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Ensure digital transformation benefits students

Educators must reflect on which services they can best provide online and which are better served in person as they look at “students as customers”, delegates heard at the QS Reimagine Education conference.

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‘Maintaining wellbeing’ and ‘financial worries’ topped the poll of student concerns

A session on digital transformation in higher education post-Covid put a student-centred experience as key to the direction of digital transformation in HEIs.

“The real question is now ‘how do we blend? How do we do hybrid programs?’”

Isabelle Finger, director of the San Francisco hub of the INSEAD Business School described how coronavirus had boosted online migration.

“Although I don’t like the expression,” she said, “pushing everyone at once was a ‘silver lining’ of the pandemic. Now the question is no longer ‘should we go online?’ or ‘is face-to-face still the best way of teaching?’, the real question is now ‘how do we blend? How do we do hybrid programs?’.”

Fellow panellist, Razan Fasheh, senior director for strategic engagement and communications at software company Salesforce, said: “It’s time to put all types of student services on the table and let’s really decide what is served best online and what’s best done in person.”

Though Fasheh acknowledged the major shove that the Covid-19 pandemic had given to the proliferation of online learning, she suggested it was just a “band aid” in terms of what could come next, be that flipping the classroom or a connected approach to careers services, mental health counselling, financial support and so on.

Fasheh believed that enabling a frictionless experience was the next step and said that universities were now “thinking about the student as a customer.”

To underline the importance of student services outside of academic studies and the access to them, Fasheh cited some interesting findings from a Salesforce survey of 2,000 students and staff from 10 HEIs across the globe.

‘Maintaining wellbeing’ and ‘financial worries’ topped the poll of student concerns, with 73% and 72% of respondents indicating these respectively.

One of the other headline findings from the survey was that 70% of the HEIs polled were either talking about digital transformation or already progressing on it.

The panel discussion touched upon how institutions were migrating, with Isabelle Finger describing how this can happen almost organically. “Creating a course is not a lone wolf job anymore,” she said, “with designers and video and teaching assistants needed; this has forced HE to become cross-functional rather than siloed.”

Both the panellists and the moderator, chief digital officer at SKEMA Business School Pierre-Paul Cavalié, agreed that the digital transformation process required the successful engagement of all stakeholders, with Isabelle Finger adding that everyone thrashing out the technical specifications together at the start of the process was critical.

Using the example of Arizona State University, Razan Fasheh illustrated the scale of the task facing any institution taking the digital transformation journey for the benefit of its students.

Over the course of decades, ASU has had to “rethink every business function, every process, every student encounter, and every academic program and also needed agile technology, data analytics, predictive modelling and adaptive learning to put students at the centre.”

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