled content zooming can help students with vision limitations. Students who may have more difficulty focusing get to pick their own soothing location and time to learn as needed. This is not to say that all education in the future will be virtual, because there are still irreplaceable benefits from in-person class time. However general acceptance of a hybrid environment with some coursework online and some in person is likely to increase.  

>Read how to create hybrid learning environments 

3. Network basics and access are fundamental to student success. 

Even if positive sentiment towards virtual learning is increasing, a significant challenge remains. Many faculty members are rightfully worried about equity of virtual learning. There is significant inequality when it comes to student access to Wi-Fi enabled devices and internet. Many higher education IT teams are taking it on themselves to bridge the equity gap for their students. Dr. Sasi Pillay from Washington State University (WSU) spoke about his plan to fight the digital divide at his school by seeking to create accessibility, affordability, and availability of remote learning for all. He quickly found that loaner laptops and hotspots were not enough: his school needed to invest in Wi-Fi infrastructure. Their network team focused on making their parking lots across the state Wi-Fi hubs, quickly growing from offering 60 Wi-Fi locations to 600. Their deployment of a Cisco network across parking lots also allowed them to track and see the incredible number of students and community members they were affecting by their investment. Kathe Pelletier from Educause, speaking about common pitfalls of education digital transformation efforts, highlighted this: “Consider the boring, but essential investments first.”  As many education systems leverage digital tools more than ever, network quality becomes crucial to student success. 

> Learn how to build a flexible campus  

4. Provosts and higher education leaders are more invested than ever in technology decisions. 

As such a growing portion of education access and decisions shifted to rely on technology, CIOs and their technical teams have pulled their chairs closer to the Provost’s decision-making table than ever before. In an Educause session called “Provost-CIO Strategic Partnerships for Innovation”, three CIOs and three Provosts from universities across the USA came together to discuss how they’re working together to drive rapid change. Provosts are leaning on CIOs to advance and align the academic mission of the university in the context of their overall portfolio responsibilities. In order to sit at the Provost’s table, the focus of IT must be outcome-driven: Provosts want IT to create the BEST education institution possible, not just the greatest IT department possible. Senior education leadership members are more willing than ever to get “hands-on” with digital transformation than ever: including attending demos and taking training of virtual learning tools themselves to see the student experience. Susan Grajek, VP at Educause, stated that elevating IT as a strategic partner is one of the Top 5 ways to transform higher education institutions for the better, in the wake of 2021. Especially as needs for technology investment are rising, and revenue may be stagnant or declining, it’s key to have the Provost partnering with IT, so he or she can help reallocate institution funding to support education-critical technology growth. 

> See high-level outcomes for senior education leaders 

5. Student security must be a top priority 

D. Christopher Brooks from the Educause research team showed that while 50% of students trust their institution to use their data ethically, student confidence in their institution’s ability to safeguard or protect their personal data is much lower than expected or desired, at only 45%. An education institution’s goal must be to secure student access to critical applications and devices anywhere they are, without compromising students’ personal data, says Cisco Umbrella and Duo. Jesse Beauman and Mike Carlin from UNC Charlotte shared how they partnered with Cisco to achieve their goal of protecting all students and faculty, without them ever knowing it. They used AMP Advanced Malware Protection to “protect the students’ browsing experience from hackers and viruses, without invasiveness, while keeping the college campus fun.” Knowing that one infected machine can spread like wildfire through campus, UNC Charlotte is thankful for the proactive steps they’ve taken to create secure standards. Their advice? Learn the weaknesses on your campus and how your people work and study, so you’ll know exactly where to inject security procedures. Susan Grajek, Educause VP, stated that supporting increased off-campus data usage will be one of the top IT problems facing higher education in 2021, and Educause recommends having a security officer in a senior seat at your decision-making table. 

> See UNC Charlotte’s approach to security 

> Facilitate safety and security 

6. Technology alone doesn’t drive satisfaction: adoption and implementation do. 

Success with technology doesn’t stop at the purchase decision. So far, we’ve discussed the need to ensure that technology decisions are driven by student experience and institutional goals, but what about faculty? It is no secret that faculty members will be the key to driving usage and success of in-class technologies. Tyton Partners found that faculty have a huge interest in being involved in purchase decisions. Faculty members are eager for Professional Development (PD) offerings to involve classroom technology product choices, so they can manage their classrooms as effectively as possible, especially for large courses. Educause researchers found that students are the most likely to pick up technologies the quickest and may often become experts without training. Therefore, educators desire to be trained ahead of the game, so they can control the class reins. Educause found that schools often underestimate the work, time, and PD faculty will need to be successful, so plan early and check out our resources to help drive faculty adoption below. 

> See free resources to train faculty and drive adoption of Webex 

Final Takeaway: The Technology Toothpaste is Out of the Tube 

Overall, the #1 takeaway from this year’s virtual Educause was this: Digital transformation of education isn’t going away or slowing down. “The toothpaste is out of the tube” said Educause VP in regard to technology’s involvement in shaping the future of education. In order to continue to thrive as a higher education institution, the most important technology investments will be security solutions, collaboration tools, and a reliable network. The primary focus for institutions leading into 2021 will be establishing the right type of hybrid education environment that works for your institution’s needs. This will be followed by the need to define what a secure return to campus will look like for your institution, and what it will take to get there. 

explore how Cisco is transforming education

What did you learn at Educause 2020? Let us know in the comments and stay tuned for another blog from our Global Leaders Forum mini-series next week.

next stop: building revenue resilience in higher ed


Suzanne Phillips

Education Business Development Manager

Global Industry Solutions Group