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Perspective

How Emerging Technologies Are Transforming Higher Education

Blockchain, AI, and chatbots are disrupting a traditionally slow-moving industry—for the better.

By Keith Rajecki

March 2019

Academe has long been regarded as slow-moving and adverse to change. In today’s higher-education landscape, we are seeing a significant push to drive innovation in order to respond to changing fiscal realities and shifting student expectations. Consider that 10 years from now, students entering college will have grown up in a world of digital assistants. These students are demanding a tailored education experience, from designing their own degree to completing courses across multiple institutions at their own pace.

As a result, higher education institutions are having to innovate, become more agile, and do more with less. There are a number of technologies that have the power to disrupt higher education by creating greater efficiencies and more secure processes and providing a better user experience. Blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), and chatbots are some of the technologies that are already driving innovation in higher education. Institutions benefit from understanding the possibilities that each represents.

The Security of Blockchain

The reason why blockchain is transforming higher education is simple: It is a decentralized ledger for keeping secure track of digital records. Blockchain technology is reliable, effectively tamperproof, and secure. For higher education and research, blockchain promises to help solve challenges in credentialing and payments. Because blockchain offers a trusted model for the secure collection and sharing of competency indicators, such as academic records, badges, certificates, citations, grades, assessment scores, and letters of recommendation, it provides a “golden record” or single source of truth for a student.

There are a number of technologies that have the power to disrupt higher education by creating greater efficiencies and more secure processes and providing a better user experience.”

Students can take their credentials with them in a secure and trusted manner, alleviating the common hurdles associated with verifying academic records. With blockchain, credentials can be checked and validated more effectively, which helps to protect the value and validity of higher education. For payments, institutions are beginning to use cryptocurrencies to facilitate payment involving grants and other sources of funding. Blockchain’s distributed, peer-to-peer model enables digital “smart contracts” to securely expedite transactions between parties.

AI and a Seamless Experience

Increasingly, AI and machine learning are having a larger and more positive impact on educational institutions. AI and machine learning use data patterns to improve admissions, enrollment, and student outcomes and success. For example, public universities currently spend on average US$536 per student for recruiting. Leveraging AI to match students to programs can help institutions reduce student recruiting costs. AI maps data patterns to predict which students are at risk, and it aids administrators in conducting an appropriate, timely, and personalized intervention. This supports students by providing the best possible chance of succeeding in their studies and on their career path. AI can also improve students’ course selection by matching the right students to the right courses. Historical data patterns suggest specific learning paths for each student, improving their likely outcomes and essentially providing a virtual academic advisor service.

Keith Rajecki

Keith Rajecki is vice president of Oracle’s solutions for the global public sector, education, and research industries.

AI can also help with core administrative processes such as human resources and finance. AI is currently being used in higher education to optimize the recruitment of faculty and staff. This is particularly helpful for identifying the best talent who will be the most successful in a role. The automation of routine tasks such as employee expense reports takes the manual work out of the entry and classification of expense information, while AI improves expense approval and detects fraud. Similarly, AI could intelligently automate the ordering and fulfillment process for standard inventory items by automatically monitoring stock levels and learning the optimal lead time and sourcing options for reordering. Colleges and universities can leverage AI to alleviate many of the technology-based administrative activities as well as to take over mundane tasks, which will lead to more operational efficiency and cost reduction.

Cost-Effective Chatbots

Today’s students want a tailored, personal, and proactive experience. They want to access information and services on demand and to conduct transactions quickly. Colleges and universities have started using virtual assistants, chatbots, and other intelligent software tools to augment or replace student interactions with advisers or counselors and to provide some institutional services. Chatbots and virtual assistants can engage directly with students, answering questions on enrollment, class choices, accommodations, and much more. These virtual assistants use adaptive intelligence and machine learning to become both proactive and reactive in creating a personalized, supportive environment for students.

In higher education, chatbots are providing students with a more personalized “customer-like” experience. For institutions, the cost saving that chatbots represent is significant. For example, the average cost of a support call is US$5. Chatbots can provide student, faculty, and staff support for an array of services for only a fraction of the cost, enabling more agile support operations and reducing the need for operational overhead.

With the mounting interest in these technologies and the drive to implement them, higher education is moving to the forefront of digital innovation and transformation.

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