London Metropolitan University has become the first UK University to implement IBM Academic Skills Cloud – a cloud computing technology that is designed to help focus the academic faculty, students and business on developing workplace skills in an education environment.
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Having implemented the academic cloud technology in 2012, the university is now training the third batch of third year and post graduate students on the cloud platform.
IBM Academic Skills Cloud is the blue-chip company’s Lab initiative. Launched in 2010, IBM uses it to make key parts of its software portfolio available in a cloud computing environment to allow academic institutions to incorporate technology into their curricula. It runs on IBM SmartCloud Enterprise.
“We became aware of this solution a year and half ago and wanted to take advantage of it,” Tim Cleary, senior lecturer in Information Systems in the faculty of Business & Law at London Metropolitan University told Computer Weekly.
London Met is the only university school in the Moorgate area near the “Silicon Roundabout” – home to many financial and technology companies. This means, the university understands the potential employers’ expectations from graduates and hence decided to implement the IBM cloud solution to empower its students with workforce skills, the university’s Dean, professor Stephen Perkins told Computer Weekly.
The cloud resources give the university’s business & law faculty students the opportunity to experience IBM products first hand and the IBM business culture, so that they have the tools and confidence to compete in a highly competitive global environment and, in turn, provide greater value to their future employers.
The academic institute has taken advantage of the platform to integrate new IT courses and more easily facilitate long-distance student learning.
The IBM cloud platform provides academic institutes an opportunity to use IBM software at no charge and also without having to install or maintain it themselves.
While the software was free, London Met’s IT team had to make several alterations to its infrastructure to install the cloud solution. “While we cannot reveal the actual figures, we have made a substantial investment in the project and we expect huge benefits for our student community,” Perkins said.
“It took the IT team six months to make our IT ready to implement the IBM cloud and involved tasks such as building tunnels to our servers,” Cleary said.
“It was a steep learning curve for us and the computing team had to work in collaboration with IBM’s team to overcome the technical and firewall-related challenges,” Cleary said.
After making its infrastructure ready for the cloud, the university’s IT team decided to host the cloud software in a dedicated room and not within its own datacentre.
“We have made a provision for a separate room that can, at a single-time, accommodate 20 to 25 students for a single class spanning two hours,” Cleary said.
“Over the past two years, we have undergone a major rethink on what we need to do to help students realise their potential and the significant investment gone into the project is proof that we are serious about our graduates’ skills,” Perkins added.
How students are benefitting from the university’s cloud initiative
By using the IBM Academic Skills Cloud, London Met students are learning technology skills such as DB2 database software development, as well as the practical use of information management and how this technology can be applied for decision-making according to Kevin Farrar, IBM’s UK Academic Initiative lead.
“We focus on teaching students how to use DB2 database and also teach them SQL Language,” Cleary said. SQL is a standard interactive and programming language for getting information from and updating a database.
With the cloud solution, students are able to create databases and excel sheets, experiment with it, upload it to the cloud and even reverse the entire process. “This improves their IT skills and database understanding and increases their job prospects,” Cleary said.
Another area the cloud project has helped London Met’s business and law department students, is around compliance. “Enterprises are in real need of graduates who can understand compliance and help the businesses satisfy the authorities,” he said.
According to him, 70% of enterprise IT’s team is spent in understanding Sarbanes Oxley certification and complying with it.
“Business leaders and CIOs are not techies but they understand the importance of compliance,” Cleary said. Using the IBM Academic Cloud solution, the university is able to build web-pages of business objects that will help students develop compliance skills. Students are able to extract reports, analyse it and offer businesses help in compliance, he said.
“With the training they receive in the Academic Skills cloud platform, students as employees can convert raw data into strategic information that their enterprises can use in practical applications and meet their business objectives,” Perkins said.
The faculty can also take advantage of cloud-delivered skills resources to quickly integrate new IT courses in their curriculum; more easily facilitate group and long-distance learning programmes for students and free-up existing university technology infrastructure resources.
“Our objective is to produce graduates that can add value to their employers right from the onset of their career,” according to Perkins.
Since launching, the participating students are increasing their employment opportunities, for example, one student cited that her ability to manipulate data gained through this initiative helped her to get a job as a business analyst with one of the world's leading integrated energy companies, explained IBM UK’s Farrar.