The University of Alabama is ideally a center of research, excellence, and teaching. But the reality on the ground is that universities have to think about a sustainable business model if they are to survive. Governments are withdrawing from supporting the universities, leaving them to think about themselves, and how they can meet their own needs. In such a case, then, universities have to be innovative.
Today, Ecommerce has colonized the US. For example, an employee can decide to work from home, order lunch online, and at the same time, take an online refresher course. However, when it comes to higher education, ecommerce has not effectively penetrated this space, and a lot needs to be done to exploit the immense power of ecommerce. The fact is that ecommerce is not a preserve of the business environment. Institutions of higher learning, too, have a lot to gain from ecommerce.
The University of Alabama has made aggressive attempts to make the use of ecommerce. However, these efforts can be expanded. In addition to that, the university can learn from its past mistakes in order to make better decisions in the future. There is also room to learn from what the others are doing in order to make optimal decisions.
This article will explore how the University of Alabama can make use of ecommerce in its academic pursuit.
Importance of Ecommerce in a University
The World Trade Organization (WTO), defines ecommerce as buying and selling an electronic system over the internet. This can be a product, or it can be a service. One of the greatest benefits with ecommerce is that it shrinks the distance between the producers and the consumers. It plays a critical role in the supply chain, as well as enhancing the experience of the consumers. However, the experience of ecommerce in institutions of higher learning is an under-researched area and there are no much literature about it.
In the traditional university learning, professors, lecturers, and instructors, would only meet in class, and in the few consultation hours available per week. The challenge then was how to ensure an effective interaction even with the issue of distance. For example, if a Professor decides to take a research project with the Maori people of Waikato, New Zealand, he would not interact with the students back home. This created a knowledge vacuum, at least at the time the professor is not in the country.
Now, with ecommerce, the faculty and the student community can interact with each other, in real time, irrespective of the geographical location of any party. This ensures that both parties save time and resources. With just a click of the email, a student at the University of Alabama can reach a faculty member. Therefore, one does not need to discontinue with the thesis just because a professor is not in the country.
With ecommerce, students are able to execute a number of student processes. These include the following:
-Payment of university fees
-Seeking fees refund
-Electronic transmission of materials
-Group discussions, via zoom for instance
-Checking the grades
The University of Alabama offers its online and blended courses in conjunction with the college of education as well as the College of Continuing Studies. Courses offered include education, leadership, rehabilitation counseling, educational psychology, elementary education, and even as doctorate course. The university is in the process of rolling other courses in the future which will be offered under distance learning.
However, the University of Alabama can magnify their distance and blended learning opportunities. The university ranks an impressive 143 in National Ranking. It has also won several awards and recognitions. That means that it cannot have a problem in reaching out to new students. This will help the university gain a competitive edge in the future.
The university should think about more courses in MOOCs. University of Alabama will realize that an increasing number of people want to earn digital badges, micro-credentials, develop specialized skills, or just the experience of higher education. If University of Alabama takes a leading position in digital learning, it will be seen as a university which is ready to ensure access to education to those who face challenges in getting an education.
Distance learning is most suitable for a number of groups of students, including the following:
-Students who want to save on the cost of education (Some online courses are cheaper than others)
-Students with jobs located in remote areas
-International students who cannot relocate to the US due to a number of reasons, family for instance
-Students with busy schedules due to work
-Women who have to go through pregnancy, delivery, and breast feeding
Enhancing the Faculty Experience
The University of Alabama should be more aggressive in helping the university enhance the experience of the faculty. As a matter of fact, the faculty needs ecommerce the most in order to effectively pass on knowledge. It should be noted that the faculty plays a critical role in helping the students to model their careers. Therefore, by strengthening the faculty through ecommerce, one is strengthening the entire university, and in deed, the entire country.
The older teaching staff may find it more challenging to make use of new technological solutions. But with the right institutional support, any member of staff can be assisted to exploit the potential that comes with technology. Similarly, the new faculty should be assisted with resources in order to settle down, and these include the use of ecommerce.
Diversification and Investment
The University of Alabama should think about diversifying its investment portfolio in order to cushion itself from future economic challenges. It should make investment decisions without taking too much of the risks. It is better to work on ideas that are practical, predictable, and not experimental. This will ensure that unnecessary risks are avoided.
University of Alabama can make use of ecommerce in order to push its investment agenda. For example, nothing that prevents the university from working with likeminded people in the industry in order to roll out prudent investment strategies that can withstand the pressures of the economy.
Data security and data breach is perhaps the biggest challenges facing ecommerce, and universities are not immune to this challenge. University of Alabama should make efforts in order to learn from other data breaches that have affected the universities. The fact is that any institution can be affected by data breaches.
In the year 2014, University of MaryLand faced a harsh terrain when it was hit by two major cyber intrusions that shocked the university. Hackers were able to access its networks, and the university had to seek the help of FBI in order to manage the data. The University of Maryland was lucky that there was no release of students’ information.
The University of Alabama should seek the help of cyber security consultants who can help the university prepare itself for a cyber-security attack. In addition to that, the university should be sure to isolate sensitive information. Whereas perimeter fencing can work for a while, it is not a long term solution. This is because the modern hacker is sophisticated and is able to use the latest technology in order to access critical organizational data. The university should understand that many of the cases of data breaches take place with the assistance of someone who is “inside” the system.
The University of Alabama can consider making use of advanced data protection methods in order to protect its community. These include the following:
-Improvement of the network architecture
-Hardening the systems
-Patching the systems
-The use of cloud
The Research Discourse
Any university which desires to be respected must lay a strong focus on the research process. University of Alabama can further use ecommerce to enhance its research experience by taking note of the following:
Literature Review: Here, the internet can be used to dig out sources of information related to the research question, research hypothesis, and issues of concern. Such information can include classical studies such as Ancient Greece. The internet can be used to place a research discourse in its theoretical framework.
Data Collection: The internet offers a plethora of opportunities that can be used in data collection. For example, the internet offers SPSS which can be used in entering variables as well as quantitative data.
Data Analysis and Visualization: SPSS itself can be used as a tool of data collection, and data analysis too. Other options include data-driven documents, webdatarocks, BIRT, and Google charts.
Presentation of Information: The internet has ample solutions which can be used in the dissemination of data and information. These include the use of PowerPoint.
Dissemination of data and information: Findings can be uploaded over the internet. With just a click, consumers of information can access the information, either for free, or either through subscription.
Institutions of higher education should be concerned about their reputation and branding. Institutions that are going to have a future are institutions which are going to be concerned about their brand. Therefore, the best thing is to invest in ecommerce tools in order to think about branding as a long-term marketing strategy. This includes in selling University of Alabama licensed merchandise like Hats, an Alabama purse, stickers, housewares, clothing, etc.
Challenges to the Use of Ecommerce in the University of Alabama
When it comes to the use of the internet, bullying stands out as one of the most prominent challenge facing the University of Alabama. This is mainly done through the various social media platforms.
University of Alabama is not a small university. When you are dealing with a big university, it becomes very difficult to attend to all the students equitably. In such a case, the university should be at the fore front to ensure equity and ensure that all the students gain from the university resources.
It is not easy to create confidence in a community on the use of the internet. This is because there have been negative things associated with technology. For example, there have been cases where technology has failed leading to embarrassing errors and harsh consequences. When a university experiences a technology failure, it takes long for the community to develop confidence on the technology.
A lot of money is paid to the university per year. Students, and their parents often use online payment modalities, visa for instance, among other methods. In such a case, then, the university must ensure that it is using safe payment platforms. If this is compromised with, then students are going to have a difficult time trusting the financial system of the university. In the end, the university is going to be affected.
In order for the University of Alabama to over-come the various challenges facing the use of ecommerce in universities, it should be sure to develop a concrete ecommerce strategy. This must be done through the right skills and approach; otherwise, it will be a waste of time and resources. Internal teams play a critical role in the identification of opportunities.
Preparing for the Future
Technology is highly fluid, and it changes within a very short time. University of Alabama should not be quick in adopting new technology as there must be an observation on whether it is going to work effectively. At the center of this is the need to hire the services of technology analysts who can help in evaluating new technology.
When laying down infrastructure for ecommerce, the University of Alabama should bear in mind that the university will record an increase in the number of students, and the staff too. In such a case then, the technology laid down should be elastic. This will ensure that the technology infrastructure can stretch for the benefit of the increasing university population.
Jurisdictions will continue investing in education. Perhaps, it is only healthcare which consumes more money and attention than education. Therefore, universities should be prepared to tap the potential that the market can offer. This should be done through the use of ecommerce. Overall, ecommerce is a high potential tool that the University of Alabama can use in order to advance its pursuits.