Hull University was founded in 1927 and granted a Royal Charter to issue degrees in 1954, the 14th university in England to be granted such an honour. It’s seen some notable students during that time, and each year welcomes some 16,000 new ones to study a diverse range of subjects.
Keen to ensure that this legacy continues, the university recently embarked on a major £200m programme to update several aspects of its facilities, such as a new £30m student accommodation and a £26m health campus.
Part of this project has also seen £32.5m earmarked for major improvements in IT and digital technologies. V3 spoke to Hull ICT director John Hemingway (pictured) to hear more about how this money is being spent on projects ranging from campus-wide WiFi to analytics that help students achieve the best possible grades.
“We started looking at the technology portfolio in 2012, which coincided with my arrival at the university,” he said.
“We needed to invest in a number of areas around communications and connectivity, and our end user offerings for core businesses systems, information, intelligence and analytics, to really take our ICT to the next step.”
Cross-campus WiFi and Avaya deployment
One of the early moves was to provide full campus WiFi from 1,000 access points, offering speeds of 50-100Mbps, and the university recently signed a deal with Avaya to provide more advanced communications.
The move to Avaya for its telephony offerings came after the university decided to upgrade from its older IDX legacy system.
“Our old telephone system didn’t have an effective conferencing system, but with Avaya we can make it so that all staff can easily set up conferences for up to eight people internally or externally,” he said.
“This means it’s much easier for them to quickly and easily set up a call, including with students.”
Staff will also be able to move to a single-number system and use the Avaya service through a mobile device so they don’t have to think in terms of having a desk phone and a mobile, Hemingway explained.
“This choice and flexibility for how you communicate is very powerful,” he added.
Hemingway said that the university operates a choose your own device strategy covering iPhones, Android and even Windows Phone devices.
“We are seeing how that range of devices moves forward and, assuming it does, will continue to offer it,” he said of Windows Mobile.
The Avaya service is now being deployed and the first services should start to come online in May.
Part of the process of selecting the Avaya setup included feedback from university staff, something Hemingway believes is key to ensuring the best choices when procuring new technology.
“With regards to all new technology we’ve had significant numbers of staff involved and we find it extremely valuable as they are the ones who will be using it,” he said.
This engagement with the end users is particularly important for a new trial taking place in September to monitor how students engage with the university and their course on an app called iHull.
The idea is that students can track their engagement with lectures and seminars and see how they spend their time and how it compares with other students on their course.
Hemingway explained that this could help students tracking for, say, a 2:1 to see where they may be able to move to first, or spot when students start to fall behind on workloads.
“It opens up a rich resource that works in two ways: it helps students track their own progress, and gives staff the ability to see how their students are performing," he said.
Of course, the idea of students having their engagement monitored through what could be classed as ‘tracking’ may unnerve some, which is why Hemingway is keen to get student buy-in from the beginning.
“We’ve done a number of workshops with students on this to ensure they know how it works and we find that they are very engaged as they see it as a way to measure the value of their investment by being here and paying their fees,” he said.
Hemingway added that many students were already used to the idea of touching in when attending a seminar or lecture when at school, so it is not considered a novelty.
The university ran a proof-of-concept using historical data which Hemingway said “proved its potential”, and the intention is to run a live pilot with the September intake of students.
The system was developed by a company called SolutionPath using HP’s Autonomy platform.
“This was successful and helped inform our thinking about how we wanted to gather information about student engagement and how we wanted students and staff to be able to use it,” said Hemingway.
The university is also using SEAtS software to monitor student attendance, and implementing the SITS tool from Tribal. SEAtS will also be used to monitor student engagement.
Hemingway added that, while the rollout will take place soon, it could have occurred sooner but the university wanted to ensure that the back-end where the data is actually analysed was fit for purpose.
“This is important because this is the process that will actually deliver the actionable insights from the data and we had to think about how we present that and how it’s used by staff and students,” he said.
The use of better telephony systems and data analytics to improve operations is exactly the sort of digital transformation taking place in numerous organisations, from major retailers and the NHS to educational establishments like Hull University.
To celebrate such transformative projects, V3 recently launched the V3 Digital Technology Leaders Awards, rewarding the best people, teams and projects involved in digital transformation projects. Entry is free, so make sure you get your entry in to be in with a chance of winning.
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