Future of Higher Ed: Connectivity Key to Student Accessibility

Higher Education institutions are embracing the latest connectivity technology to respond to campus demands. From Private Wireless Networks with LTE or 5G technology to boost bandwidth speeds or Wi-Fi 6, all universities and colleges need to ensure they have the proper connectivity solutions to meet the needs of students, staff, and faculty. 

At the recent Fierce Education's Higher Education: Technology Profiles in Success, Professor Dr. Vistasp M. Karbhari, Professor of Civil Engineering, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at University of Texas at Arlington talked about a change in approach: Going from a more traditional and rather obsolete one size fits all paradigm where students are expected to behave and learn pretty much like robots in an assembly line to a flexible, more equitable model where learning is tailored to the individual and the individual’s needs and their pace of learning. A model that is based on ensuring engagement and continuous support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all-year-around. A model that is self-paced, adaptive, and personalized, with focus on the learner as an individual. A model where interaction can be fully immersive, active, collaborative, and inquiry focused. 

“When we talk about connectivity this is what we should be focusing on; that change in approach where we can actually go across,” said Dr. Karbhari. “When we talk about connectivity we really need to place it away from just that; it’s not about the ease of connecting but the ease of use,” he said. 

For Dr.Karbhari, we should be talking about sociological connectivity, or, in other words, “how do we make sure there is real communication? and how do we do everything that is actually in real-time?,” he ponders. 

“Connected and accessible should mean engaged,” said Dr. Karbhari. The network, which serves as a highway and nervous system of the educational institution, must be stable, adaptable, and scalable. “Therefore, dynamic engagement is absolutely essential,” he said. Communication should support a sense of belonging and become essential in dynamic engagement. Thus, the network in the 21st century university should enable: 

  • Adaptive and personalized learning, active learning 
  • 24/7/365 sociological connectivity (learning, training, social)
  • AI and ML based operations 
  • Holistic advising, counseling, tele-health 
  • AR/VR based immersive learning, skills development 
  • Knowledge on demand, OER, contextual information 
  • Increased streaming of front-end operations
  • Student learning analytics for increasing success (insight driven pathways)

As we move forward, the future of higher education must include the following critical aspects:  

  • Integrated data on demand
  • Collaboration 
  • Data inspired decision making 
  • Learning analytics
  • Adaptive learning 
  • Mobile learning 
  • AI powered autonomous tutors (not as a replacement, but as a supplement to our tutors)
  • Video-based learning 
  • VR and immersive learning technologies

“Assuring connectivity, therefore, becomes the backbone of the future of learning in the phygital space, that is the combination of the physical reality and the digital reality,” Dr. Karbhari explained. This means we are not completely moving away from face-to-face teaching and learning but rather taking the best of both worlds.

“A connected campus is much more than a networked or smart campus,” said Dr. Karbhari. “What we need to keep in mind more than anything else is that technology is a tool.” Technology doesn’t make us connected. The appropriate use of technology and the design of the experience is what makes sure we are engaged and connected. 

In order to achieve this, AT&T’s Sales Director Education Specialist Jonathan Huer, advised investing in infrastructure, both on and off campus to make sure that institutions can serve all of their students and faculty members as well as accessing all of the services. “Investing in infrastructure for all staff, students, and faculty is absolutely critical, and then you build on top of that,” he said. 

For more articles from the virtual event, now available on demand, see:

Leveraging Technology to Boost Student Engagement 

Ensuring Preparedness from the Eyes of the Student 

Technology Continues to Transform Higher Education Pedagogy