How to Be Unstoppable in Higher Education During the Great Transition


Summary: Technology leaders at universities and colleges across the globe are in a time of transition. And higher education is caught in an uncomfortable middle ground. Although new technology is promising to relieve teacher overwhelm and add much-needed value to the student experience, a disparate campus network often struggles to bring it all together.

We sat down with Tom Jackson, Vice Chancellor of Information Technology and Chief Information Officer of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical (A&T) State University, to understand more. He explained the main challenges higher education institutions face today and how he and his IT team have been working to overcome them.

The Struggle is Real

Higher education is definitely in an uncomfortable place. It’s a time of transition–an in-between stage–where institutions struggle to integrate advanced technology into their unique campus environment.

Speaking from the heart, Tom Jackson, said the struggle is real, but he expects to see innovative technology leaders rise to the challenge.

“I think you have to be courageous,” he said. “Be patient. Persevere. Be creative. Be collaborative. Communicate.”

The key, he said, is to remember that universities and colleges exist to provide education to students – and to keep championing technology solutions that support that goal. “Always tie investments back to student success and student learning,” he said.

Let’s take a look at the three main challenges in this time of transition and how to rise above them:

Challenge #1: Colleges & Universities are Not Businesses

College and university campuses are more like cities than corporations. It offers the same services like housing, entertainment, sports venues, social and dining, campus police and emergency services and trash collection. All of these different elements have separate setups that somehow need to work cohesively.

“When I look across the university, all of those different silos and services,” Tom said, “while we certainly do and have made some investments in some “smart-type” technologies for our students, it’s sometimes hard to get applications to communicate with each other… All of them have unique needs, unique situations. Every one of them tends to have their own applications they rely upon to do their business and it is a challenge to integrate that data from one application to another.”

Unifying these disparate elements on a campus is not as straightforward as in a business because universities and colleges work with education-specific applications. EdTech creators need to build interoperability into their development processes to better serve the higher education market.

In the meantime, a solution could come from looking at how large sports arenas or smart cities have addressed similar challenges. 

Challenge #2: Culture Changes Everything

Each school has a different culture – and that needs to be honored in the way you build out the network infrastructure.

“One needs to understand the university they’re operating in because each university is in many ways unique,” Tom says. “Different schools have different cultures and it’s rare that you can be successful if you don’t really fit in or bend to the culture of the university.”

For this reason one size fits all for a network will not work. And great care needs to be given to the decision of what technology elements to invest in. What constitutes as “modern learning” for one school can be vastly different for another.

That said, the one commonality is the need for a stable, simple, sure way to manage your unique set of network elements. Focusing on powerful cloud management with automation, data analytics and machine learning primes you with the ability to truly support everything connecting to the campus network.

Cloud management at your pace with Extreme IQ Cloud Site Engine

Challenge #3: Technology Never Stays the Same

“Technology changes, culture changes. The country’s not where it was 15 years ago, even 30 years ago,” Tom says. “Certainly higher education has evolved. Technology has evolved.”

It’s the way of technology – to keep evolving. And these days the momentum has reached fevered points. Technology leaders can meet this challenge head on by keeping their curiosity and creativity primed. Keep seeking to find out more and learning more about what’s coming next and maybe new ways to handle an old issue.

The good news is that we live at a time when information is readily available and professional development opportunities abound. Connect with a vendor who knows higher education. Register for a conference where you can hear fresh ideas from peers. Ask your network provider if they have free training (hint: Extreme does – make sure to ask your Extreme rep). 

The Network is the Key

“At the end of the day,” says Tom, “ultimately universities exist for student learning.”

It’s true that the network is the key to increasing enrolment, expansion and growth. But the network of a higher education institution needs to be seen as its own unique entity, with challenges that are unique to HED alone. Knowing this will give you the power to keep growing purposefully and to keep bringing value to the student and staff experience.

It's not going to be straightforward or cookie cutter at all. But there are ways to push through and make a difference. By focusing on achieving network visibility and control, building a platform for modern learning, and that HED is a space for IT to be constantly learning too, you will be well on your way to a transformed, value-added experience like NC A&T. 

About the Author
Natasha McNulty
Senior Content Strategist

Natasha McNulty is a Senior Content Strategist for Extreme Networks specializing in K-12 education, higher education, and retail. Captivated by connections of any kind, she strives to uncover the human side of every story.

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