In the last few years, technology has transformed higher education. Unlike days of yore when information exchange between teachers and students was linear and restricted to classrooms, today’s learning institutions are leveraging technology to engage students who learn best in other ways.
Unified communications (UC) allow universities to easily communicate, collaborate and share information among students, faculty, and parents by providing a variety of services including instant messaging, voice calling, and video conferencing, all on a single convenient platform.
Choosing a UC solution for an institution’s communications requires upgrading communication options from traditional phones to something far more robust. It increases overall productivity and simplifies the management of the entire institution’s communications systems. The overall virtues of choosing UC are reflected quickly in a considerable return on investment for the institution.
While some may consider IP-PBX and UC to be a replacement for the traditional phone system, the benefits of UC extend far beyond the realm of mere telephonic needs.
1. Bridging Communication Gaps on a Device of Your Choice
In an increasingly ‘mobile’ world, UC offers seamless user experience, regardless of the user’s physical location. Connecting with the right person depends not only on being able to tell when they are available but also being able to judge the device to use when calling them.
By expanding the UC network to devices beyond traditional modes such as mobile phones and landlines, etc., users can choose their communication tool based on personal choice and convenience. In a campus setting where there is high mobility and where staff and students often need to access the institution’s network and resources while away from their desks or classrooms, mobile UC applications can be of enormous benefit.
For example, during school admission, a lot of support is needed to answer student queries. This is usually handled in-person or via emails, phones, and live chat on a website. Staffers are always on the move providing campus tours, dropping papers to other departments, and running meetings, etc. Integration of mobile UC with the university communication system can be a blessing in such a dynamic environment, enabling administrators to operate from anywhere on or off the campus.
Besides this, with UC the support role can be extended beyond just the realm of administrative offices and call centers. Representatives from faculty members, student bodies, and individual departments (such as sports, food, dorms, etc.) can be directly involved in providing live chat (using voice, messaging, and video) to help new students and parents have their questions answered and make a decision.
2. Preparing Students to Become Future Ready
In corporate America, UC is fast becoming a norm, creating a private network employees can use to connect with each other and with their customers. The same technology can be extended to university campuses too. University branded UC applications for each student and administrative personnel can help ease communication by enabling multi-modal communication in the form of voice, video, and messaging and by integrating an address book.
When students step out of campuses and into the job market, they will be expected to be able to handle multiple channels of communications. UC is an important tool that should be added to the student’s technology stack. It will not only help them become the next generation leaders but will also prepare them for their hyperconnected future!
3. Enabling Better Communication Across Campus
Communication needs straddle devices as varied as the standard office telephone, mobiles, PDAs, laptops, e-mail, and video solutions. Integrating all of these technologies is imperative for educational institutions.
As the UC service is delivered, secured, and managed from a central site, it can be applied anywhere on campus, irrespective of the size of the staff in a building or an area. UC can bundle together formerly stand-alone technologies, thus enabling institutions to provide access to staff
based on their unique needs and circumstances.
For example, faculty members and students can talk and share information with each other, regardless of where they are, using instant messaging and voice or video calls. This enables them to better handle daily work and solve problems remotely. Less need for face-to-face communication means more efficiently run departments. For example, using the ‘Presence’ feature of an instant messaging application, professors can check who is available to chat and who is busy delivering a lecture, which is much easier than having to check each professor’s schedule before calling them.
Professors can also contact the parents of students using a specific parent directory stored in the IP phone systems. This saves the professor time, as he or she can send automated voicemails to parents if their children miss classes or are in an emergency situation.
4. Fostering Learning Beyond Classrooms
The best educational institutions are those that provide their students with optimal opportunities to learn. Universities today use tools such as projectors and voice communications with experts as a regular feature. By going a step further and using video conferencing, subject matter experts can be easily “invited” into the classroom without having to take the expert away from their busy schedule. The expert can then share his or her ideas from any part of the world, and students can stay engaged, as live chat with the expert is likely to be far more interesting than yet another lecture! Deploying video communications with a UC solution is as easy as implementing a traditional voice solution. With ubiquitous video-capable Web-based collaboration solutions, a live video call can be established at the click of a button without requiring any special phone systems.
5. Increasing Productivity through Collaboration
Collaboration is key in higher education today and is no longer limited to meeting rooms and study halls. Many collaboration tools are available online that help enhance the productivity and creativity of a team. With UC, students can connect with each other anytime and anywhere, whether on campus, in their dorms, or in residences. Subject matter experts can help monitor a project’s progress. Not only that but students can also research and collaborate across universities. Imagine what new innovations, inventions, and breakthroughs that could lead to!
Communication between students and teachers, among instructors from different departments, and with the parents of students is at the core of all institutions of higher education. It’s only natural and expected that this information exchange should become smoother, faster, and more efficient in the years to come…and unified communications is the first right step in that direction.