Curated content from CISCO and OPTUS

2020 was the year that mass online learning and work from home practices changed long-standing operating models in Australian universities. The question for most university executives is whether 2021 will deliver more of the same, or whether approaches will continue evolving into a much more blended and permanent model. A recent study by the National Industry Innovation Network (NIIN) – anchored by Curtin and La Trobe universities – forecast that we were entering a period of significant innovation in the way digital technologies are used for learning and collaboration. The study released on January 21 highlighted a range of recent innovations from technology companies like Cisco and Optus and the promise of more to come. Innovations by Cisco in the past 12 months alone include:

  • automated cancelling of background noise on video calls (the end of barking dogs and screaming children during team meetings?)
  • AI-based voice capabilities that enable live transcription, including automation of meetings notes and actions
  • real-time language translation
  • advance video layouts and audience engagement
  • smarter meeting room devices that can, for example, automatically adjust the amount of air volume and fresh air based on the number of people in a room
  • enhanced integrations with other platforms, including the ability to join Webex meetings from Microsoft Teams and vice versa.

The fact that technology companies fast-tracked development efforts reflects the fact that virtual learning and remote working are no longer fringe activities, or reserved for the small proportion of users that can’t get to campus or work physically. The rapid (and permanent) shift to virtual learning and remote teaching and administration has completely changed the education landscape and pose opportunities to reimagine what the work and learning experience looks like for staff and students alike.

“We’re going to start reimagining what the learning experience is from an immersion point of view, and bring the digital and learning world into an integrated immersive solution.” Jason Cowie, CIO, Curtin University.

“COVID-19 has meant we’ve been able to remove all of the restrictions we previously had. We can now say ‘what’s possible in terms of digital education?’, “ Shai Silberman, Director of Network Services, San Jose State University.

The forced move towards distance learning as part of the COVID-19 response only reinforced the growing expectation that learning needs to be blended. A study by Cisco and Optus (The Tipping Point for Digitisation of Education and Campuses) revealed that 94 per cent of education leaders believe remote access to live classes, lectures and tutorials is now a must-have; and 83 per cent believe lecture recording and transcription is a must-have.

“The choice that staff and students have been afforded during COVID-19 will now be expected to be a retained BAU experience,” says  Michael Dean, CIO South West TAFE.

At the same time there has been increased focus on harnessing the value of digital technologies to support collaboration and peer-to-peer learning. 100 per cent of Australian education leaders believe collaboration tools that allow students to form relationships and interact with teams and communities is a must-have. Collaboration is a human skill not easily replicated by machines. Employees are expected to work in teams, so being job-ready in 2021 means being capable of working with people from different backgrounds, skill-sets, demographics and cultures in both virtual and in-person environments.

So where will the blending of learning and working finally land? It is clear that the speed of innovation in blended learning and working will continue to accelerate. Technologies such as augmented and virtual reality, AI, 5G, IoT and WiFi6 will help to make the blend between physical to virtual more seamless. For example, 5G networks will provide the speed and latency required to bring educational tools such as augmented and virtual reality to life. It will also allow for mass connectivity on campus environments to support a more digitally and visualised way of delivering learning.

The convergence of these technologies will help to confirm which activities are best done on campus, and which are much more suited to a digital medium.

“(We will absolutely) prioritise investment in virtual. Soon we might be playing in an environment where universities are competing in a blended learning environment for local and international students. This would be a very big change, ”Bruce Lines, COO, University of Adelaide

The Tipping Point report offers a window into the types of functions (and spaces) that are most likely to be performed on campus. Some disciplines, particularly those requiring specialist equipment, will continue to be anchored to the campus. But for most others the focus will shift from formal learning to include peer-to-peer, personalised, and social learning. The campus will increasingly be the place students go to make human connections and form relationships.

For universities, this blending of the physical and virtual creates complexity and has major security and cost implications. Universities that have succeeded in making the transition to true hybrid learning and working have:

  • adopted a digital-first mentality: the question is no longer how to augment the physical experience with a virtual one, but what does the student really need/want, and how do we create that option?
  • acknowledged that multiple endpoints will be used by remote learners and workers which means integration needs to be resourced to guarantee a high level of service
  • prioritised investment in the network to ensure that infrastructure is scalable, secure and software-defined

To access the full study on the digitisation of Education Campuses you can download the report from either of the below sources:




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