Higher education administrators are faced daily with the significant disconnect between the vast number of co-curricular opportunities for students and the declining rates of student engagement. Opportunities like internships, student leadership boards, entrepreneurship, and volunteering are a crucial element to college education, allowing students to develop professionally and personally both in and out of the classroom. Dr. Julia Spears, an expert in Student Engagement and Experiential Learning, has seen for many students the world of higher education is fraught with complexity when it comes to finding and utilizing information.
“So many opportunities go unrecognized because students are simply inundated with information,” she notes. “Even as they identify specific opportunities, they often don't know how to make intentional choices about how and when to spend their time outside of the classroom.” She believes higher education professionals need to be doing a better job of helping students navigate all of the available pathways not only for their academic careers, but also the continued success that these opportunities provide.
For Dr. Spears, technology is an underutilized approach. More specifically, she believes that technology should be organizing information and automating processes. Two things that faculty and staff just cannot feasibly do for the thousands of students at their institution. “Don't get me wrong, it's a really complex problem, but we can do a better job of making information digestible across all units with the platforms we already use.” Students miss out on time-bound opportunities, like Study Abroad programs, because they don’t know important details like deadlines or requirements. To increase student awareness, technologies are being developed that can keep students connected and up-to-date without manual intervention.
Higher education’s leaders and experts are working alongside technology companies to address student engagement and other challenges with platforms designed for students, faculty, and staff. InfoReady Thrive uses algorithmic matching to connect students with opportunities and programs that most closely match their strengths, interests and goals. InfoReady Corp. has consulted the experience of several higher education professionals, including Dr. Spears, to build tools that expand the use of its automation platform to help connect students to the right opportunities. With this platform, students build a profile using an intuitive app, and receive an organized list of opportunities that best fit their goals and interests without having to search through web pages and multiple channels of communication. Currently, InfoReady has three unique pilot programs, each serving an influential institution in their efforts to promote programs to targeted demographics both on and off campus.
“In some aspects, we're light years ahead of everyone else...in technology, not so much,” she laughed, “but we're finding new ways to do a better job.”