Saint Mary's investing $9.3 million in 'digital transformation'


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Saint Mary's University is spending $9.3 million over five years on what it is calling a “digital transformation,” which it says will establish it as a leader for student experience, choice and blended learning.

University president Robert Summerby-Murray says it will mean bringing together all aspects of the virtual and in-person education at the university.

The move will be a “game-changer” for students, Summerby-Murray said.

“What this investment does is improve the back-end pipeline, if you'd like, of technology that allows all these things to be much more seamless,” he said. “It will move the operations of the software into the cloud, improve access speeds for students in terms of their teaching, it will improve the opportunities for faculty members or professors to develop course materials and to know it is a much more secure and robust system.”

He said the move will also allow the university to offer a more hybrid learning model for the future, “so there's no doubt we've learned a lot from the virtual operations and digital learning over the past year during the pandemic.”

Summerby-Murray said the university is taking some of what it has learned in the past year during the pandemic – some of the advantages – and “move them forward.”

It will remove barriers to university classes for people who would otherwise be affected by issues such as scheduling, learning style and preferences, finances, accommodation, and location, said Summerby-Murray. And, it will allow for the completion of degrees online for some students.

“These investments will improve our accessibility for learners who might not otherwise have been able to make it to campus,”

Other students can have a mix of in-person, virtual and online learning.

“I want to be very clear, this is not a movement to an online university,” he said. “It's a blueprint to complement what we do and to give greater access, recognizing that right now we are operating online and have 20-25 per cent of our students studying online from outside the country.”

He said the work will also help staff, improve on-campus business processes, provide automated work flow and removes a lot of paper documentation.

The transformation will include all courses, programs, and certificates, and all 6,500 students. While the money is being spent over five years, the work will be done before that. Most of the cost will come from the university's operating budget.