With increasing pressure to improve learning outcomes and subsequent employability of their students, most higher education institutes face the twin problem of insufficient fiscal budgets and lack of innovation and creativity.
In response to this challenging environment, one possible solution may come in an unexpected place—a new kind of partnership between those who create technology for education and those who use it for teaching, learning and student support.
Too often, educational institutions and technology companies work in their own silos, keeping their relationship contractual. That relationship changes drastically in a model of embedded partnership. With such a model, each party can focus on what it brings to the table, and together they can concentrate on the critical challenges of reducing time and cost to degree and increasing student success.
Netaji Subhas Open University, Kolkata, India (NSOU) and Schoolguru, a company that helps Universities with their Online Learning Initiatives and Student Support Programs, have worked closely together to pioneer this model as part of the university’s new ICT Enabled Learning initiative, which is working to replace traditional vendor-client relationships with collaborative partnerships. The ICT Enabled Learning initiative, a vertical of NSOU, is bringing together faculty, staff, students and alumni to find new and previously overlooked opportunities for innovation and partnerships with the private sector to improve student success.
As part of its partnership with NSOU, Schoolguru has co-located its team at NSOU’s Salt Lake campus in Kolkata and has built a few content creating studios at the other campus at Kalyani, West Bengal, India. Schoolguru is working closely with the University faculty and staff to develop new ideas and initiatives in conjunction with NSOU’s ICT Enabled Learning philosophy. The partnership is based on mutual respect, learning and commitment to improving student success.
Based on what has been learnt so far, Schoolguru developed three strategies for embedding technology in education in a way that meets the needs of students, institutions and service providers.
Discover ground for innovation together
Institutions can be so busy walling themselves off from commercial influence that they may miss unexpected opportunities to engage with the technology sector. We need a new, more collaborative model in which academia and the private sector address real-world challenges by leveraging their respective strengths.
Institutions have faculty who can offer expertise and pilot new teaching strategies, as well as alumni and career networks, who can contribute to solutions aimed at enhancing graduation success and employability.
Another university strength is applied research. Higher education has had enormous success in using its research capabilities, human capital and facilities to attract investment from industries including agriculture, life sciences and manufacturing. But when it comes to education technology, which has the potential to dramatically improve learning outcomes, the shoemaker’s children often go barefoot.
Companies can also add value to institutions in unexpected ways. Companies can provide technical expertise to help solve administrative and pedagogical challenges, and they can provide powerful engagement and learning opportunities for students and staff. For example, Schoolguru, which provides ICT based learning content and tools to NSOU students, provides regular, data-driven briefings to university administrators on trends in student attitudes, behaviors and preferences. Based on this feedback, the University and Schoolguru together have been able to launch several initiatives including an Online Store (for the students to purchase merchandise including extra reference material from the University) and their Alumni Management system.
NSOU has a more inclusive attitude towards education. The course fees are highly subsidised to make them affordable to the students who come from the weaker sections of the society. Looking at the demographic distribution of their students, the University and the Schoolguru team decided to launch their off-line mobile app where the students can access their learning content on their smartphones without the need of an Internet connection.
Measure what works
In the past, well-meaning companies have come to the table with solutions that impact student outcomes, but without much proof to back up their claims. Others have paid lip service to student and institutional success while jockeying for more favorable contracts and seeking to further entrench their position for the next round of negotiation. Now, however, measuring student outcomes and engagement through analytics—once a futuristic vision for the office of institutional research—is increasingly the norm, rather than the exception, for a growing majority of colleges and universities.
As business intelligence and analytics become increasingly ubiquitous on campus, universities can help their private-sector partners produce efficacy data and evidence faster and more efficiently. For more established enterprise technology, evaluation is becoming a foundational component of successful implementation, and something that can be done with immense precision, helping to optimize performance.
More private players are partnering institutions to build employability, at times, employment, for their students through specialised skill development and industry connect programs.
Collaborate with transparency
Solutions providers and institutions must develop relationships that are built on trust and honesty. Attempts to guard against showing weakness or exposing the “secret sauce” will simply result in missed opportunities to strengthen each other’s offerings and do right for the students.
Schoolguru academic managers and project managers have regular, candid discussions with the University on the challenges the institution is facing.
Collectively, higher education and the EdTech sector are beginning to merge their unique capabilities to improve pedagogy, student services and outcomes. The success of these mergers requires leaders willing to go beyond the traditional vendor-client archetype that too often defines industry partnerships today, and instead establish long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships based on trust.