Clearing the clouds to drive learning outcomes- What Higher Education CIOs Need to Consider When Implementing Cloud-based Solutions

Niranjan Nagar, CTO, Civitas Learning
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Niranjan Nagar, CTO, Civitas Learning

Cloud solutions are profoundly changing the technology landscape in higher education as they are doing so many other industries. Working with cloud-based solution vendors, in addition to moving to cloud hosting, helps scale the capabilities of organizations while making it easy to keep up with the quickly evolving technology landscape.

The impact of formal education and the costs associated with it are hotly debated topics in the United States and many other nations across the world. Perhaps the one undisputed topic in this debate is that technology is making a huge impact in delivering and improving learning outcomes. From something as mundane as a registration system, to the sophisticated online and distance learning platforms, to the plethora of mobile applications helping students in every imaginable endeavor—like finding the nearest campus laundry facility where a machine is free at the moment— technology is dramatically improving many aspects of a student’s journey throughout his or her education. All this technology creates data that holds traces of information, spread across many systems, that show the impact of the policies, procedures, and decisions made by institutional leadership, advisors, faculty, and more importantly, the student on this journey.

Civitas Learning was founded with the vision of making the most of the world’s learning data to drive positive student outcomes. By looking at a student’s journey holistically, our predictive analytics based platform and applications deliver institution-specific insights that help the students, faculty, advisors, and institutional leadership in making data-informed decisions to measurably improve educational outcomes.

There are many analytics solutions, ranging from simple usage reporting to those built on machine learning and big data. The most strategic analytics platforms rely on input from multiple Systems Of Records (SORs), and many of the applications mentioned above, to produce actionable insight, informed practice, policy changes, and power interventions and inspirational nudges. As most solutions move to being cloud-hosted, selecting a sophisticated and scalable solution will amplify the ROI for an institution while dramatically improving the speed to drive value from each of these solutions.

“Vendors with a strong network of partners allow you to scale from a simple solution that may be bundled into a sophisticated and full-featured solution by one of their partners, offering the best ROI in the long run”

I’d like to highlight five important capabilities of cloud-based solution vendors that combine to make them a valued strategic partner for your institution.

• Data Access:

Cloud solutions offer value without the burden of managing the deployment of hardware and software resources. Data from most institutions is now distributed between on-premises and cloud as well. If the vendors of these solutions do not have a product or a policy to provide access to that data, it will constrain the value that it offers for further research, or to power other solutions. Data requirements can be minimal and transactional for many applications, or extensive and batch mode for analytics, so be sure to consider support for both modalities by solution vendors. Beware of vendors that lock your information up in ’Data Jail’. Be sure to review current policies and write into future requirements that you will have ready access to your data for powering analytics and other solutions

• Extensibility:

While cloud solutions may offer limited customizability, many support the ability to extend its functionality by a customized API or plugin-based solution, or by supporting open standards like those set by the IMS Global consortium. Working with vendors solutions by reducing the training costs, increasing adoption, and extending its impact by having more usage across the institution.

• Partner Ecosystem:

While many vendors have a portfolio of solutions that span the student lifecycle, very few have the capacity to become the best of breed solution in every category. Vendors with a strong network of partners allow you to scale from a simple solution that may be bundled, into a sophisticated, full-featured solution by one of their partners, offering the best ROI in the long run. For example, a Learning Management System (LMS) may bundle a standardized analytics package while supporting you to extend into a richer, machine learning based solution, like the one offered by Civitas Learning.

• Interoperability:

Cloud-based solution vendors who partner with each other, especially on the same cloud infrastructure, can make interoperability secure and efficient for the institution. Most cloud-based solutions deployed across the institutions depend on data generated by another. The logistics around such data transfer, both technical as well as manual, become the responsibility of the institution. Without proper care, this process can disrupt availability or quality of the solutions, not to mention increased costs due to data transfer across cloud boundaries. When solution vendors partner with each other, the institution can maintain control of the data sharing without being responsible for its logistics. For example, two vendors who are both on AWS can securely and directly share data with each other using AWS data transfer features, often without leaving their ecosystem.

• Open Platform:

Open platforms enable institutions to harness the value of data generated not only within the physical and digital limits of their campus but, also across the ecosystem of education. By looking at each student holistically, across institutional boundaries extending into their entire learning experience, an institution can provide the most appropriate support for each student in achieving their goal.

At Civitas Learning, we are driven by the mission to help a million more students learn well and finish strong every year. We are proud to have partnered with strategic leaders in higher education institutions who are working hard to improve the lives of millions of students across the country. Cloud-based solutions are making the latest innovation in technology affordable and accessible. Bringing together disparate systems and making the most of all this learning data helps the CIO be the most strategic partner for the academic leadership of all institutions.

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