UTS prepares for the 'new normal' of online teaching

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UTS prepares for the 'new normal' of online teaching

As students question security of online exams.

The fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has prompted the University of Technology Sydney to accelerate the development of its digital capabilities and prepare for the ‘new normal’ of remote learning.

For the last three years the university had been running an cloud-first uplift program to the goals of the UTS2027 strategy, intranet and collaboration manager David Herbert said.

“This year, there is a step-change in this initiative with more budget and resources allocated.”

While UTS’ students and 9000 staff had already started using Microsoft 365 before the pandemic, the swift transition to remote working saw a rapid increase in the number of personnel turning to Microsoft Teams for communication and collaboration.

“When we first launched Teams, we had a pretty steep uptake to about 4000 monthly active users within a few months,” Herbert said.

“Then it probably flat–lined for a little while.

“Now with this remote working, I think we’ve jumped up to 25,000 active users over a period of three weeks.”

Apart from the ability to host chat sessions and video meetings, staff have been using Teams to access key documents and files from home without needing to go through the university’s virtual private network.

Senior leaders have seen the value in using digital tools to support workers during the health crisis, and larger events are being planned using the platform.

“We’re getting a lot of queries now around live events and 'how many people can I have in a meeting?' You can have 250 people on a normal Teams meeting, but there is a live events capability which can have up to 10,000. We’re getting a lot of inquiries about that,” Herbert said.

Security concerns

The university has also launched an online security training module that all staff need to complete in a bid to ensure remote workers are mindful of the need for proper security and privacy during the pandemic.

However, the annual audit of the state’s tertiary sector suggests more work is needed across the higher education industry to improve cyber posture, with the state’s auditor general lambasting universities for failing to materially improve cyber security frameworks for a third consecutive year.

Growing awareness of cyber practices among the student body has also brought criticism of UTS’ online exam invigilation setup that will be used at the end of semester.

The university has chosen US service provider ProctorU to oversee its online exams due to the inability to meet social distancing standards for in-person exams.

Despite ProctorU gaining the tick of approval for use at Harvard, the University of Sydney and the University of New England, some UTS students are worried about the company’s privacy and security practices.

In an email sent to iTnews, students have voiced concerns about data ProctorU may collect during the exam process, where that data will be held and the potential for sensitive information to be accessed by third parties.

However, the university has advised there are “several layers of protection in place to ensure the privacy of student data, governed and administered under Australian law”.

Under the agreement between UTS and ProctorU, the information and recordings are the property of UTS and as such not shared with any third party or service provider, the university said.

“UTS retains control over all identifiable student data collected during the examination process,” the university said, with any student identity data to be deleted within one week, unless there are any issues where UTS needs to retain the data.

Similar to the compliance process for on-campus exams, all examination data will also be deleted after 12 months.

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