The Intelligent Campus

The smart campus is already here, it’s been here for a while. What prevents it from being intelligent is that, although the technology and data analysis capabilities are all available, there’s no real integration. Everything is siloed, with different sections and departments unable to share data. This limits the scope of what can be learnt and how the information gathered can be used.

Ronelle Naidoo, Head of Sales at Mint Group, says in the intelligent campus, data from across the physical, digital and online environments can be analysed, opening vast possibilities for more effective use of learning and non-learning spaces. “An intelligent campus will take data from a range of sources, not just the physical aspects of the campus and how they are being used, but also data from digital systems such as attendance records, the virtual learning environment, the library, student records, cafeteria, residents and online services.”

This approach can provide insights into the student experience that might otherwise be overlooked. The intelligent campus moves beyond using just live data to add machine learning, it is able to provide further insights. “By bringing in historical data, feedback and evaluative data, we can start to add a level of predictive analytics that will allow students and staff to make informed decisions on what is likely to happen,” says Naidoo.

For example, predicting when the library will be busy and therefore noisy will allow students to choose whether to come to campus before or after peak times. This will also reduce the probability that the library will be too full for comfort at any one time. An intelligent timetabling system could start to reflect the sort of activity likely to take place during a study module, and not just the number of students taking part. “Picture a room that knows not just how many people are in it, but also where they’re sitting, and how they’re feeling!”

“To meet the demands of an always-connected generation, as well as the need for technologies such as AI, the Internet of things and 5G as we enter the fourth industrial revolution, universities must think outside the box if they want to attract students to their institutions.”

Another important element highlighted by Naidoo is that of safety. “With ongoing news reports around safety breaches at educational institutions, there’s a growing focus on student and campus safety.

The issue is being addressed at government level, with the then Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor, announcing a task team to help prevent sexual harassment and sexual violence at universities. Pandor has subsequently been appointed as the Minister of International Relations.

Naidoo believes technology has a vital role to play in helping to mitigate security risks and cites an intelligent campus project at the University of Venda as an example.

“The UniVen project is aimed at drastically decreasing security incidents through the use of AI and cognitive computing for facial recognition.”

This project has the following objectives:

  • Tracking of students across campus
  • Greatly increase safety in residences by using facial recognition for access control
  • Ensure only students and campus staff can access the premises (using facial recognition)
  • Track student sentiment to identify risks and see how student sentiment correlates to performance and how this data can be used to increase performance.

Naidoo says: “While student safety is first and foremost a priority, it’s invaluable to have insight into which students attend class and other general trends, as well as analysing data on students’ emotions, so retrieving that data is vitally important. Over and above being able to generate attendance reports, this also helps the university know whether students that are allocated accommodation on campus actually use that accommodation.”

Data gathered can be used to access student information so that the university can use the resulting insights to improve the students’ journey, provide better education, save time and raise their grades. During protests, for example, it’s critical to have access to data around which students have access to which hostel or which classes they attended.

“As is the case with the implementation of any new technology, it’s always important to ensure that you have student and employee buy-in, but this is even more the case when it’s technology that’s monitoring and collecting data about people’s movements, as you don’t want them to feel as though big brother is watching them.”

However, Naidoo points out that students and staff at universities are becoming increasingly concerned about their safety and are therefore welcoming this type of technology. “It reduces their stress levels and increases their confidence, which in turn makes for better scholars and education providers.”

She goes on to explain that there are certain prerequisites in order for an intelligent campus to become a reality: “Firstly, you need a decent Internet connection, as the technology is cloud-based; then you need to ensure that the installed hardware is secure; and in order for facial recognition to work, you need good lighting.”

The good news is that in the majority of cases, it is possible to integrate existing technology into the intelligent system. Naidoo says: “We don’t believe in wasteful expenditure and always try to integrate existing camera systems and security systems with the new technology to reduce costs for the university. As everything is run in the cloud, the infrastructure is basically just a good Internet connection.”

Moving from smart to intelligent enables the campus of the future to interact with students on platforms they’re comfortable with and use data to ensure learners and educators alike have a seamless experience and make better informed decisions.

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