With technology advancing so fast, it’s often a wonder that the process of delivering education is still a piece of the twentieth century. It’s true that the world of online universities and learning websites from Coursera to Kahn’s Academy and other MOOCs is taking off, but many traditional schools, high-schools and universities are still stuck with paperwork when it comes to collaboration, and to simple voice when it comes to communication. Education should be at the forefront of what tech has to offer.
Some schools are making inroads into how to leverage technology. For example, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) provides interactive video courses for K-12 schools across North Carolina. Students from across the state can collaborate in project teams and class discussions. Meanwhile, NCSSM teachers monitor the class in real-time and assess student learning. Yet, such schools are the exception, not the norm. The 2011 CDW Unified Communications Tracking Poll found that only 17% of higher education has implemented some of the features that are part of Unified Communications.
Will teachers and students begin to see more of these Unified Communications solutions across the world? At this time, not so many. In the future? Let’s take a look at the main benefits educational institutions should expect to see after implementing and using UC tools:
- Improved collaboration and communication between professors: Professors located in various buildings on the campus can connect quickly via instant messaging, voice or video call, or even audio conferencing. This provides a boost in productivity and enables them to solve various problems efficiently. If they’re working on a last-minute addition to the curriculum standards, for example, with UC they can reach a solution and no longer need to be face-to-face to track one another. Also, by using the presence feature of instant messaging – they can instantly see who is available for a chat or who is delivering a class. Which is much easier than checking each professor’s schedule. And this is essential, as most professors do not have a standard schedule.
- Improved communication between teachers and parents: IP phone systems can be equipped with a parents directory, which will save precious time for professors who want to contact parents. Also, automatic outbound calls or voicemail messages can be sent to parents’ email addresses – for example, notifications about a child skipping school. In emergency situations, this directory becomes even more important, as parents can be notified immediately if their child feels sick.
- Mobility: Large campuses generally have staff that is always on the move from one class to the other, to the cafeteria or to the professors’ offices. With Unified Communications, their mobile phone becomes a single point of contact. Therefore, if somebody rings their office while they’re out, their mobile will ring for them to pick up the call. And this is valid for students as well.
- Better learning: With such a solution at hand, teachers can also set up toll free numbers that students can dial from home and get instant help with their homework.
- Increased safety: If there’s an emergency on school grounds, an imminent threat or a natural disaster, for example, academics and staff members can quickly be contacted through a Unified Communications solution. Security alerts can automatically be sent, allowing teachers to quickly gather their students and protect them from danger.
- Better student communication: Students sometimes switch campuses and often find themselves far from their mates, but that doesn’t stop them from communicating using Unified Communications tools. If a peer has gone to Europe for the semester and their team continues to work on a year-long project, for example, the student abroad will still be able to contribute in real-time from overseas thanks to instant messaging, presence tools, and audio conferencing.
- Lower administrative expenses: With IP communications, voice and data networks are unified, thus lowering the costs. By implementing Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, schools allow their users to choose their devices, thus keeping upfront expenses under control.
- Lower communication expenses: All internal calls are free of charge, which means that students, professors and the administrative staff can speak for free with each other. By using the least-cost-routing feature delivered by a communications platform such as VoipNow, the system automatically chooses the best trunking channels in terms of cost and availability, reducing costs yet again, especially if outbound calls are frequent. Also, by taking advantage of its special academic licensing, schools keep expenses low.
As you can see, there are many advantages brought on by Unified Communications. I kept the juicy one at the end as this usually gets overlooked. It’s what I call “the coolness factor” 🙂 I know that many education institutions are miles away from “being cool” in their students’ minds, but what if they embraced technology and suddenly became cool?! Sometimes, it takes only the smallest of changes. Engaging with students in a “language” these understand, while allowing them to use the devices they like could trigger a positive word of mouth epidemics and increase the coolness factor.
It’s only a matter of time before education institutions will abandon their outdated telephony systems and move to Unified Communications in the Cloud.