Oral Roberts University keeps students engaged, which keeps them successful
A fully connected higher education experience is expected from the time students are recruited out of high school through to the time they are alumni; At Oral Roberts University, there’s a mobile app for that. ORU’s smart campus design makes student life more engaging not only at Oral Roberts’ flagship campus in Tulsa, Okla., but throughout its footprint in more than 126 countries.
Students are constantly engaged with some type of smart device, says ORU vice president for technology and innovation Mike Mathews. Part of the school’s educational mission is training whole leaders for the whole world which includes educating them for the online world in which we live, and where those students may even launch their careers.
“If you’re managing the technology on a college campus today,” Mathews told BOSS, “students sense a ‘smart design’ the moment they step onto your campus: Are you truly providing them a seamless ‘smart campus’ experience, or is everything disjointed?”
ORU will stop at nothing to make sure students are successful in the digital age we live, he said, and that begins with a smart campus design.
While many of us might not be spending significant amounts of time in the metaverse until the end of the decade, it’s been a fixture of life at ORU for a few years with geovision technology. At the height of the pandemic, when most of us were hopping onto Zoom for meetings and lessons, the university was also putting lectures on Altspace, a social VR platform. ORU had a Plan B in case Zoom had any performance issues, or students felt they needed more interaction and engagement than Zoom offered. After all, ORU has ranked in the top five universities for student engagements for multiple years.
“The students were continually helping us evaluate,” Mathews said. His team would ask whether they were watching lectures on Zoom or Altspace. “Those who were watching on Altspace felt more engaged and felt more successful.”
The feedback from students and faculty in both immersive learning and the metaverse over the last two years has been overwhelmingly positive. The years of development that have gone into virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality are all coalescing into one platform that will keep improving the student experience.
“We have proven at Oral Roberts University for seven years that students are better with VR, AR, and MR,” he said. “No big secret, they’re more engaged, have better scores, better success, better satisfaction, and better career placement.”
Why, Mathews asks, do universities tend to put more money into athletics than academics. Simple, he says, they’re more exciting. His mission, then, is to make academics as exciting as possible. Taking a page out of the athletics playbook, he sees gamifying education as the way to achieve that.
Within the metaverse, students are more engaged and can multitask within one environment. They can chat privately with each other in a piece of the overlay or a private room while still connected with the group lecture. They have levels upon levels of interaction.
“There was a recent study conducted that found high school students who are playing esports are more engaged and more successful in their grades at school,” he said. “So, as much as people may downplay esports, it’s one of the greatest ways to start teaching your mind in the world we all find ourselves, a world where people multitask, a world where people have accelerated through patterns. The metaverse finally finds that great intersection.”
Make It Personal
All that technology and all the data that comes along with it is great, Mathews says, but there’s not much point to it without personalization. Everything that data can teach us must go toward the service of people, he said.
ORU cares about students in their academic journey, their life journey, and their connectivity journey.
“We believe Oral Roberts personalizes data for the betterment of all students. … Students can now know how well they receive information, retain the information, and excel with the information based on just their heart rate. A student cannot measure how much they have learned without understanding the attributes of their spirit, mind, and body, which includes their heart rate. We have personalized the ‘Whole Person’ education experience that helps them know how they are progressing.”
It's not the university’s use of technology that’s impressive, he said, it’s that ORU has simplified it, designed it well, and students benefit from it. Helping students see who they are, and which circumstances bring out their best performances is what all that data drills down to.
Students will only use what they feel they own, Mathews said, which is why the student association owns the student life mobile app. It keeps students digitally connected on all fronts, even down to ordering food and checking the availability of laundry facilities. That sense of ownership is what makes a “smart campus” smart.
The Next Steps
ORU has a 98.5% placement rate for graduates. A big part of that is the fact that students can look in the student life app and find over 15,000 job listings. They’re also learning in a way that prepares them for their careers. Further integration of the metaverse will strengthen that.
“Without that smart campus experience (started) six years ago, we would never get there,” he said.
Howard Technologies has been instrumental in making that smart campus experience tangible. They’ve designed classrooms at ORU, designed an esports stadium and the proper infrastructure that may welcome 15,000 people for an event in December, and designed Wi-Fi connectivity to each component.
“When people step into a classroom, they feel like, ‘Wow, this is different than any other class I’ve been in.’ That’s all thanks to Howard Technologies.”
ORU and Mathews recently won an OnCon ICON award, the only university in the top 50, placing alongside Fortune 1000 companies. It’s one of about 35 awards ORU has taken home in the last two years.
“I apply for these awards because I’m trying to measure, ‘Are we competing against the leaders?’ Hands-down we’re winning out against any other university,” he said. “To compete against corporate training environments really says a lot. Ultimately, a student doesn’t hang out in education all their life. They go out into the corporate world where the real competition is.”
Students know their experience has gone up against the best of the best and come away with honors, so they can be confident in the quality of their education. The next step is integration to reach 195 countries with a lean smart experience.
“We believe that ORU is going to make education more affordable and more available around the world,” Mathews said.
And all around the world, leading universities will ask themselves, “Are we competing against Oral Roberts?”
ORU is an interdenominational Christian liberal arts university located in Tulsa, Oklahoma. ORU is preparing its students spiritually, intellectually, and physically to go into every person’s world.
7777 S Lewis Ave., Tulsa, OK 74171