Higher Ed: Get ready for connected campus...

Many universities are working hard to mature their digital touch points; bringing them in line with students’ increasing expectations.

A topic gaining momentum (and for good reason) is that of the connected campus. A step beyond a ‘Smart Campus’, a connected campus doesn’t just enhance the students’ lived experience on campus through digital, but goes a step further and links the physical and digital environments together.

Applications for a connected campus could be things like:

  • Using digital mapping and monitoring to create a fully representative digital model of your physical real-estate
  • Developing approaches to harnessing connected technology with open standards
  • Enhancing the learning environment for both educators and students.

In order to understand why a connected campuses will be important for future-facing higher education institutions, it's helpful to look back at early digital ambitions.

So, where did it all start?

As the scales tipped from central funding to user funded, our students have become paying customers. Whilst they still lack some of the freedoms of customers, there has been a push from central Government to improve the student experience, especially in the digital realm. Partly to promote higher education institutions to wider audiences but also to create an increased personal investment to attend.

In the UK, universities are investing in replacing or overhauling tech and IT systems, often with very limited spending power and always intertwined with overlapping internal priorities. As a result, many of these projects are left unfinished, misunderstood or performing below both student and faculty expectations. Without a C-Suite management figure to push through choices, HEI’s need to operate with broad consensus and strategic alignment.

So how can HEI’s start their journey to a connected future?

In demonstrating the need for this new campus approach, The Department for Higher Education were light on a universal definition of a connected campus. In our experience it fits into one of three views:

  1. A collection of systems linking the physical and the digital environment
  2. The union between data, policy and smart devices that delivers value to a campus’s communities
  3. Interconnectivity that removes boundaries created by geography enabling seamlessness

Which one aligns the best depends both on ambition and the starting point of that individual university. Many UK institutions have their roadmap in place but have yet to formalise it with a programme or strategic roadmap.

The foundations for connectivity

With the onset of broadband, Wi-Fi and mobile networking, the bare bones of connectivity already exist in various flavours in the university setting. When we include the widespread student usage of high capability smart phones we have two key building blocks of a connected campus, so what’s missing?

  1. Sensors within the built environment
  2. Ability to store and access data
  3. User experiences powered by data
  4. Ability to analyse and interpret large data sets

It’s common for HEI’s to have differing levels of maturity across these capabilities and even more prevalent for these to be managed or ‘owned’ by different areas of the organisation.

An additional part of the puzzle is focused around stakeholder ownership - who in the executive or operational structure would lead the alignment of internal systems for the improvement of all campus communities?

Uniting communities under student experience

A common thread in today’s HEI’s is to share accountability of the student experience across different areas; be it welfare, teaching, accommodation, or IT. With good reason and intent, these departments will work towards their respective briefs under differing operational scenarios. Each focussing on a mix of education reality (physical spaces such as lecture halls) and real-world necessity (students must feel safe and be able to access services). However, rarely do we have a single role owning the experience of being a student customer; a role that would encompass both the physical reality of education and the real-world necessity. Who is championing the experience of our 2.8 million UK students across 285 gigher education providers and guiding teams to focus on the customer over constraints?

The promised land - a connected experience on and off campus

As financial and political headwinds continue to buffet our higher education institutions they must rationalise investing in new technologies and services. These will both support their onsite communities and a growing population of off-campus learners. Through a connected campus approach, universities can improve the underlying campus experience and understand more around utilisation and can plan for future needs with a better view of the current.

I recently hosted a webinar on the topic of connected campus. If you’re interested and want to learn more about the applications of connected campus and the steps needed to get there. You can watch the full webinar below, and get in touch here.

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