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Are you prepared for Gen Z?

It's that time when we look at trends that will shape the coming year. Are universities prepared for the expectations of the digital-native Gen Z?

Posted by Julian Owen | January 08, 2018 | Technology

In 2018, we will see the first of Generation Z enter university life. This generation, which was born in this millennium, has never experienced a world without technology and has different expectations about work and education from their predecessors, the Millennials. 

2017 has seen a rise in consumer-focused technologies enter the business environment. Universities have been no exception to this rule. We are seeing more and more courses use technologies to not only provide a better experience to the students in the classroom but also outside of it, whether that be at home or on campus. 

And this is not only limited to teaching. Universities are using technology to make their services more efficient, ranging from accommodation to facilities management. 

So how will this evolve over the next 12 months; what should universities look to incorporate into their business plans for 2018 and beyond?

Looking at the consumer landscape, we will see a number of new devices making their way onto the campus. With the rise of better smartwatches, new mobile phone devices and speakers, students will be looking to incorporate these devices into everyday life. For this reason, universities across the UK will need to incorporate more advanced technologies into their planning and budgets.

“The average student now carries a laptop and smartphone as a minimum, not to mention the connected printers and games consoles in their rooms,” explains Steve Johnson, Regional Director, Northern Europe at Ruckus. “This poses a lot of challenges for universities: how do you safeguard students while they’re connected; how do you protect your network from hackers utilising these devices; or even more simply, how do you get good enough Wi-Fi to cope with the influx of devices all trying to connect at once?"

Students will be expecting the home treatment when they go to university. They have had access to high-definition televisions, the latest game consoles, virtual reality headsets, augmented reality applications such as Pokémon GO, and devices that can stream video without a problem. So the pressure is on for universities to provide the same experience students get at home, if not a better one. 

“A strong network is a necessary foundation for supporting this technology,” confirms Johnson. “As well as new ways of learning.”

Virtual reality is one such technology that seems to be taking the education industry by storm, and 2018 looks like the year it could really take off. Loughborough University’s Department of Chemical Engineering is using shared virtual reality to teach graduate students about the realities of working in a live process plant. Following its success, it is now tightly integrated into the department’s graduate curriculum. 

According to virtual reality company Igloo, students are using its ‘Igloo Dome’ to understand the interplay between control room operations and field operations. They also use it to get a clear understanding of safety implications – for example, by deliberately upsetting processes to see the effects, without risking the disastrous consequences that would ensue in the
real world.

“There’s no doubt that shared virtual reality is becoming more and more prevalent in the university sector,” says Professor Richard Holdich, a professor of Chemical Engineering at Loughborough University. “The visualisation of processes is on the increase. Our way forward is around the Igloo.”

Another trend that we have already seen in 2017, is that of the flexible and online degree which is sure to change everything for universities in the UK. London Kings College and the University of Falmouth are already offering courses that are purely online, allowing people the flexibility to forego accommodation fees whilst studying, but also learn at their own pace. This trend is similar to that of the flipped classroom.

“The interesting thing about flipped learning is that it has been around for a number of years but still seems to be suffering from a bit of an identity crisis,” says Farzana Latif, Technology Enhanced Learning Manager at The University of Sheffield. “Perhaps that is why it hasn’t gone mainstream in the UK as quickly as many commentators expected.” 

Jeff Rubenstein, VP Product, Learning & Collaboration at Kaltura, agrees: “People are still learning how to get much more value from flipped learning, especially when it comes to finding learning resources on the web, and working out how to incorporate them into a flipped teaching environment.

“Some of our university customers are doing innovative work, such as taking Open Educational Resource videos and using them as the basis for critical thinking by leveraging some of our platform’s interactive capabilities (eg for in-video assessments).  The content doesn't need to be perfect to be useful didactically; it's often more effective to take imperfect content and have students critique it.”

Whether the flipped classroom will come into its own in 2018 remains to be seen, however, Dr. Graham McElearney, Senior Learning Technologist, Technology Enhanced Learning Team, Academic Programmes and Student Engagement at The University of Sheffield, believes that video has a big role to play for distance study: “We will see more universities using video as a basis for new distance
study offerings aimed at attracting overseas students.

“Using a flexible and scalable video platform, like Kaltura, not just for distance teaching and learning, but also to boost the remote recruitment and admissions process, makes it possible to offer a much more immersive experience for remote learners. Making remote learners feel as though they are part of the institution is critical if universities are to build new and sustainable revenue streams.”

But something that universities need to be aware of when going into 2018 is what the students need before they the enter the workplace. This can include digital skills and understanding the needs of the consumer. 

A study by Robert Half UK found that 92% of CIOs think current IT recruitment needs are not being met by schools, colleges, universities and technical schools, resulting in a £63bn cost to the UK economy. To tackle this, the University of Brighton has been using Mendix to help its students understand the requirements needed to design mobile applications, without the knowledge of coding. 

“We use Mendix to teach students how to use software applications and the principles of applications without teaching them programming,” explains Dr. John Kingston, Senior Lecturer in Information Systems and Business Computing at the University of Brighton. “Mendix requires students to learn how to structure data, create workflow diagrams and specialised user interfaces.

“However, when they’re finished, they just press a button and it creates the application. We are using it with first-year Business Computing students, which has resulted in one student getting a summer job with Brighton City Council.”

This trend will become more important for universities as they continue to try and attract the right candidates for their student body. Furthermore, international students will be looking for courses that offer the latest in technology and a better understanding of the business world.

As we move into 2018, Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, has highlighted this to be a priority for the UK government and has vowed: “We will invest £30m in the development of digital skills distance learning courses, so people can learn where they are, and whenever they want.”

So while there is concern about universities themselves offering the latest in advanced technologies to students to encourage attendance, there are also worries that students will move away from university education altogether if they do not get the right vocational education needed to make their way into the workplace.  

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