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Micro-Innovations Create Education and Campus Ecosystems

Winner-takes-all when students are at the center of campus design.

U.S Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, is spot-on with issuing The Higher Education Ecosystem Challenge that challenges the most creative minds and companies to collaboratively create something worthy of education transformation. DeVos makes this challenge on the heels of being in Austin, TX at SXSW EDU where she witnessed what every other education decision maker witnesses; thousands of companies blowing the same innovation smoke for the past ten years – while nothing has collectively changed. What she may be asking is “Where are the micro-innovations that produce a creative-transformation within an innovative education ecosystem, which benefit all students?” Students around the world deserve world-class innovation vs. software and services that merely help institutes compete-against-one-another.

Organizations often begin their journey to success without the intention of trying to compete or replicate the largest retailer, largest tech company, or largest e-commerce companies. Rather, they endeavored to meet the needs of busy consumers with stellar ‘prime’ customer service. To keep the customer at the center of their business model, they excel at innovative approaches across multi-disciplines.  Their passion for innovating at the right ‘micro-level’ across all technologies and deliverables allowed them to be the macro-winner of a world-class business-to-consumer ecosystem. They would be the clear winner of an equivalent ecosystem challenge for helping 21st-century consumers; that seemed weird at first, but changed the way the world consumes merchandise and information.

In the area of education transformation using campus technology, micro-innovations are playing out the same way. The educational organizations who are learning to glean, implement and deploy the ‘cream’ of all technology innovation at minimal risk, and moderate cost – have the greatest chance at being the ‘winner-take-all’ in both campus technology and student success.  Gone are the days that educational institutes can invest 100% into every technology; and even if they could, only 30% of what vendors are offering is needed to improve on what they already use.

A campus who can glean the cream of innovation from wearables, Wi-Fi, Augmented and Virtual Reality, CRM, SIS, LMS, AI, Chatbots, Blockchain, APIs, Avatars, Capture lecture, BI, Degree Pathways, Telepresence, Smart-classrooms, and mobile apps while providing exception student service may be the winner-takes-all in the area of both campus technology and student success.  This semester, this approach paid big dividends for Oral Roberts University as we reached an all-time high in Freshman-fall-to-spring retention with 95.5%, Sophomore-fall-to-spring retention with 93.1%, and an all-time high 97.2% placement of graduates. It was the micro-innovations in processes and technologies that made all the difference in the world.

The innovative approach applied at Oral Roberts University is focused on micro-innovations that directly impact student’s success. Our measure of success is three-fold 1. Did the students receive direct value from what was integrated, 2. Did we successfully hide the product name from being known by students, and, 3.Did we innovatively do something with the vendor product that their own development team did not think about doing? The majority of our vendors have agreed to allow ORU to innovate under the name ORU GeoVision™ which gives all students a single access point to all the crème de la crème of a vendor’s technology.

From wearables, robots, augmented and virtual reality, telepresence, degree evaluations, grades, advisement, recorded class sessions and even the legacy value of the SIS and LMS, we have gleaned the crème de la crème of the product sets. As an example, the legacy Ellucian Banner product’s new innovation of the ‘Student Profile’ which includes ‘Advisement’ changed the universe for faculty and students. They now call it the Student Profile vs. Banner, as it implies putting the student at the center of the innovation.  This innovation was a huge breakthrough as we went from faculty being frustrated with ‘Banner’ to now loving the Student Profile. Don’t judge a book by its cover takes on a whole new meaning when labeling innovation versus a brand name.  Oral Roberts University has gone from the coolness of mobility to the miracle of ‘fluidity’ of education and technology as describe by eCampus News.

The approach of micro-innovations will be extremely critical with the explosion of artificial intelligence. Artificial Intelligent Platforms will bring back the same type of hype and confusion that some of the CRM and SIS system vendors brought to the table for decision makers. People will be torn and unsure why one platform is better than the other. For this reason, Oral Roberts University has sought out a few vendors to help preempt the confusion around Artificial Intelligence. Without disclosing too much detail, Diagrams 1-3 show campus technology integrating AI at a meta-level.  The meta-level diagrams illustrate that AI is extended across the micro-levels of the SIS, LMS, and CRM systems. If an artificial intelligence platform is merely ‘great’ in one vendor’s product, it will be extremely difficult to create a valuable AI ecosystem.

Having three AI Platforms for SIS, CRM, and LMS will not create a world-class AI Ecosystem that benefits the center of the student’s universe. There are now 15 viable AI platforms that an organization could consider using. However, there is that ‘one best’ AI Platform to design and deploy an ecosystem. An AI platform that gets the best out of each campus system will allow campus decision makers to see the value of CIOs who have designed a seamless ‘enterprise’ campus system for the future -- via the Cloud and Blockchain. It will be these campus systems that allow the quickest and most innovative AI platform to be leveraged to build an innovative ecosystem.  

It should be heeded that phase one of AI across education will have little to do with the students using AI, and everything with to do with administrators using AI. For campuses to excel in helping student success metrics, administrators themselves will learn that AI spread across all systems will allow them to verbally command and extract the questions to the most challenging enrollment, graduations, placement, and financial questions. As time progresses, campus AI deployed at the micro-innovative level (within an ecosystem) will build the custom version of machine learning and deep learning that personalizes how administrators view their campus, students, and constituents. In essence, the AI-led ecosystem for a college campus will become as smart as the questions that a president, CFO, COO, or Academic Officer has; allowing the ecosystem and administrators to grow smart together. In essence it will prove that AI really means augmented intelligence as it retrieves the difficult questions that have often gone unanswered.