Techweek asked Auckland University of Technology’s (AUT) Professor Guy Littlefair how technology can create the ultimate student experience.
Students who have only ever known life with the internet expect intuitive, real-time experiences driven by digital connection. At AUT, the student body numbers nearly 30,000, most aged under 25, plus an additional 2,500 staff. The question driving AUT’s smart campus initiatives is how can we better support students?
“University campuses are like mini cities with people coming and going, food outlets, waste management, healthcare, security, utilities and more,” says Professor Littlefair.
A smart campus offers many benefits including energy efficiency, water conservation, waste management, safety and security. Most importantly, a smart campus anticipates and responds to a student’s individual needs. Imagine booking a study room on a mobile device and then inviting others to a study session. Attendees would receive further instructions and guidance on how to get there. Study notes could be easily shared, lighting and climate control could be adjusted as required. Other student services could include on-demand transit, waiting times, availability of equipment, finding belongings, wellbeing and more.
Currently, AUT offers several online platforms for students including an AI driven chatbot, Tua and the AUT Safe app. AUT Safe is used to send emergency alerts and provide important information. It also includes Friend Walk, a safety tool for students to watch friends travel between locations in real-time.
Looking forward, when all students and staff, devices and applications on campus share a common infrastructure, they can interact with each other in a way that wasn’t previously possible.
“We have a significant broadband footprint on campus, we have the connectivity, but that’s only the beginning. When we think about online learning, the days of just reading text on a screen have gone. Now we consider what makes a better learning vehicle for students. For example, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) is now in use in several different ways across the university.”
“We are also increasingly aware that people learn in different ways, at different rates and have diverse backgrounds. All of which can benefit from new learning models. For example, we can use AI to determine how students are progressing, offering fast feedback so we can then pace their individual learning programme. This is based on how they are performing day to day, or hour to hour, rather than waiting the traditional six weeks after handing in an assignment to receive feedback,” he says.
Beyond positive learning outcomes, Professor Guy Littlefair’s vision is a fully connected smart campus at AUT’s South Campus in Manukau.
“There is so much potential. We could instrument our rubbish bins to be emptied when they're full. We could have charging stations for cars and devices and even driverless vehicles. Then there’s heating, lighting and ventilation which we can use technology to ensure they are running efficiently and only when required. In consideration of energy we could explore a solar farm or a micro grid for alternative energy,” he says.
A hallmark of AUT is using their on-campus resources in a positive context. Professor Littlefair says both students and staff can collaborate on smart campus initiatives rather than going to an external vendor or purchasing commercial off-the-shelf products.
“Look at the capabilities we have within AUT, for example we have expertise in artificial intelligence (AI), big data and wireless sensor networks. We have a wonderful opportunity to take some of the expertise we have in our staff and student body to create something special on the South Campus. In collaboration with industry and the community, we could turn it into a smart, fully connected campus. Potentially we could pool our expertise to deliver not only for AUT, but also the local community.
“A number of student projects have already contributed to our smart campus initiatives. Now, we have a very real opportunity to contribute significantly on the world stage,” he says.
Professor Guy Littlefair is Pro Vice Chancellor and Dean of the Faculty of Design and Creative Technologies at AUT. AUT has three campuses: City Campus in central Auckland, North Campus in Northcote and the South Campus in Manukau.
AUT is a strategic partner of Techweek2020.