By Isaac Maredi, CIO, University of Limpopo
Every learner, educator and institution has a pandemic story to tell — chances are you have your own archive of experiences from the sudden shift to fully remote learning in those early months of 2020. For us at the University of Limpopo, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed our shift to a scalable, agile and reliable teaching and learning infrastructure.
By 2019, we had several digital transformation initiatives in the works. At the time we were using a self-hosted deployment model for our learning management system (LMS) Blackboard Learn. But we had discovered some infrastructural, efficiency and storage issues with this type of deployment. As user demand for access to an online, media-rich learning experience multiplied, so did the pressure on our back-end systems. We recognized then the need for a cloud-based infrastructure and factored it into our roadmap for the future.
But the pandemic expedited our plans — suddenly, we needed to scale online learning, and we needed to do it quickly, capably, without disruptions or downtime. Almost immediately, we migrated to the software-as-a-service (SaaS) delivery model of Blackboard Learn. And in spite of the severely compressed timeframe, the team at Blackboard made sure our pivot to the cloud was a smooth one.
And just like that we were freed from the day-to-day hassles of back-end management. We could now scale in line with distance learning mandates, and we could do so efficiently and reliably. We could now ensure academic continuity for our learners in this unprecedented, unpredictable environment.
This shift to the SaaS deployment model also meant we had access to the latest version of Blackboard Learn, and the slew of new features that came with it. We also introduced Blackboard’s virtual classroom solution Collaborate into our ecosystem. Using the integrated web-conferencing tool our instructors could now meet with their students in real-time as well as re-use recordings of these meetings as educational content.
The pandemic has amplified our LMS adoption rate — we have seen user participation grow from 20% to 95%. In hindsight, we simply could not have supported this escalation and performed as well with a self-hosted system. Not to mention, a university cannot provide the same level of security as Blackboard and its cloud services partner Amazon Web Services (AWS) can.
Looking ahead, we are now in a position to leverage the learner analytics available to us, as well as the updated tools and features. We no longer have to concern ourselves with back-end processes, and fret over how to meet user expectations. Thanks to an integrated, seamless digital infrastructure, we can now focus on delivering knowledge.
How do you measure peace of mind? Our transition to a cloud-based deployment has left us confident that we can ensure academic continuity even in times of crises and simultaneously deliver a world-class, competitive education.