Are you making the most of summer downtime?

ROUNDTABLE: Editor Rebecca Paddick asks the experts how to use the summer months to help future-proof commercial success


Gustaf Nordbäck, Head of Global Expansion, DigiExam

Howard Nelson, Chief Operating Officer at Leeds Trinity University

John Marks, Marketing Manager, Canon UK

Kenny Nicholl, Director of Higher Education, EMEA at Canvas

Phil Clark, Head of Projection, Casio UKstudents 

What could universities be doing to utilise the time when students are not on campus? 

Kenny Nicholl: From commercialising research, to ‘sweating’ physical assets, there is a pressing need for universities to think about their revenue-generating capabilities. One of the most obvious ways to do this is to effectively use the resources they have during ‘downtime’ – the holiday months when students aren’t on campus. Universities in the UK can take inspiration from our Canvas customers in Spain, who are adept at using the flexible virtual learning environment to create compelling short courses for summer students, ensuring that the use of university resources is always maximised.

But to concentrate entirely on attracting new students is to ignore what we see as the most important aspect of modern study – an always on, blended learning experience – which supports and nurtures students on and off campus. Canvas supports a ‘flipped classroom’ pedagogy, where the ingestion of rote material and independent research can be carried out at home, freeing up term time and lessons for more interactive and discursive teaching. Supporting students during the holidays, through assignment setting, feedback and discussion about their progress, using online tools like ours, promotes a rounded and comprehensive learning experience.

With competition for students in the higher education sector fiercer than ever before universities need to be offering their students this cutting-edge technology that enables learning to take place outside the lecture theatre well as in it. 

It’s a balance between enhancing out student experience through campus developments and maintenance; and promoting our facilities to external partners for events and conferences

Should universities be investing in specific areas like technology/facilities/estates to meet the changing student demands? 

Gustaf Nordbäck: We believe the summer downtime is the perfect time for universities to evaluate, invest and implement new technical areas so they are up to speed with student demands.

Students today are digitally native but the exam process is one of the areas that’s least digitized in today’s education environment. The exam process is not only one of the most time consuming areas for teachers and instructors but also one of the experiences that is most stressful for students. Moving from an analogue, pen and paper-based exam process to a digital examination platform would help both students and instructors.

Grading is time-consuming, tedious and limits the instructors from spending time focusing on the learning journey of the students. By moving from paper based to digital exams, instructors and teachers can save up to 50% of the grading time. Another benefit of having a digital exam process is that it’s much easier for instructors to collaborate, not only by easily sharing questions but also co-grading exams.

John Marks: Smartphones and the growth of social media for communicating and collaborating have changed the demands and expectations of students and universities need to make sure they are keeping pace. Ensuring campus-wide connectivity, mobile-enabled portals and apps may ride high on some student and university wish lists, but it’s very hard to monetise these types of investments.  

Kenny Nicholl: The demands of today’s students marry with the demands of the businesses which will eventually employ them. Both parties operate in a digital-first environment, where the ability to use and understand technology is paramount.

Offering digital learning experience, which meets the needs and expectations of tech-savvy digital natives, will help universities to attract and retain students. Universities need to invest in technology that enables always-on, anytime, anyplace learning – and which paves the way for digitally literate graduates to enter the workforce. By providing students with a 21st-century learning experience universities can help future-proof their facilities.

Phil Clark: Universities should absolutely be ensuring that they invest in top quality technology solutions over the summer downtime. Education technology is developing at an increasingly quick pace so to remain at the cutting edge of education, universities must put investment at the top of their list. Students also are driving this change, thanks to their acute awareness of technology and how to deploy this in the educational setting.

There are two ways that universities can approach technology investment. Firstly, through the adoption of new technology solutions, for example, a new fleet of virtual reality headsets to facilitate distance learning, a new suite of language software tools, or a new streaming box for better content sharing.

Secondly, and more fundamentally, universities can look at those core technology components that are used constantly regardless of what supplemental technology is brought in. Fundamental technology, such as displays and projection systems, form the core of any solution. The ability to share an image, message or presentation sits at the heart of education and any other bits come and go. Thus, it’s important for universities to consider fundamental technology that goes the extra mile, not only providing a great visual experience, but also benefiting total cost of ownership through low power consumption, or by a lack of replacement parts.

How does your university plan on making the most of the summer months?

Howard Nelson: At Leeds Trinity University, it’s a balance between enhancing our student experience through campus developments and maintenance; and promoting our facilities to external partners for events and conferences.

For us, the summer months provide the perfect opportunity to do any maintenance and refurbishment work that needs undertaking, implement campus developments, encourage commercial lettings such as events, conferences and summer schools, and engage with the local community. For example, we’ve recently hosted a Rotarian charity walk which started and ended in our grounds, and in July we’re a host venue for a local Walk of Art with five artists showcasing their work on our campus.

Is it more important that universities use their facilities for external events, conferences, etc, or that they carry out any necessary refurbishment/maintenance work for the academic year ahead? 

Howard Nelson:  Our main focus at Leeds Trinity is to enhance the student experience – so we’re constantly investing in our campus to provide students with a modern environment to enhance their learning experience. 

It’s therefore really important that we use the summer months to carry out annual refurbishment work and any other necessary maintenance on site. This year, we’re investing nearly £10m in building Fountains Court, our new student accommodation block due for completion on 2 September, and starting an extension to our Andrew Kean Learning Centre which will include more group study space, newer teaching rooms, a bigger café and a 24 hour lab – all supported with modern technology and facilities.

We do understand, however that it is a balance and our commitment to developing the University is complemented by our commercial activity – we’re always keen to accommodate external events, particularly during the summer months when there’s more availability on campus, and our partners are often keen to make use of our specialist facilities on site.

John Marks: Universities need to strike a good balance between the two. We’re having more and more conversations with universities that are looking to set up centralised reprographics departments in place of numerous self-service printers spread out across the grounds or campus. While the initial investment is higher, the long term benefits can justify the cost thanks to the increased print capabilities on-site, not just in terms of capacity, but also to produce materials like prospectuses or other specialised documents which reduce outsourcing costs. Furthermore professional print services can operate commercially, offering services to the local community or for external events, opening up a new revenue stream.

With competition for students in the higher education sector fiercer than ever before, universities need to be offering their students this cutting-edge technology that enables learning to take place outside lecture theatre as well as in it

How can sustainability help future-proof university facilities? 

Howard Nelson:  Sustainability is really important to Leeds Trinity: all of our new buildings are designed and built to BREEAM industry standards; we work closely with the Salix Fund to invest in energy saving schemes across the campus; and we actively encourage staff, students and visitors to travel sustainably by public transport, walking, cycling or car sharing to the University.

Our recently designed extension of our Learning Centre has also been built with sustainability in mind, to ensure we get the fullest possible use of the building both during the day and in the evening. Sections of the building can be opened and closed at different times based on student flow; this allows us to keep some sections open for 24 hours whilst others can be closed off.

How can educational technology help future-proof university facilities?

Howard Nelson: We are investing heavily in technology at Leeds Trinity. This includes audio visual facilities, research systems, our virtual learning environment, podcast production, lecture capture, PCs, mobile devices, networking infrastructure and collaborative tools such as Office 365. We actively encourage the use of collaboration tools such as file sharing and real-time document editing. Having fully replaced our phone system with Skype for Business, students and staff can now work together seamlessly using video and voice conferencing both on and off campus. All of our students have access to our specialist video and audio production facilities and equipment on campus. The use of all of these facilities helps students to develop essential employability skills in the use of technology for communications and collaboration.

We definitely benefit from using technology – and it all ties in with our Learning, Teaching and Assessment Strategy. We aim to deliver the majority of formal learning content via videos, podcasts, eBooks and other interactive learning resources. This will allow the majority of contact time to be based around student led enquiry and small group activity, supported and facilitated on campus by our academic staff. The teaching spaces and IT infrastructure at Leeds Trinity already lend themselves well to this type of activity and will be enhanced further with the investments we are making this year. 

Phil Clark: Future-proofing comes down to making sure that whatever technology is selected, its performance will not be hindered by additions to the system. So both sustainability and products can play a part in future-proofing university facilities making them the most reliable they can be over the longest time possible.

We’ve chosen to tackle this by creating projection technology that has incredibly low power consumption, saving universities up to 35% on their electricity costs and removing harmful materials such as mercury from production. By using Laser & LED hybrid projection, our displays are both lamp-free and filter-free for a more reliable system and lower maintenance costs. It’s also important for future-proofing as it allows a university’s fundamental display technology to last longer. A large range of educational technology can be connected to the projection system, and our 5-year or 10,000 hour warranty means the technology will work more reliably and for a long time.

The savings made by investing in sustainable and reliable display hardware technology mean that universities can invest those savings in further improving the student technology experience whilst bolstering their green CSR credentials. 

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