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Windows of opportunity as Otago Uni embraces virtual desktops

25 Sep 14

In a first for New Zealand, the University of Otago delivers a virtual desktop experience to its 21,000 students.

The initiative will enable students to access key University applications on their own devices when, where and how they want.

The new virtual desktop is an evolution for students that will change the way they can work and learn, according to Emerson Pratt, Manager of Teaching and Learning Facilities at the University of Otago.

It also meets the University’s vision for providing access to learning anywhere, on any device, at any time.

“When the current student desktop was commissioned in 1999, only 14 per cent of students owned their own laptop," he says.

"However in the intervening 15 years there have been significant changes in the way we interact with computers."

“Now 98 per cent of our students own their own laptops, and the convenience of computer labs has been surpassed by the use of personal devices.

"Students prefer to be able to access course materials in their own time and space rather than having to use a University‐provided computer in a prescribed location.

“Students want to check the University’s learning management system or their email from a mobile phone, tablet or other mobile device. So that’s what we are going to make happen."

Students will be able to launch the new virtual desktop on their own PCs, laptops, smartphones and tablets – regardless of make – via a web browser.

It will give them access to popular learning applications such as computational program MATLAB, many of which were previously only available in the University’s campus computer labs.

In addition to providing an enhanced IT experience to students at the University’s Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Auckland and Invercargill campuses, the new virtual desktop will allow distance students and students on placements to have remote access to University applications and software that are not installed on their own devices.

The University’s new virtual student desktop will offer the following benefits:

• Better access to teaching and learning resources for students while reducing the overhead of providing university‐owned facilities

• Improving services to students with disabilities through easy customisation such as pre‐setting the desktop to use voice recognition commands, working with certain screen readers, displaying text at a certain font size or use a certain colour pallet

• More robust disaster recovery infrastructure with all data applications housed in highly secure data centres

• Current computer rooms will be able to be re‐used as teaching or administration spaces

Evan Blackman, Education Sector Director for Microsoft New Zealand, says the University of Otago is setting an example in enabling students to embrace a flexible learning approach.

“The University of Otago’s virtual desktop initiative meets students’ requirements for more flexibility and convenience, and will significantly enhance their overall learning experience,” he says.

“Tertiary education is evolving from the traditional ‘sage on the stage’ paradigm to increasingly having educators act as learning facilitators and coaches.

"The University of Otago’s virtual Windows desktop deployment will support that evolution by putting productivity tools and essential learning applications into the hands of all students."

The new student virtual desktop is based on the modern Windows operating system, ensuring an enhanced experience for students using tablet devices as well as traditional laptops and PCs.

It will complement the suite of cloud-based Office 365 productivity tools that are available to University of Otago students.

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