What Higher Demand for Virtual Learning Means for Higher Education

By Elizabeth Clor

Before the impact of COVID-19 sent students home earlier this spring, global digital spend in the education industry was projected to grow to $342 billion by 2025 (up from $152 billion in 2018).  Virtually everyone from the academic community is now working or learning from home, so plans to invest in digital have understandably accelerated.  Meanwhile, the fall semester is rapidly approaching, and administrators need to decide soon whether or not to fully commit to virtual learning (or risk another wave of shutdowns and closings due to the pandemic). 

As the industry considers going all-in on online learning for the foreseeable future—with 69% of college presidents investing in new online learning resources just in April—now is the time for colleges and universities to reassess IT infrastructures, digital resources and support staff availability.

IT Resilience in the Face of Uncertainty

Digital academic operations and IT networks must be running smoothly in order to meet the most basic needs of remote learning. Universities operating under current circumstances need to keep dispersed students, faculty and administrators connected, with access to courses, databases and school communication. Consequently, administrators should consider implementing solutions that simplify digital interactions and handle the weight of increased web activity. 

Here are a few areas of focus for the near-term: 

Managed services–As reliance on virtual education hubs and digital resources grows, the IT department’s ability to support an increasingly complex environment may not. In addition to the adoption of new tools and platforms that help ease the virtual education burden, academic leaders should consider looking outside the organization for help managing risks, reducing operational costs and focusing on strategic priorities, including enhancing the quality and accessibility of online learning offerings.

IT support–IDC predicts that IT services spending will decrease by 2% in 2020 due to COVID-19. In practice, that means that organizations like higher education institutions need to be more strategic with the money they do invest. The complex situation many academic IT teams face: a mass movement to remote work, increased need for faculty training on remote courses and disruptions tied to virtual learning. Academic leaders should consider bringing in outside help that can deliver critical IT support—including responding to support requests in a timely and efficient way and addressing individual IT issues as they arise so that in-house IT professionals can focus on keeping infrastructure running.

Tools–There are many tools out there that can help support remote IT operations, whether you need help tracking software development timelines, better collaboration tools, or task management solutions. The Atlassian suite of tools, in particular, offers managed and professional services that alleviate administrative burden. A snapshot of specific applications for higher education:

  • Jira – Originally designed as a tool for software developers to track product timelines, Jira offers higher education leaders the visibility to dictate and monitor timelines for specific digital and web-oriented tasks; determine whether deadlines for university IT system upgrades or solution implementations are met; and access customizable templates for workflows that can be adapted across institution departments from admissions to faculty services.
     
  • Jira Service Desk – Jira Service Desk offers an IT support ticketing and task management system that can be accessed through a one-touch customer portal on a university’s website, or through a central email address. Service Desk is meant to complement the efforts of existing IT service professionals working to address on-premises and remote network issues impacting faculty, administrators or students.
     
  • Confluence – Confluence is a web-based wiki that connects to an Atlassian cloud and allows higher education institutions to create and share web pages, documentation and media assets that can be customized to fit the needs of a specific college or university. In order to benefit fully, Confluence offers a secure cloud option that adheres to major compliance standards including FedRAMP, PCI DSS, and HIPAA.

Moving Forward 

Higher education is facing a pivotal moment as faculty and students remain distanced from shuttered campuses around the United States. Now, more than ever, these institutions need 24/7 access to trustworthy IT expertise, support, web hosting and managed services. IT leaders should consider adopting integrated workflow solutions, like Jira or Confluence, and working with a trusted partner, like Contegix, to implement, deploy and optimize them for efficiency, flexibility and transparency.

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