Swinburne University of Technology: Transforming Learning

By John O'Hanlon

Swinburne University of Technology holds a unique position in Australia at the interface of learning and industry: securing that place required a root and branch overhaul of its information systems. CIO Patrick Ramsden tells us more…

In 2017, the Swinburne University of Technology outlined a strategy to not only provide but transform education through strong industry engagement, social inclusion, a desire to innovate and, above all, a determination to create positive change. Its 2025 Strategic Plan looks to build its capacity as a university by investing in people, processes and systems. This digital transformation will look to cement Swinburne as a world class university, creating social and economic impact through science, technology and innovation.

This transformation has legs

Swinburne’s transformation is made up of five elements, the first of which looks at how the university presents itself to students and stakeholders alike. “We want the high school student, alumnus or an existing student to have the best digital experience. That means coming in via a platform recognisable for people who live in the world of Facebook and Twitter – intuitive, accessible anywhere, anytime and on any device,” explains Patrick Ramsden, Chief Information Officer (CIO). This led to the implementation of Adobe Experience Manager, which runs on the Adobe Marketing Cloud. “This is part of a larger partnership we have with Adobe and we are using that to drive change,” he continues. “We are the first university to create a degree in digital marketing with a specialisation in the Adobe marketing suite.”

The second leg of Swinburne’s transformation focuses on digital learning. “It’s about changing the learning experience through the use of digital technology. That might just be a question of making digital content available to them, such as videos of lectures or online quizzes,” says Ramsden. It’s also about capturing and analysing data from the students. “If we can identify the students that are struggling and create remediation actions for them, we can end up with better outcomes. This is part of our larger Transforming Learning programme: it’s a holistic view of learning and digital learning is a major element.”

To underpin the programme, Ramsden brought in Instructure’s Canvas learning management system, a cloud-native platform that updates continuously. Canvas was tested by Swinburne in 2017 and throughout 2018 with a scheduled transition date of all coursework in 2019. “The point is to transform the way that both learning and teaching is done,” he says. “The transformation phase will allow us to use information and analytics to improve outcomes. We are running focus groups to find out how the students are coping with this change.”

The third leg supports Swinburne’s digital platforms for research. “We are trying to create an environment where we can provide researchers with the platforms they need in a cost-effective way,” Ramsden explains. “Many of our research programmes are global collaborations. We are creating a Swinburne cloud which at the back end is based on a hybrid of Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and platforms like the Australian federal research cloud.”

Swinburne gives its students easy access to the platforms and tools they need. In addition to Microsoft Office 365 for students, The Electronic Licence Management System (ELMS) portal provides science, technical, engineering and maths students with an interface to obtain licence codes and download media for VMware and Microsoft software design, as well as development tools, such as MS Imagine.

Additionally, Swinburne has also deployed the Nutanix Enterprise Cloud OS. Working like an app store, students and researchers can browse, choose and deploy the solution they need for their projects, including mobile app development programmes. They can also add storage as they need it. Previously, building the infrastructure needed to support research requests could take weeks or even months, and has now provided a multitude of advantages to its students.


The bricks of the business

With regards to its digital enterprise, Swinburne previously relied upon on premise ERP and CRM software to handle its HR processes. Now, the university has implemented Workday to pull all processes together, on top of SalesForce technologies to do the same for 14 different CRM platforms. “Of course, if we merely replace old technology with new, we won’t get full value for the university,” notes Ramsden. In order to achieve this, Swinburne has transformed its recruitment processes, which were previously not fit for purpose in the digital age. “A technology led solution where we can identify a candidate quickly and send a contract that they can sign digitally within an hour of getting approval is a clear transformation of the way we onboard staff, for example,” says Ramsden. “If we can move quickly, we have much better chance of getting the best global talent into our research projects and academic teaching roles.”

The final leg of Swinburne’s digital transformation is creating a fully digital campus. “We have information coming from Wi-Fi access points that we can use to know where people aggregate,” says Ramsden. “We feed that information back into the building management system so we can proactively change climate conditioning systems.” CCTV is also useful for recording the flow of people, but when linked with facial recognition software it can identify individuals that are not supposed to be on campus or be programmed to flag up abnormal movements of people. There are large energy savings to be achieved as well. Ramsden’s team is now working closely with Cisco on the use of Wi-Fi to feed back into building management systems.

Drilling for data

When launching Swinburne’s new Data Science Institute back in 2017, Microsoft CTO Dr Raghu Ramakrishnan commented that data science will have a “transformative impact on society, meaning we can solve problems we couldn’t contemplate before, resulting in data-driven science outcomes in commerce, government and social programmes, manufacturing, and health”.

The university’s business analytics team has therefore been working to build and refine Swinburne Information Hub and its associated Data & Analytics Performance, Planning & Executive Reporting (DAPPER) platform. A key objective of DAPPER is to provide key performance indicators (KPIs) to make informed decisions. “The analytics team started by asking the Vice Chancellor ‘what information do you need to drive the university?’ They also worked with the executive team to find out what they needed. It’s not so much a matter of building a huge data warehouse, then deciding what to do with it; it’s understanding the decisions people need to make and how data will assist them,” reflects Ramsden. Before anyone gets access to DAPPER, they now have to complete a short training programme on how to use and interpret it, creating a connected view of key data.

The Swinburne University of Technology will continue to be the interface of learning and industry in Australia, and its digital transformation will enable greater innovation and collaboration to create true economic change.


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