What Will Higher Education Look Like in 2020?

August 19, 2014 Bob Nilsson

Pressure on colleges and universities to provide the best achievable campus computing experience to both students and staff is continuing to grow. This is not only due to competition for students, who must be constantly connected, but also the need to reduce costs through new technology. The campus network is at the core of the computing experience.

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 need to be constantly connected. Over the next six years, as the number and density of campus devices grows, pervasive and reliable Wi-Fi will be the prerequisite for providing a quality computing experience. The potentially rich flow of data over this network presents a growing opportunity to identify students at risk and steer them back onto a path toward success.

The trend of students and faculty bringing more of their own devices onto campus will continue to increase dramatically. Today, the average number of devices per student is three. With the advent of wearable computers, this number could easily double by 2020. The potential for rogue devices appearing on the network mandates the use of network access control solutions, like Extreme Networks Mobile IAM, which provides complete device visibility and control without resorting to the proliferation of VLANs. To keep the network flexible and manageable, an industry-leading and open standards-based Software Defined Network solution like Extreme’s SDA will be necessary. SDN also provides simplified integration with existing infrastructure and third party products such as web filters like iBoss, Lightspeed, and Palo Alto Networks.

According to the ECAR Study Of Undergraduate Students And Information Technology, the campus computing environment has already become an important consideration for students when evaluating colleges. This survey found that students have come to prefer blended learning environments with high digital content, which require a strong network backbone.

The campus network of the future must be capable of supporting much more than just student and faculty devices. The growing concept of the Internet of Things means vast numbers of machines and sensors will be populating campus networks. IDC predicts there will be 212 billion things on the Internet by the end of 2020. These devices include building monitors, medical sensors, door locks, cameras, displays, lights, HVAC equipment, and all the appliances throughout campus living groups. The proliferation of network devices requires denser, more reliable, and easier to manage Wi-Fi connections.

In addition to mobile, the megatrends of social, cloud, big data, and apps will have a large impact on colleges and universities. Like all businesses, higher education is undergoing a digital transformation. Traditional methods of communication, marketing, and management are being replaced with digital, online, and highly-integrated versions. The campus network must be able to handle the growing volume of digital content, as well as monitor the flow of university data with network analytics. The ECAR study shows that 74% of college students already use e-books in their classes and half say e-books are important for their academic success. Student projects in the future, some of which were formerly called papers, will be rich in all types of multimedia content.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) will take on a growing role in higher education. According to our MOOC survey, 56% of institutions already offer MOOCs or plan to within three years. The primary uses of MOOCs today are for advanced placement, professional development, remedial subjects, and optional elective topics. As current challenges such as identity verification are solved, MOOCs will move more into the mainstream.

Digital badges will gain a growing role in higher education, initially to acknowledge and certify the completion of MOOCs and online courses. Universities are starting to use the Mozilla Open Badge Infrastructure to award and verify digital badges.

Over the next six years, the concepts of formative assessment and adaptive learning will take on a growing importance in higher education. Students will gain quicker and better feedback on their progress throughout the semester and will be able to access a wide range of online resources to address weaknesses highlighted by the formative assessments to achieve content mastery by the end of the term.

To make it easier for visiting students and faculty to access the network and Internet when they are at other schools, more campuses worldwide will be connected by eduroam. The eduroam system enables visitors at participating campuses to use their home-campus credentials to log onto the network.

Student Retention Systems which are already helping some colleges identify students who are at risk of failing or leaving the school will improve and gain more widespread usage. These systems will become a vital part of the student dashboard available to advisers and professors. In the future, network analytics will be used to compare student study patterns with those of successful students and provide alerts whenever problems are discovered.  Tools like this will help reduce student attrition, increase student graduation rates, and help with fundraising.

By 2020 learning will take place literally throughout the campus. The look of classrooms is evolving and may not be recognizable by 2014 standards. The emphasis will be on flexibility and configurability, enabled by pervasive wireless. Content will be displayable on devices ranging from wireless panels and projectors to personal and wearable devices including Google Glass and 3D full immersion virtual reality displays. Realtime digital content including video will be constantly sharable among global classrooms worldwide.

University IT departments can insure they are prepared for this future by building flexible, scalable, open standards-based network infrastructure. To be future-proof, the infrastructure must be capable of providing reliable, high density Wi-Fi and should provide comprehensive application usage analytics.

Network coverage has already been extended to athletic facilities and sports stadiums to enhance the student athlete and fan experience. In the future wearable athletic sensors will provide data to athletic trainers and coaches.

As the year 2020 approaches, universities who partner with network vendors like Extreme Networks who can help lead their digital transformation will have a strong advantage.

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