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3 Tech Challenges Impeding the Use of Data and Analytics in Higher Ed

Educause has released the inaugural Data and Analytics Edition of its Horizon Report, expanding the annual analysis of the trends, technologies and practices impacting higher education into "an emerging area of practice that is driving institutional decision-making and strategic planning for the future." In its roundup of macro trends, drawn from a panel of higher education data analytics leaders, the report identified three key technological challenges that institutions must overcome in order to take advantage of the technologies and tools that enable more sophisticated data-driven decision-making on campus.

1) Existing data infrastructures are outdated and disorganized. A 2021 report from the Association of Public & Land-grant Universities examining the landscape of data analytics at public 4-year institutions found that data silos are a pervasive problem across higher education, acting as "a strong impediment to enhancing the use of data for decision-making." These silos continue to plague institutions, Educause pointed out, as on-premise enterprise systems lag behind the cloud-based technology advances embraced by other sectors. "The persistence of siloed data sources across functional units and departments will ensure the persistence of analytics outcomes that feel untrustworthy and ineffectual," the Horizon Report warned.

2) Institutions still struggle to implement data governance systems. "Data governance is a daunting challenge that requires deep cultural change within the institution, sustained cross-unit collaboration, dedicated leadership and advocacy, and alignment with the institution's broader technology infrastructure and strategy," the report stressed. As evidence of the growing recognition of data governance as an integral part of institutional analytics efforts, Educause pointed to Georgia State University, which created a dedicated data governance manager position in fall 2020. "Universities are going to increasingly feel the need to use their data in new ways to answer pressing questions. With use comes responsibility, and they will need to firm up that foundation," said Melissa Barnett, who was hired for the new role, in an EdTech Magazine interview. "Data is an asset, and it needs to be taken care of …. It's not sexy like analytics, where the focus is on results and visualizations. But governance is the foundation. You wouldn't want a house without a foundation. It's not the thing you think about all the time, but it is important and it needs to be there."

3) Data literacy and AI skills still lag behind the rapid adoption of big data analytics products. Today's advancements in big data capabilities and predictive analytics will require "new workforce skills and end-user literacies for supporting those capabilities and using those technologies," the report asserted. "Institutions will need to make space for new kinds of leaders and professionals with specialized knowledge and skills, and data literacy training and resources will need to be developed for students and staff." Ultimately, institutions that have the right staff and training in place "will experience more meaningful engagement with and use of their data," Educause said.

Technological challenges are only part of the overall combination of factors impacting data and analytics in higher education. The report points to social, economic, environmental and political trends that are shaping the way institutions collect, understand and use data. For example, in the social arena, many big data methods reinforce social inequality, the report noted, and there is an increased focus on creating equitable learning and work environments. Economic trends include the proliferation of free or inexpensive certificates from nonaccredited platforms, and an overall questioning of the value and ROI of a college degree. In the environmental category, institutions are rethinking the use of physical campus spaces, while the complexity of data privacy laws is a key political factor.

The full report, including 15 overall trends, six key technologies and practices, four futurist scenarios and implications for specific institutional roles, is available on the Educause site.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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