Thursday, December 5, 2013

Improving the Student Experience Online

Greetings from the Inaugural Student Experience Conference in Sydney. After a day and a half of presentations from university personnel, Peter Rohan from Ernst & Young, is giving a refreshing business view of higher education (E&Y issued "Universityof the future: A thousand year old industry on the cusp of profound change" in 2012). He asked if investments, such as WiFi on campuses, actually is worth the cost. He suggests that providing feedback to students and taking an interest in them would better improve their experience. He also suggested the university look at what their students value.

My own experience as a student has been that at times a university may try too hard. I don;t mind a few surveys to find what I like. But at one stage I was getting a survey about every week from one university. I did not know which were important and which were not, but the surveys were detracting from my student experience, so each time I got one, I have the university a lower rating.

In my view Higher Education could usefully invest in on-line presence and in teaching skills. This not be an expensive exercise, compared to building new buildings and hiring new staff. A university is  inherently virtual, with the physical environment just to supplement the experience: it is about people and ideas.

An example of the ideas and people is when I visited Cambridge University Computer Labs. This institution is world famous for helping create the modern computer age, from building the world's second electronic computer to the world's first web cam. But when I visited the lab was in a crumbling old, cramped building (with a dinosaur skeleton in it). The old buildings are part of the Cambridge ethos (although on my next visit I found they had moved into a shiny new building next to Microsoft Research Labs). But it was the idea of the Lab which was important not the physical building.

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