Why advanced IT monitoring is central to delivering online education

Complex IT environments must be monitored and maintained by university IT staff, who – as a result of the pandemic – have become stewards of vast systems responsible for the education of tens of thousands of students

Higher education’s transition to fully online learning during the COVID-19 lockdown accelerated the rate of transformation at institutions that use technology to maximise student engagement. For many, rapidly switching from in-person to online teaching caused major disruptions to students’ education.

Despite the UK having lifted restrictions that were introduced to limit the spread of COVID-19, many universities have decided to continue forms of hybrid digital learning into the next academic year. Now, it’s crucial for those universities that are continuing online learning to prioritise IT monitoring to minimise disruption and improve student satisfaction.

Continued hybrid learning

Despite the challenges that universities faced when switching to online teaching, many UK institutions are choosing to continue hybrid learning approaches into the coming academic year to reap the benefits of online and in-person learning.

For example, the University of Manchester, is planning to adopt a “blended learning approach”, in which traditional physical lectures, seminars, labs and workshops are augmented with online materials. This is in keeping with the university’s long-term strategy in anticipating both socially distanced and non-socially distanced timetables.

After more than a year of learning in a dramatically disrupted curriculum, students will rightly be questioning how well their new forms of hybrid online learning will facilitate the education they are paying to have.

Rebuilding student confidence

While universities may have been forgiven for disturbances to learning at the onset of the pandemic, there’s now an expectation for them to learn from the lessons of the last 18 months and seamlessly deliver. To accomplish this, UK universities must guarantee that the hybrid digital experience is flawless, with as little disruption or downtime resulting from issues in the IT environment as possible.

In many ways, the digitalisation of learning is a big step forward when it comes to optimising the student experience, allowing for innovative teaching methods that benefit a wider range of learning styles. However, digital transformation brings complexity to university networks, and this complexity must be managed, otherwise strained IT teams will be unable to prevent serious outages that could hinder the student experience.

When it comes to enrolment, this issue will become increasingly important to universities. Outages make headlines, and prospective students wanting value in return for their investment in education, are increasingly going to be deterred by universities with a poor reputation when it comes to guaranteeing seamless access to online learning.

Increasing complexity in university environments

Even beyond the increased pandemic-driven pressure on higher education IT environments, digital transformation introduces complexity to university digital infrastructures.

Nowadays, education institutions are supported through dynamic, multi-layered digital environments utilising applications supported through the cloud, as well as on-premises. On-campus mobile connectable devices also continue to proliferate at an exponential rate while educational resources and administration continue to migrate to collaborative online platforms and virtual learning environments.

Under pandemic conditions, this online infrastructure has expanded further still, bringing more strain as organisational networks have had to support a far heavier increase in online traffic. Not only did this traffic increase, but network-intensive applications – such as voice and video calls supporting online lectures – added greater demand to digital infrastructures.

The central part of managing these complex environments effectively – and therefore preventing outages and disruption – is through monitoring across the entire IT infrastructure so that IT teams can identify issues before they become major problems that result in downtime – but this is no mean feat.

Universities must also manage the exponential data generated by infrastructure and applications that needs to be captured, analysed, and used to improve organisational processes. As organisations that, with students and faculty, can be the size of medium towns, this pool of data is vast indeed. It’s in this ocean of data – far too large for an IT team to manually monitor – that issues in the IT infrastructure must be detected and fixed before they result in outages or other issues.

Supporting IT teams with AIOps technology

AIOps technology – a term coined by Gartner that refers to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the process of IT operations (Ops) – combines data science and machine learning (ML) to identify, troubleshoot and resolve issues developing in the IT ecosystem. Traditionally, AIOps involves automation and has the capacity to reduce manual work for stretched IT teams.

As universities aim to deliver a flawless digital experience to their students, their IT teams must employ transformational AIOps in IT monitoring to help them maintain organisational performance and secure the hybrid learning experience of students

At the heart of AIOps lies the ingestion of the big data, followed by a historical analysis of stored data or real-time analysis of ingested data, to determine its behaviour. Through ML, AIOps can perform procedures based on analytics drawn from these pools of data. This allows monitoring solutions with AIOps capabilities to initiate and complete tasks that would have been a labour-intensive drain on the IT team.

As universities aim to deliver a flawless digital experience to their students, their IT teams must employ transformational AIOps in IT monitoring to help them maintain organisational performance and secure the hybrid learning experience of students.

Successful hybrid learning

Hybrid learning and digital transformation in the higher education sector could enhance the student experience long-term, allowing for greater versatility in when and where the student body is able to learn. However, this can only happen if technologies are adopted that can manage and monitor the increasing complexity of university IT environments. Otherwise, as IT teams struggle to cope, students will find that disruption to their academic experience will only continue in the wake of COVID-19.

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