The concept of blended learning is taking centre stage for education. Universities are integrating formal education with channels that enable students to source content and instruction using digital or online media.
Among the pioneers, the University of Adelaide is a leading institution that is leveraging mobile apps, cloud services and online content. The goal is to reach more than 26,000 students – on campus, off-site and internationally. This outreach leverages blended learning programs.
Mark Gregory, the university’s CIO, told IDG Education a blended learning model enables student to learn at their own pace or time-frame. They can tap into smart phones, mobile devices or online channels for anywhere, anytime access.
Apart from the domestic intake, more than 30 per cent of students are drawn from Asia Pacific. There are campus hubs in Singapore and China, influencing the regional demand for blended learning offerings.
This university is supported by an annual $45 million ICT budget. The broader investment focuses on interactivity. Blended learning integrates the “brick-and-mortar” structure with the more dispersed communication channels. This integration leverages mobile apps, cloud or online services.
Bridge the divide
The goal is to expand the reach beyond a lecture hall – more directly into students’ personal space. In this interactive environment, one challenge is to bridge the divide between tech-savvy students and the more traditional teaching mind-set.
Students are some of the earliest adopters of technology, notes Gregory. The university now offers learning studios and other tools for academics to integrate teaching with online and mobile tools. The aim is to integrate historical teaching with the newer models that extend beyond a campus.
This teaching is highly-interactive, mobile and factors in a more flexible pace of learning. This demand for flexibility is led by students, also seen as the consumers of content. Increasingly, students are studying off campus and out of the classroom.
“Our focus is to offer a blended learning experience and build content around virtual services," says Gregory. "We’re trying to get as close to students as possible.” This outreach has also involved investing in customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning tools.
Tailor the content
The university is supported by up to 4,000 staff – including the heads of faculties, academics, operational teams, recruitment, and those in administration. Up to 200 ICT staff manages the campus-wide infrastructure and resources.
Like other institutions, the University of Adelaide subscribes to AARNET services. This network also supports machines on campus that have grown from 35,000 to 65, 000 in the last five years. The investment is in wireless, high-speed and fast-access communication.
Among the roll-outs, the campus-wide email was migrated to the cloud. This migration leverages software-as-a-service. The academic apps are supported by a traditional Windows environment. Nearly 3,000 workstations are available on campus, linking academic and learning resources.
The campus communications infrastructure is robust, adds Gregory. The focus now is to tap into mobile services already available on students’ personal plans. “Everyone has a mobile and we can reach students on their own devices.”
Join the digital revolution
Earlier, the university’s Beacon of Enlightenment Strategic Plan – 2013-2023 said education is being reshaped by globalisation and the digital revolution. This landscape is more challenging and fluid.
Among the developments, enrolment caps are being removed. There is heightened competition for students, led by local universities and the emerging international providers – both public and for-profit.
Prospective students are consumer oriented. They are influenced by university rankings. The focus is to spend money on career-readiness. “Many will be working already, and their interest in flexible delivery outside the traditional academic calendar will grow.”
Among the concerns, the security of government funding is unclear. “Abroad, Europe and the USA now compete aggressively for a larger share of the global student market, and with its high dollar and reputation for visa difficulties and student security problems, Australia will soon be outpaced.”
Finally, digital transformation is led by massive open online courses (MooCs) that offer less expensive alternatives to education. Apart from the global MooCs outreach, students live in a virtual world, through Facebook, Twitter, the internet or online channels. “They will expect universities to deal with them online too.”
In this virtual space, the university’s strategic plan and broader ICT investment factors in shifts in a dynamic environment, a more discerning marketplace and programs that are supported by a smorgasbord of technologies.
Follow Shahida Sweeney on Twitter: @ShahidaSweeney