Headshot of Bob SolisThis is a guest post by Bob Solis. Bob currently serves as a member of Blackboard’s Advisory Council. The Council is comprised of higher education leaders from institutions and organizations throughout the U.S. The Council provides feedback on technology, solutions, corporate strategy and key topics effecting higher education today as well as supports Blackboard thought-leadership activities.

 

Students want jobs. Let’s be clear on this first. One hundred percent of the students that I informally surveyed stated that they attend college so they can position themselves for good jobs in the future. My personal finding appears consistent with a recent research brief by New America:

‘Around 90% of students say they went to college to get a good job, make more money, or get better economic opportunities…’

This, in no way, marginalizes the broader higher education mission of enlightenment but rather is simply an affirmation of what is keen on young students’ minds in this world of high price tags for education and the growing global competition for jobs.

Why is this important to the question of what students are telling us about technology? Effectively all the feedback that I received regarding technology seemed to tie to an expression from students suggesting desires to learn technology skills they might need for the future or technology that will most efficiently support their journey through the overall college experience.

I recently hosted a panel at a conference. What made this panel unique was that it was comprised of four undergraduate students. The subject was in fact seeking their thoughts on technology. The four were very much in harmony on their message, they rely on technology 24/7 and as a result of that almost continuous reliance they overstressed ease of use, no training required design, seamless, ubiquitous access and what they called connectedness, referring to common platforms and applications versus disparate systems. In terms of specifics here are some of the more notable comments:

  • Greater utilization of LMS across online and on premise courses, however only interested in learning a single LMS
  • Single or much reduced sign-on across applications
  • More video for academic, communication, and training, offering a threshold of 2 minutes or less in duration or they lose interest
  • Email is back, in a manner of speaking—referring to their acknowledgement they do read it out of necessity to garner important information from sources where email is the primary delivery method
  • Ubiquitous wireless access, indoors and outdoors, across campus

While these were the primary and somewhat expected points of feedback, I was pleased to also hear reference to applications and tools that can assist students in successfully navigating their journey through college. A recent article by Susan Grajek in a 2015 Trusteeship journal entitled ‘What Boards Need to Know about Technology in 2015’ summarized the top five things to which students ‘wish their instructors would use it more…’:

  • Recorded lectures or ‘lecture capture’
  • Early alert systems
  • Freely available course content
  • Learning management systems
  • Use of laptops, tablets during class

These are technologies rooted in the college and work environment. However, as we all know, today’s technology is not isolated there, but rather has converged with our personal lives. To get anywhere today it seems you have to go online to make it happen.

This past August I embarked on the trip of a lifetime helping my son move from Houston to Seattle. It was he and I and a sedan over packed with his life’s belongings traversing the great western United States taking in awesome views of National Parks along the way. Sounds low tech, yes? Not quite. We were essentially connected before and during the entire trip:

  • Kayak.com to find the best flight to meet him in Houston
  • Waze and Google maps to navigate the trip
  • Trip advisor and hotels.com to grab hotels along the way
  • Weather channel app to track weather along the way
  • Yelp and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives app to find places to eat along the way
  • Pandora and his phone to stream music in the car
  • Instagram, Facebook and of course the phone camera to chronicle the trip
  • Find my friends app so his Mom and Grandmother could track our progress
  • Craigslist, hotpads.com and apartments.com to find a place for him to live
  • And of course lots of text messaging and Face Time with friends and family along the way

Hardly reminiscent of any trip I took with my parents in the 1970’s! And my son, a recent college graduate, navigated it all with great precision. Not because he is a technologist, he graduated from Culinary School, but because he is a millennial and digitally savvy. This is the world of the current and future generations.

So how do the collective “we” help our students with technology, to answer the call of optimizing their journey through their college experience, and as well preparing them with tech skills they will all surely need for just about any workforce environment, no matter the major or career direction?

As organizational leaders, not just IT leaders but all leaders, we must embrace technology ourselves. Embracing is the start. We must move faster and with more applied innovation at our organizations. We often debate technology solutions ad nauseam rather than act swiftly to seize opportunity. As recently as earlier this year I was in a discussion with a technology leader who rolled out a new password reset application in order to reduce help desk call volume. Good project, right goals. What struck me was this leader’s amazement at how swiftly students at their college adapted to it. Really? Is that the level that we think students are at? Likewise, I was at a conference recently watching a panel self-rationalize the merits of multiple learning management systems at a college, a small one no less. Students will tell you that there is elegance in simplicity and commonality in the delivery of applications, and time spent learning multiple learning management applications does not have clear benefit relative to the intended goal.

Whether it is a generational gap (current management/leadership vs. the digital native generations(s)) or simply that our organizations are at times stuck in the cultural norms of existing business practices and decision making protocol, we need to respond with greater deft and agility in meeting the technology of now and the future for our students. There is no other business such as ours that has the guarantee each and every fall a fresh new collective of new eighteen year olds bringing with them new understandings and expectations of technology. How we respond is critical to growing and preparing these students for their future, our future.

 

Bob is Vice President and Chief Information Officer for the University of Massachusetts system. In the capacity of University CIO, Bob leads the University Information Technology Services group, a University-wide IT group dedicated to servicing enterprise applications and technology on behalf of the University and its campuses. Bob serves on several Executive governing bodies and Board committees representing University enterprise applications and technology as well as chairs the University CIO leadership council. Bob has over 25 years of experience in information technology and services, consulting and management in the fields of Higher Education and Healthcare. 

Bob has a Bachelor’s of Science in Biochemistry from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a Master of Business Administration from Northeastern University as well as a certificate in Executive Management and Leadership from the Sloan School of Management at MIT. 

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