After launching an online MBA programme, the University of Otago Te Whare Wananga o Otago realised it needed to overhaul the communications system used in class.
Prior to lectures, the professors and students had to load their academic content. Student internet connections were often disrupted and they had to reconnect to rejoin the lectures.
Ian Lafferty, director, executive programmes, business school, at the University of Otago, says the students meet twice a week in class (7 to 10 pm on Monday and Thursday), and also meet their syndicate team-mates, usually over the weekend, to work on their assignments.
The programme was also growing, with students coming from New Zealand, Australia and Asia.
The classes were kept up to 20 to 25 students each, but the university wanted to give a student personalised attention.
Focus on providing a service wrap...If the users feel supported then they will relax and enjoy the experience.
The conferencing system they had used “proved to be less resilient than we expected, especially with people who had less stable internet connections,” says Lafferty.
The university business school moved to Zoom technology, which integrated into the learning management system. Each student and professor got a Zoom account.
“It allowed the business school to reach a completely new market and deliver the same product, i.e. an on-campus experience to people who live nowhere near a campus,” says Lafferty.
The students get a highly interactive on-campus style education experience, he adds. “We believe this is not possible with an asynchronous solution.”
Lafferty says the business school worked with the university’s technology team during the deployment.
“They were excellent in helping us set up the accounts, train the users (students and teaching staff), liaise with the provider and set up the teaching rooms and the syndicate rooms,” he says.
He sees further use of insights from data generated by the online system.
“This is our first experience of an online programme,” he explains.
“We could/should look at which students make most use of the system [and] recordings,” says Lafferty. “It is possible that central IT is tracking the use of the system and may use it to promote online learning.”
As for a key advice for an organisation considering a similar migration, he says: “Don’t worry about the technology – it works.”
“Focus on providing a service wrap,” he adds. “If the users feel supported then they will relax and enjoy the experience.”
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