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Student experience needs mature identity management

Student experience is a continued focus for higher education institutions as they strive to remain competitive in attracting and retaining top tier students. Even more so now as the view of lifetime learning means institutions want to capture these students over a much longer period through multiple learning modes.

There is increasing competition for places not only within Australia but also from international universities. Higher education is also expanding education options to provide short course studies to meet the new breed of e-learning competitors.

The e-learning market is important!

Global Market Insights estimates the global e-learning market will exceed $300 billion US dollars by 2025. Universities are taking notice as e-learning from competitive market players is eroding post graduate award course enrollments.

Now enter the Covid 19 to really shake things up – the digital student experience increasingly important. Students are now studying remotely, receiving classes/lectures remotely, and attending exams remotely.

Challenges for the student experience in the digital setting

I have witnessed numerous challenges in universities for students as they engage with the digital environment provided by learning institutions, key issues include:

  • Staff who are students – often this occurs with research students who will obtain some casual work with the university, though there are many examples. Typically this results in the student having multiple user names and passwords, dealing with multiple reporting lines that are often incorrectly assigned and having issues with email addresses. This situation can also introduce compliance issues where a student may have too much access to a student management system and be in a position to view exam materials prior to an exam.
  • Too many student logins – students may have different passwords and usernames within  systems, or may even have to create their own accounts with external SaaS applications.
  • Limited support for non-award students – whether these are short course students, online students, or other attendees who need access for learning purposes. These students are often not supported with appropriate access to systems they need to access the course work and are presented with a different experience. There are examples where 2 students will attend the same course in the same classroom, yet have a different learning experience as they cannot access the same digital resources based on their enrollment type

These challenges degrade the learning experience.

This is bad. Universities rely on attracting high quality students to ensure they can produce work-ready graduates and ensure their research capabilities remain of the highest quality. Having a positive learning experience is critical in ensuring the long term student retention remains high.

Isn’t it just single sign on?

The first instinct is to look at single sign on capabilities. If we look at the capabilities provided from Azure AD or Okta (or one of a number of vendor solutions) this seems to solve our problem, sign in once… access everything. Voila, our student experience is resolved.

Unfortunately the problem is much deeper than that. Solving the issue of student experience isn’t just about having fewer credentials, it relates to how these credentials are assigned and managed and how we really manage the student access to the resources we need.

Key to universities is the nature of the interactions people have and how this changes over time. While in a typical organisation the relationships are fairly discrete, i.e. you are generally a customer, partner, or customer – in a university this is not so simple.

Lifetime of learning

Modelling the personas within a university environment reveals a complicated matrix of interactions with people occupying multiple personas and regularly transitioning from one persona to another. The journey becomes a continuum where people may interact as a student, researcher, staff member, external contributor through their lifetime journey. The numbers of students occupying another role is significant.

Bringing this model together means you need to consider how to manage this life-cycle, and this will be through a “lifetime of learning”.

Bringing Identity Management into focus

Identity Management is the practice of managing people and their access, to include what people have access to and how that access is enabled. That isn’t only about how they login, but how the get the access granted, whether by virtue of the fact they are undertaking a certain unit of study, part of a particular research project, or via a request and approval process.

If we better supporting the management of accounts and entitlements, we can gain better visibility and control over how people interact with our systems and streamline the way access is managed. Once we do that we are better positioned to provide a clean user experience that accommodates the challenges associated with the complicated life-cycle of a student.Traditionally this has been a security domain, but this has now become key to supporting digital transformation, to improving organisational productivity, and importantly uplifting user experience.

When we systematically manage user and account data, we can provide effective access to people based on their needs. If we bring the sources of identity data together, we can view people as their single identity, regardless of the personas they may have and start to manage the person as a single identity.

How is this achieved?

We need to adopt a cohesive view of the student lifecycle. This is invariably complex as we start to look at the multiple transitions that occur through a student’s lifetime of learning with a university, but can be broken down into key use cases that need to be met to provide a streamlined experience. We need to:

  • Model the lifecycle
  • Identify the relationship types a student can have
  • Understand the challenges
  • Identify the future

We need to develop a data model that supports the multiple relationships people can hold with your institution, then attach the various courses, employment statuses, roles, etc with this identity. Once we have that we can address the experience by integrating with applications to control the accounts and passwords. We can establish federations to manage interactions with other systems both internal and external to support a seamless access experience and power collaboration. This is achieved by putting in the components that can:

  • Integrate source systems (HR, Student management, and others) with a single identity store
  • Support a centralised view of identities and access that is powerful and flexible
  • Support automation of business processes
  • Report on and manage user access
  • Provide a business friendly UI so people actually use it!!!
  • Support password management and federation
  • Support advanced authentication methods (we need to ascertain who is at the end of the line)
  • Integrate with external partners

Taking the first step

Identity is not always easy to get right.

Many organisations have wrestled with identity management over a long time and have found that it can be filled with many pitfalls as we try to resolve complex issues. It is important to understand that this is a complex area that requires a clear plan.

The approach for success is to develop a strategic approach that recognises the various problems within the organisation, and seeks to tackle challenges we can address in the short term while establishing a  base that can expand to meet the broader needs over time. And of course with the current impact to international student numbers… it needs to be done with a heavily reduced investment.

Contact Rowe Consulting

Jasper Rowe
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