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A digital revolution that centers human experiences could provide higher education educators and administrators with a more valuable resource: time.
This is one of the key findings from recent research by professional services firm EY, based on focus group discussions among 116 teachers and 147 professional staff, as well as interviews with 28 leaders from universities around the world to discover what they want from digital education. transformation.
What the report reveals can help university leaders develop more effective and efficient operations that are built for the people who use them, improving the effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction of their work. By automating key processes, implementing unified systems that enable better data sharing and analysis, and using new intelligent technology, universities can improve the experience for their teaching and administrative colleagues.
Making time for university staff
Sean Jackson, managing director at EY US, which specializes in higher education, says technology can help minimize and eliminate “waste” in teacher and administrator workloads. He believes that “higher education is a system co-created by students and teachers. Anything that gets in the way of that is subject to legitimate investigation,” he says.
Digital tools can help reduce mundane and repetitive tasks, he argues, leaving more time and energy for teaching and other core elements.
“It’s important to look at what people really value and how technology can be used to maximize that,” says Jackson. As one UK Education Faculty focus group participant asserted: “We are trying to give time back to pedagogy and teaching by making things faster. It is now easier to design schedules and organize assessments.”
That’s where a digital revolution comes into play. Technology can help eliminate waste and free up time for higher education staff to focus on tasks that deliver greater value. Crucially, the technology must be built around their needs so they can deliver more efficiently and effectively for students and the university as a whole.
Both teachers and administrators could use automated tools that can eliminate mundane or repetitive tasks, such as answering routine student questions, collecting classroom feedback, and processing job applications. Digital tools can also help automate scheduling and planning, while test marking can be reduced by using digital online assessment and assessment tools.
In some parts of the world this is already a reality. A faculty focus group participant from Singapore said, “Digitalization has improved the daily services we need to do and saved us time – even though we may need time to get familiar with the system initially.”
Overburdened administrative staff are still burdened with low-value manual tasks such as processing applications or data entry, all of which can be automated. “It’s about allowing staff to spend more time making a difference for students, rather than appeasing the system,” said Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University in the US.
Looking ahead, embedded generative AI could soon further ease administrative burdens by creating progress reports, sending emails, and suggesting opportunities to automate other processes.
The University of Virginia, also in the US, is one institution that has started using technology to free up administrators’ time. EY helped the university develop and deploy an AI-powered virtual HR assistant, CavBot, to provide a warm and personal welcome to new hires. CavBot answers employee questions and helps new hires complete onboarding tasks, including filling out forms and applying for security badges or parking permits.
Improving the student experience
EY research also revealed employees’ hunger to generate insights that can improve student learning experiences and outcomes and support leadership decision-making. Digital processes generate a wealth of data that can be used to create dashboards, reports and trackers, but decentralized and siled systems mean staff spend an inordinate amount of time searching for different data across different systems.
Uniting disparate systems and creating greater cohesion between them enables greater data sharing and helps intelligent tools analyze data from different sources, flag issues and even drive action based on insights. With the right systems in place, universities can use data and analytics to gain more holistic insights into student and staff engagement and proactively offer interventions to improve their experience.
For example, at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, data is collected on class attendance, assignment submission, and assessment completion. When student engagement issues are detected, an SMS is automatically sent, meaning the issue is caught and corrected early, and support is provided if necessary.
Their colleagues from across the Australian and New Zealand higher education sectors are excited about the opportunities presented by data and automation. In a focus group they enthused that it “could be a huge help to both teaching staff and students as it would deliver better outcomes for students – and it is also positive for staff who can spend more time teaching and researching spend”.
There are many potential benefits of a digital transformation. But both teaching and non-teaching staff need support in using new tools and adapting to digital workflows. In some parts of the world, systematic attention is being paid to upskilling staff: in Ireland, the university technology sector is investing heavily in digital transformation, including through upskilling staff, developing digital skills teaching materials, creating a sustainable higher educational framework and implementing shared educational skills. rating systems.
Related: High-quality, flexible learning from tech-savvy teachers: What students really want from the college experience
Helping employees of all kinds feel empowered will be critical to the success of any digital transformation, and there are already institutions developing strategies to do this. Some universities have digital champions in every department who act as early adopters and work across departments to solve common problems. Others have incorporated digital learning into their performance and promotion processes, creating career incentives for those who embrace technology, or building digital skills programs into their faculty onboarding processes. All of this must be supported by ensuring systems and tools are easy to use and by providing accessible, empathetic training and incentives.
Overall, better use of technology can save teachers and administrators time and energy, eliminate repetitive tasks, and help them focus more on their students. “By using technology to focus the time and attention of teachers and students on what matters most, we are seeing the contours of a compelling and exciting future begin to emerge,” said Jackson. And as the EY report outlines, this future could change the lives of educators and administrators.
To learn more about using technology to transform higher education, read EY’s latest higher education report