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Technology Drives Student Success On Today‘s College Campuses

by Michele Norin, CIO, University Of Arizona August-2016

It is difficult to refute the ubiquitous nature of technology on college campuses these days. From the products used in the classroom, to the tools students used to navigate their coursework, and the pervasive use of mobile devices and apps to do everything from checking grades to getting discounts on student services, technology is everywhere.

As universities try to keep up with attracting, retaining and graduating more students, connecting with students’ mobile lifestyles and offering quality educational experiences for an increasing number of remote learners, the critical nature of Information Technology to meet these demands has never been more important than it is to today’s higher education institutions.

Staying the Course

Each semester at the University of Arizona (UA), over 30,000 undergraduates meet with their advisors to determine their course schedules. The challenge is making sure those students graduate with a college degree, and preferably do it in four years.

Smart Planner, a tool developed by the university as an extension to the UA’s PeopleSoft student administration system, is helping students take the guess work out of selecting the correct classes to meet their degree requirements. The initiative began in 2011 as a collaborative campus effort between Academic Affairs, Student Affairs and the Office of the CIO.

Smart Planner utilizes information from a student’s record, such as transfer credits, test scores and prior completed courses to predict future course enrollment. A student’s 4-year plan is continually updated based on the courses they complete, allowing students to see their progress towards graduation.

From the university’s perspective, one of Smart Planner’s major benefits is allowing advisors more time to focus on student development and success with less emphasis on the details of course scheduling. Now advisors can provide interventions for at-risk students, coordinate mentoring, career and graduate school advising, and help students develop time management, study, and other skills required to be successful in college. The university has the ability to know in advance the demand for specific courses and plan accordingly for scheduling classrooms and securing instructors.

“I think what this project really cemented for us and much of the campus is that we can’t really talk about academic experience or support experience without also talking about how technology is going to be used to deliver it,” said Melissa Vito, Ed.D., Senior Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management and Vice Provost for Academic Initiatives and Student Success.

Another planning resource for students is Degree Search, a UA website that helps students make informed decisions about selecting a college major. Students are able to search a database of major offerings and customize their search based on individual preferences to discover majors that fit their interests and career aspirations. Degree Search matches students’ interests with potential majors and provides a comprehensive list of degree requirements.

Using Degree Search and Smart Planner together provides students with a powerful set of tools to help them explore college majors and plan their path to graduation.

Anytime, Anywhere, Anyway

Student ownership of mobile devices is exploding on college campuses. It represents the growing ability to get information on demand—anytime, anywhere, anyway. According to the 2013 Educause Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 76 percentof college students own smartphones and 58 percentof students own three or more internet-capable devices.

To keep up with students’ demand for instant access, higher education institutions must offer a variety of tools that make it easy for students to consume campus information. Essentially, we need to make information as mobile as our students.

At the University of Arizona, we launched the first Arizona Mobile app in May 2011 for the campus community to access university news, information and resources all in one convenient location. Since then, we have continued to enhance the app by upgrading the technology platform and adding new features. In April 2014, Arizona Mobile app was refreshed with new branding and now displays a customizable home screen based on a user’s preference as a prospective student, current student, or alumni. Students can navigate campus with an interactive map, connect to social media, sign up for meal plans, and access student systems, such as learning management and email, and much more.

Mobile device usage on college campuses continues to increase at a rapid rate. Implementing a mobile strategy as part of a long-term IT plan for campus will serve universities and their constituents well for years to come.

Transforming the classroom

Another area where technology is constantly changing is inside the classroom. With the increasing popularity of flipped classrooms, online learning and other creative teaching pedagogies, the technology used to deliver these capabilities is becoming more important.

At the University of Arizona, the Classroom Technology Upgrade program is charged with implementing a platform of technologies on campus that enhance instruction and learning, innovative teaching pedagogies and campus safety. As part of the program, technology equipment in centrally managed classrooms receives regular upgrades for a consistent teaching and learning experience. We offer a lecture capture service for campus and are piloting the use of telepresence to enhance our online learning capabilities.

In an ever-changing world, one thing is for certain. Our dependence on technology in higher education is increasing and there is no going back. Our desire to serve and help students be successful will continue to drive demand for new technological innovations at colleges and universities across the country.