How Do Your University’s Online Services Rate?

How Do Your University’s Online Services Rate?
Online services for everything for registration to course materials are a critical part of the university experience. Which institution in Australia has the best options?

I went to university long enough ago that online services simply weren’t relevant (indeed, you had to be a postgraduate student to get a university email address). These days even a cursory glance at the web site for my alma mater suggests things have changed: electronic submission of assignments is the only option, results are delivered online rather than in a dot-matrix-printed document, and interaction with lecturers is more likely to be virtual than involve queuing up during set office hours.

Naturally, though, not every university does the task well. A passing comment on Facebook from a colleague the other day describing one NSW university as having “the worst website & online student services of any uni I’ve dealt with ever” got me contemplating how varied service levels can be.

I know Lifehacker has a healthy student readership, so I’m wondering: just how good are the online options on offer at universities these days? Share your virtual campus experiences — good or bad — in the comments.


  • The Uni of Queensland is a little poor.

    Wireless is internet is free and all over campus. 🙂
    However it’s limited to 400MB a month. 🙁
    However, The Uni’s websites aren’t included in this cap. 🙂
    However, the mail system (windows live) and assignment submission system are. 🙁

    Also, because Pidgin uses the version of the MSN protocol Microsoft released ages ago, it’s blocked my default. I had to set up TOR to use IM.

    Otherwise, it’s not too bad.

    I’ve heard UNSW is pretty good though. My friend upgraded to Ubuntu 9.04 mid lecture.

    • Yeah very similar, I hate the fact that we have to use Live mail, it was being such a bitch to me. when it started i tried to set up POP access to my Mail on my mac. “yeah it only works on Internet Explorer 7” hahha, FAIL! however they smartened up and now you can use IMAP to retrieve mail which is what i do know. I regularly burn through the quota, but thats Hype.m and youtube doing there thing. If only lectures used blackboard consistently and post lecture more than 20 mins before the lecture it would be GREAT!

  • pretty good I email my lectuers, I get wifi at the libary whichI’mon right now which Ibet is to save them from buying more computers. I just wish it extended to a few blocks where I am living – if there is a way to make your computer more sensitive to wifi so I can do this let me know please.

    Also lecture slides and even the audio are online

  • I go to CSU and find there online forums and subject pages of great use and well utilised by most students and lecturers. Done around 14 subject by distance in 4 years… all good and works for me… I’m not sure what is on offer from other uni’s but do find CSU’s useful enough. I hae heard that LaTrobes is fairly average…

    • I went to CSU too;
      Coming from an IT perspective, their online system is way out of date – very Web1.0.

      Not only that, but half of the faculties don’t even use the online services (yes, including some of the IT departments).

  • I’m at UOW and find the Student Online Services (SOLS…) great, especially since there was a GUI redesign earlier this year. There is free wifi access to this and any of the uni websites (including email) anywhere on the campus, and of course it’s available via the internet anywhere…

  • UWA has a much better online experience now than when I was in undergrad over East. That could of course be that things have improved in the last few years.

    There is wireless all over campus, however the limits are bad (10MB/day) unless you are willing to pay for more ($6/GB). VPN access for off-campus access to library resources is really useful for postgrad work. There are strange quirks though that you have to log-in through the proxy to search the website as search results are provided by Google, and the webmail portal is hopeless.

    Lecture material is really good, you can podcast audio or even video recordings of many lectures (up to the individual subject co-ordinator) which I would have killed for in undergrad with the clashes I had to work around.

    Most of the online services are moving to a single-sign-on model to help remembering passwords. Figuring out which service to log onto to find the right info is still a bit hard, but it is much better than the dark ages of 5 years ago.

  • Sydney University

    6mb internet per day – garbage
    email – windows live
    Teaching material delivery: some lecturers make full use of the eLearning blackboard application to neatly arrange all course material. Others become frustrated with the laborious nature of eLearning resort to a confusing array of distribution methods including email, ftp, http, pieces of paper, non-freely available printed publications.

  • I’m an academic at University of Western Sydney (UWS) and reasonably heavily involved with implementing e-learning in day to day teaching delivery.

    Personally I feel that UWS has a great E-Learning Team with great ideas, who are unfortunately hamstrung to some degree by poor management understanding and funding.

    Additional difficulties are created by academics being at various levels in regards to their IT capability, and a lack of resources and assistance at the School level.

    The result is a patchy experience for students. Some units are delivered with well designed and tightly integrated e-learning support, others are not, or are messily constructed and poorly utilised.

    A concern I have is that university management is beginning to see e-learning as a cost saving exercise. The more “progressive” elements are promoting e-learning with all the right catch-phrases (“improved learning delivery, improved student satisfaction, more flexibility in learning and teaching, blah, blah”). But when it comes to implementation they are looking at having less face-to-face teaching (and thus less teachers), more automated and dumbed-down assessment items, with the end point being less money spent on academics. They refuse to see that setting up and maintaining good e-learning resources requires a significant initial investment in time and money, training, etc, and just expect immediate cost savings.

  • Not sure I agree with Jared: on the whole I find UQ pretty good. I seem to be able to do just about everything online.

    It suffers though from anti-freedom, pro-corporate ethics, like Australian universities in general. For example, to get a UQ email account, you have to agree to a really nasty agreement with Microsoft, would you believe. It’s worth repeating: to get an email address, UQ forces you into an agreement with a foreign corporation that has been found guilty of malpractices in multiple worldwide jurisdictions. UQ also refuses to support Zotero, heavily pushing proprietary solutions like the egregious Thomson-ISI’s Endnote. So, again, Australian uni students are forced to borrow money from their government to prop up deeply unethical US companies.

    Well, despite all that, UQ’s online services are still pretty good.

  • Sydney uni is pretty mediocre at best.

    wifi is (supposed to be) paid for, the website is fairly easy to navigate but riddled with broken links and the online learning system varies from subject to subject, with some using Moodle (which seems to be pretty decent in my experience) but the majority of others using webCT, which is fairly terrible. Things were often posted extremely late and pretty well every semester, I’d have at least one subject I couldn’t access (or an extra I wasn’t supposed to have!).

    Assignment submissions depended a lot on faculty, with some (like psychology) almost universally requiring on paper submission, but other subjects being much more flexible and allowing for online submission through webCT or even just via email to the lecturer.

    The selective use of some computer systems (IT students can use a whole slew of machines other people can’t) and the weird co-existence of payment methods (pay via credit card online, or with physical cash offline) depending on which library printer you want to use is also pretty idiotic.

    Also, for graduation – I finished at the end of the year (october/november) and didn’t graduate till July! Because I wanted to apply for post-graduate courses, I had to at least have an academic transcript fast. Sadly, this wasn’t possible and even though i’d completed my exams and received notification of marks, I was unable to get a transcript for quite some time. When I did finally get one, I had to pay for it too.

    For office hours, many lecturers/tutors I had were great with email, but to be honest, not all that many people made use of this.

    UWS (uni of western sydney) uses WebCT as well, which is (again) pretty terrible but they’ve got great wireless internet access for free pretty much everywhere on the campuses at kingswood/werrington at least. UWS is fairly similar in the other respects to Sydney in my experience.

    RMIT in Melbourne i’ve just started with, the staff so far seem quick to respond. I’d really love if their webmail could be redirected to another account though, because the interface is a bit trashy. This course, i’m doing (mostly) via correspondence online, so hopefully the experience with regards to online facilities is a good one!

    Astrid, you could try to put together a gain antenna – depending on your computer (and how comfortable you are tinkering with it), this might be easy or somewhat difficult. The cheapest solution is to make one out of a pringles can (or similar). Often referred to as a cantenna.

    • That really depends on the course. My friends at USyd have to go drop theirs off too.

      UNSW Uniwide, totally free for all students, super fast most of the time, available nearly everywhere (my ipod touch is basically an iphone) and no limits. Fantastic.

    • Monash is pretty good. Lectures recorded, most coursework online. All the uni pages are quota free. WiFi in a few locations (including lecture theatres). We do have a semester quota but I never got close, despite my heavy use of the net while at uni.

  • RMIT…

    The webmail system is the clunkiest thing I have ever seen. Wish I was back using PINE again! Fortunately, they recently stopped blocking Gmail on campus ([email protected]… Google reps didn’t like that!) so I use POP to pick it up there.

    The new myRMIT student portal, instituted this year, is getting there – but still lots of things missing, and authentication is poorly integrated with their other online services.

    The implementation of e BlackBoard / Learninghub / WebLearn is a disaster. I could build something better using a free wiki. Students are expected to use the discussion board to contact teaching staff, but it’s painful to navigate discussion threads and there’s no email notification option.

    Work submission. I have been taking two CS courses this semester; they use different electronic submissions systems.

    Lecture halls are apparently set up for audio recordings, but I get the impression lecturers aren’t geared up to use the system.

    That’s my take!

    • I totally agree with you about RMIT. I did Bus Info Systems and almost every IT lecturer/tutor we had only had criticisms for the uni’s web systems.

      All the administration systems are ridiculously old and outdated – communication between all the systems is almost completely non-existent.

      Wireless is available in pretty much all the buildings and apparently at the state library, but it’s always really difficult and complicated to get macs to connect to it, so i rarely bothered.

  • UTS is pretty good. Free wi-fi around campus, lecturers easy to access via email (at least in the journalism course). I feel like I’ve understood the coursework better and have felt more connected with the subject by being able to email the lecturer 1-on-1 rather than having to wait in line after class or by scheduling an appointment.

    But like Elly, UTS still makes you hand in a lot of assignments physically, when they could easily impliment an online assignment submission on their student online area.

    But that in itself is clunky at best, it’s difficult to navigate through enrolment and timetables and the site is still guaranteed to go down whenever results are released. But, hey, Google suffered under Michael Jackson, so I guess that’s inevitable for the time being.

    Course-work is doing wonders keeping up with online, though I must say. We’re encouraged to blog and to utilise as much online content as we can, through creativecommons etc etc. Their only downfall is that some still view being printed online as less than in the paper.

  • University of Newcastle is surprisingly good in comparison then. I thought patchy wifi warranted complaints, but it’s free and not metered. The website is hosted on AARnet servers so there’s F/OSS available and it comes down at 2MB/sec.

    The fixed infrastructure is very poorly set up however. Active directory and roaming profiles hammer the network and it can take a good 4-5 minutes to simply log in to a relatively recent machine, waiting for stuff to come over the network.

    The website looks pretty but is often a birdnest of links to find what you’re after, particularly enrolments/timetabling.

    Academic staff are usually pretty good with replying to emails.

    Online delivery of material varies greatly, some course coordinators offering full lecture notes, tutorials and solutions etc, others only offering blank lecture notes and tut questions etc.

    • Swinburne is pretty good..

      Free wifi (as long as u are a student or staff) at most of the campus, no quota, decent speeds (not the best though) easy interface.. uses blackboard.. recorded lectures.. past exams etc.

      online library resources are comparable with other unis i think.

      my only complain is that the interface for the emails are very dull.

  • UTS is generally good.
    The only downside is the website structure is so complicated. Man, it took me almost hole year to figure out where to get the stuff you want though the web page navigation.
    The wireless is good, but it need you to log in via a java-based client….which is painful for students who just wanna surf the web with their ipod (like me)

  • UNSW student here.

    The internet is wireless all over campus and it’s free. Wifi for laptops and iphones, blackberrys etc. It’s fast and it works.

    It’s actually amazing.

    Though the student internet page called “webct” is slow, and seemingly outdated. It’s a pain to use (i.e downloading lecture slides, notes)

  • Yeah, Swinburne’s on-campus wifi is pretty nice. Not only is it unlimited, you can get pretty decent speeds off it. Blackboard is pretty terrible software, but that’s not a Swinburne problem. Even the lecturers complain about it. However, they still post a lot of content to it, and most subjects have discussion forums as well, which are quite useful towards the exam period.

    The Lectopia lecture-recording system is pretty nice, if your lecture happens to be in a Lectopia-enabled room. You can download lectures as H.264 files (at a decent res of 640×480), MP4 video for an iPod, or Flash.

    I’m not sure about other faculties but the faculty of ICT has its own electronic submission system for assignments which works pretty well. Not all subjects use it though.

    Internet at the student residences is another story, 5c/MB ($50/GB) for 20Mbit+ speeds means you can spend a dollar in about five seconds of downloading. That and the wireless doesn’t quite reach to the residences buildings, and the management aren’t going to install any access points. So, living on campus isn’t a great idea if you love the internet. :/

  • Griffith > Nathan is ok.
    Wifi is decent campus wide, however as with similar concerns above, connection to wifi requires a cisco systems rootkit installation. A certain fairly lean amount of data is provided per subject enrolled in per semester.
    The blackboard system is a joke, like an actual embarrasment, but it seems to be in widespread use friends at both QUT and Tafe have to negotiate the same software, sometimes even more poorly implemented. I recently provided tech support for the friend at Tafe who could not enrol in subjects as the Tafe site would not function properly on anything other than Explorer 5 or Netscape, For Real (we installed netscape – for the first time in 10 years)
    Lecture theatres are quite well equipped looking forward to more digital whiteboards and collaborative networking. Only older members of the faqulty don’t use the facilites to full advantage.
    overall nowhere near a state of the art system worth boasting of but better than some.

  • University of Melbourne, contender for worst systems, only saving grace is wireless being useful since last year as it has decent coverage.

    Bad points:
    – 50MB a week
    – Basic webmail only email
    – Inconsistencies and generally poor web development, probably outsourced. An indication of how bad it is: our passwords are max 4 numbers only
    – Worst component is the document repository, separate login of course, loads slow, has a terrible search feature and takes 5-10 clicks per document wanted. Pain in the ass to get the last few years past exams for a tutorial for example
    – Engineering faculty has a WAN whitelist filter on their computers, awesome when you need to google for help for doing something with the myriad of applications we’re newly exposed to…
    – I could go on for a long time yet…

  • University of Adelaide.
    Wifi available across Adelaide and Waite campus. Quota on internet use.
    Help desk good.
    Library online comparable to Griffith, Melbourne and Murdoch in my experience.
    Have just migrated to gmail for email.
    Use of blackboard dependent on interests and skill of course coordinator.
    Assignments have to be both electronic and paper.
    Some use Turnitiin to check for plagiarism.
    Developing a portal for 2010.
    Currently have to log on to use each service!!
    Sometimes finding way around is difficult. (Jargonese).

  • SCU Lismore campus
    Pretty Good really
    MP3 of lectures posted shortly after Lecture (depending on unit)
    100mb per day (for media students, others get less)
    Only problem is the don’t/won’t support iPhone…
    need to figure a way to hack their VPN 🙂

  • Deakin Uni Burwood (I assume it is the same campus-wide)

    Decent speeds, however internet access is not free.
    Students and Staff are charged $12 per 1GB. Very expensive in my opinion.
    The Deakin website does not count towards the quota however.

    Online lectures (i-lectures) are access via DSO (Deakin Studies Online) and works quite well when it is used. Audio only, no video.

    The biggest issues is the cost of internet access. This is particularly an issue for students living on campus where the Deakin network is their only available access to internet.

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