Case study Education

Improving the student experience at the University of York

The University of York wanted to create a learning environment that stimulated and energised their staff and students to be creative with their use of technology. They approached the Waterstons Project Management team to help them implement Google Apps™ across the University.

With the raising of the cap on tuition fees, going to university is one of the biggest investments that a young adult will choose to make. The increased cost of higher education means that students will be more focused on looking for a return on their investment; evaluating the quality of service they are likely to receive and ultimately their employability prospects.

In 2008 the University of York published an Information Strategy & Implementation Plan which motivated the principles for fulfilling the ‘Information Needs of the World Class University’. Email and calendaring (cloud computing) was identified as a named project in the IT Infrastructure programme. The University saw this as an imperative way to ensuring that it continued to thrive as a worldclass university.

One of its key priorities was to provide effective mechanisms for communication and collaboration across the university to ensure that the learning and knowledge sharing experience goes beyond the classroom walls – a learning environment that has become an expectation in the 21st Century.

To facilitate this, the university undertook a study into cloud-based communication and collaboration services. This identified that the Google Apps™ Education Edition could offer access to a free suite of familiar tools which provides email, real-time messaging and the ability to share documents; facilitating collaboration and communication with tutors and peers. Googles Apps is intuitive and easy to use, and brings the whole university together, whilst avoiding major hardware expenses.

The implementation of such a suite of tools university-wide, to approximately 14,000 students and 5,000 staff and postgraduates is a complex undertaking as it requires managing many different streams of work at once to meet the firm academic term deadlines. The university did not have a suitably skilled, experienced and available resource to provide the project management expertise to successfully deliver this complex and high profile project. The University of York approached Waterstons based on their experience in the higher education sector.

The university employed the services of Waterstons to help project manage the rollout and implementation, which involved managing four different work streams with activities that focused on:

  • Technical Delivery: implementation of the account provisioning, mail routing and data migration processes
  • User Experience: production of user documentation, skilling up the support team and encouraging the use of the collaboration tools
  • Communications: publicizing and engaging with the students and staff to educate them about the tools and to manage the change within the university
  • Legal/Policy: ensuring that robust contracts and policies were considered in the use of cloud-based services

The implementation concentrated on minimizing disruption to students and staff; it was essential that students were able to communicate with their department during key exam/assessment periods.

After a successful pilot, an opt-in framework was defined allowing individual students and departments to opt-in to migrate at a time suitable for them. By the time the forced migration began in July 2012, the majority of students and departments had already migrated. Feedback from users was very positive and students reported that they enjoyed the familiar tools and collaborative features. A Google Advisory Group was established with staff and student representatives to ensure continuous improvement of the system.

The Google Apps project won the University of York Vice Chancellors Gold Award for Excellence and ‘Making a Difference’.

Working with the University to support their adoption of Google Apps™ for staff and students demonstrated the importance of, often overlooked, professional project management to secure the successful conclusion of any information technology project