How cash-strapped universities can be more cost efficient using network analytics

The introduction and advancement of technology within the education sector is opening up new approaches to the traditional teaching model. According to the Horizon Report’s 2014 Higher Education Editor, education paradigms are shifting to include collaborative online, blended and hybrid learning.

But with budgets for technology and training equally tight, how can the education sector measure its return on investment and overall success to gain additional funding and support?

Changing the way we learn

The education sector is under constant pressure to attract the best teaching talent as well as to secure consistent financial support – often from students to attract new students. As a way to appeal to both educators and students, state of the art technology investments and forward-thinking initiatives are being considered and implemented.

Through technology, universities can expand student capacity by digitising courses which in turn results in a larger pool of tuition fees that can be unitised to reinvest in the university for the benefit of the student. As a result of making course material suitable for online delivery, educators have created new methods of teaching that are improving the overall learning experience.

> See also: The technologies that could transform higher education

By utilising familiar technology devices such as tablets or smartphones for education, universities can rethink the way in which they approach lecture-based learning and exams, developing new methods such as flipped and blended learning. Flipped learning, where the lecture and theoretical aspect of the lesson is delivered as homework, enables more discussion to be undertaken during the class time.

This provides students with better opportunity to ask specific or more informed questions, for teachers to increase one-on-one time with their students, and encourages student-to-student learning. The individual attention made possible with flipped and blended learning styles is helping the education sector move toward more personalized education.

Taking this one step further, advances in learning styles like adaptive and competency-based learning offer different content to learners based on an interactive assessment of their understanding of the subject.

This type of learning requires access to content, where ever the student may be at a time that suits them, and this is why digital content is perfect. Not only is it accessible on mobile devices, it can also be highly scalable to include more students.

Once learning material is online, the content can be accessed from all over the world, enabling newer styles of learning such as massive open online courses (MOOCs) and small private online courses (SPOCs).

The result is more virtual seats, more students learning and thus more financial support being created for higher education establishments to reinvest into new technology and other strategic objects. For true success, high performing, responsive applications, running on a fast and agile network are vital.

But proof still needs to be in the pudding to secure additional investment. This is where tracking results and understanding where improvements are being realised is critical for the educator and IT department.

Measuring success through analytics

By tracking the use of technologies, devices, and software throughout the day and seeing which are generating the best results, the IT department can help educators better understand how students are accessing and digesting the learning content.

The use of analytics is also helping to encourage competency-based education (CBE), where students can master skills at their own pace.

Pinpointing best practices

Educators can determine how the most successful students work so that others can be encouraged to follow the same patterns and best practices. These findings can then be reported back to the CIO and CFO to encourage investment.

For example, Rens van der Vorst, head of innovation at Fontys Hogescholen described how IT staff members were transformed into heroes through the creative and engaging use of network and Wi-Fi analytics. 

The Fontys Hogescholen IT group helped students use network analytics for projects like tracking student activities across campus to correlate demographic data with behaviour and even effect change.

Students began to use opt-in services to monitor and visualise student behavioural patterns such as how many hours students are in school during a week, how many people are using different parts of the building, the use of apps: how many are running and where, which devices are most prevalent, as well as how usage varied based on student vs teacher or males vs females, and answers to quick poll questions.

> See also: Top ten strategic technologies impacting education – Gartner

As a result, students and educators were able to improve teaching methods, gain feedback on classes in real-time and maximise areas where students were using network analytics to improve the learning experience.

Encouraging technology investment

The knowledge delivered from analytics can aid principals and curriculum directors to prepare for new technology-related initiatives, digital text books, and online testing. This knowledge can be used to determine the cost effectiveness of expensive software licenses, how often is the software used; how many simultaneous users are there; who and what departments are using it? Finance managers can also use the analytics to project capacity needs for investment planning.

The network analytics available today are valuable to educational institutes looking to increase revenue and be known for revolutionising learning to attract more students and educators.

The IT department plays a pivotal role in finding new learning patterns to inform educators as well as CIOs and CFOs of the benefits of digital learning. Data can be used to make informed decisions leading to not only increased student performance, but also improved capacity and financial investment.

Sourced from Bob Nilsson, director of education solutions, Extreme Networks

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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