Modular Technology vs. One Size Fits All

The Challenge

It’s time to think about the future of your institution and the technology you need to make it successful. How will you stay on top of advances in technology to ensure it remains prosperous and growing? How can you use data to make changes that will lead to that success? How will you innovate?

The Solution

Randy Bass, vice provost of education at Georgetown University, has said that solutions can be found in approaches that are “radically incremental” or evolutionary. In addition, a useful blueprint most likely needs to include “modular, often technology-driven disruptive forces.”

Finding Your Perfect Fit

So the way things have always been done may not be the best way now. That means that investing in large Student Information Systems that require cumbersome on-premises equipment, without the ability to update and change, doesn’t make sense.

If you want your institution to keep up—and your students, too—modular technology blocks are the answer. They enable you to use data and analyses to add, change and update systems, products, and processes as you go, without worrying about substantial infrastructure and equipment investments.

“Having modular inter-connected pieces and a web of connected pieces together… it makes so much more sense,” said Jason DeFay, Director of Research Administration Initiatives at the University of California San Diego.

Modular Technology Blocks vs Fixed Systems

It’s easy to say that Higher Education as an industry isn’t nimble and is slow to innovate, and that’s leading to its demise. You know better, though. Higher education has evolved many times over the centuries, especially in the last several decades. In our lifetime we’ve seen colleges and universities go from type-written admissions forms to online applications, overhead projectors to smart boards, dial-up modems to Internet delivered via fiber-optic cable. According to Kate Ebner, Director of Georgetown University’s Institute for Transformational Leadership and Noah Pickus, Associate Provost at Duke University, the evolution of higher ed started in the 18th century with the handcrafted model, moved to the 19th century’s mass production model, and then to the specialization model of the last century.

Now it’s Time to Start Innovating Again

This time with modular technology. Taking a modular approach to technology, like what we do at Kuali, means that you can keep costs down and produce less waste while keeping up with evolving technology and your institution’s needs. With modular technology blocks, you can add to your campus-wide system—like Banner—update it, change processes and more, without making huge investments or losing valuable pieces already in place. A consumer example of this is the smartwatch called Blocks. The core product is the basic smartwatch, and buyers can add modules to increase functionality. So instead of upgrading their watch every year, and ditching the old model, they can add modules for new features. It’s also how consumers buy music—they don’t buy whole albums anymore; they buy songs.

 

Iterate to Evolve

Modular technology allows institutions of higher education to make incremental changes as needed.

“Universities are interesting collectives of all kinds of people, and needs evolve at different paces,” said Brad Wheeler, Indiana University’s Vice President for IT and Chief Information Officer. “Things that are really important in some of our Big Ten institutions appear one year or perhaps are also important for IU, and then the next year they’re very important for IU. So being able to move incrementally, as a campus has priorities, has needs around modules, but yet have things fit together over time is a much more efficient process than when you’re trying to just do it all in one big system at once, so the whole place goes into chaos.”

Reduce Electronic Waste

Opting for modular technology blocks over fixed systems also reduces electronic waste, a growing scourge around the world. According to iFixit, people in the U.S. produce 3.4 million tons of e-waste every year. Globally, people discard 20 million tons of electronic waste every year. These discarded products leach mercury, cadmium, brominated flame retardants, and lead into the soil, water, and air. In addition to reducing e-waste in landfills and preventing pollution, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, you’ll reduce greenhouse gas emissions by choosing to add modular blocks instead of buying new, fixed equipment.

Gone are the days when you need to dedicate whole wings to technology equipment and make colossal infrastructure investments to update and upgrade systems. Modular technology gives institutions the ability to more quickly adapt and innovate as technology changes and students demand, without generating tons of electronic waste.

Modular Technology Blocks + Data

Patterns

You’ll have the tools to detect patterns in grades, tests, enrollment, attendance, and applications

Feedback

Data gives you the information you need to see problems in professors, teaching methods, and processes, and the chance to correct them.

Curriculum

When you have a problem with a course, data will be the first indicator. Are students dropping a particular class? Did you have a high fail rate in a course?

Donations

Figure out who your consistent contributors are, when they donate, who’s stopped or waning and target them effectively.

Energy costs

Data can save you money, too. It can show you how people use buildings and spaces, so you can lower energy costs without impacting students, professors or staff.

Streamlined processes

Data is how you identify ways to improve your students’ experience, streamline processes, create efficiencies, save money, and more.

Modular Technology Blocks = Choices

Technology in the 21st century is becoming more compatible, accessible, and modular. Increasingly, modular systems work together, so there’s no need to invest in a single brand or system. Users can choose how to use modules.

“If I have a module that I don’t want to use … I don’t have to use it and present it to my users,” DeFay said.

According to David Goodrum, Director of Academic Technology, Information Services at Oregon State University, “we mustn’t conflate everything being connected with needing to buy into one single product. What we should look for is modularity, compatibility, adherence to standards (for formats and integrations as well as data), accessibility and ease of use.”

The best modular technology and products work together, so institutions of higher education can update and upgrade without having to trash a whole system.

In order to meet the challenges facing higher education over the next decade, colleges and universities need to be nimble. That means using data and modular technology to implement changes as needed, instead of investing in fixed systems that require extensive training and renewals or brand-new equipment to update. Modular technology blocks enable you to continually innovate by keeping up with advances in technology and new priorities at your institution. They also make it simpler to use data to make changes that will lead to more efficient processes, better student experience, lower costs—and success.

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