The City University of London

As one might expect, The City University of London is located in the heart of London. However, its student body is globally drawn. With an enrollment of just over 20,000 students (12,814 FTE), the university enrolls approximately one-third of its students from 153 nations around the world. The majority of enrolled students are non-traditional, and a large percentage of students are postgraduate students studying for professional qualifications.

City University focuses on professional education with concentrations in health science and business. These areas are supported by coursework in the arts, engineering, information technology, law, mathematics and social science. The initial foray into eLearning was in 2000 in the Department of Information Science.

Issue Description

With a technology-aware student body coupled with the university’s strategic direction of providing value, eLearning was an important strategic goal for the university, according to David Rhind, Vice Chancellor of City University. By adopting eLearning broadly across the campus, the university allows its student body to maintain their full time employment while pursuing advanced credentials.

City University has one of the highest graduate employment levels in the UK and a focus on professional and business education. Thus, it was vital that City’s eLearning strategy complement that found in the corporate environment. The goal was to integrate eLearning technology with efficient business processes in order to prepare students for the corporate world. The bottom line in this case was to provide value to the university and its student body.

What We Did

WebCT Vista was selected in the summer of 2003 by City University as their enterprise CMS. Vista’s assessment capability, structure that encourages re-usable content, and department/university brand management were important criteria for the decision. Since 2003, enrollment in on-line modules has reached more than 2,500 students through the efforts of 200-300 lecturers who already have adopted WebCT Vista.

A five-person central e-learning staff provides support for WebCT Vista. This group coordinates eLearning initiatives, supports faculty with seminars tied to eLearning pedagogy, offers student support services, and is responsible for assessing the new technology-enabled teaching methodologies.

The technical infrastructure includes servers run by the Computer Services Department and supported by two members of the Unix team and an Oracle database administrator. The servers are all running Redhat Linux, which has proven to be very reliable.

Insights

Students and faculty have acclimated easily to online learning. Faculty found it easy to setup learning modules. In fact they found this process to be more intuitive than expected. Courses have also been taught by guest lecturers, members of the community with particular expertise to augment the academic offerings.

In support of the faculty, the support staff was urged during the implementation to think about teaching and learning issues rather than just the technology. It was considered important for staff to work out what they wanted to do with the system before they started to use it. This enhanced their support of faculty and made the implementation more effective.
Students are all given an orientation on the system and enjoy the new functionality that it offers. Online learning is helping a large number of part-time students based in different parts of the world take advantage of courses impossible in a normal lecture setting. Students closer to campus share the advantages provided out-of-area students, allowing them to fit courses into their busy schedules.

In the School of Arts, interactive and creative French classes include self-paced learning, such as listening to MP3 files for aural practice, accessing the online dictionary for grammar practice. After these activities, student may then call the tutor for speaking and pronunciation help.

The university is able to participate in a joint degree programme offered through City University’s School of Nursing and Queen Mary’s School of Medicine. This joint program allows doctors and nurses to learn together, learning from each other and sharing expertise as part of a collaborative, flexible learning experience.

Given the technology savvy of the students, there are times when they have issues with the way that staff has set up the system. Students provide beneficial feedback to faculty and staff to improve the university’s online learning offerings.

Conclusions

If one had to cite the principle lesson learned it would be that you have to jump in at some point. Whilst we had a tight timescale, working with committed staff in a flexible and enthusiastic manner meant that we were able to achieve our targets.

City University considers eLearning to be an integral part of its future. The implementation of eLearning supports its goal to further internationalize the student body. eLearning has encouraged collaboration and enriched interaction with its student body in London and around the globe.

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