Learn: Transforming the learning experience, through technology

Mobilizing and Securing Digital Learning Environments for Limitless Learning

To rapidly—and securely—enable new learning, teaching, and business models, academic institutions are turning to cloud and digital workspace solutions.

Academic institutions have always found ways to push boundaries. Today, the ability to rapidly adopt new learning, teaching, and business models has prompted department heads to work with campus CIOs to accelerate IT and business transformation initiatives that improve offerings while also reducing costs.

Older siloed IT systems no longer sufficiently address new learner demographics and demands. Schools are seeing a rise in nontraditional over traditional student enrollment, and online learning is becoming an integral part of the educational landscape.

“Today’s average student is no longer the 18-year-old whose parents drive her up to college in a minivan,” said Ted Mitchell, former undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education. “Instead, the average student may be a 24-year-old returning veteran, a 36-year-old single mother, a part-time student juggling work and college, or the first-generation college student. The faces we picture as our college hopefuls can’t be limited by race, age, income, zip code, disability, or any other factor.”

Exploring what happens when possibility becomes reality.

Moreover, aging IT systems can’t thwart increasingly advanced cyber threats. This makes it difficult for organizations in higher education to protect student privacy, financial data and transactions, health services data, and myriad other sources of sensitive information.

What’s needed are ways for academic institutions to mobilize and secure digital learning and working environments at lower costs. Today, learning leaders and campus IT are teaming up with strategic technology providers like VMware to scale and improve services; provide anytime, anywhere access from any device to required education resources; and mitigate threats while protecting academic brands.

What’s Driving the Transformation in Education?

There’s no denying that education’s future is digital. According to a recent survey, more than half (54 percent) of students bring at least two Internet-connected devices with them to campus; another 22 percent bring three to four devices.

Campus IT’s primary role is to satisfy student and faculty demands for secure access to the apps and data they need on all these devices. But student and faculty aren’t the only constituents. IT staff must invest time maintaining, updating, and upgrading software that supports the business of education—from financial aid and development offices to campus security.

Because many traditional teaching resources, learning platforms, and campus operations still depend heavily on legacy applications to run critical processes, academic institutions incur more maintenance costs and exposure to risks than necessary. Investment in secure cloud and mobile technologies enables academic institutions—from community colleges to research universities—to introduce better ways of learning, new experiences, and inventive business models that drive successful outcomes.

Enhancing Education Delivery Through Improved IT

Over the last generation, college enrollment has increased due to economic recession, de-industrialization, and increasing demand for skilled workers. Greater and more diverse participation in learning has brought challenges and opportunities to higher education. Taking a software-defined approach to modernizing IT provides a foundation for core education platforms that can deliver more responsive and student-centered operating models.

For nearly two decades, academic institutions have lowered capital expenses by consolidating data center infrastructure using server virtualization. Now, they are further reducing cost and risk while improving operational efficiency with hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), where virtual compute, storage, and management comes bundled in a tightly integrated software stack that runs on industry-standard x86 servers. HCI lowers total cost of ownership by enabling campus IT to shift to low-cost, high-volume server economics and to simplify management. HCI offers high-performance, software-based infrastructure that can be used anywhere—for example, for maker spaces—eliminating the need for dedicated computing spaces in libraries or other facilities.

In their quest to efficiently deploy and monitor apps and infrastructure across physical, virtual, and cloud environments, campus IT teams are relying on intelligent operations management and automation. For campuses using an Ellucian student information system, solutions like the VMware Connector for Ellucian help automate and update the delivery of apps and resources to student digital backpacks. As students add and drop classes throughout their academic careers, their digital backpacks seamlessly reflect their academic journeys. Solutions like these help campus IT deliver a secure and consumer-simple student experience while streamlining costs.

Scaling Education with Public Cloud

Experts suggest that to compete, universities must innovate, adopting fluid architectures that encourage partnerships with private industry and online learning. That’s where cloud computing comes in.

The physical setting for a large-scale research effort involving many parties can vary from a single dedicated research campus community to multiple concurrent environments that include university labs, corporate centers, and national labs. Modern IT-as-a-service capabilities, cutting-edge research environments, supercomputing, virtual labs, and creative learning spaces are best enabled by hybrid cloud services.

A five-year study at the University of Massachusetts found that a blended structure (face-to-face plus online learning) led to increased engagement with course material, which promoted more active learning during class meetings and ultimately improved student success. And a multiyear trend report by the Babson Research Group shows growth in online enrollments continues to outpace overall higher-education enrollments. To support these shifts in online learning, universities are turning to public clouds to fortify and future-proof their data center models.

Cloud solutions such as VMware Cloud Foundation™ are giving higher-education IT leaders the unprecedented ability to move workloads and applications into and between clouds. The cloud helps them affordably meet the expanding needs of online learning and cutting-edge academic research—without downtime and while keeping cross-campus data secure.

“Making a very consistent experience for everyone means we’re breaking down some of the barriers that we’ve had in the past about accessibility to resources,” said Mark Ellersick, technology support analyst at Western Carolina University. “That is something we’re very excited about.”

Cultivating Exceptional Learning through Digital Workspaces

Learning today is less about place and more about purpose. The modern campus depends on connectivity and collaboration, not just physical spaces. Globally, device diversity is a campus reality. For campus IT, the job isn’t just to deliver apps to disparate devices, but to ensure seamless experiences between them.

Regardless of whether they are on- or off-campus, students can use digital backpacks (the educational flavor of digital workspaces) to gain secure access to all the resources they need. Digital backpacks simplify IT management and the reliable delivery of today’s high-performance learning environments with relevant native, web, and 3-D applications that personalize student experiences and help evolve teaching models.

Academic institutions seeking to meet on-demand education requirements are also deploying virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to modernize computing infrastructure and offer secure digital workspaces to all faculty, students, and staff. Highly reliable and secure, virtual desktops improve productivity while reducing the IT management load.

“[With virtual desktops,] students have technology that suits their needs, with the ability to study from anywhere and via the device of their choosing,” said Ian Rowley, IT Services desktop manager at University of Aberdeen. “We’re already getting great feedback in our internal student surveys and expect this to carry on through to external rankings, which ultimately will help to attract more students to come here—as well as the very best academics.”

Protecting IP and PII

Technology-driven learning creates new opportunities, but also generates new risk. As educators, students, and staff demand nonstop access and innovation, security remains a top campus IT priority. On campus and off, students, professors, and business partners want to ensure that intellectual property (IP) and personally identifiable information (PII)—including birthdates, social security numbers, addresses, paystub information, and more—are protected.

As any campus that has experienced a public data breach can attest, hindsight is 20/20. Traditional, policy-based checklists of security functionality are no longer sufficient. Preventative measures are integral to a holistic cybersecurity strategy because campus data is now accessed anytime, anywhere across a wide variety of devices.

Taking a holistic architectural approach to security enables campus IT organizations to extend security from the data center to the cloud and to edge devices. VMware’s software-defined infrastructure provides campus IT with inherent and granular security on-premises and off, while protecting apps, data, endpoints, and identity.

Earning High Marks in Higher Education

For students and educators who demand greater personalization and access to learning resources anytime, anywhere, on every device, IT innovation is critical. That’s why leading global academic institutions are expanding learning opportunities with the cloud, creating exceptional mobile experiences, and better protecting PII and research data. This modern, integrated approach enables limitless learning for a new generation.

The Possibility Report is an ongoing series about how technology is changing our understanding of the world around us. This article is part of LEARN, our discussion on how emerging technologies promise to change the educational experience as we know it, from elementary schools to prisons and everywhere between.