How Technology Gives Seneca an Edge in Education


Working with partners helps Seneca’s IT team deploy solutions that enhance student recruitment, education and comfort

By Mike Martin

For Seneca, being at the forefront of technology is essential. It not only helps the Toronto-based school, with 24,000 full-time and 70,000 part- time students across eight campuses, but it also improves operational efficiency and boosts student recruitment.

“Technology is at the core of everything we’re doing,” said Alvin Shum, Director of Service Delivery for Seneca. “It improves the digital competency of our students, it empowers educators and it helps us design and develop a flexible curriculum.”

How technology can be a strong recruitment tool for postsecondary institutions

Student interaction with Seneca’s technology begins even before they sign up for classes. For example, at one recent Skills Ontario Competition, Seneca suspended four large LCD screens above the school’s booth — not to show prospective students information about the school, but to play the popular online game Fortnite. “Every student who saw the screens came to our booth,” Shum recalled. “It was a great use of technology that said, ‘Hey we’re not just your regular school.”

Appealing to potential students is critical to Seneca because postsecondary institutions are competing for a limited pool of candidates. Using industry leading software tools like Eloqua and Salesforce, Seneca has developed automated workflows and integrations to capture and nurture prospective student leads. They are also using a chatbot on their website to speak to prospective students – in over 100 languages. Potential students looking for information on the registration process can type in a question, and the chatbot will respond based on its expanding database of more than 1,000 knowledge-based articles.

Another tool Seneca used to set itself apart at the Information Fair is virtual reality. They used 360-degree cameras to record its main campus and then offered virtual tours to prospective students at the fair using virtual reality goggles. “We were the first to use the goggles at the fair,” Shum noted. “Other postsecondary institutions came up to our booth to inquire about the technology. We then started noticing the other schools using the VR goggle technologies at other shows.”

The virtual tour also caught the eye of the school’s international department, which asked the IT team to purchase more goggles that could be sent to overseas locations to help recruit international students.

Once students begin interacting with Seneca, either at a fair or online, the school uses technology to offer them more information. “Once they inquire about the school their information is captured in a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool and a record is generated with all their available contact information, if they give their consent,” said Shum. “That way if they come to other events, we can follow up with them to make sure they have everything they need.”

Digital transformation in the classroom

The main focus of Seneca’s technology adoption is to make the educational experience as great as possible for students. Ideally the school looks for solutions that are intuitive and engaging for students and can be reiterated in other programs or campuses.

“Our strategic plan places emphasis on leading through excellence with a focus on quality, innovation in teaching and learning, and determination to continuously improve,” said Radha Krishnan, AVP of Information Services at Seneca. “We are currently implementing a multi-year digital strategy that aligns well with our strategic plan, and when fully implemented, will transform our student and employee experience. Deploying Wi-Fi 6 is a significant step in making progress on our digital strategy initiatives.”

Software streaming is another technology that has helped transform how Seneca delivers its course materials. “In the past, students would need to go to a specific lab or room to access a particular piece of software,” Shum noted. “Today, with streaming, that software can be delivered anywhere — even to a student’s home.”

Tablets are also changing the classroom experience. As Shum explained, Seneca’s Flight Services Certificate course used to have a 500-page flight manual to help train students. Since airlines no longer use hard copy flight manuals and have transitioned to iPads, Seneca has made the move to iPads as well. “We purchased iPads from CDW Canada and worked with the flight manual publisher to convert the manual into a soft copy that can be accessed on the iPad, which is securely managed by our EMM software,” said Shum.  “Today iPads are mandatory for anyone taking that course, but we also have an iPad cart so students will be able to access the material they need if they forget their iPad at home.”

CDW and Lenovo provide the latest technology to Seneca professors

Technology is also helping Seneca make its professors and administrative staff more mobile, replacing traditional desktops with Lenovo laptops. One of the school’s largest technology projects is its annual employee mobile refresh project, which sees the IT department refresh approximately 200 laptops. 

The IT team works closely with CDW Canada and Lenovo on the project. The school provides an image of the operating system on its laptops to CDW Canada and Lenovo, ensuring each laptop is configured exactly as Seneca wants when it is delivered. The project has been in place for more than five years and saves the team a lot of time and effort.

“CDW made the process of transitioning from desktop to laptop for our administrative staff a seamless one,” said Jason Cousins, Manager, Technical Support and Interactive Technology. “They worked closely with us to ensure we selected the right laptops to meet our needs and ensured they were factory imaged and delivered. This made the deployment process painless.”

How Seneca is building a smarter campus

Hardware, software and sensors are allowing Seneca to build a more intelligent, efficient campus that not only makes students’ lives easier, but also saves them money.

In the classroom, occupancy sensors are being piloted and installed to help manage energy efficiency and power consumption. The sensors will be programmed to detect when a classroom is empty, and to power off any devices in the room. This will allow Seneca to extend the life of its technology, such as computers and projectors, and to save on electrical costs.

Further energy savings will be generated by smart lighting solutions. Operating on a similar principle, the lighting would dim or turn off if a room is unoccupied for a certain amount of time, which would extend the life of the lighting system and lower electrical consumption.

Furthermore, the school has been testing occupancy sensors in washrooms that notify a custodian when they need to be cleaned based on the number of people who have entered and exited the washroom. Seneca is also exploring the capabilities of sensors to help control heating and air conditioning in buildings, detecting temperatures and gauging when systems can be turned off based on the time of day and to monitor waste bin levels and provide notifications when they need to be emptied based on their weight.

“We want to offer students a healthy environment,” said Shum. “Having clean, healthy air and stable, comfortable temperatures is a big part of that.”

How CDW and the OECM increase efficiency by expediting technology purchases

Seneca often uses the Ontario Education Collaborative Marketplace (OECM) to buy hardware and software. OECM is a trusted not-for-profit collaborative sourcing partner for Ontario’s education sector, broader public sector, and other not-for-profit organizations. They contract with innovative and reputable suppliers to offer a comprehensive choice of quality products and services, and generate significant value and savings for their customers.

“They do a lot of the heavy RFP lifting for us,” said Shum. “For example, if we want to purchase digital displays, we can just type that term into the OECM marketplace and it will show us what products are available, along with pricing, support and warranty terms.”

By using OECM’s agreements, CDW can focus on customers’ individual needs and provide solutions that generate savings, and reduce the time and effort involved in sourcing solutions.  CDW is currently partnered with OECM under four technology-related agreements, including:

–           Software Licence Products and Related Services

–           Digital Signage and Scoreboards

–           End-User Computing Devices and Services

–           IT Professional Services

With the acquisition and integration of Scalar Decisions Inc. (now CDW Canada), this adds a fifth OECM agreement available to customers: IT Penetration Testing and Vulnerability Assessment.

Through these four awarded contracts, Seneca has increased efficiencies by expediting their procurement processes, and has ongoing access to CDW’s technical expertise and support. “The partnership with CDW has been extremely valuable. They understand our business and the specific needs of our users and work hard to make sure we meet our deliverables,” said Cousins. “Sometimes thinking out of the box is what is required to solve complex problems, and the team at CDW has been extremely accommodating with our requests.”