Technology (Innovations for Education)

Engaging Students With Interactive Technologies

Interactive Technologies

PHOTO COURTESY OF SHEN MILSOM & WILKE

Dynamic collaboration techniques and technologies are advancing in use within the education environments of today. The technologies supporting these environments are evolving very quickly as the refinement of the curricula needing these solutions has begun to take shape. Many institutions fear their faculty and environments may not be prepared for the needs of these concepts or the desires of the students within those environments. The key to this success revolves around the consumer-centric approach that the student and faculty are customers of the technology and the user experience is the most important factor.

All too often, advanced, cutting-edge technologies turn into bleeding-edge, non-functioning solutions because their full impact on the users, environments and networks has not been completely understood prior to deployment. The solutions are being shaped by consumer-driven expectations that shift many of the policies and best practices employed so that content, space and technology will work together to provide truly exceptional learning experiences.

Student Expectations are Based on Experience

The incoming freshman classes of today have already been exposed to e-learning methodologies throughout most of their education, whether self-guided or within the classroom setting. In some instances, these students have been using tablet devices for the last four to five years. As this tech-savvy user base moves into the higher education environment, they are often frustrated by the limits to which they can access and use the solutions that they feel will positively impact their education and communication needs. If the technology they expect is not supplied to them, they will bring it. Restrictions to the use, applications and mobility of these systems only fuels a discontent that results in a negative user experience and a drive to make it happen external to the controlled environments provided by the institution.

Consideration is also necessary for guest access within the networks. This is most often provided with bandwidth-limited Internet access and complete restrictions on connections to local network resources.

Wireless presentation, lecture capture, online collaboration and active-learning methodologies all require the ability for any and all participants to engage the installed resources within the facility while they also access their personal content; whether local to their personal devices or within the cloud. With the video tools now available to the consumer, the use of conferencing apps will continue to rise. The environments that engage students and faculty will need to allow for any user to log in and access his or her content and presentation appliances without hurdles or roadblocks. Access to subject matter experts or other individuals will also need to be supported as well. With the deployment of video tools via social media, users will also rely more on their personal accounts for contact management instead of an address book. These changes in workflow are disruptors to the policies that many institutions have put in place as it relates to the BYOD usage surrounding their networks. Success of these communication and education solutions needs the networks to focus on and easily support three key technologies: wireless presentation, collaboration and participation by remote team members.

Wireless Presentation Options

Wireless presentation solutions have come into the marketplace fairly quickly. The presentation tools available today are still computing-platform specific, so the understanding of every device to be used in the campus environment must be confirmed at time of selection in order to ensure that the consumer needs will be met. With tablets coming in three operating system classes — iOS, Android and Windows — the wireless presentation solution must be robust enough to accept input from any of them. As these technologies have not entirely matured, they still have not achieved acceptance in all situations, as they may not fulfill all of the requirements or user needs. Connection to these devices via the WiFi and PIN code entry can still be laborious and will not happen if the correct application is not installed on the device. Manufacturers have been looking at location-based services to identify the available connections for display, but these solutions require added infrastructure for success.

The focus on the latest technology is not necessarily the path to success. By orienting on a single solution across all collaborative environments, the need for user training becomes diminished. This also means that the changes to the technologies will come in the form of program updates to the suite of tools provided. There are no changes to the hardware, just firmware upgrades that happen from a centralized server solution that provides improved feature sets overnight. Since the same tools are accessed within the rooms, the new features are exposed by use instead of by retraining. This is the same model that the consumer is already accustomed to with an upgrade to any application on their smart device.

Supporting Distance Learning

Strategies being used within Unified Communications and Collaboration solutions provide the means to support the involvement of remote participants, whether they are present on the WAN or solely connecting via Internet services. Since these solutions are moving to cloud-based topologies, they are mostly services that individuals subscribe to directly or have access to through campus-based subscription services. These features are also beginning to appear in social media environments, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, so the opportunity for use may become as easy as installing another app in the not-toodistant future.

Taking into consideration every possible user within collaborative environments, the network services and access policies may also need to be reviewed. Customer-centric technology solutions look to make certain that all possible users within the facility may access the appropriate services they need along with their personal content. All the while the critical data is protected from outside influences. Since the presentation and collaboration technologies can now be accessed from the network resources within the rooms, the WiFi access within the facility must allow for easy connections to the same resources, whether via trusted logins or guest appearances on the network.

New concepts in Bring Your Own Identity (BYOI or BYOID) have come to the forefront, allowing networks to grant permissions to individuals through third-party, trusted active-directory services. Many have already experienced BYOI solutions as they were given the ability to log in to a website with their Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ or Amazon username. These same strategies can be used within the enterprise network to authenticate guest access in a more user-friendly model than what is most often employed. This is still considered a low-level authentication and will not garner the user access to trusted data, such as an Identity and Access Management (IAM) solution would provide, but it can be used to access presentation and collaboration tools alongside the trusted users within the network environment.

In all cases, by focusing first on the consumer experience prior to focusing on the technology solution, the outcomes will become more positive to the user even if the solutions do not entirely satisfy their current needs. With evolving and expanding applications for download to tablets and personal devices, users that can easily acquire the needed services will simply grab what works best for their needs at that moment and move on to completing their task at hand.

By Definition

Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC)
Unified communications and collaboration (UCC) describes the combination of communications and collaboration technologies. Until recently, enterprise collaboration vendors were fairly distinct from those for enterprise communications, with software companies like Microsoft and IBM dominating the former and telephony and networking vendors comprising the latter. However, this distinction has become blurred because Microsoft and IBM offer voice and telephony features and vendors like Cisco have moved into the collaboration market.

Identity and Access Management (IAM)
Identity and access management (IAM) is the security discipline that enables the right individuals to access the right resources at the right times for the right reasons. IAM addresses the mission-critical need to ensure appropriate access to resources across increasingly heterogeneous technology environments, and to meet increasingly rigorous compliance requirements. This security practice is a crucial undertaking for any enterprise.

Source: Gartner (www.gartner.com)

This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of College Planning & Management.

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