The University of San Diego (USD), a private Catholic university established in 1949, is a thriving academic institution that is consistently ranked one of the top in the nation, specifically for its study abroad programs. What does “study abroad” mean to a USD student? It means experiencing and living out classroom concepts in the real world and in their true context. Instead of just listening and comprehending a professor inside a lecture hall, USD strives for students to be able to see, hear, touch, and interact with places and events to bring learning to life.
USD’s vision is to be the premier school for transforming study abroad programs across the globe by leveraging technology and innovation. The IT Team at USD developed the idea of using geospatial mapping as a potential platform to revolutionize learning abroad with the goal of continuing to lead innovation and sophistication in study abroad programs. According to Avi Badwal, Senior Director of Technologies at USD, “It’s one of those big things that doesn’t exist in the world.”
The drive behind USD’s new solution, which is known as WISE, encompasses everything in the classroom to be embedded in that real-life experience. Professors will be able to map assignments geospatially, assigning projects to specific places locally or internationally. Chris Wessells, Vice Provost and Chief Information Officer at USD, added, “With the rapid innovation and intense competition between top private universities today, the academic experience has to be exceptional, and WISE is an important differentiator for us.”
For a next-generation project like WISE, USD needed a technology solution that was effortlessly scalable, feature-rich, easy to integrate, and highly reliable. Being that the USD’s students were already provisioned with Google Workspace, USD realized that Google Maps and Google Cloud Platform were best suited to meet their needs for the new program. USD chose SADA, an experienced cloud solutions provider recently been named 2014 Google Maps Partner of the Year and designated a Google Cloud Premier Partner. “We’re really excited about working with Google and SADA Systems to bring our vision to reality,” said Wessells.
“Scalability is critical,” said Badwal. “And with Google Cloud Platform, we can have 5,000 people using WISE at the same time without compromising any functionality. Also, Google Maps has the strongest, most comprehensive mapping layer in the industry.”– Avi Badwal, Senior Director of Technologies, USD
Additionally, internet connections in international countries can be very slow and USD wanted to take advantage of Google’s image and web caching to ensure that students always have access to a reliable learning system. USD can also rely on Google Cloud Platform’s 99.9% uptime to ensure that WISE is always up and running. Google is also known for a strong and consistent mobile experience, which is vital for usage of a sophisticated system like WISE.
Results and benefits
WISE allows professors to assign projects to students using geospatial targets. Professors can assign projects to a specific place, and students can go to the location, pin completed assignments there, and even interact socially by commenting or posting images, videos, or thoughts about their real-life learning experience. Students can see a history of all the pins from previous classes and even comment on other students’ pins who have been there previously in order to learn from the experiences of their peers. “I imagine there are ways that classes over the years might be connected through these applications. The possibilities are essentially limitless,” said Wessells.
For example, USD has an intersession program that studies historical architecture in Chicago dating back to the industrial revolution. Using WISE, an architecture professor could send students to Chicago, create geospatial assignments guiding students through those historical buildings, and allow them to tangibly experience and interact with architecture in a whole new way. There is a vast array of opportunities, such as exploring origins of philosophy in London, assessing border and political issues between the US and Mexico, or discovering international historical landmarks.
Badwal elaborates, “A student can be looking at the Mona Lisa and see messages from previous or current students or teachers adding to their experience or telling them to watch out for certain things. Traditionally, determining if a student learned what they were supposed to have learned has all been done in the classroom with a final or midterm. This goes deeper, it’s based on rich communication based on images, comments, and real-life experience.”
WISE launched, February 10th, 2015, and USD is excited to see how students will embrace it and how professors will make a difference in how they teach and inspire students. “The opportunities are really up to the user,” said Badwal, “the initial feedback we’ve received from professors and students has been very positive.” USD has been working closely with Google and SADA in rolling out stages of beta software building up to their big launch.
Badwal adds, “Traditionally, literature is primarily taught in the classroom, but with so many advancements in technology, WISE can start bridging the gap by applying a student’s reading comprehension skills to the real world.”
“There’s no question that SADA shaped the project by bringing extensive knowledge of how people experience Google Maps and how to navigate Google Cloud technology. The team was excellent to work with, stuck to the scope and delivered on time,” said Wessells.