Today’s college students live and breathe technology. Over 65% of Generation Z frequently use more than one device at a time. Students have come to expect their universities to offer them tech-savvy experiences that both improve and simplify the busy schedules, demanding classes and part-time jobs they’re juggling.
Implementing more technology offers exciting ways to foster the more engaging, inclusive environments that today’s students both desire and need. Plus, with undergraduate enrollment declining by 3.1% and dropout rates continuing to increase, university leaders must do everything they can to keep current students engaged and attract new ones. Universities that implement new technologies are gaining a competitive edge. Understanding the latest tech options is the first step in effectively improving student life and learning.
Experimenting with new technologies will help institutions create more inclusive environments that support a variety of students and improve their daily lives. Here are five technologies universities can implement to create more engaging and supportive experiences for students.
Consider Virtual Reality for your events
You’ve likely heard of Virtual Reality (VR) being used for gaming and media. Now, VR is making its way into the higher-ed sphere, where it’s enhancing event experiences and boosting on-campus inclusivity.
VR expands on the simple live streamed event experience. It creates 360-degree views so that remote participants feel like they are authentically engaged or present in person. Southern New Hampshire University is getting a lot of buzz by using VR to power its graduation ceremonies.
Deanna Zanella, Assistant VP of Ceremonies and Events at SNHU, said she believes that VR presents opportunities to foster inclusion by expanding student flexibility.
“In late 2019, we started having conversations about expanding the technology around commencement in a more inclusive and accessible way. We have 100,000 online learners, and so asking them to be present with us in a building… just didn’t seem to make sense anymore.”
In SNHU’s case, the idea to use VR stems from looking for an innovative way to include students who suffer from anxiety as well as the institution’s army veterans who struggle with PTSD. For these individuals, attending a flashy, largely packed graduation ceremony wasn’t possible otherwise. Additionally, students who have barriers to attending events in person because of work or family obligations often find VR events offer a more accessible solution.
Events that feature VR can also be customized to be made even more inclusive by layering on additional tools for accessibility, including real-time captioning, sign language interpretation and sensory-friendly experiences.
Caption your content to boost student engagement
Today’s students are more distracted than ever before. To keep them engaged and attentive in their classes, captioning is one tool universities like Stanford University and the University of Florida are using with greater frequency.
While many perceive captioning to be necessary only for students who are Deaf or hard of hearing, the use cases for captioning are, in fact, endless and help to improve the success of every student. Universities are now looking beyond captioning their videos or live captioning their courses when a student registers a request with the disability department. Now, many are proactively offering captions to all of their students and including them across all areas of the campus experience – from guest lectures to sporting events.
Closed captioning accommodates many different learners, including students with disabilities, international students and those studying in scenarios where sound cannot be played aloud. Research shows that 75.5% of students found that captions help them focus better, retain information and assist with challenging vocabulary. As a result, all students will be thankful when they have the opportunity to choose how they learn and retain content.
With a partner like AST, offering captioning is easy to do. Plus, students can also receive access to audio to text transcription services which are incredibly helpful for note taking and studying. These technologies were once primarily a way to meet the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Although these guidelines are still being met, now their impact is far greater as they improve student experiences overall.
Use mobile apps to connect more with students
Gen Z students are often referred to as digital natives. 25% of today’s university students have been using a smartphone since they were 10 years old. Students use apps for everything from scrolling on social media, finding the closest take-out, online shopping and now studying.
Many higher-ed institutions are wisely launching and investing in mobile apps to connect to their students. These apps provide a more robust college experience and assist students in a variety of ways, from mental health support to campus navigation.
For example, Northern Arizona University developed its own mobile app known as NAUgo. The “Be Healthy” module within their app provides students with tools for their well-being in one place, including talking to a health professional, biking on campus, counseling, workouts and more. There are also options to view dining hall menus and nutrition, search campus shuttle schedules and navigate to ATMs and gender neutral restrooms. By curating content from various campus departments, they were able to successfully deliver multiple services in one experience. Having access to apps like these and information on-demand makes managing the college experience much more seamless for today’s students.
University leaders can also consider launching apps that allow students to submit anonymous feedback, seek out counseling and a variety of other actions to replace in-person interactions. Apps can also provide easy-to-access, on-demand services that don’t require students to show up in person. For example, some students don’t want to be seen walking into the disability department. If they can connect with a counselor digitally through an app and get advice, they’re much more likely to ask for help.
It’s also important to note that as universities design and launch more apps to improve their students’ lives, they must consider accessibility. For students who are blind or have hearing loss, mobile apps should offer accessibility features, such as those powered by accessiBe and according to W3C guidelines to ensure they’re accessible. If you don’t, some of your students will be excluded, and you could also even be subject to a lawsuit.
Personalize learning with Artificial Intelligence
There is no “one size fits all” in student learning. Today, more university leaders are embracing the core principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to account for this reality. UDL is a concept surrounding the basis that not all students learn the same, and offering them choices to account for learning preferences will help them succeed. With AI, universities can offer tailored learning experiences to students and meet their preferred learning styles.
AI has the ability to analyze tests, assignments, classroom participation notes and other data to build a unique student profile and identify how to encourage academic success.
One way this is being done is through virtual tutors. A virtual tutor is an AI-powered avatar that you converse with as you would a human. The behavior of a virtual tutor can be tailored to any task or topic, from medical training to foreign language acquisition. The University of Buffalo’s Graduate School of Education uses an AI avatar to enhance the learning experience for students studying to be teachers. This virtual tutor helps the teachers in training develop their own instructing skills by talking to a virtual counterpart.
Similarly, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute built an immersion lab that uses AI-powered avatars to recognize learners’ speech, gestures and facial expressions when practicing a foreign language. Using this state-of-the-art technology, the students learn Mandarin in a specialized setting and are ultimately able to master the language twice as fast as students who learn in conventional classrooms.
With AI, both students and instructors benefit from a personalized learning environment. Students are offered greater personalization and choice, while instructors are better equipped to serve their students’ needs to create more inclusive environments.
Enhance online learning with gamification
Keeping students engaged while they learn remotely can prove to be challenging. Many universities are now turning to gamification to enhance their online programs and include game-like features that entice participants to compete and succeed. Drawing on the UDL principles that advocate for student-led learning, gamification has proven itself to be a valuable tool in providing inclusivity to a wide range of learners who are given the opportunity to learn in a nontraditional way, at their own pace.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Chicago developed a remote learning program to collectively explore the idea of health. The long-term online program, known as ECHO, required participants to solve puzzles and media creation challenges in order to reach end goals. Players competed as teams and sought to accumulate points with the completion of every text and video quest.
Research studies on gamification have shown it to positively impact both student motivation and engagement. In ECHO’s case, the program helped to foster inclusivity and social interaction with students joining from all over the world. At the same time, ECHO was also successful in fostering collaboration and team-building skills in a remote learning environment. Students who had struggled to connect during months of online learning found the game opened up an opportunity for them to collaborate. ECHO participants reported that working through the game to complete a group project was a far more positive experience than those they had during traditional schooling.
While ECHO illustrates how complex and long in duration a gamified activity can be, many of its constitutive elements may still be successfully employed for instructional purposes. Gamification learning programs can easily be shorter in the form of escape rooms, polling, and review quizzes built into online modules.
Why technology is changing the student landscape
Universities that lean on technology and adopt it at greater frequency are able to create inclusive environments. As a result, they’re allowing for greater flexibility and freedom of choice.
Inclusive practices make for happier students, which increase their chances of success both academically and personally to allow them to make the most out of their college experience. By implementing ed-tech, whether it be real-time captioning or VR technology, students can choose how to learn and receive information based on their own learning styles and preferences. Reinventing traditional learning models and campus experiences with the addition of new technologies will help universities remain competitive while also providing students with equitable and inclusive university experiences.
AST serves as an essential partner to hundreds of schools globally to help them offer more inclusive learning experiences, events and more. Learn more about our solutions, such as live captioning, and find out how we can help you support your students in their day-to-day learning and life.