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What's Next? The Connected Era

min read

Connectivity is a journey, not a destination. As data consumption grows at higher education institutions, a "connectivity first" mindset driven by reliable, highly secure connectivity is essential.

Connectivity is taken for granted. Back in my grandpa's day, I could look out the window and see the thermometer outside to know the temperature. Pretty simple. Now, I can look at my smartwatch and get the temperature and weather forecast, see the radar, and more! It seems simple, but there's a tradeoff. There is a weather station somewhere that uses cellular technology to send the temperature data to the cloud, which transmits the data through an API that travels to my house via fiber, then to my phone via Wi-Fi, and then to my watch via Bluetooth. Yes, I can get more information. But I'm relying on multiple forms of connectivity functioning properly to do a historically simple task. Similar examples exist throughout higher education. Textbooks have evolved into curated content collections, and lectures have evolved into multimodal, asynchronous, mastery-based coursework. However, the impact goes far beyond just the teaching and learning aspects of higher education. We in higher education now rely on technology to connect and transform.

In my 2018 article "A Brief History of the CIO," I built on the work of Brad Davis and Joe McDonagh and outlined the three eras of IT history: the mainframe era, the distributed era, and the web era. I ended with the question, "What's next?"Footnote1 I propose that we have emerged from the web era and are now in the connected era. In my example above, my watch doesn't have a thermometer in it. Connectivity enables these advances. Thankfully, AT&T is an expert in reliable, highly secure connectivity, and we want to collaborate with you.

Although connectivity is made of a wide range of highly sophisticated technologies, one thing is clear: highly secure connectivity is foundational to the implementation of teaching, research, community engagement, advancement, workforce development, continuing education, and other higher education priorities. A "connectivity first" mindset is critical when considering the permeable walls of an institution where students can learn, graduate, mentor, and donate to the next generation without ever visiting the physical campus; where researchers can propose, win grants, collaborate with colleagues around the world, and give presentations without ever meeting in person; where staff can seamlessly collaborate both on and off campus regardless of their physical location; and where inclusion, accessibility, and robust student support lead to student success. When thinking of new ideas and projects, people assume connectivity exists. But, as we've learned, not everyone has equal access.

To be clear, these are not original ideas. The primary difference is they are no longer ideas; they are expectations. Seamless connectivity is a requirement. As professionals who focus on technology, we as higher education technologists know that even though the general population no longer sees a particular technology as novel, we must still work behind the scenes to deliver the robust experience our constituents demand. According to AT&T Labs, users will consume five times as much content in 2025 as they did in 2021. Let's be ready for that and build what's next. It's not magic―it's engineering, science, creativity, innovation, foresight, vision, strategic planning, and leadership. Connectivity is a journey, not a destination.

Adopting a connectivity-first approach can be overwhelming. The expectations and opportunities are grand. However, you're not on this journey alone. I know of no institution that can supply highly secure connectivity for its diverse population—both on and off campus—without a partner. And that's just teaching and learning. The research and community engagement opportunities with connectivity are endless.

AT&T has deep expertise in higher education as well as other industries, ranging from the federal government and cities to local libraries. We even have our own labs, patents, and Nobel Prize winners. We're more alike than we are different. We offer our rich expertise to our higher education customers and look forward to collaborating with you to brainstorm, develop, and implement unique solutions to your challenges today and in the future—from every corner of your campus.

Remember: You don't need to be an engineer to use the wide range of 5G technologies and the amazing full bandwidth of fiber to enhance your teaching, learning, research, and service. You just need the right collaboration.

It's an honor to work with our amazing customers. Beyond these examples, we can collaborate to enhance your campus experience with smart connectivity: physical and cybersecurity, recruitment and alumni engagement, and, of course, the fan experience on game day. After everything that's happened in and around higher education over the past few years, this is an opportunity to reset and focus on critical enabling technology: reliable, highly secure connectivity for faculty, students, and staff wherever they are and for whatever they need to accomplish. As we progress through the connected era and build what's next, let's build it together.


  1. Jonathan Huer, "A Brief History of the CIO," EDUCAUSE Review, August 13, 2018. Jump back to footnote 1 in the text.

Jonathan Huer is Lead Solution Architect for Education at AT&T.

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