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New Educause Horizon Report Identifies Tech Impacting Student Experience

A new report from Educause highlights the importance of supporting the holistic student experience in higher education. The "2023 Horizon Report: Holistic Student Experience Edition" points to the "increasing use of technology for all kinds of student support" as well as a surge in the use of artificial intelligence as core trends resulting in the collection of vast amounts of student data, noting that the complex balance between "student as human" and "student data" can have a considerable effect on the student experience and student success.

In particular, the report identifies six key technologies and practices "anticipated to have a significant impact on the future of the holistic student experience," as well as the challenges that institutions must overcome to move forward:

Artificial intelligence. The report cites a number of possible uses of AI-powered tools to improve student experiences: "optimizing course loads, providing personalized coaching and tutoring, designing flexible and customizable learning paths, integrating content across courses and extracurricular activities, evaluating institutional processes and courses, assessing student learning, and much more." However, training, data governance, security and privacy, and issues of AI bias still need to be addressed in order to unlock AI's potential, the report notes.

Accessible and inclusive tools and processes. Accessibility and inclusivity are foundational to the holistic student experience, according to the report. And that means accessibility not just for instructional content, but also beyond: "From student affairs and student life to financial aid and the parking office, the entirety of a students' educational experience should be accessible and inclusive." The challenge here is resources: "Making and sustaining progress requires significant investments of both time and money, and there is no authoritative source or guide to 'getting it right,'" the report says. "Instead, institutional leaders must commit to ongoing and continuous evaluation and improvement, requiring buy-in and dedication across the institution."

Supporting student connection and belonging with technology. Technologies in play here include tools for communication and collaboration, social media applications, virtual communities, immersive tech, digital forums, and more. However, digital equity is essential, the report asserts: "Without equitable access to digital tools and resources across the institution, some students will miss out on the benefits of digital solutions, perpetuating systemic biases and inequity."

Expanded mental health support for students. As student services move to online and hybrid modalities, access to individualized mental health supports has been able to scale up, the report points out. "The expansion of general remote-operating capabilities, including telehealth, means that students have more options for protecting their privacy, finding culturally relevant options, and accessing the appropriate level of care rather than being limited to a one-size-fits-all service." However, these multimodal mental health supports also come with increased student data privacy and security risks.

Unified data models for learning analytics. Learning analytics can help give higher education leaders "a more holistic understanding of student experiences across institutional silos," according to the report, "but only with the help of unified data models" that "bring together disparate data from across the institution." Among the hurdles to overcome: data governance, constrained resources, and data privacy and security concerns.

Building data literacy for understanding and using student data. Advances in data analytics must be accompanied by strides in data literacy for all institutional stakeholders, the report stresses. "Data insights that are improperly generated or interpreted can inform interventions that reinforce harmful stereotypes and biases, lead to wasteful investment of resources in unhelpful programs, and distract institutional leaders from students' holistic needs," Horizon researchers warn. On the flip side, "building data literacy for faculty and staff and empowering them to effectively generate and use data insights could improve institutions' understanding of the holistic student experience, take a proactive approach to supporting students, and identify root causes of institutional barriers to student success."

The full report, including a detailed analysis of current trends shaping the holistic student experience and four scenarios for how trends, technologies, and practices might play out over the next decade, 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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