Let’s get digital

Let’s embrace development and grasp the new and exciting digital opportunities that come our way in 2018, say Prof David Russell and Charlotte Harbour

As we enter a new year, it is inevitable that we will be overcome with innovative digital technologies that seek to optimise every aspect of our lives. So, it is expected that we will see developments in the utilisation of technologies in the higher education sector. But how, and why does it matter?

As more students continue to utilise virtual reality devices and applications outside of their academic environments, many UK universities are introducing the concept of virtual reality into their students’ campus learning environments too. Over 100 universities across the UK have implemented technology on their websites that allow students to take ‘virtual tours’ of the campus. This enables effective and efficient mediums of introducing students to the environment, and proves especially useful for prospective international students. Other universities have looked at bringing their own courses and experiences to life. For example, the sports department at The University of Bournemouth utilises headsets to transport students into a virtual basketball game.

Existing and familiar technologies such as social media continue to permeate the academic sphere; whilst we are accustomed to hearing and seeing the engagement opportunities through Facebook and Twitter to both prospective and new students, this year The University of Staffordshire utilised Snapchat as part of their clearing recruitment process. Throughout July and August the University utilised Facebook live Q&As and Snapchat stories with their Clearing Ambassadors to support prospective students and offer clearing guidance. 

Professor David Russell 

However, new and emerging technologies that have previously been reserved for mathematics and data optimisation are beginning to infuse higher education practice. For example, according to the World Economic Forum, artificial intelligence (AI) is being utilised by publishers such as Reed Elsevier for automating systematic academic literature reviews, and can also be utilised for checking plagiarism and misuse of statistics. This optimised machine learning can potentially flag unethical behaviour in research projects prior to their publication, meaning there is more capacity for human endeavour through utilisation of these automated processes. Indeed, AI can combine ideas across scientific boundaries. There are strong academic pressures to deepen intelligence within particular fields of knowledge, and machine learning helps facilitate the collision of different ideas, joining the dots of problems that need collaboration between disciplines.

Technology is slowing transforming from being only used outside of the classroom into being now part of almost every element of university life. From teaching to campus security, student engagement and leisure activities – we can expect the ubiquity of digital applications and technological advancement to penetrate all levels of the student experience throughout 2018 and beyond. 

Professor David Russell is Founder and Chairman of The Russell Partnership.


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