The future of education is taking shape at Ryerson University with Azure Virtual Desktop

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As universities consider the future of higher education, many have committed to remote and hybrid learning as permanent offerings alongside on-campus programs. In a recent Microsoft survey, one-third of faculty report that, moving forward, their institutions will permanently add online options for all or most courses. Students are also interested in flexible learning options, with 46% saying in a recent survey they want the option of attending courses online or in person. With a hybrid model comes a responsibility for universities to reimagine the staff and student experience via highly successful remote learning.

Ryerson University understands that the future is hybrid. The university has offered remote learning options since 2001, and has recently received $1.87 million in funding from eCampus Ontario’s Virtual Learning Strategy. The funding will support 29 digital learning projects that contribute to increased flexible and hybrid learning opportunities for students at Ryerson and across the province. 

As the pandemic unfolded in 2020, Ryerson University needed to offer remote learning and virtual labs at scale for thousands of students. The university already had Microsoft licenses, so leveraging Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) was as easy as turning on the capabilities. The university’s IT team partnered with Microsoft FastTrack engineers to deploy their virtual labs quickly and easily in eight weeks—from start to finish—enabling 24/7 remote access to the resources students need. Ryerson’s AVD deployment included enhanced security like two-factor authentication and data encryption. The cost savings in paying only for actual usage and not having to purchase additional licenses, plus seamless integration with their current infrastructure, were among the key benefits of leveraging AVD.

Since the successful launch of the virtual student labs, Ryerson University’s Faculty of Arts IT team has advocated for wider use of AVD. They have presented their AVD solution to other interested technical groups, in departments like the Creative School, Continuing Education, and the Ted Rogers School of Management. The future is bright at Ryerson—more students and faculty will soon be learning and working from anywhere with AVD.

With scalability and with the ability to innovate … we could immediately add an entire lab of different software packages that we didn’t have before.

—Michael MacDonald, Lead IT Systems/Network Specialist and Lecturer, Ryerson University

Ryerson University is also seeing the benefits of leveraging AVD beyond virtual labs and in disciplines like research. Previously, research projects and special initiatives required enormous amounts of planning, front-end effort and out-of-pocket capital just to get started. The IT department had to build servers, researchers had to securely connect remotely, and grant applications had to be written and submitted to funding agencies in order to secure the upfront capital. With AVD, a research project can be spun up in an afternoon and the bills paid at the end of the month. Streamlining start-up time and effort can get critical research projects launched faster and done more efficiently.

While the future of education is always evolving, remote learning and virtual workspaces will clearly be part of the learning landscape. After the successful transitions and improvements with AVD at Ryerson University during a critical time, continued and future innovation is part of the higher education evolution.

This is the future of teaching in general, not just labs. I can’t envision students always commuting downtown, sitting in a room for three hours, and listening to me speak … when you can do that over video conferencing tools like Teams and follow along with the hands-on components using Azure Virtual Desktop.

—Michael MacDonald, Lead IT Systems/Network Specialist and Lecturer, Ryerson University

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