The IT trends behind Canada’s learning spaces of the future

“Congratulations! It is my pleasure to offer you admission. . .”

Those thrilling words are the threshold to adventure, possibilities and the future. With my youngest son completing his undergrad studies and preparing to continue his journey in higher education, the state of our colleges and universities has held a significant mindshare for me recently.

With a strong reputation around the world, Canada is home to some of the top high education institutions  in the world. It is the key to the ongoing success and sustained competitiveness of our economy. And when you are looking for where to find our future leaders, scientists, managers, doctors, teachers, lawyers and innovators, it’s a safe bet a strong contingent will come from our colleges and university graduates.

So how do we maintain and grow this competitive edge?

With the help of the IT channel, of course.

As in so many other sectors, technology is the great enabler. EDUCAUSE lists innovative learning spaces as a Top Strategic Technology for 2017. Additionally, 52 per cent of Canadian universities ranked the top driver of adopting digital technologies as improved effectiveness in student outcomes, student retention, alumni relations and services to faculty and staff.

With technology as a driver, the Campus of the Future will be influenced by artificial intelligence, virtual reality, 3D print and even eSports.

Here are a few trends impacting higher education institutions as they build more engaging and interactive learning environments. Each area presents key opportunities for solutions providers who are currently working with or targeting higher education facilities.

Experience-based education. Our universities need to evolve from device-based platforms designed to provide lowest-common-denominator access to the Internet, to next-generation experiences. Instead of designing learning spaces for Gen X, we need to design for Gen Z, in the context of the modern, vibrant college and university community.

Higher education institutions need to empower nomadic, always-connected students with technology which fits their mobile lifestyles and equip instructors with tools to differentiate instruction and personalize feedback. The goal is to build a future of next-generation experiences for students while equipping them with technology to pursue their passions—whether it be in particle physics, medicine, business, law or drama.

A study finds that only 15 per cent of employers believe that technical skills are what’s most valuable in recent graduates; instead, 60 per cent agree that soft skills—like problem solving, collaboration and critical thinking—along with technical skills are required. Students also need to learn how to navigate an increasingly complex world, set upon by near constant disruption and change. Universities need to create immersive, engaging maker spaces where students and faculty learn how to use the latest tools and technologies to solve real-world problems and craft unique learning experiences. We need highly visual and hands-on experiences, where students can fabricate 3D molecules, build prototypes, or print custom runs of student dissertations.

Campuses need to explore the most effective and impactful use cases in virtual reality, augmented reality and 3D printing—technologies that deliver quality output faster and more efficiently while also creating more fluid and immersive instruction. Think of campus foundries powered by the latest technology to create blended reality collaboration spaces.

Open, secure, accessible. Tomorrow’s campuses must balance openness with security. More than 13 million student and employee records have been stolen from higher education institutions since 2005. The push for openness, along with significant investments in research—a precious intellectual property— make higher education a prime target for hackers; over 17 per cent of all hacking attempts happen at colleges and universities.

There’s a very good reason that EDUCAUSE lists IT security as the most important IT issue on campuses.

Invest for best return. Another top-ten challenge for universities? Managing sustainable funding for technology, even though 100 global universities each have over $1 billion in endowments. Universities will be looking to make it easier to fund these initiatives by moving expenditures on printing and energy consumption to investing in cloud-based solutions which increase security and control while dramatically reducing costs.

They will be exploring consumption-based models like DaaS (Device as a Service) to mitigate technology obsolescence and adopt soft-standardization to minimize the number of unique configurations and enable pervasive choice. And while they’re at it, they will deploy campus purchasing management systems which enable streamlined, frustration-free access.

From local colleges to research universities, higher education’s purpose is to endow knowledge and skills to students to prepare them for successful futures. By investing in creating innovative learning spaces, Canada’s higher education system will ensure a bright future for all of us.

The opportunity for channel partners to play a role in this critical shift should not be overlooked.

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