Wednesday, 09 March 2016 19:19

Local universities tap device location for student services

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Cisco's network-based location technology is being welcomed by two of Victoria's universities.

Deakin University director of channels and platforms Lynn Warneke said Deakin's top priorities were personalised service and being Australia's premier university in terms of driving the digital frontier.

Proximity and location based services are part of the plan to digitise the physical campuses while maintaining student satisfaction.

Cisco's CMX makes it possible to identify the position of all devices on campus, and that information is or could be used for various purposes including showing students where there are vacant study spaces in libraries, allowing them to summon assistance while in a library without leaving the desk, to find the whereabouts of their fellow study group members, and to deliver personalised information on digital signs.

Pilot projects have been running for about six months, she said. It was necessary to build applications along with the infrastructure in order to convince decisionmakers of the benefits of digitisation.

If the right results are achieved, a full rollout is expected later this year.

"We have an appetite for digital transformation," Warneke said. The pilots have been well received by students, who expect this type of personalised experiences from universities because they already enjoy them in other parts of their lives.

Victoria University pro vice chancellor of digital technologies Richard Constantine (pictured, holding microphone) said that despite the emergence of MOOCs (massive open online courses) there is still a need for physical campuses, but students expect individualised learning experiences on their own terms.

Digital technology offers several benefits for campuses, including accurate and ongoing measurement of room occupancy (enrolment and attendance are separate things, especially when students can 'attend' lectures by video, and matching classes with appropriately sized buildings could avoid unnecessary or inappropriate building programs), surveillance systems for personal safety on and around campus, and the collection of other data that lets universities "put the greatest spend where you'll get the greatest benefit."

Like Warneke, Prof Constantine mentioned the benefits of video signage. "A very basic example" would be to provide appropriate signs along the route to be followed by a group of Chinese people visiting the campus.

He also drew attention to the way digital data can be applied to address student retention. The dropout rate is a "shocking" 20% in the first year, he said. Such systems can detect whether a student has used the library, activated their university email address, is having problems using the learning management system, or has used the counselling service - a lack of engagement may indicate the student is at risk of dropping out.

The sensitivity of some of this data means appropriate security is required, he said, and it should be anonymised for corporate as opposed to what might be described as pastoral use.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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