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August 10

Higher Ed Innovation: Power Your Innovation by Listening to Your Students

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by | Aug 10, 2023 | Featured, Strategies, Podcast

Colleges and universities, often steeped in tradition and cautious in their approach, aren’t typically recognized as hotbeds of risk-taking. However, to stay relevant, higher ed innovation is going to be more important in today’s fast-paced and ever-evolving world.

So how can schools that typically move slowly, and even sometimes resist change, create an environment of higher ed innovation?

Today, let’s find our answer in what might seem to be an unlikely place.

Community colleges are the front door of higher education for hundreds of thousands of students annually. 

They may be smaller than their 4-year counterparts, but schools like Butler Community College are leading the charge in innovating classrooms and workforce development programs.

How are they doing it? It’s simple — by listening to students and their future employers and pivoting to their needs.

On a Higher Ed Marketer podcast episode, Butler’s president, Dr. Kimberly Krull, and Director of College Relations and Marketing, Kelly Snedden, tell us how they’re committing to graduating each student in digital literacy.

Lifelong Lessons from the Pandemic

Like a lot of colleges and universities, Butler had to make some major changes during the pandemic. 

But for them, the question wasn’t just, “How can we change now to meet the challenges of COVID?”, it was, “How can we learn from this moment for years to come?”

As a lot of people did, we learned a lot from the pandemic. We made a commitment in those conversations when we were in the middle of it thinking we were coming out.

“What did we learn from this that we need to continue?” 

Let’s not just say, “Okay, we’ll go back to the status quo.” Rather, let’s drive forward and do some really unique things. 

About every month I hold a student forum with our students on both of our campuses. In the spring of ‘21, I said to the students, “Tell us what worked well in the middle of all of this?”

[The students] were honest. The thing that shone through all those conversations is, “Keep the technology! We want the flexibility of classroom technology. We need the flexibility in our scheduling, because they’re working multiple jobs.” 

They were and still are struggling with childcare. They’re driving back and forth [from the campus]. They’re juggling finances, and all those kinds of things. 

And so we really have worked hard to embed some unique technology.

In fall of ‘21, we were named the 50th Adobe Creative Campus in the nation that gives our students and our faculty and staff access free of charge to all of the Adobe Creative Suite platform. 

So they’re using it in their classrooms, and they can access it off campus if they’re working from home. 

[We’re working hard at] embedding that technology to really grow and support digital literacy and fluency for them as they move on [by transferring to another school] or they go to work. [This is important] because technology is just part of our lives all the time. 

Being an Adobe Creative Campus is perhaps a bigger benefit for their students than you might realize. 

What It Means Today to Be Digital Literate

As a higher ed marketer, you’re probably in the Adobe Creative Suite every day. In fact, the Adobe Creative Suite (and other applications that imitate their creativity tools) are becoming the new Microsoft Office suite.

If you remember what it was like even just 15 years ago, knowing how to use Word or PowerPoint or Excel was a requirement in any kind of field. 

As our culture evolves in the middle of a technology revolution, workers will be expected to communicate through multiple ways of content, not just a document or spreadsheet.

Helping students understand how to use the Adobe Creative Suite is a big part of what is considered today’s digital literacy and is an example of the higher ed innovation you can see at Butler Community College.

Higher Ed Innovation through Student Forums

It would be easy to only focus on the achievements that Dr. Krull and her team have made and jump quickly over exactly how they did it. 

This whole drive towards a more modern digital literacy sprang from the conversations Dr. Krull was having with their students. 

In other words, competition wasn’t the motivation or inspiration that fueled their higher ed innovation.

These ongoing conversations within the student forums produced a lot of changes in how Butler went about educating students, and that, in turn, affected how they craft messaging for new students.

Again, the students wanted access to increased technology and flexibility. 

One of the other things we had utilized during the pandemic was Zoom, trying to help students and faculty connect remotely. Because you never knew whether you [were going to] have family members at home that were sick or whatever [which would cause potential exposure to the virus]. 

So we’ve continued to build out some classrooms on campus that we call “high flex classrooms” that have

capabilities.

The biggest percent of our students (60%) are part-time students. So they’re juggling jobs, childcare, and finances. 

Those high flex classrooms allow them an opportunity, if they maybe only have 40 minutes in between work schedules, they can connect with a class.

They’re not limited then because they can’t come to campus, or they can’t be in class. Or maybe they have a child that’s sick that day and they need to stay home with them. [Even so] they can still connect with class. 

[Now] we have border to border wireless (Wi Fi), and so it doesn’t matter where they are on campus, if they’re sitting in their car, if they’re walking across campus, or if they’re in one of our classrooms, they’re connected. All these things are now expectations. 

[Another thing we learned] through the pandemic, is that we had a lot of students that didn’t have access to Wi Fi and didn’t have access to computers except coming to campus to be in our labs, libraries, or classrooms. 

With federal stimulus dollars [that also helped us build the high flex classrooms], we started a “My Laptop” initiative. 

If they’re enrolled in a program and they’re with us for two years, they can get a laptop for $150. They can take it with them when they’re done [their studies with us]. 

[Through all of these initiatives], we’ve tried to really create access for our students.

Higher ed innovation begins by listening to students. 

If we’re looking to the “competition” to get ideas, we’re always going to be playing the defensive game. 

Furthermore, any innovations made by looking at other schools simply won’t be authentic to you. 

They certainly won’t resonate as well with your current students and future prospective students. 

I think Butler Community College has found the secret to higher ed innovation. 

It’s as simple—and as complicated—as listening to your students.

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

Like all of our blog post reviews of The Higher Ed Marketer podcasts, there’s so much more to learn in the podcasts themselves.

Listen to our interview with Dr. Kimberly Krull to get even more insights into:

  • Powering “high-flex” classrooms with the tech of tomorrow (13:03)
  • Getting students job-ready in workforce development programs (21:09)
  • How Butler is addressing the demographic enrollment cliff (34:51)


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Featured image via butlercc.edu

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