4 Most Impactful Higher Ed IT Trends from 2016

(This was originally published on Optimal Partners’ blog.)

While it had its ups and downs, last year was ultimately fruitful for Higher Ed technology innovation and improvement. Researchers are now studying how students learn with the help of wearable technology, EdTech professionals are exploring the potential learning opportunities provided by virtual reality, and blockchain is transforming from a buzzword into an emerging technology in Higher Ed. Similar advances made last year will help university IT departments prepare for 2017’s challenges. With that in mind, here are a few of last year’s most impactful Higher Ed technology trends.


Although cybersecurity is an ever-present challenge in university IT, last year marked an increase in awareness and preparation against potential security threats. Higher Ed institutions became popular targets for hackers in the last few years thanks in part to the vast amounts of personal information they house and the plethora of different devices that users bring to campus. Earlier in the year, information security ranked #1 on Educause’s Top 10 IT Issues list for 2016, and it has remained on top for their list going into 2017.

While universities work to protect their users from security breaches, the biggest challenge seems to be fighting against human nature. Phishing attacks and ransomware pose significant threats to Higher Ed institutions, especially when users aren’t aware that they may be vulnerable. IT departments are fighting back by training end users on how to avoid falling victim. With the addition of potential risks brought on by the rise of IoT, universities are going to need to make cybersecurity a high priority in 2017.

Advancements in EdTech

No one technology single-handedly changed higher education in 2016.

2016 was the year that science fiction met reality, at least in regards to Higher Ed technology. Virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality each continue to show their potentialfor creating unique learning experiences. Wearable technology has proven not just popular among students, but also useful for studying learning behavior. EdTech professionals continue to explore the myriad ways in which students thrive, rather than sticking to the traditional classroom dynamic. No one technology single-handedly changed higher education in 2016, but through advancements in many different areas, EdTech professionals are on their way to revolutionizing learning for the better this year.

Diversity in Higher Ed IT

Diversity became one of Higher Ed’s most important topics for discussion in 2016, not only in regards to an increasingly diverse student base, but also in the lack of diversity within the Higher Ed IT workforce. These challenges are more related than one might think. As a user base becomes more diverse, it is important to have their perspectives and needs represented in the IT departments that serve them. Whether it’s diversity of race, age, or gender, matching the expectations of users and building a stronger IT workforce through inclusivity is going to be an important objective in 2017.

Predictive Analytics

The data that Higher Ed institutions collect does nothing by itself, but with the right organization and analysis, it can be an incredibly useful tool. This last year, many universities took initiative to make sense of their data for the benefit of their stakeholders. Predictive analytics does more than just improve administrative efforts, however; student success technologies help provide vital details on how specific students are doing and how they can improve. These technologies were ranked #3 on Educause’s top 10 issues list, and are bound to be improved on and more widely utilized throughout the new year.

While many of the challenges of last year may continue into 2017, the advancements and innovations of the last twelve months give Higher Ed institutions a significant advantage. As long as university IT departments effectively communicate with their users, stay ahead of tomorrow’s cyber threats, and make the best use of technology to promote education, this year should be equally as productive as the last.

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