Saturday, February 11, 2017

Digital Infrastructure in ANU Strategic Plan 2017-2021

The ANU Strategic Plan 2017-2021, has been released by Professor Brian Schmidt, Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University. While most attention will be focused on upgrades to the physical infrastructure of the campus, the plan includes digital infrastructure:
 "ANU should be known for the quality of its research and digital infrastructure, for its collections, its contemporary educational facilities and campus amenity that befits its status as the national university." (Pages 12 to 13) 

Two of the key initiatives include digital aspects:
"1.8 Evidence of learning and satisfaction will drive a regeneration of our approaches to curriculum, teaching and digital and physical learning space design."
"1.11 We will revitalise our learning and teaching infrastructure, beginning with state-of-the-art facilities at Union Court and a major refresh of digital infrastructure."

In February 2007 a severe hailstorm damaged many of the buildings at ANU, causing closure of the campus for several days. However, this did not stop the university functioning. Like many other staff (and students) I was still able to work on-line from home.

The ANU will still benefit from having a campus in 2021, as will most of the world's great universities. However, a campus should be seen as a supplement to the primary way universities already carry out their mission: in the digital realm. This allows greater equity, with those of limited means able to work, research and study at university without having to leave their community. This also allows those with a disability, and work, family or cultural commitments to participate in university life, where the requirement for physical attendance would have previously excluded them.

The last century university, where students had to travel to a campus, is being transformed into one where the students learn primarily on-line, in the workplace, wherever they are in the world. This e-learning can be supplemented, when required and where convenient for the student, with campus based education.

By 2021, I suggest the typical Australian university student will still attend classes, but for only 20% of their program, with the other 80% on-line. These classes may not be at the campus of a university, but in a local community facility, wherever in the world the students are.

Some Australian universities have invested heavily in satellite campuses with conventional teaching rooms, in Australian cities and in Asia. ANU has not pursued this strategy and so does not have as large a stock of now obsolete lecture and tutorial rooms. ANU will be able to use modern teaching techniques to provide access to students on-line wherever they happen to be.

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