Introduction (Slide 1) Unisa is a open and distance learning mega-university with a vision to be “ The African university in service of humanity” The main aim of the Window Live project that I’m going to share with you today, is to try and take the distance out of distance learning and to foster an environment where our students have a sense of belonging.
The Challenge (Slide 2) Imagine providing e-mail addresses to approximately 280 000 students distributed throughout South Africa, Africa and the world. This photo of one of our more that 455 exam centres can perhaps give you an idea of the scale of our challenge.
(Slide 3)These services need to serve, a wide range of students From young school leavers to retired pensioners, from senior managers of multinational companies to youths from the extremely bad socio-economic environments. Many of these students come from environments where their first exposure to computers is after they have left school. In addition to that, connectivity costs in South Africa are extremely inflated due to telecommunications monopolies. For example Unisa is currently paying between R20-30 Million per year for our LAN with the best connectivity to our main campus being only 64 Mega-bits/Sec.
The Investigation (Slide 4) We investigated many options including; in-house hosting witch was prohibitive in terms of infrastructure, human resources and connectivity….. to obtain the services for a SA companies to host it for us would have costed between 12 and 160 Million Rand per Annum. We also investigated various cloud options and eventually decided on the MS Window Live solution for the many reasons. Let me name a few: The cost was good…I couldn’t complain about free!We received amazing support from MS, and experienced an extraordinary commitment to the projectWindow Live provides a decent range of services and has the capacity to support these services 24/7The software/services (exchange, Word, Excel, etc.) that Window Live offer to our students will most likely be those that they will be using in their future workplace after leaving university, so it provides good pre-work exposure.And also very important for us was that the cloud environment diverts student Internet traffic away for our already limited and saturated connectivity at the University, because students now connected directly with Window Live.
The Solution (Slide 5) Our aim was to integrate the Window Live environment as closely as possible with our current University ICT systems and especially with our open source teaching and learning portal, “myUnisa”, which is based on the Sakai framework. We are not quite where we want to be, but have made great progress. We strive to provide a single point of access to all student services, including Window Live services, which we call, “myLife”.
(Slide 6)Activation of the Window Live account also takes place via myUnisa and we provide detailed online instructions (including this video in the screenshot) and call centre support to students (with about 20 dedicated agents) to assist them to make use of the e-mail services.
(Slide 7)To date students have created about 550 000 accounts on Window Live. All systems and services within Unisa that communicate via e-mail to our students, make use of the Window Live accounts.
The Value (Slide 8) Apart from points already mentioned earlier, such as: cost, 24/7 services and a solution to our connectivity problems… It provides a single point of e-mail contact for the university and has become one of our primary and most reliable communication channels. We know that students get the communications; obviously we cannot force them to read it. The suite of services provide many of our students who do not have their own computers, the necessary tools such as: e-mail, word processing, spreadsheets, private disk storage space, etc. to function in the information age. These services are not geographically bound and students can therefore gain access to the Internet at their workplace, cyber-cafes, MPCC’s, some of our regional facilities…among other. The initiative is in line with our new educational model, which is aiming to make increasingly more use of technology instead of paper. Students can now submit written assignment electronically, communicate more effectively with their lecturers and store information such as document and podcasts on their skydive for later usage. By the way, the reduction of paper, is also part of out green initiative. We literally use tons of pager every year.
The Future (Slide 9) Currently Unisa only uses the exchange services with our students, but I’m sure many of them use the other facilities as well. The experience we had with the low level of computer literacy of our students during the role out of the e-mail services, have made us a bit wearyof rushing into the deployment of rest of the Window Live services until be have the necessary call-centre support infrastructure in place. There is currently a national initiative on the way to address the lack of bandwidth within the Higher Education and research sectors. The SANReN project, as it is called, will connect all universities and major research institutions with a 10 Megabit backbone. The Executive Directors of South African Universities and the ISP for Universities called TENET, is heavily involved in this project. Unisa has put a significant amount of money aside to make the most of this opportunity. We will also be investing heavily in providing more technology access to students at our regional facilities nation wide. A second project that is on the way is to provide our students with affordable laptops, or similar devices, with the emphasis on AFFORDABILITY. The project will have to address four critical elements: Providing the device with national technical support,Providing broadband Internet connectivity,And a student-funding model or loan scheme The first three will be totally outsourced. The fourth element will be addressed by Unisa, namely to provide a learning platforms (myUnisa and myLife), content and learning facilitation. We will also play a facilitating and monitoring role in the project to ensure that the students get the best deal.
The End (Slide 10) As you have heard, we still have quite a way to go in terms of basic infrastructure to make the most of cloud computing. We have however, tasted the potential of the technology, especially in terms of services available to our diverse and distributed student mass. Hopefully not to far in the future our students, like this gentleman in the picture, will be able to study at Unisa using 21st century technologies.