Jon Faulkner Managing Director, Domain7

Technology has been one of the winners of 2020.  Because of the necessity of staying away from people in real life, we have all come to rely on technology to interact.  Higher education is no exception and as Managing Director of Domain7 UK, I have collaborated with higher education institutions across the UK on digital change projects.  In 2020, more than at any other time, I have seen first hand how they are starting to understand how connectivity can be harnessed to help transform the way they communicate with stakeholders and students.  

The Internet of Things

Over the next decade the Internet of Things will change our lives at home, at study and at work.  We can already see it in action now with doorbells that connect up to your Smartphone so you can see who is at your front door even if you are not in.  There are products that allow you to switch your central heating on or off when you are not there and a myriad of other products starting to flood the market that connect technology into everyday tasks that were once only able to be done manually.  These products are collectively referred to as The Internet of Things and are set to transform the way we live our lives over the next few years.

We can already see how this connectivity is starting to revolutionise student life in North America -  some of these innovations are starting to make their way across to the UK.  I expect to see most if not all of the following start to become more mainstream over the next few years:

  • Smart campuses:  like smart cities, these are campuses where connectivity of devices and applications create new experiences or services and improve operational efficiency. The USA is leading the way in this field but in the UK, higher education bodies like the University of Glasgow are looking at what is going on and following suit.  They have been working with the Future Cities Catapult on a strategy to bring smart tech to the campus as it expands. Ideas include intelligent campus AI, an on-demand bus service and a data centre powered by renewable energy.  AI is increasingly being experimented with at a number of universities including Staffordshire University which has developed Beacon – a digital assistant that is available 24/7 to answer students’ questions. 
  • Predictive analysis: this can be a useful tool for CIOs in Higher Education as it can help to flag up issues early on.  It is increasingly being used by universities to look at historical data and  recognise patterns to help predict trends.  So for example it can be used to calculate likely student demand for courses or to identify students who are at risk of failing or dropping out.  
  • Nudge tech:  these are collections of technology e.g. cloud/social/mobile that can be connected to nudge students using personalised interactions with students and staff.  In this way data can be used to impact behaviour e.g. remind students to attend a lecture or to hand in an essay.  Being used in the US but not to my knowledge in the UK currently.
  • Hybrid installation platforms: using cloud based business applications to create a hybrid portfolio of  cloud based and physical systems to create a hybrid platform utilises the best of both worlds when accessing tools such as CRMs or learning management platforms.
  • Career software: specialised software that can give a 360 degree view of a student right the way through from initial contact, prospect, enrolment, graduate and alumni. 

Data security 

These are all exciting glimpses into how the future of higher education might look.  However,  one important issue that will need addressing in the UK is how we can connect people and technology and ensure that personal data is kept secure and properly managed.  

This means that strong data management and identity controls must be built into connected campuses from the start. Objects such as front door locks, temperature thermostats etc need to have usage rights that carefully control access.  The key is to avoid creating an environment that invades privacy without the individual gaining any value from that experience.  All data collection needs to be transparent – people need to know why their data is being collected and what for.  If they see benefit in giving up their personal details for a specific purpose, that is the aim but if they don’t trust the system then it fails.

If a student does give up their personal details for a better overall experience, then it is the HE’s education institutions responsibility to keep that personal data safe and also use the data effectively.  That requires setting up strong security systems that cannot be breached so that students feel that their details are in good hands.

Most students want a personal experience aided by technology but over use of smart systems can sometimes depersonalise a situation and feel cold.  The aim should be to strike a balance between human interaction and technology interventions that allow the student to see real benefits in giving up their personal details to make their life on campus easier.

By Jon Faulkner Managing Director, Domain7

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