With faculty, staff and students distributed across multiple campuses and more than 70% of students taking courses online, the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) has embraced new technologies to address challenges of distance, facilitate cross-campus collaborations and improve the teaching and learning experience.
Troy Downs, USQ Manager, Unified Communications Project, says an overhaul of the University’s network infrastructure was the first step, and this included the edge and wireless networks, as well as voice and video.
“We didn’t have a service approach to videoconferencing either – it was done on an ad hoc basis, with faculty and staff using all sorts of services from a range of vendors with varying degrees of success,” he said.
Following the network hardware upgrade, the One USQ Connectivity project was formed to overhaul teaching and learning space technologies and to improve how everyone across the University was connected.
AARNet worked closely with USQ to upgrade the University’s unified communications system, which now enables the seamless interconnection of multimedia communications.
Zoom, a cloud service offered to the Higher Education sector under the AARNet+ Program, was then trialed as a videoconferencing solution, initially to support teaching and learning, but the ubiquitous uptake across all divisions has been so successful that the University has now taken out a site license.
“What we found is that researchers loved Zoom because it’s so reliable and easy to use and now they prefer to use it. Academics doing research also teach, so they started to use Zoom for teaching,” says Downs.
Zoom was a cost-effective option for enabling video conferencing in standard didactic teaching rooms. Academics can now teach in a room at one campus and beam in a room at another campus and individual students using a range of devices via Zoom.
“Zoom bridges the gap between on-campus and off-campus students for tutorials and now we’re seeing better attendance at tutes by our off-campus students,” he says.
As well as gaining traction for teaching and research collaborations, Zoom uptake has spread throughout the University. Zoom’s comprehensive features and ability to work across desktop, tablet and mobile and integrate with existing room systems mean that people are communicating and doing business in unique ways no one had anticipated.
Downs says key drivers for the uptake boom are Zoom’s reliability – it just works – and, easy adoption – it is intuitive and users rarely need support to get started.
Professional Services now uses Zoom for regular team meetings involving staff at different campuses, and as an alternative to Skype for recruitment.
USQ’s Research training group holds regular workshops via Zoom. IT Services has trialed using Zoom to provide remote desktop support and has used Zoom in a room system to hold a weeklong training event that people could drop into remotely. Sessions featured professional staff talking about how to use various campus systems.
Academics hold Zoom webinars for students on a range of skill development topics, such as resume writing, while Marketing use Zoom webinars to explain topics, such as social media.
More and more students are using Zoom for meetings to collaborate on projects.
“Zoom has been a big win for USQ,” says Downs. “Everyone is zooming at USQ – it fits with the USQ way of doing business.”
Paul Hii, AARNet’s Project Manager, Unified Communications and Video, says,
“We’re excited to see this outcome for unified communication and video collaboration at USQ. Our goal is to develop and support solutions that are driven by our members and will benefit the community.”
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