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Singapore’s NUS installs SQL Server for e-learning portal

Jack Loo | March 26, 2013
The school is using big data technology to improve students’ user experience.

The Integrated Virtual Learning Environment (IVLE) is an online learning management system offered by the National University of Singapore (NUS) to its students.

Developed by NUS' Centre for Instructional Technology (CIT), IVLE hosts 90 percent of all academic modules offered in NUS and is accessed by most of its 37,000 student cohort on a daily basis. The portal provides students with one-click access to learning tools such as discussion forums, chat rooms, and file hosting.

To ensure top-notch user experience of its online learning portal, CIT has invested heavily in man-hours since 2010 to dig deeper into terabytes of data to understand the user habits of a diverse set of students using IVLE.

"To stay relevant and fresh to our diverse set of students, we needed to constantly evolve and improve the user experience of our online learning portal," said Jeffery Tay, associate director of CIT, NUS. Questions such as how students access IVLE, peak traffic periods, popularity of features and functions are all important insights in understanding consumption behaviours.

But getting the answers was not easy. The labour-intensive task in generating insights involved analysing Web traffic data, log-in information, and student profiles to gleam useable insights. "In analysing large sets of data about user behaviours, we were faced with the challenge of consolidating different sets of structured and unstructured data; and uncertainties in the accuracy of insights gathered," said Tay.

The answer to their challenges then came in the form of Microsoft's SQL Server 2012. Completed in December 2012, this big data deployment enabled NUS to capture real-time analytics to improve the user experience of the IVLE. NUS chose the Enterprise Edition of SQL Server, particularly for its Power View feature where it can provide an interactive browser-based data virtualisation and presentation experience for all levels of users.

"We were able to speed up the data analysis process by as much as 50 percent. The insights gleaned from such trends and patterns went a long way in helping IVLE designers stay on the forefront of development, creating a learning experience that is personalised and tailored to each individual student," said Tay.

For example, CIT noticed an increasing number of students accessing IVLE through mobile devices. As a result, it spearheaded a programme to create mobile apps and encouraged NUS students to create their own unique apps (icreate.nus.edu.sg) that tap into IVLE's versatile platform.

Making the leap forward

As CIT continues to keep an eye on data analytics and provide constant feature updates to IVLE, for the university at large, making sense of student learning habits and patterns is only the beginning. NUS intends to add a wider range of data to its fast-growing pool. For example, with sufficient data, the crowd at the university's busy canteens can be mapped and analysed for insights into crowd-control strategies.

 

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