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Top Takeaways on Technology’s Impact on Higher Education

Annie Sullivan
October 12, 2021
Min Read

Over the last year, universities and colleges have faced the unprecedented challenge of shifting between offering fully remote education, hybrid, and in-person learning. However, despite numerous technology innovations and advancements in automation, many higher education institutions still rely on paper-based processes to get things done. In addition to providing a less-than-ideal experience for students, faculty, and alumni, these traditional methods are highly inefficient—and in some cases, may compromise security. 

To figure out how these issues can be addressed, we hosted a webinar featuring a panel of industry experts from Salesforce, University of Houston, and American Occupational Therapy Association. We discussed the challenges of virtual learning and the role data and technology can play in transforming higher ed workflows and creating better experiences for students, faculty, and staff. 

Here are the key highlights you can take away from the full panel discussion

Many colleges and universities have had to shift to remote learning, hybrid, and back to in-person learning. How have universities had to pivot—especially on the digital front—to accommodate these changes? 

Executive Director of Advancement Systems at University of Houston, Mark Walcott started off the conversation by pointing out the number one challenge they faced was finding a way to recreate the learning space and atmosphere that people actually come to college for. They had to leverage a large number of online spaces, Office365 and Zoom, to maintain an opportunity for students to collaborate. 

Vice President of IT at American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), Junhua Liu, agreed, saying they had to quickly roll out new systems to allow staff to engage and collaborate online. Additionally, another hurdle came in the form of staff members not having laptops pre-pandemic. They scrambled to get faculty laptops so they could teach online and do video calls. 

Historically, certain departments in universities are considered to be more of the digital innovators. However, there are still pockets that have many paper-based processes that need to be modernized. What are some of those areas that you see ripe for digital automation?  

Vice President of Education Cloud Industry Solutions at Salesforce, Geshri Gunasekera, jumped in to answer this question, noting that they’ve seen customers in areas as varied as HR, Student Retention, and Research. More and more, departments express an interest not just in digitization, but in a real business transformation as a result of technology-driven inefficiencies. In fact, the key element they have heard is that if you take a flawed paper-based process and simply digitize it, you run the risk of amplifying those flaws in the process. Therefore, their most successful customers reimagine their business process as part of that effort.  

From an advancement standpoint, Mark wanted to go a step farther. He has been focused on finding better ways to get data into a system and maximizing all technologies to create a better experience. For example, across the board, notetaking needs improvement. There has to be a better convergence of the different models students are learning through. From video to written notes to clip art from the web, being able to write on top of those with a seamless experience can translate to better outcomes. Yet, that would need work on the hardware and software side.

Learn more about Mark and University of Houston simplified their digital transformation process.   

How are you thinking about student expectations, as it’s changed a lot over the past years? Students question, “Do I want to be on/off campus? Will a remote diploma have as much ROI as an on-campus one?” How are universities addressing this? 

Covid has made us question the status quo in a new, fundamental way, Geshri notes. There’s a desire to support the whole student and that impacts the role education institutions play for learners—not just in the classroom, but in society as a whole. Supporting that whole student might mean academic support or being there for their needs outside the classroom—but regardless of how it looks, technology will need to play a major role.  

Mark dove deeper into the question, saying going to college is more than going to a classroom. There's so much social development that takes place, and universities have to find opportunities to create that type of interaction in a different way. He was particularly excited that augmented reality and virtual reality might play a more critical role moving forward.

What challenges, like push-back from other stakeholders, have you faced along the way toward modernizing processes and getting workflows adopted? 

Junhua jumped in to say that the challenge for her company in the past years is the fear of change and lack of training. With a new tool, end results are unknown, so uncertainty creeps in, preventing others from wanting to change. You have to show them how this new process will help them and change the way they work for the better. They need solid training that also doesn’t take a lot of time. 

Mark agreed, adding that so many institutions had to quickly adopt so many changes—including new software—due to covid that they are worn out from change. Worse, they now are often working in a time-shifted environment where colleagues aren’t always on the same schedule anymore. Therefore, they needed to modify their process and training to truly get buy-in.  

How do you see customers of Formstack and Salesforce use workflow solutions to impact/improve processes? 

Geshri eagerly answered that Formstack has been an invaluable platform for Salesforce and its higher education customers, especially in the areas of recruiting and admissions. Many admission offices have used Formstack to build prospect inquiry forms and use its advanced features to build engaging and dynamic applications. Additionally, Salesforce is thrilled to be partnering with Formstack on their Pre-Build Application Template for their flagship recruiting product in recruiting and admissions called Admissions Connect. What this template does is allow customers to quickly create a Formstack application form with preconfigured data integration—which means applicant information is automatically being captured and stored in pre-mapped fields and records. 

What’s the certification process using Formstack been like? 

In April 2020, Junhua notes, AOTA partnered with Formstack and achieved their biggest accomplishment in ten years for students. They utilized Formstack forms to create an evaluation form that resulted in an automatic certificate being generated once the forms were completed, saving time for academic field work coordinators.  

What are some big Formstack wins you’ve experienced? 

Mark said he can hardly count the number of wins, but as someone who oversees coders and software systems, the amount of code Formstack solutions replace is phenomenal. It’s revolutionized the way they do gift transmittal forms, HR forms, evaluations, and more. Now that it’s easy to connect other systems, like Power Automate, his job is the easiest he’s ever had it.  

Watch the full panel discussion for more insight into how you can start a digital transformation at your organization today.


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Annie Sullivan
Annie Sullivan is the Growth Marketing Copywriter at Formstack. She lives in Indianapolis and loves writing, reading, and traveling.
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