Sharing Economy Helps to Re-Think Education Landscape

Shared services empower classrooms and open up doors for higher education organizations.

by / October 21, 2015
When Indiana University was faced with improving operational efficiencies across five campuses and more than 100,000 students, officials implemented a shared services initiative to help make it happen. flick/Joey Lax-Salinas

The expression “sharing is caring” has been around for years, but today, sharing is so much more than that.

The sharing economy — a model in which people borrow or rent assets owned by others — has steadily grown across all industries, such as transportation and lodging, allowing people to think differently about how business works.

And now shared services are being taken even further — and right into the classroom. 

The Start of the Sharing Economy

While the fundamental idea of sharing has been around for centuries, the sharing economy first emerged with the onset of the Internet. As websites like Wikipedia and wikis launched, individuals began by sharing information online. Soon, social media networks like Facebook and YouTube emerged, allowing people to share music, photos, videos, news and blogs. Today, we have taken the sharing economy to a whole new level where assets like cars, bedrooms and even homes are shared every day. 

So how do we account for the sharing economy’s rapid growth over the past five to 10 years? According to Rachel Botsman, author and lecturer on the Collaborative Economy, it all comes down to trust between strangers and unlocking the value of under-utilized assets.

“Individuals, businesses and industries are now realizing that they can unlock the value of their idle assets,” she said. “For example, Cohealo allows hospitals to share equipment when it’s not in use. BlaBlacar enables people going on long-distance trips to share their empty seats. Peerby enables neighborhoods to share goods.” 

While the sharing economy may have begun with startups and entrepreneurial risk-takers, Botsman points out that virtually everybody is realizing the benefits of shared services today.

“The sharing economy has benefits for businesses, providers and end users,” she says. “Businesses are discovering that the sharing economy is not a startup trend, it’s a transformative lens on how people unlock the value of assets to match ‘needs’ with ‘haves’ more efficiently and more ingeniously than traditional institutions.”

Sharing in K-12 Classrooms

But that ingenuity is not just reserved for businesses. More K-12 schools are realizing the power of shared services with regard to curriculum, education and teaching resources. Take websites like TeachersPayTeachers.com, which are gaining popularity as marketplaces for teachers to buy and sell lesson plans. 

Educators are realizing the benefit of connecting with colleagues across the nation to quickly source quality classroom resources that engage students. Shared services have created a new niche market for talented teachers to capitalize on their lesson plans. Case in point: English teacher Laura Randazzo has made more than $100,000 selling a collection of high school grammar, vocabulary and literature exercises on TeachersPayTeacher.com, a New York Times article reported. 

Other shared services organizations are similarly focused on expanding access to free, quality education resources. Take Open Educational Resources (OER), which offer a free, digital library of education tools geared toward students in preschool through adult education. Creative Commons works similarly by offering a marketplace for individuals to share creative resources for free, which can be licensed to protect against products being sold or stolen for profit.

New Solutions for Higher Education

While shared services have empowered businesses and classrooms, they've also opened up doors for higher education organizations. Coordinating high volumes of student information, resources and communication has become substantially easier for universities to manage with the help of shared services.

When Indiana University was faced with the challenge of improving operational efficiencies across five campuses and more than 100,000 students, for example, officials implemented a shared services initiative to help make it happen. After reviewing all student services, including financial aid, billing, student records and veterans’ affairs, leaders recognized ways to combine business processes and streamline workflows. In fact, of the 187 processes reviewed, they discovered 136 could be moved into a standardized, shared services model. 

Some examples of standardized processes included streamlining calendar dates for students, implementing guidelines for processing transcripts and organizing admissions operations in one central location.

The key to streamlining these processes? Technology, says James Kennedy, associate vice president of Student Services and Systems at Indiana University.

“A big piece is seeing what we can do with technology. Not only how we can use the process, but also leverage technology,” he said. “We wanted to continue to look at how we can use CRM or some of our routing mechanisms to eliminate paper. Many students and parents want to be able to go on the computer and get the information they need. They are able to do that through technology, and then we are able to focus on issues that really need to be addressed.” 

Since implementing the shared services initiative in 2012, Kennedy notes it has made a striking difference in the way the university operates.

“It adds a lot of efficiency. Working through shared services gets people working together to figure out best ways to provide services to students,” he said. “We’ve had campuses do things very well and others that haven’t utilized all our technology. With shared services, everyone moves ahead together.”

Julia McCandless Contributing Writer

Julia McCandless is a journalist passionate about finding the story and telling it well. She currently works as a freelance journalist and communications expert in Northern California, where she lives with her husband and son.

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