09 Rajab 1444 - 30 January 2023
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Eye of Riyadh
Culture & Education | Tuesday 30 August, 2022 9:44 am |

AUS aims to enhance student experience through digital transformation program

American University of Sharjah (AUS) is on a digital transformation journey, designed to enhance the experience of its community and strengthen its operational efficiency.


Having positioned itself as a partner to AUS colleges and departments, the Information Technology (IT) Department at AUS has been working to enhance and create new business processes and community experiences to meet changing business and university requirements. The transformation kicked-off two years ago as the global higher education sector sought to address the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.  


“Delivering the highest level of service within the AUS experience is one of the core tenets of the AUS Strategic Plan. To achieve this goal, AUS aims to enhance how its students, faculty and staff can access AUS services and resources by digitizing services wherever possible to ensure ubiquitous access from any device, anytime, anywhere,” said David Blacklaws, Senior Director of Information Communication Technology and Information Technology Security.


He explained: “We have launched many enhancements, including new systems to support student engagement, online voting and club management, and an online portal for student financial grant applications. Transformation is also underway as many behind-the-scenes business processes are streamlining by moving to become digital.”


One important project the IT Department is working on is building a cloud-based environment to provide computing resources for research projects. This new environment will help research projects to start quickly and provide rapid services with an on-demand cost model. The web-based environment will allow researchers to instantly increase the computing capacity if the research project requires it. 


Many departments in the AUS colleges have also embraced new technology tools, including digital tablets and classroom recording solutions that aid lesson delivery and enable students to revisit lessons online, and digital solutions that facilitate student access to AUS applications from anywhere.


The College of Engineering (CEN) at AUS has been implementing a digital transformation program to enrich the experience of its students, faculty and staff as part of its ongoing strategic plan. In addition to working closely with the IT Department to digitize forms and enhance remote learning, CEN has also designed and implemented several in-house digital portals and a college mobile application to strengthen its services, boost productivity and build data-driven strategies.


“Digital transformation enhances the way we operate, including our systems, processes, workflow and culture. This transformation brings together data across areas to work together more effectively. Through this process, we are enriching the learning, teaching and research experience for faculty and students, improving operations for staff and better serving our stakeholders. Everything our community will need will be one click away,” said Dr. Fadi Aloul, Dean of CEN.


He added: “We are also generating a lot of data from our digital transformation program, which allows us to build data-driven strategies and make informed decisions in areas that help us attract and retain talented students and support their journey after graduation. Digital transformation tells us about where our students come from, what they need to have the best university experience possible and how to support them in their endeavors after graduation. This also ties with our community outreach, which in turn will boost our collaborations and research work.”


One of the major digital undertakings that the college has implemented is the design and build of several in-house portals. These are intended to facilitate student advising, registration and attendance. A career services portal is also underway.


Students can now receive academic advising through an online portal that provides them and their advisor with a complete history of their academic status, prerequisite courses needed and other requirements for graduation. CEN students can also place themselves on an electronic waiting list for courses that have initially been filled and receive continuous updates on any possible openings.


Since liberal studies form the core component of an AUS education, CEN has also created a portal that allows its students to receive live updates about available and open courses, making the registration process easier.


Checking class attendance has also turned digital, with students required to simply scan a randomly generated QR code for their course when they enter their classes. This automatically registers their attendance. 


Reflecting on these new services, Layth Al-Khairulla, a computer science student, said: “The attendance system has really helped get my classes off to a quick start. A process that would usually take a longer time, especially in larger classes, was cut back to a maximum of one minute of lecture time.”


He added: “Overall, the digitization process has been a positive one in CEN and has helped simplify many long processes through one shared college-wide system. The course advising portal allows CEN students to clearly see what their degree plan is and eases the communication process between students and their academic advisors. The waiting list system simplifies the process of contacting departments and administrative assistants to be entered into these waiting lists. Now, we can access and receive status updates on all CEN courses through one portal, making it easier to enter into our own department's waiting list and other departments’ within CEN as well. Also, the launch of the digital forms platform will decrease the processing time and reduce the number of offices we need to visit to get things done.”


CEN is also putting the final touches on a mobile app designed by its students to provide its community with the latest college news, upcoming conferences and talks, student club activities and events. Students can customize the app to receive alerts according to department, club or interest. The college plans to expand the mobile application to include other services in the future, once it is tested.


“What we aim to do is ease processes for students, faculty and staff and make these services more accessible. We also want to strengthen communication with our students through the mobile app. We are proud to see that most of these processes are created by our staff and students, and driven by their needs,” said Dr. Aloul.


Among the many other digital services available at AUS are global access to more than 700,000 e-books and 94,200 e-journals from the AUS Library; a new One Stop Shop, which provides students with a wide array of university administrative services through digital and interactive channels; and a new easy-to-use digital reservation and checkout system in the College of Architecture, Art and Design (CAAD) for students to reserve media equipment, saving time for students and helping staff manage the inventory.


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