International Insight

With over 4 million students using AppsAnywhere across 300 different institutions, we’re always keen to hear and learn from those using AppsAnywhere.

This insight helps us to see the trends in the Higher Ed IT world and how student outcomes can continually be improved through innovation. For us, Higher Ed IT is a passion and a constant when it comes to meaningful discussions. As we lead up to EDUCAUSE, the world’s largest Higher Ed IT conference in Denver, CO, we wanted to start the discussion off with a look back on the past few years.

As a society and economy alike, we’ve experienced life-changing situations throughout the pandemic, and the education industry like many other industries, has been heavily affected. Institutions had to adapt and even evolve to a completely new student experience. With this shift in student dynamic, came a need for a slightly different IT approach. Given that higher ed institutions around the world hadn’t previously experienced a pandemic before in the digital era, many approached their adaptions in different ways.

AppsAnywhere’s COO, Pete Cooke, dives deeper into these approaches, the effects that the pandemic has had on student behaviors, and what new questions institutions are trying to answer after the pandemic.

The Dilemma of Digital Equity

“What was clear, was we had this situation where Higher Ed was predominantly an on-campus experience. For years students went to their local campus for lectures or to use on-campus resources, like computer labs and libraries, etc. That was the paradigm of student learning. The student experience.

“When COVID came along. It changed everything because students couldn't physically do that anymore. So, overnight, institutions had to facilitate a complete shift to entirely remote learning – providing an on-campus experience, but at home.

“How do we maintain a consistent level of service and student experience without actually being able to provide it through our own on-campus resources?

“That question was the driver for a lot of decisions and a lot of purchases, no doubt, and it was impressive to see the industry adapt to this so quickly.

“Fast forward a year or two, we’re then seeing the reverse. Institutions were catering to remote learning students. Then they’ve also got the students coming back on campus too. We started to see this dual-learner situation where they’ve got two different types of students. Naturally with that comes a disparity between the experiences of those two student types. On-campus resources we're sometimes better than the remote learning measures put in place and vice-versa.

“Suddenly it became less about: How do we grant access and enable remote learning? It became more about: How do we close the disparity gap between the two experiences?

“Students all deserve the same experience and that's why digital equity started to be spoken about so prominently.

Financial & Technical Pressures

“There’s a financial and technical requirement here all of a sudden though. Institutions must service both on-campus and off-campus learning. To do that, they need to invest in different technologies, tools, equipment, hardware, etc. It is an increase in investment, but we saw the Higher Ed Industry seeing it as an investment into their student experience and their students’ outcomes. Being able to offer this level of flexibility resulted in more satisfied students, more engaged students, improved student outcomes, and ultimately better student retention.

The Future for Campus Labs

We keep hearing about the future of the campus lab being debated. The legacy concept of the bricks-and-mortar institution is very restrictive in terms of when it can be accessed. Then today’s student expectations. The two aren’t fully synergistic. So, for years we've discussed: Is there a future for computer labs in the Higher Ed Industry?

“One of the major effects of the pandemic was the acceleration of the adoption of technology by institutions. It opened the eyes of a lot of the industry to see that there is a way to do things outside of the traditional campus lab setting.

“We'll continue to see innovation globally in the Higher Ed Industry as they focus on the student experience, perhaps maybe more so than academic teaching, learning and research. These institutions will continue with student-centric approaches like Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and removing the dependency on on-campus labs. Students don't need to come between set times to certain locations to access very specific apps. They’re making them available anywhere, anytime for all their students.

“I think, what we might see in the next few months is the true reflection on the future for campus labs. How tied institutionally is the Higher Ed Industry to the concept of campus labs? Is the concept too much of a comfort blanket?

“I suspect there is always a need for labs in any student setting. It's important to be able to access on-campus equipment and lab-based teaching. But the key thing here is the hybrid approach. We’re seeing institutions that want to make a name for themselves with their student experience are continuing to adopt the hybrid approach where they'll keep the remote learning offerings and combine them with their on-campus experience.

“Casting my mind back, that's the full flexibility that I certainly wanted when I was a student. I wanted the same experience whether I was at home on my own device or on-campus in a computer lab, and students today are the same, they just want a consistent experience.

Remote Collaboration

“When I was a student, on-campus labs were under ownership by different faculties or departments and therefore they were limited to specific students. But, since the pandemic, we’ve seen and heard across our customer base, that what was previously a very designated space was now becoming an open access space, encouraging student collaboration. We saw that labs were being repurposed into these, much more student-friendly, open-access learning areas where BYOD policies could thrive and save institutions money at the same time. We've heard a lot from institutions that their students come along to a lab and don’t actually log onto the lab computer at all. They get their laptop out, launch AppsAnywhere, and off they go.

“The reduction of campus labs has facilitated this new culture of working and I think it's a lot more aligned to what students expect today.

When Adaptation Becomes Evolution

“It'll be interesting to see how we as an industry evolve now. Do we think that with all the changes that the pandemic caused overnight, there has been a fundamental shift in where the Higher Ed Industry is going?

“I think the biggest challenge isn't necessarily anything to do with the students. It’s more of an organizational problem for institutions. Across the world, we hear of the great resignation. We've been talking about remote learning, hybrid approaches, and meeting student expectations whilst also experiencing financial and technical pressures. Institutions can't physically deliver all of this if they’re working to a reduced IT overhead.

“We've been in the industry for a long time and our customers always demanded the on-premises nature of our products and what we've seen especially in the last three years is a total shift away from that.

“So, I think that might be the next big thing that we start to see talked about. How do vendors offer more IT assistance to institutions? How do institutions partner with other organizations? How do we implement automation and artificial intelligence into IT strategies?

“These are the questions institutions are looking to answer as we come out the back of the pandemic. Regardless of the answers, students are always at the forefront of every institution and what we’re trying to achieve here at AppsAnywhere as well.

“So, the newest question in the Higher Ed industry is one that’s actually been around for years. Simply, how do we continue to innovate and continue to improve the student experience?

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