As the new academic year began last month for students at the University of Exeter, the IT team has been busy working behind the scenes to set up digital and on-demand learning environments capable of scaling to the entire student body.
Having already pivoted to home working and learning during the early days of the pandemic, Chief Information and Digital Officer at the University, Alan Hill, has been working all summer to scale these systems for the new batch of students in September.
“We needed to enable remote working for staff and students in a way we never had before,” Hill said during the virtual CIO Summit in September.
“We are thinking now about start of term capacity for hybrid learning. We have never done online learning of this scale before and everyone is wondering how this will work and work reliably, because these are paying customers.”
Setting the standard for enduring online learning
Hill and his team were forced to rethink what online learning and the student experience looks like when physical attendance cannot happen.
“You cannot do a 45 minutes lecture on astrophysics online very easily, you can do it better by breaking it down into manageable chunks using video, collaboration and seminars,” he said.
Using tools like Moodle for online learning, Panopto to watch lectures back, and Microsoft Azure to scale the environment, the university has been able to scale capacity far beyond its 650,000 or so views of recorded lectures in previous academic years.
“Last year we were seeing a peak of 1,800 students looking to log in at one time, now it could be 22,000, so only a cloud environment will be able to handle that,” Hill said.
For Hill, the aim of all of this work is to “set the standard for enduring capability, not just for the pandemic”.
To see Hill’s full session from the 2020 CIO Summit, please see the video below.