Athabasca University is joining an ever-increasing list of post-secondary schools in Canada to turn to cloud-based computing using the underlying architecture of global tech powerhouse Amazon.
Canada’s only public digital post-secondary institution announced late last week it had joined force with Amazon Web Services to modernize its information technology network.
The move is part of a five-year digital transformation strategy stemming from a top-to-bottom review of the university ordered by the provincial government at the start of 2017.
That review found deficiencies in the way the university operated and sounded dire warnings should the institute not make significant changes.
Under its new digital strategy, the university will have access to a suite of cloud-based products that will allow school officials to upgrade and streamline internal processes, chief information officer Jennifer Schaeffer told Postmedia on Thursday.
The funding for the revamp will be drawn from a one-time, $4.9 million provincial grant announced in June.
In the first phase of the project, all staff will be brought up to speed on cloud computing. The university will then begin augmenting its online offerings using machine learning and artificial intelligence products from Amazon.
Over time, students will be able to customize their learning experiences using Amazon products such as Kindle and Echo’s Alexa assistant.
As Amazon improves its technology — Alexa is being offered in some products now — the student experience will also improve, Schaeffer said.
Once Athabasca has customized its courses to fit into the Amazon framework, studying could soon be as simple as asking Alexa in your car to quiz you on your drive to work, Schaeffer said.
The move, Schaeffer said, will “breathe new life into who we are as Athabasca University and allow us to scale and reach more Canadians, wherever they live in the country.”
“That’s why cloud is absolutely essential to our transformation strategy,” she said.
In the long term, by moving to cloud computing, centralizing key data sets about learning and interactions and running machine learning scripts across that data will allow the university to tailor learning strategies for students.
“Think of it as incredibly muscly brains that find the patterns, which are then curated by humans,” Schaeffer said.
Athabasca University president Neil Fassina said the collaboration “is a win for learners, faculty, and staff and the province, the rest of Canada and the world.”
“Working with AWS, the province gains the advantage of being frontrunners in an ever-changing digital education space all while building tech knowledge, skills, and expertise right here at home,” he said.
An Amazon list shows 51 Canadian educational institutions are already using AWS Educate, including British Columbia Institute of Technology, Concordia University in Montreal, Halifax’s Dalhousie University, Ryerson University in Toronto, Simon Fraser University and SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary.
Orientation training for every faculty and staff member will be launched in early November.