Looking to the future with Lev Gonick, Part 3 - Engagement + collaboration platforms

Editor’s note: This is the third installment of a five-part series from ASU CIO Lev Gonick, featuring two key trends: Engagement and collaboration platforms. Read the first  and second  installments now and check back each Wednesday during the month of February  (and even into March!) for more from Lev on the ten trends leading higher education in 2021.

Engagement platforms

I was around in the late 1990s and early 2000s for the first campus portal wars. The promise of using cutting-edge technologies to build a single, integrated engagement platform to own eyeballs turned out to be pretty difficult. There are some exceptions, like MyASU; more than two decades later, there continues to be massive adoption of the campus portal to transact work, navigate course management, and be exposed to other campus activities. 

When campus IT leadership failed to embrace mobile technology as worthy of our involvement, we also missed out on the transformational appification of engagement platforms. Efforts to graft on learner centered services in the mobile environment has led to campus app wars and little or no strategy or standard on campus on mobile engagement. 

Most every software being used on campus and of course the campus web used responsive design to port core functionality to the mobile environment. Almost no one I know is really satisfied with the current engagement experience on campus.

It turns out that the technology stack is only of the challenges to effective campus engagement. The other is the agility, or lack thereof, to rethink how GenZ is interested in consuming the technology-enabled campus experience. Most of our campus organizations are deeply entrenched in how to organize the campus web site, web standards, and web publishing standards. 

While all these are important, they are less relevant to the current and future generation of our students than to the faculty and administration. Re-designing both the technology stack and the organizational model of content development and distribution on multiple platforms led by mobile is simply daunting.

Today’s most cutting-edge mobile platforms are designed not as monolithic environments with unified code libraries but rather intentionally through what are called microservices, loosely coupled services that enable re-usable bits of code to be agility repurposed as interchangeable building blocks in programming engagement services and presented to the campus community as consumable mobile application experiences. 

Most mobile engagement apps for universities are transaction and click through environments and little more.  We have a hard time understanding why we are not getting stickiness with our mobile campus apps. While commonplace in our lives as consumers on all the most popular mobile platforms, contemporary technical architecture for mobile engagement are still foreign to most campuses. Partnering with key student support teams and students themselves is a key part of the engagement strategy, along with our deep knowledge of and how to integrate services to enable customer delight.

In 2021, campus IT leaders need to lead the charge in adopting agile practices and microservices that advance student success with campus-owned engagement efforts, such as ASU’s Mobile App.

The ASU Example - Going mobile

The ASU Mobile App is doing its part in engaging the University’s community at all levels, and a new app bringing commencement into your living room with the power of augmented reality is the latest development in this trend.

Collaboration platforms

In the “Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education,” authors Chickering and Gamson note that their 1987 framework emphasizing active collaborative practices is based on “50 years of research on the way teachers teach and students learn, how students work and play with one another, and how students and faculty talk to each other.” 

So, here we are nearly 85 years into understanding the research of how students learn. As has been my experience over the past 30 years, when digital instruction is positioned as possibly supplanting analog approaches, the spotlight is shined and inquiring minds want to know how we can validate whether students are learning. 

I doubt the notion that we have a long way to go in developing compelling collaborative learning is a particularly radical sentiment after this past year’s experience of ubiquitous synchronous online instruction. True, while some critics were rather sure that the entire learning experience would come to an end if the curriculum was delivered through digital tools, I believe that most have concluded that for now we do not have robust digital platforms to advance collaboration at scale, informed by commitments to interactive and diversity, peer to peer engagement and active and problem-based learning opportunities, from among the Seven Principles.

The most outstanding instructors have led their Covid-19-era pedagogical journeys through epicurean sampling from many individual options among largely discrete digital tools. That is a tall order for even the most discerning and committed teacher. There seems to be a growing consensus that whether it was ever possible to achieve outstanding learning models and outcomes at scale using analog tools, we are definitely not there with digital, yet.

The challenge for those seeking to catalyze pedagogically-informed collaborative platforms is getting over the idea that the default platform for collaboration for learning is the Learning Management System. By default, the LMS ecosystem is designed as a plug-in environment on top of a neutral bus with basic common instructional management functionality. 

In the collaborative platform of the future, intelligent and adaptive learning systems guide and support multiple forms of engagement and active learning through the curated use of digital learning tools that easily integrate based on the objectives of the learner and their choice of coaches, guides, tutors, and of course faculty mentors. This is the year to advance a 21st century collaboration platform to advance the next 85 years of research on learning.

The ASU Example - Slacking for good

Devil2Devil, the social platform for incoming freshmen to learn about the ASU experience, took to Slack in 2020 as learning, and living, went remote. It offered a new and effective way for students to engage with each other at the beginning of their college experience, a crucial time for such connections to be made.

Stay tuned for the next installment, "Video instruction + artificial intelligence for student success," coming February 24.