Sept. 11, 2021 - In higher education, IT leaders and their teams are under pressure. In a fast-paced era of digital disruption and technological advancements, all stakeholders see them as a guiding light. As institutions demand purpose-built virtual teaching technology, we are here to shed light on what IT leaders should be aware of when adopting these solutions.
For that, we talked with Choo Tatt Saw, CIO of INSEAD business school. As one of the world's leading and largest graduate business schools, INSEAD has locations in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North America. More than 11,000 executives participate in INSEAD's executive education programs each year.
Barco weConnect powers INSEAD GO-Live - a ground-breaking experience helping executives continue their learning from anywhere in the world. Participants connect from home or the office for virtual, transformative sessions and engage live with faculty and peers just as they would in a physical INSEAD classroom.
Choo Tatt leads an IT team of 120 members and was one of the key figures in the adoption journey of the Barco weConnect virtual classrooms, the first one in 2019 and three more added in 2020. We have asked him to share his experience, the challenges he encountered and the lessons he learned.
Keep reading to discover what IT leaders should know when adopting virtual classroom technology. How the pandemic affected technology adoption and what he wished he had known back then!
1. Communicate towards common objectives
Good internal collaboration and communication between IT and different departments and business units are essential when adopting innovative technology.
When the pandemic hit, staff had to move in permanent work-from-home mode and all classes had to move online. Choo Tatt"s team was under increased pressure but thanks to the collaboration between them and other business units, it was able to act swiftly and successfully.
"The transition was fairly seamless, thanks to the strong collaboration between IT, the admins and of course, the faculty themselves. "
When asked what he would have done differently when shifting to virtual teaching solutions, Choo Tatt stated that one key lesson is to involve and be in close contact with the other business units from earlier in the process.
A starting point would be to communicate with the faculty about their teaching objectives and pedagogical methods to ensure the solution fits that. Let pedagogy be a driving force for technology.
"I must say in the beginning we assumed that the faculty would prefer certain features, or we assumed that they're going to teach in certain ways. But when we got a faculty involved, finally we realized that they have their own needs, they like their features to be laid out in certain ways. I thought there was one key learning point. I think it's important if you deploy a product like weConnect. We need to get a faculty involved at a much earlier stage. "
2. Have a strong business understanding
Together with good internal communication comes a good understanding of the business. Choo Tatt stressed that IT needs to have a thorough knowledge of the institution's objectives, strategies and priorities, but also per department and unit, to be a dependable partner.
"IT now needs to be a strong business partner to all business units. We must understand the business so that we are also discussing at the same table with the stakeholders."
How does he advise to do that? "Spend more time to really work with the business. Understand what are the latest challenges, what are the opportunities? And then based on that we try to match the needs with a suitable technology."
When asked how his IT department acts with new technology, he answered: "We scan and assess the available technologies. We do not just implement the latest technology. Everything that we do has to be based on business needs. "
Because to him, the latest, cutting-edge features of a virtual teaching solution are not the most important aspect. Essential is how the partner company acts and supports INSEAD and how the faculty and the program participants respond.
"What we're looking for would be the satisfaction for the participants and the faculty. Our faculty are very demanding, and that is to be expected and I think that's very important too."
3. Pick a reliable technology partner
The third key matter when deciding to implement new virtual teaching technology in your higher education institution is, of course, choosing the right partner to fulfill the technological needs identified by the institution.
Asked what the number one quality of a technology partner must be, Choo Tatt stated confidently "number one is definitely reliability. Besides just choosing a technology or product with all its features, we look at the team behind the product. Are they a strategic partner to us? What I mean by that is, do they listen to our challenges and our demands? Do they try their best, including in R&D? Do they cater to our needs and listen to us?"
Asked how has Barco weConnect fared in this regard? "I'm happy to say that Barco has definitely proved itself as our partner." We could not be more delighted!
Nonetheless, product features and the experience the solution delivers are still relevant, so we also asked Choo what he thinks from this perspective. His answer? "We want to provide a good immersive experience to participant, whether they are in class or when they are remote. We constantly look at new ways, innovative ways to improve. Barco weConnect offers that experience. The faculty feel that they are almost teaching in class. They have a wall of participants connecting, and they are much more in the natural state of teaching, compared to teaching through a single camera in their office."
As a conclusion on the INSEAD partnership with Barco from an IT perspective, he says: "I think this whole building of such rooms with Barco weConnect is definitely a journey. There is no end point. We need to continue experimentation and work more closely with Barco."
4. Get higher management on board
To implement a new virtual teaching technology successfully, an institution needs strong management support because a quality solution will require time and resources.
Having a higher management team that is forward-thinking and innovation-minded, like INSEAD has enabled the institution to adapt, transform and thrive amidst turbulent times. As Choo Tatt stated "I'm also fortunate that the management was very supportive."
INSEAD proved to be an early adopter of virtual teaching technology. They implemented their first weConnect virtual classroom in 2019 on their France campus.
"We built one in 2019. That was a result of months of assessment and trying to look at what's the IT was a good example whether we explore new technology, we try to built a room for proof of concept and did a pilot."
Once the pandemic hit, they invested in three additional weConnect virtual classrooms. "We definitely did a lot of upgrade of our empty teaching spaces. Obviously, most of our spaces were not quite well equipped with a right audio and video."
None of this would have been possible without management support and it is clear that the pandemic only strengthened their resolve that digitalization is the way forward and that additional investment will bring rewarding outcomes.