Teesside University is based in Middlesbrough and has around 11,000 full time students (18,500 in total). The university has an ambitious strategy to deliver a digital campus to its students and staff. As part of that strategy it had identified basic issues relating to students finding resources, services and physical locations around the campus faster – especially new students joining the university. There were multiple systems for students to log into, be it maps, VLE, timetables, records, electronic services, library services etc.
“There was both a physical and virtual disconnect for our students in accessing the resources and support available to them – and we wanted to fix that as quickly as we could,” says Paul Lambert, IT director, Teesside University.
“We are building a new Student Life building where many of the university’s student support services will be housed under one roof. We recognised that the digital front-end of support services could be harmonised, rationalised and uniformly presented much more easily in a single focal point.
“If we could achieve this focal point of communication and information access for students, we knew we could instantly improve student satisfaction and vastly improve our students’ experience by solving some of the most basic issues, especially for our freshers. For example, if a class moved at the last minute, we could send an online notification to a mobile app and not use the fall back of a note stuck on the lecture theatre door.
“The amount of important information students receive from many disparate sources, figuring out how email and printing work, finding classrooms etc can be very frustrating during the first few weeks of study. We wanted to reduce the clutter and present what students needed, when they needed it and crucially in one place.”
At the start of academic year 2017/18 the University went live with Collabco’s myday digital portal (called MyTU on the campus) which delivers university resources and services to the students’ device of choice -usually a smartphone – as well as delivering a log-in via the many fixed PCs around the campus. MyTU draws information from many internal information systems – email, timetabling, the VLE, library and print services, campus map and even live balances from print, book shop and catering accounts via one portal and one log in.
The portal acts as a vastly improved communication between the institution and its students and provides a way for different campus departments and services to deliver communications to their students based upon their individual identity – which course they’re studying, what school they belong to and areas of interest.
“MyTU became the one-stop-shop for viewing information from around the university, drawing students into university life and delivering the key services they needed – so for example, our online campus map is one of the most used ‘tiles’ on the portal in the first weeks of the new academic year when freshers are trying to find their way around,” said Paul Lambert.
“There were some surprising benefits too – historically students were less attentive than they might have been regarding use of their university email account, preferring their own personal email – but because the email ‘tile’ is prominent on their dashboard, showing by default a count of unread messages, usage soared and it’s now one of the most used apps on the system.”
MyTU provides the ability for the university to tier the information presented. The view can be organised such that tiles at the top (first seen) are the most personal, for example the really popular ‘balances’ tile delivering information about print credits, library loans and book store credits, but as students scroll down the tiles can become increasingly generic and less specific to the individuals – but still relevant to university life – things like news feeds and Facebook. Students can, of course, personalise their own views and move or change ‘tile’ visuals.
The system has been live for just less than a year and take-up has been phenomenal – around 12,500 students have downloaded it to their devices and it’s used daily to make university life much easier. From the beginning of the next academic year, the university will be issuing iPads to 1st year undergraduate students as part of its Future Facing Learning project. This is all about embedding technology into core teaching in all academic areas not just IT. The portal application will of course be pre-installed on the devices and will sit alongside apps supporting the new learning and teaching practice.
Add-ons to the ‘out of the box’ myday solution are also been undertaken. The university is looking to build upon the core components of its wider digital strategy and will be piloting an in-house attendance monitoring solution in September based on the portal application.
“When we first launched the port a number of demonstrations were undertaken for admin teams across the university. It’s interesting to note that although the benefit of the portal is for the students, the source of most of the live data that drives it is from administrative systems. The admin teams had lots of suggestions for additional features to help them help the students. A common theme was around booking things: nurse uniform fitting, time with academics, equipment loans, gym slots etc. We are confident we can wrap all of these up into a single solution and deliver it via the portal,” explains Paul Lambert.
“Eliminating anything that’s paper-based means the system can also remind students of their booking – we can flag things up and that also affects attendance and punctuality – the possibilities are endless.
“We chose Collabco after considering for some time building the system ourselves and quickly realised that Collabco’s myday had everything we functionally required already – including the ability to develop services on top of it. Ultimately we could see that the speed of deployment, just six weeks or so for us to get the basics in place, meant we could deliver one of the early outputs of the digital strategy very quickly – and that made our minds up.”