At the end of February 2015, following a successful two-month trial, Western Sydney University (WSU) signed up for a Zoom site license via the AARNet Plus program. At that time there were 30 registered Zoom users at WSU, and now, a little over a year later, that number has climbed above 3,000 and usage by faculty and staff alike has soared, exceeding all expectations.
Geoff Lambert, Senior Project Manager, WSU Information Technology and Digital Services, says prior to the Zoom rollout, videoconferencing was not widely trusted for meetings or for teaching and learning.
Making videoconferencing easy
“The problem for WSU was that videoconferencing was too complicated, perceived as unreliable and fairly inaccessible. You could videoconference if you went to a dedicated videoconference room but you couldn’t videoconference from your desk or home office unless you came up with your own solution. We wanted an easy to use, consistent and reliable service. If our staff aren’t comfortable to meet with their colleagues online, from any where, how should we expect them to consider aspects of their teaching that could benefit from the same?” he says.
A strategic enabler for digital transformation
With faculty, staff and students distributed across six campuses and the demand for online course delivery on the rise, Zoom videoconferencing has provided the University with the tools it was seeking to enable administrative reform and an improved online teaching and learning experience.
“Zoom has been a huge strategic enabler for transforming our capabilities in the online space,” says Lambert.
He says Zoom’s success across the WSU community can be attributed to its intuitive, easy-to-use interface, features such as screen sharing, AARNet cloud recording, webinars, chat and integrated meeting rooms, and most importantly, phone and video accessibility via desktop, laptop and mobile devices.
Meeting room usage takes off
“Our meeting room transformation is an interesting case. We had 35 traditional videoconference rooms which were great for connecting to each other but didn’t have a lot of flexibility for individuals who couldn’t physically make it to the booked rooms. Zoom has given us the flexibility to combine meeting rooms and personal devices into one slick and professional meeting,” he says. “Our typical faculty meetings today involve staff in Zoom Rooms, traditional video conference rooms, online by laptops or iPads, and phone dial in users travelling around the country or overseas.”
Lambert adds that in refreshing 35 meeting rooms from a traditional video conferencing setup to the WSU’s new Zoom Room standard, at an average cost of less than $15,000 each, saved the University more than $1M in audio visual equipment upgrades. Improving the usability of these rooms for video conferencing also resulted in a 400% increase in their usage in the first month alone. “
Supporting research collaborations
Wendy Hu, Professor of Medical Education in WSU’s School of Medicine says that while Zoom has greatly facilitated many internal operations, such as staff meetings, it has also had a big impact on the School of Medicine’s ability to achieve strategic initiatives.
“In recent weeks, for example, it took just a few mouse clicks to set up and conduct a focus group linking 11 students across NSW to gather their views on a major curriculum proposal, interview an international applicant (in Dhaka) to our medical school and set up research collaboration meetings across six Australian universities. While we have all used Skype, the additional functionalities of Zoom, its reliability and fast connection have really made a difference,” she said.
Supporting teaching and learning
Kaye Schumach Director of Academic Programs, Communication and (Acting) Director, International School of Humanities & Communication Arts, was one of the early adopters. The University decided to offer the Bachelor of Communications degree entirely online from 2015 and Zoom has been the platform utilised to deliver virtual tutorials with students. She says Zoom is also widely used for meetings and internal communications, enhancing the collegiate approach to teaching and learning for a faculty that is distributed across three campuses.
“It’s really been a workable interface for us. Our students are often at work, on the road, or on their devices and they sometimes have bandwidth issues. The Zoom platform, with all its helpful features, including a phone connection option, gives us the flexibility we need and it complements our Blackboard learning management system. We have been able to develop a viable program for online learning with weekly tutorials using Zoom that we’re now extending to units in our Bachelor of International Studies,” says Schumach.
Thousands of new Zoom users in Australia
Paul Hii, AARNet’s Unified Communications Project Manager says from 2014 to 2016 there has been a more than 500% increase in the number of video meetings and online teaching sessions using the AARNet Zoom service.
“Researchers and educators in our sector are collaborating with their colleagues nationally and internationally via desktop and mobile video conferencing more than ever before. This year alone we’ve already observed thousands of new users empowered by video collaboration self sufficiency,” he says.
AARNet focuses on partnering with vendors such as Zoom, to make it easier for IT departments to deploy the services they need to meet their business and strategic goals for teaching, learning and research.
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