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Your Institution's Swiss Army Knife

As an Eagle Scout, I always carry a small Swiss Army knife on my keychain. Whether it's opening packages or fixing small items, it is invaluable to complete a wide variety of tasks. In developing the keychain version, each of the five tools it contains was carefully chosen to be versatile and practical to complete a majority of daily tasks with convenience. Most of us don't use a Phillips screwdriver daily, so it is not included in the classic version of a Swiss Army knife. However, the knife blade, pair of scissors, nail file, and tweezers are extraordinarily helpful frequently. (Confession: I don't really like using the toothpick 😊).

Having a few tools that can perform many functions is generally more efficient than having many different tools that each perform only one or a few specific functions. This is not only true for something we carry in our pockets, but it is true for the way we organize our educational technology that learners experience.

I know we are experiencing what I call “platform fatigue” - and the last thing you want is to balance 14 dashboards with unique passwords to remember. Instead, I believe you should invest in five core technology platforms that can serve as your Educational Swiss Army knife for your student’s education & career planning needs. In addition to your institution’s main Student Information System (SIS), here are five main educational technology functions you should invest in.

  1. Self-Exploration & Career Exploration program. Every institution needs to adopt - with fidelity - one or two core programs that can assist learners in self-exploration and career exploration with intentionality. (Just the Holland Code alone is insufficient). Whether it connects a student with their aptitude (YouScience), their strengths (StrengthFinders 2.0), their personality (MBTI), a ten year plan (Get Focused...Stay Focused!), hands-on activities (Paxton/Patterson - College & Career Ready Labs), or their purpose (Future N Focus (DBA Dream Catcher) program, this foundational experience should not only be made available to all learners, but should be measured and supported interdisciplinary across your institution.

  2. Learning Management System (LMS): This is like the blade of your CTE Swiss Army knife. It is the core tool that manages all your educational content, courses, and resources that students need to succeed. Most likely this is already in place. Since it provides a centralized location for all course materials and academic progress, ensure you have a basic knowledge how to leverage its data and functionalities.

  3. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System: A CRM system may or may not come as an add-on with your LMS. It helps you manage and track student data and can provide customized and personalized communications with your students over time. They expect this! In our personalized Amazon and Netflix world, we need to stop sending generic emails that don’t apply to a majority of students. A CRM system makes it easy to target scholarships, academic support, and relevant employer engagement opportunities with precision. If you can’t send an accounting internship flyer, within 5 minutes, specifically to every nontraditional, female accounting major with 51%+ program completion, then you need to invest in a CRM system.

  4. Industry Credentials: Third-party, externally verified certificates and credentials provide real-world value in the labor market. Students in every single pathway and program should be gaining at least one industry credential (and not just a locally provided certificate). I don’t just mean welding and graphic design, but every program/class from biology to public speaking should embed such credentials. Need help to get started? Use this Certification Finder to find relevant certs available to give all your learners a competitive advantage.

  5. Virtual and Augmented Reality Platforms: Virtual and augmented reality tools enable students to explore the world around them in new and exciting ways. These ever-evolving simulation platforms create immersive educational experiences that engage students in ways that traditional textbooks and lectures cannot. There are many great partners out there (zSpace, Inc., Transfr, Visible Body, Labster, etc.) that can help our learners practice and gain skills from home - even when our labs are closed to them! You may have 18 academic programs leveraging 4-6 different AR/VR technologies. Of course, look for scale and ROI to maximize the breadth and impact of each.

Identifying and integrating five core platforms such as these can help your program (and entire schools/colleges) increase engagement, relevance, and best prepare learners for the future world of work. What tools are in your institutions’ Swiss Army knife?

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