Beyond the Chasm

The critical nature of IT in transforming higher education and research.

GUEST COLUMN | by Cole Clark

CREDIT Oracle Education and ResearchFrom advances in online learning platforms to the use of predictive analytics to measurably improve student outcomes and foster data-driven decision making in higher education and research, it is clear that IT has “crossed the chasm” from an auxiliary service that keeps the trains running (i.e. wireless networks operational, payroll processed, IP telephones working, etc.) to a strategic enabler of transformation in higher education. But where is the higher education IT function headed and what areas of education and research still need to be addressed?

We convened a small panel of undergraduate students and the discussion clearly demonstrated just how clear they are about the need for this “frictionless” interaction with their institution.

While the main focus of heightened technology has been the shift from on-premise applications to all things cloud, there is a decided real shift in the dynamics facing the higher education system. While higher education has already experienced considerable change, it is apparent that there is still much to do to truly transform. There are three key areas in which this transformation is absolutely necessary: delivering education and research at scale (increased access); differentiating between institutions (and to expose those key differentiators through technology); and reducing “friction” in the student experience.

Underscoring this, Andy Clark, Vice President of Enrollment, Marketing and Communications from Valdosta State University; Mario Barry from Lone Star College; and outgoing Oracle Higher Education User Group president Steve Hahn of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, recently echoed these sentiments at the Alliance Executive Forum. The group discussed how important the development of an enterprise-wide approach to the use of data is to enhance student success and how it has become one of the most critical drivers for the executive teams in their respective institutions.

Increased Access to Education and Research

Many institutions are currently struggling to shoulder significant budget shortages while also balancing the growing demand for IT services from students, faculty, and staff. To address these challenges, institutions should consider adopting cloud computing strategies to meet the needs of their diverse, mobile, and demanding constituents. With shared services in the cloud, institutions are able to share applications rather than each department investing in the technology and support individually. Furthermore, the cloud provides a uniquely flexible way for institutions to improve access to services while enabling them to scale the level of access according to their business needs. While there are several highly successful early adopters of cloud, there is still significant opportunity for more institutions to take advantage of its benefits.

Differentiation Between Institutions 

Technology in the education and research industry is permeating every market. For example, certain parts of Europe are moving towards the U.S. model of funding based on outcomes, and the need for the “consumers” of education to bear more of the cost. This kind of shift will cause “consumers” to become much more conscious of value, and demand a more personal, effortless, and modern “experience” that they may have become accustomed to from their interactions with entities that have made much greater strides in leveraging technology – such as customer relationship management tools. For institutions to attract the best and brightest, and further retain the relationship through the donor level, they will need to focus on providing a unique and progressive experience, and investing in technology transformation will be key to achieving this. 

Reducing Friction 

Another key to transformation is to reduce the amount of friction students experience when interfacing with higher education institutions. These interactions are shifting from purely in-person and on campus, to becoming more technological and involving many different devices at many different times. To support this shift and maintain these interactions throughout the student lifecycle (from prospect to donor and all stages in between), institutions will need to differentiate themselves through technology.

At Oracle Industry Connect 2015, we convened a small panel of undergraduate students and the discussion clearly demonstrated just how clear they are about the need for this “frictionless” interaction with their institution, and the role they expect that institution to play (much more of an advisor, coach, and mentor than of “parent”). Students expect their institutions to meet certain boundaries in their use of social media and data, but those boundaries are dissimilar from the expectations they have from their interactions with commercial entities on the internet, for example. This discrepancy makes our job of creating a frictionless environment that much more difficult! But it was also evident from these discussions that we have a long way to go in our efforts to focus investments on student experience and engagement and that basic concepts like one-time authentication into the many systems with which students interact is still elusive.

The higher education and research industry is continually changing and it is critical for institutions to keep pace with this change and maintain progress. By investing in innovative technologies, institutions will be able to assess strategic approaches to managing data, increase service access, differentiate from competing institutions, and focus on the student experience – things that are absolutely imperative to the next generation of higher education and research.

Cole Clark is Global Vice President of Education and Research at Oracle.

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EdTech’s Best and Brightest

EdTech Awards 2016 enter nowThe EdTech Awards shine a spotlight on the best and brightest tools, leaders and trendsetters pushing forward today’s education revolution. Our finalists and winners are part of a greater story of 21st-century education transformation. In keeping with the mission of EdTech Digest, we invite you to enter your cool tools, bold leaders and innovative trendsetters to inspire learners and leaders everywhere. Past winners include some of the top trendsetters and leading lights of the education and technology arena, including products and people from K-12, higher education, special education, and others in and around education and technology. Your methods, ideas, apps, platforms, products, services, and environments for learning are working for education, but they must become widely known about and well thought of. If you are reshaping the education culture, creating a new and better future for students everywhere, be sure to enter the 2016 EdTech Digest Awards Recognition Program. For an entry form and full details, including a list of entry categories, click here.

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The Difference Makers

A 40-year veteran of educational publishing talks about what matters most.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Learning A-ZAs do so many companies, Learning A-Z started as an idea. Bob Holl (pictured) and Francis Morgan, two entrepreneurs and veterans of the education arena, believed that every child deserved to have developmentally appropriate books and activities both at school and at home. With the support of a handful of staff, many of whom still hold key positions today, they started LearningPage, a free website providing teachers with printable activities, and Reading A-Z, a subscription-based website offering teachers effective, differentiated reading resources and instructional tools. Today, their company, Learning A-Z, provides a number of dynamic websites that deliver hundreds of thousands of resources to students and teachers across the world. A preK-6 online curriculum provider, Learning A-Z is now used in over half the school districts in the

We constantly look for ways we can further support teachers and we pay particularly close attention to the role that technology can play in supporting their instructional goals.

U.S. and Canada, and in more than 165 countries worldwide. Bob, their innovative leader, brings his passion for the learning process to the thousands of high-quality resources he’s developed and authored during his 40+ year career in education — from his years as a classroom teacher to executive leadership roles at the Wright Group, Scott Foresman, Addison Wesley and others. During his publishing career, Bob has authored more than 200 fiction and nonfiction children’s books, and more than 1,000 other educational resources. A tireless supporter of learning and literacy, here Bob talks about teachers, technology and what he’s grateful for.

What motivated you to create Learning A-Z? Any formative experience or anecdote you could share that really exemplifies your original purpose? 

Bob: As a classroom teacher, I was always looking for resources or creating my own resources to improve my instruction. When I left teaching and entered publishing it was my goal, from the beginning, to create resources that would make a teacher’s job easier as well as meet the needs of all students in a classroom. To this day, I continue to look for ways to help teachers meet the needs of all their students.

CREDIT Learning A-Z teamWhat is the company’s mission?

Bob: Our mission is fairly simple – to help teachers do more for all students by providing easy and affordable access to quality, research-based resources.

How has the company been successful in pursuing this mission to date? 

Bob: Our success can be measured by our consistent growth for 12 years. And we have performed well during some very challenging economic times for education. This growth is supported by the thousands of positive comments and testimonials we have received from teachers who use our resources. While I have been in publishing for nearly 40 years, I have never received any close measure of the positive feedback we get for the resources we deliver at Learning A-Z. The fact that so much of our success has been the result of word-of-mouth support we have received from our subscribers is further testament that we are doing something right.

What do educators have to say about the results they see with your products? 

Bob: We constantly hear from our subscribers that our products are improving their student’s performance. I can’t tell you how gratifying that is to someone like me who cares as much as I do about helping teachers make a difference in classroom learning. The feedback we get drives me to want to do even more to support teachers in the difficult and extremely important work they do.

What’s on the horizon for the company in 2016?

Bob: We keep our radar up, constantly listening to teachers and monitoring trends so that we can provide continuous support to teachers in the classroom. The recent shift in instruction to achieve more rigor and better prepare kids for careers and college is something we remain focused on, along with developing resources that utilize technology to help promote learning. We constantly look for ways we can further support teachers and we pay particularly close attention to the role that technology can play in supporting their instructional goals.

What are your thoughts on education in general these days? 

Bob: There is nothing more important to the future of our country and the entire world. All of us at Learning A-Z are dedicated to doing all we can do to promote worldwide literacy and prepare children for a productive and happy life. We alone cannot achieve this goal, but we intend to contribute in any way we can to support those who are charged with the responsibility of educating our children. We also recognize that while technology has a role to play in the future of education, that the teacher remains at the center of instruction and we will continue to do what we can to support them.

While I recognize the contributions that technology makes and can make, I never lose sight of the fact that teachers are the difference makers.

What are your thoughts on technology in education? 

Bob: Technology offers many opportunities to support teachers in the work they do. And while I recognize the contributions that technology makes and can make, I never lose sight of the fact that teachers are the difference makers. It is why I believe that we must always stay focused on doing what we can to support teachers and provide technology-enabled products that help teachers achieve their instructional goals.

Anything else you care to add or emphasize? 

Bob: Nothing more than to say how fortunate I am to do something I love doing — helping teachers prepare students for productive, happy lives. I know that sounds Pollyannaish, but I really mean it.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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Alleviate Back-to-School Financial Stress

Clean up that old computer and get it ready for the new school year.

GUEST COLUMN | by Brad Harding

CREDIT CrucialIt’s almost time for students, parents and teachers to prepare for the upcoming school year. While exciting, the back-to-school season can be stressful for those who have to think about the associated costs. One necessary, but expensive, learning tool in today’s classroom is the computer. However, for many parents and schools, buying new computers seems out of the question, no matter how valuable they are for learning.

There are many schools and parents who have an old desktop or laptop computer they have given up on.

There are many schools and parents who have an old desktop or laptop computer they have given up on. Thinking it is too slow or old is no longer an excuse; older technology could still be salvageable. Fortunately, there are many tips individuals can use to recycle old computers, alleviating financial stress. With these five simple techniques, anyone can clean up old computers and get them ready for the school year, without breaking the bank: 

Upgrade Computer Memory

One of the quickest and least expensive ways to drastically increase the speed of your computer and extend its life, is to add more memory (or DRAM). Computer memory is the element in your computer that allows for short-term data access and helps load multiple applications at once. Memory upgrades start at around $50 and can be installed on your own. Upgrading your memory will add years of life back to your device and is a great value compared to buying a new computer.

Scrap Old Files

After years of use, school and home computers can collect a number of unused programs, apps and downloads. Deleting unnecessary files that have been stored is an easy and simple way to free up memory and improve overall performance. Delete large files by searching “size:gigantic” in Windows to display all files larger than 128MB, and zap temporary files with programs like CCleaner.

Clear Search History

When visiting some websites, temporary Internet files and cookies are stored on your computer. These stored files are meant to help you access information faster, but can hoard valuable computer disk space. This will slow down your whole hard drive. Clear the computer’s Internet cache and browsing history to make space for larger files and to help it run faster.

Set Up Parental Controls

While it’s a good idea to establish parental controls to protect students from predators and dangerous content on the Internet, they can also help computers run faster. Administrators can set parameters around how long students can spend on the computer, which games or websites they can visit, and which specific programs they can access. Parental controls prevent students from downloading unnecessary files that have dangerous viruses that can compromise the security of your data.

Protect from Viruses

While most students need the Internet to do their school work, it’s crawling with viruses, adware and other malware. In just one click, students can stumble upon adware that can compromise your computer and data. Using an ad blocker can help prevent these dangerous advertisements from infiltrating the computer’s software. Administrators should also install anti-virus software and regularly update the software to protect from these threats.

Following these quick and simple tips to upgrade old computers will get them working like new for students and staff members. Going back to school should be an exciting time, not stressful. These steps will not only prolong the life of any computer, but will also mitigate back-to-school financial stress.

Brad Harding is tech guru in residence at Crucial, a global brand of Micron Technology, Inc., one of the largest memory and flash storage manufacturers in the world. Find him through Twitter @CrucialMemory

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Cool Tool | Nepris

CREDIT Nepris STEMHere’s a simple, scalable solution to bring real-world relevance to K-12 classrooms. Nepris helps companies reach teachers who need professionals either to explain real-world concepts to their students, to help with collaborative projects or for coaching and career advice. For teachers, Nepris brings them into contact with a world of STEM professionals who are ready and willing to share their knowledge. Their sessions show students how the work they do is rooted in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics being taught in school. Nepris is a winner of various awards; the Education Division of the Software & Information Industry Association picked Nepris as a finalist for the 2014 Innovation Incubator Program; Nepris was also a 2015 EdTech Digest Awards finalist. See Nepris in action at Nepris.com/webinar or sign up as a teacher or STEM professional at Nepris.com. Worth checking out.

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