Strategic Higher Education CIOs Invest In Technology To Improve Student Success

Today's college students are mobile. Whether in class, relaxing in their living group, exercising in the gym, studying in the library, shopping in town, traveling to sporting events, or even sleeping in their dorms, they are always connected. This represents both an opportunity and a challenge. The challenge is to provide an always-on connection - pervasive Wi-Fi is a must. At the same time, the potentially-rich flow of data from that connection presents an opportunity to identify students at risk and steer them back onto a path to success.

I spoke with someone who knows about both keeping students connected and the student success factors that can provide early warning indicators of students in danger. Michael Mathews is the Chief Information Officer (CIO) at Oral Roberts University. Mike received the 2013 Campus Technology Innovator of the Year award for student systems and services.

Michael Mathews (Twitter: Innovate4EDU), CIO of Oral Roberts Univerity

I asked Michael a number of questions regarding the use of technology to improve student success. Here is our conversation about the mobility of today's university students and how network data and analytics can be used to maximize student success.

How would you describe today's mobile college student?

Of course the first aspect is that students on campus are constantly tethered to their mobile devices; their smart phones, music players, games, and more and more wearables. Today, the concept of the college campus goes well beyond the bounds of the classrooms and dorms.

As one example, I just finished agreeing to a 3-year contract adding to the wireless infrastructure for our athletic department's traveling motor coach buses. The contract and design were unique, and well beyond a simple hot spot while in a moving vehicle. Another example is that injuries and illnesses require off-campus treatment and recovery at a doctor's office, hospital, or rehabilitation center. Many students travel around the country or even abroad as part of a study program, sports championships or work-study courses. The expectation is that the student can connect back to the campus network, no matter where they are. Systems like eduroam make it easy for students and faculty to log in to the WiFi network at any participating college with their home credentials.

Can you say more about what you mean by "'well beyond a simple hot spot"?

Colleges and universities need to have analytics on the effective usage of wireless -- to analyze how we can help students succeed. The ability to have meaningful analytics across all of the wireless infrastructure may finally be the breakthrough that helps educational leaders connect and provide proactive assistance to propel students to more productive learning. The analytics can help the college visualize the ebb and flow of student patterns of visits and application usage.

Students of the 21st century process life, academia, and relationships in an evolving manner that requires campus leaders to reevaluate the needs of their students. This new wave of student behavior and interaction can be best understood through the analytics that are becoming available via smart wireless infrastructures. These analytics can be especially important for student athletes, who must optimize their time while traveling on buses, planes, between dorms, and classrooms. This concept starts with providing wireless access, but quickly expands to collecting critical student success analytics and delivering Wireless Analytic Indicators (WAIs) for student success.

What are some of the short-term opportunities for the pervasive wireless and WAIs?

The Wireless Analytic Indicators (WAIs) can help provide a better connection between athletes and virtual tutors and mentors. The need to gather analytics for the time a student is engaged in their classroom experience is critical. By understanding successful study habits and comparing those instantly with actual patterns via ongoing wireless analytical processing, the WAIs can provide educational alerts and reminders when assignments are approaching their deadline. With the advanced infrastructure, it's possible to make virtual connections back to the classrooms, so athletes can join in the campus-based classroom, even while riding on a motor coach bus. The WAIs can alert athletic coaches instantly if a player ever approaches academic probation.

Wearable fitness and academic gear can be included, with analytics sent directly to the trainer, coach, and academic adviser for an instant snapshot of the athlete's overall success. This concept goes well beyond a simple GPS, becoming an educational positioning system (EPS) to guide the health and wellness of the whole student.

Does your university use other student success software that this could be combined with?

Combining the concept of WAIs with student retention systems creates an especially powerful student information system. ORU currently uses Desire2learn along with Chalk & Wire to improve student retention and success. In addition, ORU keeps students apprised of academic standing with the Ellucian Student Information System. The school is now designing an integrated approach to allow each student to carry their own academic DNA through the education and career position system.

What do you see as some of the long term benefits as pervasive wireless and WAIs are deployed throughout education?

Pervasive wireless along with analytics will turn the digital village nature of the college campus into a digital social hive of education, productivity, understanding, and success. The new Wi-Fi analytics enable colleges to understand how students interweave their social, academic, and relational experiences via all the devices they utilize. With this new understanding, we can better align their activities for ultimate success.

To learn more about the importance of wireless and business intelligence analytics in higher education, please watch this incredible "On The Fly WiFi" episode - a monthly webcast focused on mobility topics - hosted by Mike Leibovitz (Twitter: @MikeLeibovitz), where Michael discussed incredible innovation at Oral Roberts University.

In conclusion, digital savvy and strategic higher education CIOs view the network infrastructure as a critical business asset, architected to ensure student, faculty and administration success. Today, investments in WiFi infrastructure and advance application analytics will help CIOs to develop an offensive game-plan to ensure the very best user experience and proactive delivery of high quality educational services and outcomes. Oral Roberts University is a fantastic example of an institution who is working harder and smarter to ensure student success.